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date: 10 December 2022

Bardini, Stefanofree

(b Pieve Santo Stefano, nr. Arezzo, Apr 13, 1836; d Sept 12, 1922).

Bardini, Stefanofree

(b Pieve Santo Stefano, nr. Arezzo, Apr 13, 1836; d Sept 12, 1922).
  • Lynn Catterson

Updated in this version

new publication

Italian painter and dealer. Trained as a painter, Stefano Bardini began dealing art in the 1860s, building a business network across Europe and in America. Based in Florence, he specialized in Renaissance art, furnishings, and architectural elements and was responsible for the sale of some of the most important works in collections around the world. Bardini’s clients numbered in the many hundreds and included the German museum agent Wilhelm Bode and John II, Prince of Liechtenstein (reg 1858–1929), the collectors Nélie Jacquemart and her husband Edouard André in Paris, and the American architect and decorator Stanford White.

1. Life and career.

From 1855 to 1859, during the years leading up to Firenze Capitale, when Florence would be appointed capitol of the newly unified kingdom, Bardini trained as a painter at the Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence. In the years immediately following, he produced few paintings, evidently because he shifted very quickly to a lifelong career of dealing art. His first documented commercial transaction occurred already in 1866, when he was actively selling paintings—certainly copies made of masterworks in the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti executed by Florentine painter colleagues. Though his activity as a dealer was likely first conducted in Paris, by 1870 he had begun what would very soon become a flourishing business internationally transacting in fine and decorative art, including frescoes removed from their walls, sculpture in every medium, paintings, maiolica, arms and armor, wooden painted ceilings, furniture, embossed gilded leather to serve as wallpaper and furniture upholstery, architectural fittings such as mantelpieces, as well as carpets and tapestries. Bardini’s social and professional network was as intricate as it was vast; tiny address books dated c. 1880 contain more than 900 contacts, and his collection of calling cards, reflecting actual personal interactions, amounts to almost 6000.

Bardini had a superb eye for quality, which is why there are thousands of objects that are still populating both private and institutional collections in Europe and America having been put into circulation by him. The objects transacted are too numerous to discuss here, but a collections search for the name “Bardini” in many institutions yields a copious amount of results, and objects that have a provenance connected to him that come back onto the market to auction usually sell at many times their high estimate. His training at the Accademia di Belle Arti came at a time when his cohort of artists politically identified with Medicean Florence, specifically the Golden Age of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Hence, a good portion of the objects marketed and sold by him were stylistically evocative of 15th-century Florence, with attributions to artists in the circle of Lorenzo de’ Medici, such as Donatello, Verrocchio, Botticelli, Mino da Fiesole, and Filippo Lippi. The association with the Medici, the illustrious Florentine banking family, found a certain resonance with the newly minted, extraordinarily wealthy Gilded Age American collectors, such as Quincy Adams Shaw and J. Pierpont Morgan, many of whose acquisitions from Bardini would in turn be bought by Henry Clay Frick.

By 1883 Bardini had built a grand palazzo in Florence to serve as his gallery showrooms, and his acumen for display created the aura of a prestigious collector’s collection rather than a dealer’s inventory. Gradually, over several years, Bardini acquired the Palazzo Mozzi, on the same piazza, as space for storage and ateliers, as well as the adjoining gardens that ran up the hill to the south and which were crowned by a pink villa. In 1891 Bardini purchased Villa Marignolle, a few miles to the southwest of Florence. It would be from this villa’s chapel in the spring of 1901 that J. Pierpont Morgan acquired the bronze doors for the principal facade of the Morgan Library, New York (still in situ); at the time, the doors were attributed to Lorenzo Ghiberti. Functioning as the country villa counterpart to the city palazzo, Bardini fully equipped this property for the shopping pleasure of his clients. By 1902 Bardini had acquired another property much closer to the city, the Torre del Gallo, which he populated with objects cannibalized from Villa Marignolle.

Bardini’s two most active clients were the museum agent Wilhelm Bode and the architect and decorator Stanford White, of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White. Bode was acquiring massive quantities of objects for the German museums, while at the same time advising many of his clients in their acquisition of objects from Bardini, among them Rodolphe and Maurice Kann and Oscar Hainauer, whose collections were in turn published by Bode and eventually bought—and then sold—by Joseph Duveen. In addition, Bode was responsible for codifying into the canon Bardini’s objects—often objects actually made in the 19th century—by publishing them in copious amounts of scholarly literature that most especially dealt with Italian Renaissance sculpture. The authority that Bode conferred upon Bardini’s objects was critical to Bardini’s ongoing success at a time when the role of expert upon whom the clients relied was shifting from the dealer to that of the scholar art historian. The end result of this collaboration would be contaminated scholarly literature which discussed and compared objects in a very contaminated canon. Whether complicit or not, Bode, in his collaboration with Bardini, was an integral part of a business model that foreshadowed the relationship that would later develop between Bernard Berenson and the dealer Henry Duveen, Joseph’s brother.

Over time, both the Jacquemart–André and Rothschilds dealt directly with Bardini for their Paris-based collections, as did John II, Prince of Liechtenstein in Vienna. Likewise, the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum) in London and the Louvre procured much from Bardini over the course of many years. These interactions took place in Florence and abroad. Bardini would send objects to be displayed on the fringes of World Expositions in Paris and then move them on to London for their sale at auction; clients would be invited to both locations, enticed by the lavish catalogs and invitations that they received. In addition, Bardini actively sent photographs and plaster casts to prospective buyers or to function as comparanda for the study of similar objects in other collections.

For his part, Stanford White ordered vast quantities of “Italian Renaissance” art, decorative art, and architectural fittings which Bardini made to order for the many Gilded Age mansions that were built by McKim, Mead & White, among them, J. Pierpont Morgan’s library in New York. Often these objects would, in turn, travel by bequest to public institutions. American clients included Quincy Adams Shaw, whose bequest forms the core of the Italian Renaissance sculpture collection in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Others included Herbert M. Sears (1867–1942), Isabella Stewart Gardner, Charles Mather Foulke, William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849–1920), and Charles Yerkes (1837–1905), as well as museum directors, such as Henry Marquand during his tenure at the Metropolitan Museum in the 1890s.

Upon his death in 1922, the galleries on Piazza Mozzi were bequeathed to the city of Florence and are now the Museo Stefano Bardini. The business was continued by his painter son Ugo Bardini, who personally acquired little, and mainly sold fine and decorative art from the approximately 70,000 objects and parts of objects left in his father’s storerooms, until his own death.

2. Influence, innovation, and business structure.

At the height of his career, Bardini had some 300 people in his employ, so it is fair to say that he should not be regarded as a singular dealer but rather as someone who was brilliantly managing a very large and complex enterprise. Bardini’s top-level supervisors were gifted artists and, importantly, they were multilingual. While still a teenager, his daughter Emma (1883–1962), a writer and painter, studied German, because many of Bardini’s most important clients were German; she also was involved in writing item descriptions in English for his auction catalogs. Staff facility in languages was a significant factor that enabled the business to grow and function efficiently in the emergent international art market as it appears that Bardini was fluent only in his own language. In turn, this indicates the necessarily deep reliance of Bardini on his staff and their commensurate involvement in the running of the business. By the end of the 1870s, Bardini’s clients numbered, internationally, more than 500, and there were as many suppliers located throughout the entire Italian peninsula, which together created a vast and intricate social network. By the 1880s Bardini had four managers who looked after the galleries and often traveled to Paris and London, but also throughout Italy and parts of Europe, in search of potential acquisitions, or to investigate and report on local taste and the contents of local collections. Archival receipts testify to the copious amount of restorations that Bardini outsourced in addition to those undertaken by the craftsmen he employed, who also engaged in much pastiching and fabrication. More archival material provides a window onto a complex macrocosm of a very active secondary market, which included the craftsmen and artists who Bardini paid for ironwork, stonework, plaster casts made in house and by Oronzio Lelli, terracottas made by Camillo Bondi at the Manifattura di Signa, maiolica made by Alessandro Castellani, copies of masterworks painted by Luigi Bardi and others, together with all of the support services provided by many different photographers, several attorneys, and the men responsible for getting the export permits and crating and shipping all that was transacted. Indeed, archival material amply demonstrates that there were many hands and personalities at work, and this very much obfuscates any kind of accurate or nuanced biographical profile of Stefano Bardini himself.

Throughout his career, and as was customary for the art market in Italy at the time, Bardini worked with many other dealers, and very often several dealers worked in società, that is, they would own a share in an object for sale. The dealers with whom Bardini worked were located throughout Italy, most especially in Venice, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Bologna, Rome, Pisa, and Naples. This situation demonstrates time and again that object provenance is not necessarily linear, and just because an object was purchased from a single dealer does not mean that that dealer necessarily found the object or owned it in full.

In addition to the management of a vast international and national network, Bardini was a genius when it came to branding, displaying, and marketing his objects. That he was successful is evidenced by clients, such as Isabella Stewart Gardner, who mimicked him in her choice of “Bardini Blue” for the walls of her Long Gallery, where she displayed her Italian collection. Sculpture would be pastiched, that is, torsos would be fitted with different heads, until the right combination found its buyer; likewise, Madonnas could be changed in ways, for example from pious to sad, that Bardini knew would better suit a particular client’s taste, one that often he himself had cultivated. He knew which clients, such as Louisine Havemeyer, lived for the chance discovery, and Bardini and one of his managers, the sculptor from Philadelphia Albert Harnisch (1843–1918), took every opportunity to elaborately stage such discoveries. Other tactics included the invention of provenance, such as an object originating from a Medici villa in the country or coming from important Florentine families such as the Strozzi. It was also not beyond him to smuggle objects which were likely to be denied an export permit, and he was equally likely to smuggle a fake in order to increase the buyer’s perception of authenticity. For Bardini, there were two distinct categories of objects. There were the thousands of commercial marketplace works upon which were usually applied heavy-handed interventions. The second category can be broadly defined to include old masterworks and other important cultural patrimony. When it came to these works, Bardini reveals himself to be exceptionally conservative and ardently critical of mishandled campaigns of conservation and restoration.

Significantly, the trajectory of Bardini’s career mirrored that of the evolution of photography, and he made good use of photographs in almost every aspect of the business, from assessing possible acquisitions, to marketing and keeping track of inventory, in the preparation of auction catalogs, and to document the movement and values of objects long after they left his possession. In so many cases, the photographs were used as the language of exchange in the multilingual international market. Bardini employed an in-house photographer, and he commissioned thousands of negatives and photographs from photographers, both local and from afar, including two of the most important Italian firms known for the documentation of art and architecture, the Fratelli Alinari and Giacomo Brogi. The importance of photography cannot be overstated as the photographs made their way into the scholarly literature and fast became the vehicles of comparanda in the internationally situated discussions regarding attribution as well as functioning to drive a certain kind of competition among buyers, be they private collectors or in the quest to build world-class institutional collections.

Unpublished sources

Berlin, Zentralarchiv, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (ZAB).

Florence, Archivio Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze (AABAFi).

Florence, Archivio Fotografico Eredità Bardini (AFEB).

Florence, Archivio Musei Comunali Fondo Stefano Bardini (AMCFiFSB).

Archivio Storico Eredità Bardini (ASEB)

Florence, Soprintendenza per Beni Artistici e Storici Firenze Pistoia e Prato Ufficio Catalogo archivi storici Firenze (ASBASFi).

Florence, Soprintendente Polo Museale Toscano.


The secondary literature prior to 2013 is primarily concerned with the collection of the Museo Stefano Bardini, drawing upon some ten years’ worth of archival material held by the city of Florence. It is only subsequently that work has been done and published on the man, deriving its content and ideas from 100 years of archival material held by the state. For a comprehensive bibliography on Stefano Bardini, see Lynn Catterson, “Art Market, Social Network and Contamination: Bardini, Bode and the Madonna Pazzi Puzzle.” In Florence, Berlin and Beyond Late Nineteenth-century Art Markets and their Social Networks, edited by Lynn Catterson, 499–500, n. 3. Leiden: Brill, 2020.

  • Médailles de la Renaissance: collection de M. Stefano Bardini de Florence, sale cat., Paris, June 12, 1885. Drouot: Compagnie des Commissaires-Priseurs, 1885.
  • Catalogue of a Choice Collection of Pictures, Antiquities, Works of art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, from the Collection of Signor Stephano Bardini, of Florence, sale cat., London, Christie, Manson & Woods, 1899.
  • Catalogue des objets d’art antiques, du Moyen age et de la Renaissance, sale cat., London, June 5, 1899. 2 vols. 73 plates, Phototypie Berthaud frères, 1899.
  • Collection Bardini, sale cat. Florence, June 5, 1899 [bronzetti, cornici, dipinti, mobili, sculture, oggetti vari].
  • Catalogue des objets d’art antiques, du Moyen âge, et de la Renaissance, provenant de la Collection Bardini de Florence, sale cat., London, May 27, 1902.
  • Catalogue of a Choice Collection of Pictures and Other Works of Art: Chiefly Italian, of Mediaeval and Renaissance Times, the Property of S. Bardini, sale cat., London, Christie, Manson & Woods, May 26, 1902.
  • Kirkby, Thomas Ellis. De Luxe Illustrated Catalogue of the Treasures and Antiquities Illustrating the Golden Age of Italian Art, Belonging to the Famous Expert and Antiquarian, Signor Stefano Bardini, of Florence, Italy. New York: American Art Association, 1918.
  • Scalia, Fiorenza and De Benedictis, C. Il Museo Bardini a Firenze. Milan: Electa, 1984.
  • Faedo, L. and Neri Lusanna, E. Il Museo Bardini a Firenze: Le sculture, Florence, Museo Bardini cat., Milan, 1986.
  • Catterson, Lynn. “Stefano Bardini: Forming the Canon of Fifteenth-Century Italian Sculpture.” Center 35 (2015): 60–63.
  • Catterson, Lynn, ed. Dealing Art on Both Sides of the Atlantic, 1860–1940. Leiden: Brill (2017) [introductory essay].
  • Catterson, Lynn. “From Florence to London to New York: J.P. Morgan’s Bronze Doors.” Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide 16, no. 3 (Autumn 2017); “Addendum.” 18, no. 1 (2019).
  • Catterson, Lynn. “Stefano Bardini & the Taxonomic Branding of Marketplace Style. From the Gallery of a Dealer to the Institutional Canon.” In Images of the Art Museum, Connecting Gaze and Discourse in the History of Museology, edited by Melania Savino and Eva-Maria Troelenberg, 41–64. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2017.
  • Catterson, Lynn. “American Collecting, Stefano Bardini & the Taste for Trecento Florence.” Discovering the Italian Trecento in the 19th Century 41/42 (2018) [special issue].
  • Ciancabilla, Luca and Giometti, Cristiano, eds. Stefano Bardini ‘estrattista’; affreschi staccati nell’Italia Unita fra antiquariato, collezionismo e musei. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2019.
  • Catterson, Lynn. “Art Market, Social Network and Contamination: Bardini, Bode and the Madonna Pazzi Puzzle.” In Florence, Berlin and Beyond Late Nineteenth-century Art Markets and their Social Networks, edited by Lynn Catterson, 498–552. Leiden: Brill, 2020.
  • Catterson, Lynn. “From Visual Inventory to Trophy Clippings: Bardini & Co. and the Use of Photographs in the Late 19C Art Market.” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Instituts in Florenz 62, no. 1 (2020): 68–91.
  • Paolucci, AntonioL’eredità di Stefano Bardini a Firenze: Le Opere d’arte, la villa e il giardino. Florence: Mandragora, 2020.
  • Smalcerz, JoannaSmuggling the Renaissance: The Illicit Export of Artworks Out of Italy, 1861–1909. Leiden: Brill, 2020. 
  • Catterson, Lynn. “Duped or Duplicitous? Bode, Bardini and the Many Madonnas of South Kensington.” Journal of the History of Collections 2021. [forthcoming]
  • Catterson, Lynn. “Stefano Bardini’s Sculptor from Philadelphia: A.E. Harnisch & the Manufacture of Italian Renaissance Sculpture in the Late 19C.”, 2021. [forthcoming]
  • Catterson, Lynn. “Maurice de Bosdari (aka Borel, Beauvoir, Bremont) and Godfrey von Kopp, Would-be Agents of Stefano Bardini.” In Art Dealers, America and the International Art Market, 1880–1930, Getty Research Institute Symposium, 18–19 Jan 2018. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Publications, forthcoming.