ENGLISH

East Meets West

William Robinson remembers his first meeting with Dani and Anna Ghigo, whose collection will be sold by Christie’s on 11 and 12 May

I first met Dani Ghigo when he visited the Christie’s carpet sale held in conjunction with the London International Conference on Oriental Carpets in 1984. A short man with a lively bustling manner, it was his eyes that caught my attention, sparkling, twinkling from within the confines of his thick framed glasses.

He was very animated and at the same time definitive in his views, especially when talking about his works of art. His interests were broad and very clearly defined, as his stands at various prestigious art fairs demonstrated.

A fine grey schist bust of Buddha, Gandhara region, 2nd3rd century £35,000–45,000 (front) and a grey schist fragments of the standing Buddha, Gandhara region, 2nd3rd century (back) £8,000–12,000
A fine grey schist bust of Buddha, Gandhara region, 2nd/3rd century £35,000–45,000 (front) and a grey schist fragments of the standing Buddha, Gandhara region, 2nd/3rd century (back) £8,000–12,000

A typical view would have a 17th century Turkish carpet on the floor, a Louis XIV Boulle marquetry bureau plat against the wall, behind which was a feuilles de choux tapestry. On the bureau would be a spectacular Ming blue and white charger, while flanking the ensemble one could find two Thai late medieval sandstone heads of Buddha. The entire display was very elegant, very classic, but with a strongly oriental flavour.

A visit to his gallery was an invitation into his much more crowded natural habitat. The flavours were the same, but in far greater quantity, jostling with each other for your attention.

A view of the salone, showing A Louis XV ormolu-mounted black and gilt lacquer commode, Mid-18th century, in. (86 cm.) high; 57 in. (145 cm.) wide; 24.34 in. (63 cm.) deep
A view of the salone, showing: A Louis XV ormolu-mounted black and gilt lacquer commode, Mid-18th century, in. (86 cm.) high; 57 in. (145 cm.) wide; 24.3/4 in. (63 cm.) deep

Any visit started with a look through the albums. These were phenomenal – what an unbelievable stock he had! As this viewing through the album progressed, you became aware that this was not necessarily his current stock; it was the roll-call of the magnificent pieces he had handled. It was hugely impressive, as was the breadth of his knowledge in these very different areas.

Behind the whole edifice was his lovely wife Anna, who kept the records. When Dani was engaged in conversation he would suddenly call out Anna’s name followed by a question about a particular work of art. Anna would take out one of a series of small notebooks, every surface covered by dense scribbles, and almost immediately would give the precise answer, occasionally thereby contradicting one of Dani’s more enthusiastic claims.

She was also an excellent cook, welcoming visitors warmly into their elegant early 19th century house in the fashionable hills on the south side of the river above Turin. Her vitello tonnato served on quaintly démodées antique porcelain plates will always remain a particularly fond memory. She was always attentive, never ruffled, a wonderfully benign calming presence in the excitable and dynamic world of her husband.

Dani gathered his material from far and wide, from local Piedmontese sources, international auctions, and on buying trips to Central and Southeast Asia. When he first began travelling to the region in the 1970s it was mainly an escapist destination for the slightly younger generation, so he was buying at a time when there was little competition and so such trade was welcomed.

Once his treasures arrived in Turin, they were placed in his private museum, the extent of which was completely hidden from all visitors. It is a real pleasure for me that Christie’s have been asked to handle the sale of this very individual Italian connoisseur and his wife.