Monday, April 9, 2001

Antonio Bardi, Florentine painter (1862-1924)

This page is dedicated to Antonio Bardi, Florentine painter (1862-1924). It was created in 1998 by his great-grandson Ugo Bardi. It is republished on the blog "Chimeras" in March 2016. The portrait above may be dated circa 1910.

Antonio Bardi worked as a painter for most of his life but after his death in 1924 his work and his story have been almost totally lost. Over his career, he must have painted hundreds of paintings. Of these, just a few are still kept by his heirs. Where the rest of his paintings have gone, it is impossible to say, but it appears likely that several were "re-signed" as the work of some more famous painter and sold as such. If you happen to have a painting that you imagine could be Antonio Bardi, please contact me, his great-grandson, with a comment on this blog

About Antonio Bardi's life

Antonio Bardi was born in 1862, son of Ferdinando Bardi and Caterina Setti. Both Florentines, both of modest conditions and living in the "S. Frediano" quarter on the south side of the river Arno. Ferdinando's occupation is reported in the acts of the city hall to have been "torcitore di seta" (silk worker) and also "carbonaio" (coal delivery man). The main event of Ferdinando's life was to join Garibaldi's "thousand" volunteers in the Italian revolution of 1860. From that war, he returned with four silver medals of which the ribbons are still conserved by his heirs. The medals themselves were lost in the 1940s, when they were donated to "the country" in support of the war effort, but they can still be seen in Ferdinando's portrait made by his son. From the records still kept we also know that Ferdinando was born in Firenze on August 22nd 1822, that his father was Antonio Bardi, "pentolaio" (tinker) in S. Frediano and his mother Caterina (born Guidi), weaver.

How Antonio Bardi became a painter is told in an article (see below) published in a 19th century newspaper. The clip is still conserved by Antonio's heirs, unfortunately the title, date and the name of the newspaper are missing. From what's left, the date should be the first half of March 1877. The author of these notes has searched for that article in the three newspapers published in Firenze around the right time in "Archivio di stato", but could not find it. Anyway, we can read that a famous Brazilian painter, one Pedro Americo, was taking a walk near the Uffizi gallery in Florence and he spotted a young boy drawing the head of a warrior on the street with a piece of chalk. Somehow, that Brazilian gentleman decided that the boy had talent, so he took him as his apprentice in his studio and helped him to get an education at the Art Academy in Firenze. He also helped the boy's family which, we are told, "versed in dire poverty". This story appears in the newspaper just before a report on the visit to Firenze of Pedro II, emperor of Brazil. The two stories may have been related, and the good deed of the Brazilian painter Pedro Americo may have had the main purpose of improving the public image of the emperor. Apparently even at that time the concept of "public relations" was not unknown in politics.

The boy, Antonio Bardi, finished his studies and became a full-time painter. He married Emma Ardinghi, a florentine woman, and had two sons, Bardo and Raffaello. Very little is known about Antonio's career: it seems that he remained based in Firenze for most of his life. However, it seems also that he visited Spain. For sure he maintained some contacts with his Brazilian benefactors and it is remembered that he was acquainted with the ambassador of Brazil since he made a portrait of him.

Antonio worked as a painter until an illness to the eyes (maybe he was 45?) forced him to reduce his artistic activities and take a job as a guardsman in the "Sant'Ambrogio" produce market in Firenze. He died at 62, (in 1924) of a throat cancer. Apparently he had been a convinced smoker all his life. His wife Emma survived him of a few years, dying one snowy day, on February 10th 1929. It is remembered that before dying she expressed the wish that nobody of the family should come to her funeral, so the priest had the funeral passing under the windows of the house, then in via Pisana. Her daughter in law (Rita), was at that time pregnant with her last son (Antonio).

Of Antonio Bardi's life, there remain the recollections of those who have known him personally, in particular his grand-daughter Renza, aunt of the author. At the time when these notes were written Renza was 81, but she still remembered her grandfather well. According to her, Antonio was a stern man. Renza remembers how once she met him on the stairs of their house in Via Pisana after she had just bought a chocolate sweet. Antonio took her back to the shop and ordered her to give back the sweet saying to the salesman "It is not right to sell things to children". This hardness of character is not so typical of the Bardi family as it appears nowadays, but those were harder times and Antonio Bardi's life was surely not easy.

Finding a benefactor in the person of the Brazilian painter Pedro Amerigo was a stroke of luck for Antonio Bardi that gave him a chance to escape the destiny of his father, a humble worker. Nevertheless, at his time just as today, life was not easy for someone who wanted to make a living out of painting. Antonio had to survive spending a lot of time in activities that today we would not think as very noble for a painter. He made and sold portraits, and the kind of realistic portraits that people would buy; not fancy "artistic" ones. In an age when photography was still something exotic and rare he owned a few cameras himself (still conserved), probably used for a quick snapshot of the subject; to be elaborated on canvas later on. Antonio also made, and sold, reproductions of the masterpieces conserved in the Florentine major galleries, from Raphael to Masaccio and Michelangelo. This activity, too, was something that could produce a modest revenue. As color photography did not exist yet, the visitors of the time (rather cultured ones in comparison to the present lot) would appreciate reproductions painted "from the original", as it would be stamped and sanctioned on the canvas by a museum officer. Finally, Antonio also painted and sold religious images: saints, madonnas, and so on. It is not clear today how he regarded these activities and if he would rather have liked to conduct a life more appropriate to an artist, painting only when and as inspiration dictated.

Over his career as a painter, Antonio must have painted hundreds of paintings. Of these, only a few remains in the hands of his heirs. We have two portraits of his wife Emma and one of his father Ferdinando with his medals. Two paintings showing the artist's father are kept by an old friend of the family who lives now in another town, but we lost contact with her and we have no idea of where those paintings could have ended up. We also have several sketches and unfinished paintings, and some copies of ancient masterpieces. One of these is a reproduction of the "Madonna della seggiola"" by Raffaello (the original is presently at the Uffizi museum in Firenze). Several of Antonio's drawings while he was in school also remain, as well as a fragment of the portrait of a Japanese woman wearing a kimono. He also made and restored a "tabernacolo" fresco in via Palazzo dei Diavoli which was recently (1984?) torn down in building the large avenue named viale Talenti. A Florentine antiquarian, Mr. Antonio Parronchi, told to the author that he has seen paintings signed A. Bardi, but it has been impossible to find them.

Artists are supposed to use their skills to express concepts and ideas, not just to reproduce reality. But for Antonio Bardi we can't say much in this respect. So few of his paintings are left, and these few are just those which, presumably, had no market value: portraits of members of Antonio's family and juvenile sketches. We can only say that, undoubtedly, he was skilled with his brush, and that he could paint fine portraits. His watercolor reproduction of Raffaello's "Madonna della Seggiola" is a small masterpiece of technical skills but, of course, it is not what we would call nowadays a "work of art". If Antonio had the inclination and the possibility to do more than that, it is difficult today to tell. We can only, maybe, try to give a meaning to some of the works he left. His portraits of his wife Emma are, no doubt, impressive, and not just from a technical viewpoint. The young Emma looks at us from the canvas with her large dark eyes. The warm red of the dress, the large black ribbon, the hint of hair collected in a bun, are al elements that give us an idea of a constrained vitality. As a mature woman, Emma looks stern and energetic, reminding to the author the figure of his grandmother Rita: the same stern expression, the same hair style. It is known that men tend to marry women who look like their mothers, that's maybe what Antonio's son Raffaello did when he chose Rita for his wife.

Also, the portraits of Antonio's father Ferdinando may tell us something. First, Antonio showed him as a vigorous bemedaled hero. Then, in a later painting we see again Ferdinando Bardi, this time as an aged man. Seated at a old and probably shaky table, with only a bowl of soup and some bread as dinner, Ferdinando's expression somehow conveys the idea of a life that was hard for everyone, and in particular for an old man who had lost all of his teeth and had to content himself with such a meager meal. Little consolation he had that he had been a glorious hero in his youth, now he had only three flasks of wine left. But decline is everyone's destiny, not just of heroes, and perhaps when Antonio Bardi painted his father in such way was also thinking to his own brief moment of notoriety, when he had met the Brazilian painter Pedro Americo.
Also for Antonio, life was to become harder in old age.

We don't know if Antonio thought that his life as a painter was a success or a failure. But the fact that eventually he had to stop painting, officially because of eyes problem, seems to tell us something. For painters, Antonio's time was one of experimentation and of novelty. It was the age of the French "impressionistes" and of other schools which aimed at bringing true colors and light to previously dull and dark canvases. It was the time of Renoir, of Van Gogh, of Monet, of Gauguin, a time when all the great painters of the world seemed to have congregated in Paris. Of all this movement, of all this excitation, there is little or no trace in Antonio Bardi's paintings. In all what we have of him, he was a "classic" painter, one of the old school, surely a heavy imprint of his academic studies. If he did experiment with the new techniques it is probable that he had no success in a sleepy provincial town as Firenze was at that time.

Far away from Paris, always in financial trouble, Antonio must have seen the world passing him by, with younger Italian painters gaining national and international renown. For example, Filadelfio Simi (1849-1922) was 13 years older than Antonio and had a remarkably similar story. Born in a poor family, he was noted by an older benefactor, this time an Italian painter named Vegni. Unlike Antonio, however, Filadelfio Simi is still well remembered, most likely because he had the luck that his master sent him to study in Paris, where he gained an international reputation even though his style always remained classic, without ever a hint of being influenced by the Parisian impressionists. Another still known Florentine painter of that period is Galileo Chini (1873 - 1956), about a decade younger than Antonio, he lived in another age of international contacts and "Art-Nouveau" influences. Among other things, Chini had the luck to be invited by the King of Siam and to spend 5 years in Bangkok in the fascination of the orient: glamor, exotism, bright colors, and lights.

We don't know if Antonio tried to gain an international reputation and to follow the glamorous careers of some of his contemporaries. His granddaughter Renza says that he visited Spain and that he made a portrait of the Spanish and the Brazilian ambassadors in Italy. But, eventually, Antonio remained an obscure painter in Firenze, painting saints and Madonnas and reproductions of ancient masterpieces. It is difficult to say how serious was Antonio's eye sickness, and if it really was what caused him to stop painting at 45. It may not have been actually an excuse but, maybe, after so much hope at the beginning, the old painter was tired and, in the end, he gave up. We may imagine him during the last years of his life, stern, dressed in his rather formal clothes that we see on on his black and white picture, sitting in his armchair, smoking his cigarette, and never saying much; a trait that the family seems to have maintained up to the present times.

Antonio Bardi's heirs

   As a last note about Antonio Bardi, it may be worth remarking that his life and personality had a profound impact over his heirs. His sons (Raffaello and Bardo) were not painters but they could enjoy a relatively well to do life. Of the two, Bardo died young of the Spanish flu, just after the end of the first world war, a few years after marrying. Raffaello, instead, led a long life (he died at 84) and for most of it he worked as an employee of a Swiss company which owned a factory of straw hats in Firenze. In comparison with the average worker of the time, Raffaello was a cultured man. He could read and write, and speak at least a few words of German and Spanish, something clearly useful for him to work in an international company.

The effect of Antonio's career as a painter was most evident with the second generation of children. Raffaello had two daughters (Anna and Renza) and two sons (Giuliano and Antonio). All of them pursued careers which had some artistic components. The sons became both architects, and both daughters dabbled in painting. Renza followed her grandfather in painting reproductions of masterpieces and became specialized in that (there are still many of these reproductions in the family house). Later, however, she moved to a non-artistic career with the straw hat company which also employed her father. Anna painted all of her life, following a path that we may imagine as somewhat similar to that of her grandfather, although temporally inverted. She started from very humble pursuit, selling portraits and painting trinkets for tourists. Only during the last years of her life (she died in 1987) she could finally become a full-time artist, painting what she liked and when she liked. The skill of painting seems to have disappeared from the subsequent generation of heirs of Antonio (which includes the author of the present notes). There is one more generation coming up, though, and time will tell if the genetic imprint of the old painter will resurface.

Antonio Bardi: Gallery of paintings

Untitled, circa 1890: Antonio Bardi's father (Ferdinando) sitting at a table

Untitled, circa 1890. The man dressed in black is Antonio Bardi's father, Ferdinando.

Portrait of Ferdinando Bardi (Antonio's father) as a war hero. Circa 1880.

Portraits of Antonio Bardi's wife, Emma Ardinghi:

Emma as a young woman

Emma as a mature woman

Photographic portrait of Emma in late life.


Text of the 1877 newspaper article about Antonio Bardi

Questo brano è tratto da un giornale fiorentino del Marzo 1877. La data è desunta da alcune notizie riportate in vari articoli, dovrebbe essere dell'inizio di Marzo, dato che si menziona la Gazzetta Ufficiale del 2 Marzo. Alcune parti sono mancanti, e non è stato possibile capire esattamente di quale dei tre quotidiani che si pubblicavano a quell'epoca a Firenze si tratti, e neppure il nome dell'autore. L'articolo immediatamente successivo a quello qui riportato descrive la visita dell'Imperatore Pedro II del Brasile a Firenze che avveniva in quei giorni a Firenze

Cronaca Cittadina

Antonio Bardi

Le mie gentili lettrici si ricorderanno certamente di aver veduto circa un anno fa un ragazzetto sui dieci anni di volto franco,ilare, vivace, vestito di logori panni che coraggiosamente scarabocchiava disegni di uomini e di donne sui marciapiedi delle strade con un pezzo di carbone o di gesso, non avendo mezzi per comperarsi......

..... [ la sorte ] si mostrava sorridente e gli inviava un generoso protettore nel Comm. Pedro Americo.
L'illustre artista straniero, passava un giorno sotto la Loggia degli Uffizi quando la sua attenzione fu rivolta a un gruppo di persone, che facevano cerchio al nostro piccolo artista, il quale stava ultimando la testa di un guerriero. Pedro Americo esaminò attentamente il disegnoe gli parve maraviglia per essere fatto da un povero ragazzetto, senza istruzione, senza alcun principio d'arte. Chiese alcune informazioni su di lui e seppe che si chiamava Antonio Bardi, che era privo di ogni mezzo di sussistenza, giacchè la sua famiglia lottava nella miseria. Il celebre artista brasiliano si interessò allora con cal;ore della sorte del fanciullo e provvedutolo di quanto poteva occorrergli, seco lo volle nel suo studio. Immaginatevi il giubilo che dovette provare il piccolo Antonio nel veder adempiuto il suo ardentissimo desiderio e la sua gratitudine verso il generoso protettore straniero.

      Pedro Americo, con quella pazienza e costanza, che è uno dei distintivi dei caratteri nobili, cercò in quell'intelligenza tuttora debole, tuttora incerta, il principio della vita, sforzandosi di dirigere l'attenzione del fanciullo ad un fine determinato con ordine e perseveranza, consultando e fecondando le inclinazioni della natura. Sotto la sua scorta, col suo aiuto generoso, l'ingegno di Antonio si sviluppò in modo veramente straordinario.

      Ben presto sotto i disegni corretti, disparvero gli scarabocchi; ed il fanciullo potè empire la sua cartella di schizzi perfetti.

      Io ho veduto per ben due volte i disegni eseguiti dal piccolo Artista; ossia teste copiate dal gesso, busti, ed alcuni ritratti tolti dalle litografie, fra i quali quello del commendator Peruzzi; e tutti questi disegni mi dimostrano il buon volere e il progresso del fanciullo e com'egli non deluda le aspettative del suo generoso maestro, ma coraggioso e fortunato proceda sulla via spinosa dell'arte.

      Però la beneficienza dell'illustre pittore brasiliano verso il suo piccolo scolare Fiorentino qui non si arresta. Volendo soccorrere altresì con lui la sua famiglia che, come già dissi, versa nella miseria, il dott. Americo pensò di santificare lo scopo di una festa artistica, con un'opera generosa.

     Durante alcuni giorni dell'esposizione.......