The Parma antiques fair is always an interesting experience. It’s a melting pot where antique dealers from all over Europe set up stands in noisy multilingual confusion, as international professional buyers try to make sense of it all and find a treasure.
The fair doesn’t officially open until day 3, by which time all the buyers have left. Confusing? That’s the Parma fair.
The size of the fair is astounding, as is the diversity of merchandise (antiques would only cover half of it) including: old master paintings, garden furniture, oriental porcelain, slot machines, baker’s racks, watches, jewellery, fur coats, stuffed animals and supposedly Roman statues – all treated with the same irreverence amongst the shouting and gesticulating.
After 8 hours of trawling the aisles, asking prices with a scattergun approach because you should never assume that something is going to be too expensive, I decide to call it a day and make my way back to town. In all the years of going to the Parma fair, I have never taken the time to visit the famous Duomo with it’s cupola painted by Corregio, mainly because I’m too tired and I put it off till next time. So I decided that tired or not, today was the day – and I was completely bowled over.
The relatively plain Romanesque entrance is guarded by two massive Byzantine marble lions sculpted in 1281, and the interior is one of the best examples of 16th fresco painting that I have seen (perhaps excluding the Sistine). The nave and side chapels are completely covered in beautifully depicted biblical stories, although you have to put 2 euros in the slot to turn the lights on! When I got to the famous cupola, or dome, painted by Corregio in the late 1520’s,
I stared in awe for 20 minutes (4 x 2 euros for the lights).
It was famously stated by Titian, who was the most celebrated artist in the world at the time, that such was the technical ingenuity of this work of art, that the cupola filled with gold would be a fair price to the artist for such a feat – he wasn’t wrong.
Still dazed and blinking from the splendor I had just witnessed, I decided to pop into the relatively modest Santuary of Santa Maria della Steccata, which I must have walked past more that a hundred times over the years, casually appreciating it’s baroque architecture alongside all the other wonderful buildings. A relatively small church, the interior is covered by flamboyant baroque magnificence, with the fresco paintings by the famous Pamigianino (the little one from Parma) amongst others.
That will teach me not to be casual about Italian churches.