Launched in 1959, the Florentine Biennale for Art and Antiques (BIAF) testified to the spirit of optimism of the post-war period.

Some of this initial confidence has also been conveyed to the 32nd edition of the most important fair for Italian art, which, after a three-year break due to the pandemic, is vying for greater international attention with renewed vigour.

Gina Thomas

Features correspondent based in London.

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Of course, the restrictive Italian culture protection law sets limits to this: despite all the fanfare about internationalization, the around eighty exhibitors in the magnificent baroque ambience of the Palazzo Corsini are almost exclusively Italians, even if some of them have one or both feet abroad.

And some of the most exquisite objects, including the four terracotta tondi with biblical scenes by the Bolognese sculptor Giuseppe Maria Mazza, coming directly from the palazzo of the original clients and dated around 1690 and offered by Alessandra di Castro (Rome) for 280,000 euros, cannot leave the country to be brought.

If works by non-Italians are represented, they often have a local connection, whether they come from Italian ownership or come from artists who traveled in Italy, as is the case with Jakob Philipp Hackert.

The German landscape painter of Goethe's time is represented both at Lampronti (Rome) with a veduta of the hills above the Bay of Naples, dated 1793, and at Giglio (Milan) with two later views from a Tuscan collection.

Works by foreign artists such as Ai Weiwei, Paul Klee or Wassily Kandinsky are the exception among the old masters and more established modern names, from the Belle Époque painter Giovanni Boldini to de Chirico to Piero Manzoni and Piero Dorazio.

As General Secretary of the BIAF, Fabrizio Moretti does not seek to downplay the focus on Italian.

He has no reason to, because there is no lack of quality.

Moretti is an old master trader of the younger generation who want to give this sector a new dynamic, for example through a documentary game commissioned by the BIAF, which aims to convey the historical legacy of Florence to the young via a free app.

According to Moretti, who likes to praise the fair as a "museum for sale", the international dimension lies not least with the public: museum curators and collectors have come from all over the world.

The city, which from the outset saw the fair as an opportunity to promote tourism, has encouraged cultural institutions to offer parallel events as part of the concurrent Florence Art Week.

The facade of the Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni is used by the video artist Fabrizio Plessi;

Olafur Eliasson makes his Italian exhibition debut at Palazzo Strozzi with light installations, one of which also exists as NFT;

and the Museo del Novecento presents sculptures and drawings by British sculptor Tony Cragg.

On the Piazza della Signoria, the city's former political center, Henry Moore's five-meter-tall bronze "Large Interior Form" from the 1950s relates to Michelangelo's "David" - one of several interventions

The motif of artistic dialogue across epochs fits in well with BIAF.

Because at the fair, where interior decorator Matteo Corvino integrated the booths into the inner courtyard using a Potemkin backdrop as if they belonged to the inventory, the cross-over marketing of old and new art, which is now practiced everywhere in the old master trade, is making itself felt.

Robilant+ Voena (London, Milan, Paris, New York) have paired a 14th-century Florentine Crucifixion with a landscape by the young Giorgio Morandi evoking Giottesque painting and a sculpture by Lucio Fontana suggesting a gash.

However, the number of traders with enough confidence in their respective areas of expertise not to be tempted by the trend is strikingly strong.

They include Moretti (London, Monaco) with a rigorous selection of gold base plates, as well as the Roman Alberto di Castro, among whose wealth of handicrafts is a silver truffle slicer (30,000 euros) made for Charles Albert of Savoy in the 19th century.

The pugnacious culture critic Vittorio Sgarbi, who was for a time Secretary of State for Culture under Berlusconi, took the floor at the press conference with a fulminant attack on the state's handling of trade, which is being punished with conditions instead of being supported by the purchase of important objects for museums.

Sgarbi said there were at least thirty museum-ready works at the fair.

One of the things on the Antonacci Lapiccirella (Rome) stand should be the so-called self-portrait of Giorgione, with which the sculptor Antonio Canova not only demonstrated his painterly skills, but also fooled the Roman art world.

It is now up for sale for a million euros.