Not Just Another Pretty Face
A Poetic Journey through Parma’s Mercanteinfiera
by Saxon Henry
I expected the curvaceous furniture—delicate legs arcing toward the floor like the crimped ends of perfectly tied bows left dangling just so. I would have been disappointed if the finest gold leaf hadn’t glinted in the morning light as finely wrought furnishings were rolled in by men and women whose knowledge of antiques was as vast as their inventory. I would have been surprised if the rough, lichen-covered stone of a portly urn hadn’t served as an anchor for a number of booths. Even the fact that I spotted two playful rocking horses whose swayed backs had felt the weight of decades of amusement was par for the course.
I had certainly imagined I’d find quality at every turn—it was Parma’s famed Mercanteinfiera, after all. But one thing within the string of massive buildings gave me pause: the emotion expressed in so many ways through the proliferation of the human form.
I know, I know: it was Italy, you say; that lush land where Michelangelo teased his “David” from that inert block of stone! Might that have been a clue I was in for some serious posturing in any number of media? In my own defense, it wasn’t the dexterity with which the creators of the sculpture and painting had realized the treasures I saw, it was the sheer deluge of effusive beauty that boggled my mind.
There were mythic gods writhing within the strife of their predicaments, mottled with pillowy green moss and groaning at the ceiling after having tried to shrug off their angst in someone’s garden for centuries. Canvas after canvas was covered so deftly in oil they held emotions so raw it was unfathomable the people on their surfaces could not speak. There was so much humanly splendor I spent an entire day photographing the faces peering at me from every turn; the array of sentiments expressed was beyond staggering.
I was struck forcefully by the fact Petrarch, the father of the sonnet as we read it in English today, lived in Parma off and on during his adult life. It was in a study tucked into a home surround by an effusive garden he loved tending, not far from the fair site, where he wrote poetry that mentioned the visage of his beloved Laura untold times in his Il Canzoniere.
And there I stood, surrounded by faces just as alluring. It was as if his obsession with her bodily beauty rose up from every corner as I made my way through the maze of booths. The atmosphere was teeming with energy and the knowledge that loveliness was on sale was palpable, all but the most seasoned buyers trying to contain their excitement. Perhaps it was not surprising Petrarch came to mind while I was walking the show with the remarkable Toma Clark Haines and her coterie of divas, as I had been reading his sonnets in preparation for a literary adventure I was taking after my adventure at Fiera had come to a close. And I’m not surprised Michelangelo entered my consciousness because his brand of gracefulness was glancing from nearly every stand.
I leave it to the vast expertise of others, like Toma, to express the full weight of the curated artifacts I saw, but I’ve tapped Michelangelo to guide us towards the truth of the artists’ struggle—thousands of them contributing to the show’s milieu. It’s not to Michelangelo’s sculptural genius I turn; it’s to his sonnets, pulling forth this fragment from #109:
Lady, through long experience we see
That, although carved in stone, beauty can last
Much longer than the sculptor, whose years fast
Fall into ash—how can this ever be?
The cause is won by the effect: so we
Know well how nature is by art outcast.
Believe me, what I sculpted in the past
Is not afraid of time and death, like me.
Continue on Saxon's literary journey: Following Petrarchan Paths in Italy
For more information please visit Mercanteinfiera (each March and October)
For photos please visit: Saxon Henry's Pinterest page
Toma Clark Haines: The Antiques Diva