Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 11

The sculptor Soldani’s attempt to market
Filippo Baldinucci’s collection of paintings
I enclose the note of the pictures that the
Avvocato Baldinucci has given me, from
which you can see if there is anything to
your taste. If there is, do let me know and
then I shall go and examine whatever
you wish to buy – and have a painter
friend of mine look at them as well. But
the Avvocato said that if you were to
acquire the collection en bloc, it would be
Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi to Gian
Giacomo Zamboni, 15 July 1717. 1
This letter quoted above and an accompanying list
of paintings (see Appendix I) have been recently
rediscovered amongst a tranche of correspondence in
the Bodleian Library in Oxford. This consists of a long
series of letters written between 1711 and 1740, and sent
by the Florentine medallist and sculptor Massimiliano
Soldani-Benzi (1656-1740) to Gian Giacomo Zamboni,
a fellow-Florentine based in London, concerning the
sale of the former’s bronze sculptures to the British
“milordi” in Florence and in their homeland.2
Fig. 1 / Antonio Selvi,
Medal of Massimiliano
Soldani-Benzi, 1715,
bronze, 86 cm diameter,
Private Collection.
However, among the letters, there is a strand of
correspondence in which Soldani endeavours instead
to market this fine collection of paintings, formed by
the seventeenth-century art historian Filippo Baldinucci
(1624-1697), to potential buyers in their native
country. These artworks were being offered for sale by
Baldinucci’s son, Francesco Saverio (1662-1738).3 In
an attempt to secure good prices for his inheritance, he
was exploiting Soldani’s “special relationship” with the
British Grand Tourists or “milordi,” but Soldani was
scrupulous about attempting to verify the authenticity of
the attributions.4 The letters provide a fascinating insight
into the workings of the Anglo-Florentine art market
during the early years of the eighteenth century and the
central period of the Grand Tour, while the list of nearly
fifty paintings bears witness to the taste of a pioneering
art historian, information that was previously unknown.5
The four hundred folios of correspondence between
Soldani and Signore Gian Giacomo Zamboni in
London are preserved among the latter’s business
papers, which are now lodged in the Bodleian Library.6
Zamboni lived in the newly constructed Golden
Square, in the fashionable West End of London, and
by 1720 he had personally amassed enough money to
purchase £5,000 worth of the ill-fated South Sea stock,
which – like Sir Isaac Newton, but unlike Thomas Guy7
– he shortly lost, after the “Bubble” burst. Service as
a go-between, middle-man or commission-agent was
the essence of the unscrupulous Zamboni’s career. In
the event he did not deal fairly with the high-minded
sculptor, a minor aristocrat.
It is the purpose of this paper to publish the list of
Baldinucci’s paintings and to attempt to identify and
illustrate a selection of the most significant of these
paintings (or their possible originals).
Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi (1656-1740) was Master
of the Mint in Florence (fig. 1), but he extended
his range of production beyond coinage to weighty


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