After attending the Koefia Academy of High Fashion in Rome, a brief stint organising fashions shows in Milan – Prada and Fendi amongst others – and working in art galleries in Positano, Francesca Sacchi Tommasi returned to her roots with the opening of Etra Studio Tommasi in Florence, an art space located in what used to be her grandfather’s studio. In this interview, she talks about beauty, passion and purpose, and why art is in her DNA.
(Main photo by Gabriele Rigon, Black and Red Bracelet by Gaetano Pesce, Marble Eyewear by Morà Busoli)
AS: Coming from a family of artists, what are your earliest memories of art, seen or experienced in your childhood? How have they influenced your personal taste in art and, as a gallerist and curator, the present choices of artists you associate with?
FST: I grew up in an all-encompassing artistic environment of sculpture, painting, music and literature.
We were all artists but had family obligations to complete our studies and graduate.
I was lucky to grow up and train in a dynamic and eclectic environment, which then shaped my personality. Everything I heard, saw and touched, influenced my choices. Visiting the studios of my grandfather, the sculptor Marcello Tommasi, and of my father, the painter Claudio Sacchi, gave me the opportunity to build the foundations of my artistic knowledge. I have always been allowed the freedom to choose what I thought was best for me. As for music and literature, it was the music historian Marcello de Angelis who, as well as my mother, taught me to listen to music, took me to the theatre and opened my heart to the opera, a great passion of mine.
After school I wanted to spend time in those places which looked as distant and frozen in time as they were close to my soul. My training, if it can be defined as such, had indeed very little to do with the schools I attended, possibly with the exception of a few gifted teachers. Books, drawings, records, exhibitions, stories and fantastic anecdotes formed my way of seeing and perceiving things, fuelling my artistic inclination.
Growing up in Florence and then living in places full of beauty such as Rome, Positano and Paris, constantly shaped my personal vision of beauty and harmony.
The first images I can recall from memory belong to the large collection of works of my family, created mainly by my great-grandfather Leone Tommasi and his sons Marcello and Riccardo Tommasi Ferroni. These, and my father’s paintings too, which depicted a metaphysical world, populated by marinas, hot-air balloons, winged horses and Raphaelesque cupids. But there are many memories related to numerous works by other artists linked to my family, such as Alessandro Kokocinski. He enchanted me and disturbed me in equal measure, but I was very attracted to him, as I was to Massimo Rao, a great passion of mine which started when I was a teenager.
My first trip with my father by plane to Amsterdam left a deep impression in me. I was six years old. I was bowled over by Rembrandt and Rubens, and Antonio Mancini with his “scugnizzi” at The Mesdag Collection in The Hague.
Much later the same happened with Piero della Francesca, Giotto, Donatello, Michelangelo.
My instincts pull me towards figurative art. I feel that the conceptual one is alien to me.
The human element is fundamental to me, you cannot create empathy if there is no time to exchange ideas and discuss projects and strategies.
Over time I have established a true friendship, which goes beyond the professional sphere, with all the artists I collaborate with.
AS: What do you look for in an artist?
FST: As St. Francis would say, an artist is someone who knows how to work with their hands, their head and their heart. This is my ideal artist.
I believe it is the simplest and most genuine answer.
AS: The world of art is still sexist. Women are exhibited far less than men and their works sell for far less money. What has your personal and professional experience been like so far? Did you feel at any point that you had to prove your worth in this male-dominated environment?
FST: Perhaps it is true that, as far as female artists are concerned, very few of them are really well known.
An interesting moment for contemporary art in Italy was the recent show at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence with Marina Abramović, eagerly supported by its extraordinary director Arturo Galansino.
At work, I am constantly connecting with people, whether men or women. The most important thing is to base any work relationship on clarity, seriousness and common purpose from the very start. I have been working independently for five years but, even when I was an employee, I never witnessed any favouritism towards a man at my expense.
Sometimes it happens that when they see a woman, people immediately think she must have friends in the right places or they assume she will be trouble. But like with everything else, what matters are the facts and the results, and that is how, in time, you get to be respected and not scorned.
AS: If you could meet yourself as a teenager, what advice would you give to your younger self?
FST: It makes me laugh to think of myself when I was about fourteen years old. I was so rebellious, I would have been very sceptical about any advice for the future given to me at that age. I always cultivated a strong artistic sensibility, but at that age it wasn’t clear in which direction life would take me.
Probably I would do things the same way, perhaps dealing with a couple of situations differently, but luckily I do not live in the past.
The only advice I’d give my younger self would be never to stop fighting, not to procrastinate, to be constant and passionate about what I do. Even if the real joy is to see that what you do, as well as making you feel good, makes others feel good too.
AS: What are the biggest challenges and advantages of looking after a cultural hub like Etra – Studio d’Arte Tommasi today?
FST: Our tax system! Poor Italy…
It’s difficult, but you do well if you don’t limit yourself to the national market. Hence, it’s so important to travel and use your imagination. You have to reinvent yourself constantly, have a little luck and also a pinch of intuition when choosing the right employees. As a team, you need to share a common vision and bounce ideas off each other in order to grow and see things from different points of view.
AS: Being so popular on different platforms, you must recognise the benefit of communicating through social media. But do you think that people still take time to immerse themselves in an exhibition or do they just snap photos without paying any real attention? Why is it important for galleries to have a physical space rather than just being online?
FST: I recognize how useful social media are. I post a lot of images to do with my business. It’s a great way to reach out to people all over the world. The physical distance disappears. They are very useful tools and I manage to keep my followers updated in real time with a just a click. But it can also become very time-consuming if not directed towards clear and defined objectives. It is easy to get distracted because we are constantly bombarded with information. A phenomenon that I find really interesting is exhibitions which interact with the public. These multimedia exhibitions (the ones I’ve seen on Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Klimt now in Paris) with images of paintings projected on screens or directly on the walls of churches, museums and cultural spaces, are one of the most effective ways to involve people of all ages, especially the very young, with art and beauty. A physical space can be important, but not essential. In my case, however, it matters. My studios are historical places full of magic. Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus was cast in the garden of the gallery in Florence. The one in Pietrasanta has been associated with the surname Tommasi for four generations. Everything is born there, between the walls of the studio, of the family home and of the foundry – among the very first to be started in Versilia after the war, with very important international relations and commissions. Generally, a physical space is important because works of art are best experienced physically, not virtually. The same is true of human relationships. It’s easier to trust a person when you look at them in the eyes, exchanging opinions or shaking hands, rather than communicating through the screen of a device.
AS: If you could organise your ideal collective exhibition with artists from any time and place, which works would you choose?
FST: Oh my! As you can imagine, I can think of so many.
I would start with ‘The Youth of Motya’ 450 BC, then ‘Allegory of Charity’ by Tino di Camaino, ‘Adoration of The Magi’ by Lorenzo Monaco, ‘Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto’ by Jacopo della Quercia, ‘The Three Phophets’ and ‘Prophet Habacuc’ by Donatello, ‘The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’ by Masaccio, ‘The Battle of San Romano’ by Paolo Uccello, ‘The Madonna of Parturition’ by Piero della Francesca, ‘The Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan’ by Giovanni Bellini, ‘The Lamentation of Christ’ by Andrea Mantegna, ‘The Ark of Saint Dominic’ by Nicolò dell’Arca, ‘The Virgin Annunciate’ by Antonello da Messina, ‘The Risen Christ’ by Bramantino, ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sandro Botticelli, ‘Lady with an Ermin’ by Leonardo, ‘The Four Moors’ by Pietro Tacca, ‘The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia’ by Raphael, ‘The Pietá’ by Michelangelo, ‘Portrait of a Gentleman’ by Lorenzo Lotto, ‘The Deposition from the Cross’ by Jacopo Pontormo, ‘The Deposition from the Cross’ by Rosso Fiorentino, ‘The Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi’ by Bronzino, ‘Pallas Athena’ by Parmigianino, ‘The Bean Eater’ by Annibale Carracci, ‘The Conversion of Saint Paul’ by Caravaggio, ‘Ecstasy of Saint Teresa’ by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, ‘The Toilet of Venus’ by Diego Velazquez, ‘The Jewish Bride’ by Rembrandt, ‘Head of Medusa’ by Peter Paul Rubens, ‘Cleopatra’ by Artemisia Gentileschi, ‘David with the Head of Goliath’ by Tanzio da Varallo, ‘Herodias with the Head of John the Baptist’ by Francesco Cairo, ‘The Clubfoot’ by Jusepe de Ribera, ‘Allegory of Human Life’ by Guido Cagnacci, ‘The Sacrifice of Iphigenia’ by Giambattista Tiepolo, ‘Rio dei Mendicanti’ by Canaletto, ‘The Three Graces’ by Antonio Canova, ‘Melancholy’ by Francesco Hayez, ’Young Bacchus’ by Lorenzo Bartolini, ‘Boy with a Basket’ by Giacomo Ceruti, ‘Leith’ and ‘The Ward of the Madwomen at S. Bonifazio in Florence’ by Telemaco Signorini, ‘Boy with a Rooster’ by Adriano Cecioni, ‘Olympia’ by Edouard Manet, ‘The Ivy’ by Tranquillo Cremona, ‘Starry Night’ by Van Gogh, ‘Maja’ by Francisco Goya, ‘Head of a Child (The Jewish Boy)’ by Medardo Rosso, ‘Isle of the Dead’ by Böcklin, ‘The Roses of Heliogabalus’ by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, ‘The Lady of Shalott’ by Waterhouse, ‘Waking’ by John Everett Millais, ‘The Snake Charmer’ by Jean-Léon Gérôme, ‘Vergine’ by Adolfo Wildt, ‘The Kiss’ by Rodin, ‘The Waltz’ by Camille Claudel, ‘I figli del saltimbanco’ by Antonio Mancini, ‘Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne’ by Amedeo Modigliani, ‘Sleeping Muse’ by Brancusi, ‘Tree of Life’ by Gustav Klimt, ‘Artist’s Wife’ by Egon Schiele, ‘Portrait of the Marchesa Luisa Casati’ by Giovanni Boldini, ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch, ‘Mirror of Life’ by Pelizza da Volpedo, ‘The Chariot of the Sun’ by Gaetano Previati, ‘In the Rice Fields’ by Angelo Morbelli, ‘Carolina Tommasi Ferroni’ by Leone Tommasi, ‘Girl Full of Love’ by Arturo Martini, ‘Visual Passions’ by Marino Marini, ‘Giubbetto Russo’ by Primo Conti, ‘The Waiting’ by Felice Casorati, ‘Nude in Perspective’ by Fausto Pirandello, ‘Still Life’ by Giorgio Morandi, ‘Golconda’ by Rene Magritte, ‘Self Portrait’ by Frida Kahlo, ‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso, ‘Christ of Saint John of the Cross’ by Salvador Dalì, ‘Dog’ by Giacometti, ‘The Red Tower’ by Giorgio de Chirico, ‘Child Sitting’ by Domenico Rambelli, ‘Evening Rosary’ by Cagnaccio di San Pietro, ‘Face of a Woman’ by Tamara de Lempicka, ‘Maternity’ by Pietro Gaudenzi, ‘War of Two Roses’ by Max Ernst, ‘Tracer’ by Rauschemberg, ‘The Bird’ by Kandinsky, ‘Moonshy’ by Paul Klee, ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ by Francis Bacon, ‘Cardinal’ by Manzù, ‘Michael Jackson’ by Andy Warhol, ‘Apollo and Daphne’ by Marcello Tommasi, ‘Circus’ by Alessandro Kokocinski, ‘Un bacio ancora’ by Riccardo Tommasi Ferroni, ‘Queeen Elizabeth II’ by Pietro Annigoni, ‘Untitled’ and ‘I Fondi d’Oro’ by Gino De Dominicis
That’s it! The most expensive exhibition ever, an infinite dream.
AS: Coming from a classical art tradition, does your taste tend to follow current trends, or do you prefer to establish a connection to the past with what you show?
FST: I always like a challenge, and sometimes you need to be brave enough to dare. I think that contamination and experimentation in art are a winning mix as long as they are harmonious. My latest challenge in the gallery of Pietrasanta, where it all began with the family foundry and the marble workshops, was to combine the works of Gaetano Pesce – full of colour and life – with the gessos of Evita Peron by my great-grandfather Leone. The result was fabulous, which is also how it was often described in newspapers and on the web.
AS: Being constantly in the eye of the public, how do you switch off and relax?
FST: I put my phone on aeroplane mode. It’s a start.
AS: What projects are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I have two important exhibitions here in Florence. The first is a solo show of the sculptor Ugo Riva, together with the poetry of Davide Rondoni and critical interventions by Vittorio Sgarbi, Beatrice Buscaroli, Giordano Bruno Guerri and Lucetta Scaraffia in the Church of San Lorenzo, a sacred place of the arts. This is my second exhibition with Ugo Riva. The first was at the Fortezza Medicea in Arezzo last year, which was visited by 70,000 visitors in four months. The second is a show of my father’s works, never exhibited before and which pay homage to my grandfather (on the tenth anniversary of his death) and to a place that he loved and visited assiduously in his youth. Then in 2019 we start a series of courses held in the studios in Florence and Pietrasanta to do with the pictorial, decorative and sculptural arts. This way I continue to keep alive the tradition of the ‘bottega’ (workshop) and meet people from all corners of the world. And after the summer women will be the protagonists, in particular sculptors … Stay tuned!
To find out more about Francesca Sacchi Tommasi, please click HERE.