The Grand Collection

Auctioning off the Fenaroli fortune,

The picture above is of the Flyleaf of a most interesting book. It documents in detail a huge sale of works of Art. The book is Coffee Table size, with beautiful illustrations of many masterpieces. It is a definitive treatise on one of the largest and most important auction of Masterpieces of Art. It documents the dissolution of a significant portion of the considerable fortune of the Fenaroli-Avogadro branch of the Fenaroli Family. The book also covers other interesting aspects of the entire event. It is, as you can see from the Flyleaf, written in Italian. The book is available from Italian Booksellers. I, with the aid of Giovanni Ernesto Fenaroli, have translated enough of the 160+ pages of text to get an understanding of the content. What follows is my understanding of the essence of the book and I encourage anyone who is truly bilingual, I am not, to offer corrections, etc. My synopsis is organized as follows:

1. Count Girolamo Fenaroli, His life and times.

2. The Origins of the vast collection of Masterpieces.

3. The Auction (1882) and Notes on some of the Works of Art.

1. Count Girolamo Fenaroli, His life and times.

Meet Count Gerolamo Fenaroli, the Central figure at the peak of Fenaroli influence, power and wealth and in the total, complete, downfall of the Fenaroli Avogadro branch of the Fenaroli family. The photograph above shows, starting from the left, Gerolamo as a teenager, his sister Paolina, His mother Countess Beatrice Fenaroli Avogadro Maffei Enzio, his sisters Barbara and Livia.

Count Gerolamo had an affair with Tedolinda Franchi of Milano, which resulted in the birth of Alfredo in 1863. The church of Santa Maria alla Porta in Milano, responding to the petition of Gerolamo, granted Alfredo full recognition and legitimacy as an offspring and therefore heir of Count Gerolamo. In 1870 Count Gerolamo married Countess Paola Armani, widow of General Lagorio. The marriage produced a son, Guglielmo, who died in 1879.

Count Gerolamo fought with the Piedmontese army in 1848 for Italian independence. Subsequently he was appointed Colonel and Commander of the National Guard of Brescia. In 1859 Count Gerolamo was visited at his Palace in Brescia, by Napoleon III. Count Guiseppi Fenaroli , Great Uncle of Count Gerolamo, had close ties with Emperor Napoleone Boanaparte. It was Napoleone Bonaparte who nominated Gerolamo's great uncle to be one of four Grand Dignitaries, (ministers?), of the Kingdom of Italy, (1805-1814).

Following the death of the father of Count Gerolamo, Count Bartolomeo, in 1869, Gerolamo as the only male heir inherited the bulk of the enormous combined Fenaroli Avagadro Maffei Enzio fortune. This included the extensive collection of art the four families acquired and protected over several centuries.

Count Gerolamo was appointed Senator and participated assiduously in parliamentary sessions. He died in Brescia of Typhus May 9, 1880 in the Fenaroli Palace, (now the Bettoni Cazzago Palace).The book describes the illustrious life of Count Gerolamo but does little to shed light on how, by the age of 50, he acquired enormous debts.

At his death he left huge debts accumulated with private and banking financiers. These debts amounted to 1,580,860 Lire. It is most difficult to understand the enormity of the debt when using todays understanding of the Italian Lire. I found the best way to get an appreciation of this number of Lire, is to look at the inventory of the works of Art to be auctioned off. This inventory was expected to yield 399,000 Lire, or would cover about 25% of the debt. As you will see the paintings and sculptures to be auctioned are , in todays terms, priceless, certainly worth many millions of dollars. Despite the sale of all the Masterpieces, three palaces, extensive lands, the entire library of books, linens, dinnerware, livestock, etc, it is not clear to me the debt was fully satisfied. The book does not tell us the source of the debt. Certainly Count Gerolamo achieved many honors and was a well respected aristocratic leader of his city and nation. He was an important leader in the unification of Italy movement and was known to support the movement with money and military forces. Was There a dark side? There are innuendoes. Until I have facts I must leave it lie.

2. The Origins of the vast collection of Masterpieces.

Meet Count Bartolomeo Fenaroli and his wife Countess Beatrice Avogadro Maffei Enzio. Bartolomeo, studied at the College of Tolomei in Siena. He was the Podesta, (Headmaster ?), of Brescia from 1829 to 1838. He was known for his administrative abilities and generous works. During the Cholera epidemic of 1836 he and his wife brought aid to the sick in the hospital. He was named to the post of Chancellor. He was decorated with the Imperial Austrian Iron cross in 1836. He Married Beatrice Maffei Enzio daughter of Nicolo and Margherita Enzio, an Aristocratic Venitian family.

The book, in some detail, documents how each of the families acquired and protected the Masterpieces. It is interesting to note, the Fenaroli Avogadro branch of the family augmented their wealth and power by fortunate marriages.

3. The Auction (1882) and notes on some of the Masterpieces.

As previously stated, in order to satisfy the enormous obligations of Count Gerolamo the family had to sell off all their assets. The three palaces above, Fenaroli palaces, had to be liquidated along with the furnishings, dinnerware, linens,a vast library, lands, etc. The entire collection of Masterpieces, paintings and sculptures, collected by the four families over the past two centuries had to be auctioned off.

After a year of preparation and advertising, the auction opened April 20, 1882 at Fenaroli Avogadro Palace in Brecia.It was and probably still is one if the most important sale of private Art Works ever. The over 900 paintings included: more than 30 works by Moretto, Moroni and paintings by Romanino, Savoldo, Rubens, Van Dyck, Canaletto, Tintoretto, Veronese, Guido Reni, Bassano, Palma the Young and the Old, Duranti, Hayez, Thorvaldsen, twenty two paintings by Giacomo Ceruti.

The Lady in Red

Above is an example of a Masterpieces sold at the auction. It is a portrait of Countess Lucia Avogadro Albani, painted by Moroni between 1550 and 1560. It was purchased at the auction by The London National Gallery and hangs there today.

Saint Mary Magdalene at the Sepulcher

The portrait above dates from 1480 to 1485 and is by Savoldo. It was sold at the auction to The London National Gallery. Savoldo, sometimes called Girondo, painted several versions, one of which is currently in the J. Paul Getty Collection.

The Capture of Ventura Fenaroli

Ventura Fenaroli, Commander of the Brescia/Venitian military was captured by the French/Milanese forces in 1509. Ventura knowing he would be tortured to betray his associates, stabbed himself just prior to his capture. The French apprehended him, and while in captivity, Ventura tore off his bandages and bled to death. The Brescian population rioted and praised Ventura as a hero. The Fenaroli family commissioned the painter Francesco Hayez in 1834 to commemorate the event. It was sold at the Auction to a private collector. Apparently Hayez painted similar renditions of the event, since one is owned by the J, Paul Getty Museum.


The Giovanni Franceschetti Sculpture above, was one of many sculptures sold at the auction. It was sculpted, 1834-1835. It was purchased by a private collector.






The book tells us the Works of Art ended up in museums in London, Budapest, America Brescia and others and in the collections of many private individuals. It is q storehouse of historical information as well as beautiful prints of the artworks. The authors, with much research, have completely re-compiled the original catalog of the vast auction. I urge anyone who is literate in Italian and has an interest in the Fenaroli family to review the book.

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Bon Voyage...........