Fancy getting caught in a time warp? Take a stroll down Via Maggio, Florence’s iconic antique-only shopping street and stop at Galleria Esposito where Chiara Esposito, passionate antique dealer and digital entrepreneuse, will take you on an unforgettable journey.
As you may (or may not) know, Florence isn’t just famous for its superb museums, top restaurants and breathtaking views.
The city is also a haven for antique-hunters who will be more than pleased to find delightful curiosity shops and antique galleries jammed packed with the finest art and crafts. While most of these shops are scattered all around the city, Florence is perhaps the last city in Italy to flaunt a strictly antique-only shopping street, via Maggio (located just across the Arno river, right off Piazza Santo Spirito and the Pitti Palace).
This street has never lost its charm throughout the centuries and it’s still one of the most authentic streets in Tuscany.
The history of via Maggio
The origin of the street goes back to the 13th century when the new Santa Trinita bridge was built. Its name is short for “Maggiore”, Italian for “main”, and it truly was the widest throughfare in the south bank area.
After Cosimo de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Florence and Tuscany, moved its residence to the nearby Pitti Palace, via Maggio turned into a fashionable, high-end street, lined with dozens of grand palaces owned by the Florentine aristocracy.
In the 19th century, via Maggio acquired some popularity within the Anglo-American expats since the celebrated English poets Elizabeth Barrett and her husband Robert bought their Casa Guidi on Piazza San Felice 8.
The Galleria Esposito
Among via Maggio’s antique galleries, one shop stands out for its uniqueness and sheer beauty: the Galleria Esposito (Via Maggio 82r, www.galleriaesposito.com). As soon as we step into the shop, the manager and sole owner, Chiara Esposito, welcomes us with a big smile on her face. It doesn’t matter that we have been friends forever, Chiara will always give all her visitors the same, heart-warming and enthusiastic welcome! She greets me with a loud “Buongiorno!” and kisses me on both cheeks in the traditional Italian way. Then, she lets me in to admire her beautiful gallery and tells me how it all started.
“I’ve been running my business for three generations”, Chiara admits proudly. “This is the same shop my father opened back in 1990”. The place is amazing: it’s a 14th century historic building with arched ceilings and unique architectural features that stun us. She goes on to explain that she specializes in 17th, 18th and 19th Century Italian and European antique furniture and fine art but Chiara loves her collection to be varied and eclectic. “Not only do I wish to give my clients a wide range of antique pieces but also art deco, mid-century and even contemporary art objects and textiles”, she states enthusiastically. On top of that, the gallery also serves as a lively meeting space to host workshops, exhibitions and meetings with artists, restorers and art historians.
What it takes to be an antique dealer
As we open a bottle of nice Prosecco, I get curious and start asking Chiara some more questions about her exciting profession.
One thing I’vealways asked myself is how to be sure if a piece is good enough to be chosen so I want to know more. Chiara takes a sip and looks at me as if I have three heads then laughs and says, “Well, first of all it must be bellissimo!
I constantly look for rare and unusual objects no matter what they are.
I always study each object carefully after purchase but the decision is always made following my amore!”. I feel carried away by the charisma of this driven lady as she carries on. “Second of all, I have to take into account the state of conservation. If I choose a 200-year old piece, I have to make sure it’s been well preserved.” According to Chiara, the job of an antique dealer is not just to find beautifully crafted objects but also to assess them from different angles which will play a huge part in determining their market value. “Good antique dealers have to know many things such as their clientele’s tastes, the market fluctuations, art history, the advances in the restoration field…
It isn’t easy to have a trained eye for antiques. This is something that requires expertise, passion and a certain natural gift called… talent!
So, if you wanna start a collection, you’d better ask me first!”, she says winking.
Lots of LGBT people are passionate about antiques and in recent years even the youngest members of our community have been developing a certain taste for the fine art of the past. My next question to Chiara is about her relationship with the Queer clientele (and I must say, I’m always very cautious when I make questions like these…). She turns to me with a sparkle in her eyes and her voice goes up a notch, “Why, of course it’s an excellent relationship! I’m always super relaxed with my clients but I must say I have a soft spot for LGBT people (yes, she said LGBT).” Chiara has always been a friend of mine so I guess she’s a little partial but as soon as I point this out to her, she gets serious and says, “It’s not just because we’re friends! The antique market itself is Queer in a way. It comes with the territory! It is a very inclusive and open-minded environment because it’s a very personal style and everyone can express themselves through their collection!”.
I must say the answer brings tears of joy to my eyes, which I immediately wipe off to keep my interview at a (semi) professional level. I look around and notice some pieces standing out among the many works of art that are a feast for the eyes. So, I ask Chiara if she has any Queer pieces that she’d like to present to us. She says, “Absolutely! The queerest piece I have now is a huge Saint Sebastian belonging to the Spanish School which dates from the 17th Century.” The painting is amazing, both for its sheer size and its beautiful feature. Plus, Saint Sebastian has always been a favorite gay icon! “Then, I have a charming and chic 1960s Haute Couture Green Silk Chiffon Dress by Pierre Balmain, which I just love!”, she says showing me this elegant piece of French eleganza. “Finally, look at this bronze Gallic warrior! It was cast by Picault in the late 19th Century. Don’t you think it’s to die for?”, she says joyfully. As a matter of fact, I have never seen a more perfectly chiseled butt in my entire life!
In light of the recent traveling restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism in Florence has been dramatically reduced and Chiara has been forced to adapt to survive like many other fellow antique dealers. However, she has been a pioneer in responding quickly and effectively to the crisis by offering her clients more powerful tools to assess the quality of her objects before purchase. She shows me her renovated website and she explains that, even though antiques need to be touched, you can make use of high quality images, detailed descriptions and condition reports available online. She says she also loves to keep in touch with social media (Instagram is her favorite) to start new collaborations, projects and opportunities. Actually, she’s at her happiest when she gets in touch with new people all across the world!
As I say goodbye, I cannot help but be struck by the passion of this young, motivated and resourceful woman who puts all herself into a profession which is not just a job for her but a truly rewarding way of life! Next time you come to Florence, you simply must come pay her a visit!