The Berlingieri marquises are the new owners of the Boldini’s painting depicting Donna Franca Florio, which will be put on display in Palazzo Mazzarino, one of their properties. The painting was the most valuable item amongst the furniture, sculpture and ceramics that went to auction last march from the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea, where it had been on display since 2005. Donna Franca, best known as the “Queen of Palermo”, was also nicknamed the “Star of Italy” by Kaiser Wilhelm II and described as “unique” by Gabriele D’Annunzio. She was beautiful, elegant, and fluent in four languages, she was the ambassador of a city that dreamt of being the economic and elite capital of Italy.
The Berlingieri are some of the greatest collectors of European contemporary art. They bought the portrait for €1,133,000 and have brought Donna Franca back home to Palermo. It will be hung in Palazzo Mazzarino in Via Maqueda, one of the Berlingieri’s homes. It is a monumental piece of art and it will be displayed to the public, albeit in a controlled manner. But before it will be taken to its new home, the painting will be a protagonist of a public event. It will go on display at the Palace of Venaria until February, where there is an exhibition dedicated to Boldini. Boldini was a painter from Ferrara, who painted portraits of the Parisian elite. He finally finished his portrait of Donna Franca in 1924, after more than twenty years of working on it. However, the Florio family, who were at the height of their success when they commissioned the piece originally, were in economic ruin and were no longer able to buy it. So Boldini sold it in 1927 to the Baron Rothschild, who took it with him to America. It reappeared in 1995 when it was put on sale at Christie’s, and then it emerged again ten years later, when it was sent back to the Hotel Villa Igiea, after being bought for €800,000. Legend has it that Ignazio Florio, Donna franca’s husband, made Boldini change the painting, as he thought it was too risqué, getting him to lengthen the dress and cover her shoulders. But in actual fact, the first version was a lot more conservative ( her dress had long sleeves embellished with golden embroidery). Boldini decided to “undress” her, adapting to the fashion trends of the 1920s.
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