Sunday, December 07, 2008


The young Mario Praz

Were you that kid who always got blamed for crap other kids did? Do you sometimes feel like you're walking under a personal raincloud? Surely all but the most self-assured of us feel this way some of the time, but this was the public condition of Mario Praz (1896-1982), a genius literary critic (The Romantic Agony), tastmaking art historian (Gusto Neoclassico, An Illustrated History of Furnishings), and carrier of the Evil Eye (malocchio in Italian). In an essay for the New York Times in 1983*, Muriel Spark noted that, despite his general eminence, Romans treated Praz like the cooler in an old-time casino: "everyone noticed when Mario Praz was present at a party, and waited for the disaster. There was usually a stolen car at the end of the evening, or someone called away because his uncle had died. " This was apparently treated as a matter of fact, and did not prevent him from being liked (although John Richardson has said otherwise), much less widely respected - a book of essays, Friendship's Garland, was published in honor of his 70th birthday - and mourned on a national scale after his death. He was just this sad neighborhood character who happened to be famous.

The older Mario Praz

Spark's article goes on to describe him sitting under a leak in the roof of the opera house: "sure enough, there was our dear Malocchio sitting under the afflicted spot," enduring his own private rainstorm. The burden of such a reputation would turn anyone into a recluse.

These friends won't blame you for their bad luck - Praz's drawing room at the Palazzo Ricci (from The House of Life)

This eminent outcast eventually assembled one of the finest collection of Empire, Regency and Biedermeier furniture and decorative arts in private hands at the time, paid for by his work as a translator (he translated most of his English contemporaries into Italian). His oddly fascinating memoir, The House of Life (a reply to the roman a clef written by his estranged ex wife, who considered their marriage a tomb), catalogues his collection in terms of relationships with the various people who passed through his life when he wasn't haggling with dealers. A description of a rare objet will end with an anecdote about T.S. Eliot; his attempt to show his affection for his daughter with fine Empire furniture in her nursery was not met with the hoped-for gratitude.

The collection now resides in the Museo Mario Praz, located in his final apartment in the Palazzo Primoli, over the Museo Napoleonico on Via Zanardelli.

The Grande Galleria
The Scrivania

The Salle della Biblioteche (3 pictures above courtesy the Museo Mario Praz)



The House of Beauty and Culture said...

Great, another book I feel compelled to read. I am intrigued.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Fascinating post. Fascinating character. Fascinating blog.

marvin said...

what is the roman a clef written by his ex-wife

the quarter rat said...

I've been searching for that for some time...

Rose C'est La Vie said...

Thanks for introducing me to Praz in your engaging post. Two wonderful words to play around with now: gusto (the italian way) and malocchio . I'm thinking of the heavenly twins: malocchio and pinocchio. PS I want a pug too.

andrew1860 said...

I can't wait to go to Rome just to see his amazing collection. It's amazing what this man put together over the years without a lot of money! He was not a millionaire but his taste and collections overpast many people with money!