In Italian, “Mirabilia” (from the Latin mirabilis) means “wonders, things worthy of admiration”, while in German they were called Wunderkammer; in times past, they were particular places where collectors kept their rare and precious objects.
It was a typical trait of the 16th century (although its roots went back to Medieval times) and continued until the 18th century, forming the first stage of the modern museum concept, with the difference today that the objects are no longer someone’s personal property but are on view for the wider public.
Mirabilia is now also the name of an established business dealing in antique jewellery, gifts and fancy goods, antiques and vintage articles (both in Italy and abroad), and mirabilia.gallery is the new online format that aims to recapture that concept of a small, private museum of rarities.
The intention is to guide the visitor on an exciting journey through this “Gallery of Wonders” to help him discover, like Alice in Wonderland, a new dimension of reality (evocative, symbolic and magical) that the objects of the past possess.
The portrait of Dorian Gray, 1891
But the intuition behind Mirabilia, and how it developed over time, is explained by Giangiacomo Castellano himself:
“I was born in Vercelli on 30th March 1973 and had an instinctive passion for everything beautiful right from a young age, to the point of being defined an “aesthete” by my primary school teacher, thanks to a natural ability to combine colours and give a constructive opinion on people’s clothes. When they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied “Luxury”; not any specific job but, more than anything, a lifestyle that had always fascinated me.
At the age of seven, my mother gave me my first serious reading-matter, taking my love of art and antiquity and adding an interest in history: “Gods, Graves and Scholars” by C.W. Ceram. It’s written in the form of a story, but speaks of some of the cities and civilisations of the past (Ercolano, Pompeii, Troy, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Sumerians, the Maya, the Aztecs), describing the (sometimes chance) discoveries involving the various archaeologists and offering an extensive, interesting overview (and one that’s often thrilling too, thanks to the ability of the author) of the art, customs and religion. My imagination was captured above all by the description of how the legendary tomb – untouched until that moment – of the young Pharaoh Tutankhamun was discovered by Howard Carter and Lord Carnavon in 1922. That’s how I became interested not only in the ancient Egyptian civilisation, but also precious stones, jewels and treasures like those found in the Pharaoh’s tomb.
From that moment on, a whole new world opened up to me, inspired in particular by my parents (antique collectors themselves, especially of furniture, paintings, silverware, ceramics, statues, carpets and, later on, jewellery and vintage items): they recognised my passion and tried to develop it. Thanks to them, I began travelling around Europe, visiting cities of art, museums, historical buildings and castles (sometimes turned into luxury hotels and restaurants).
I purchased the first items of my own personal collection when I was nine, on holiday in Liguria and visiting an antiques shop in Sestri Levante: two walking sticks from the Empire period. These triggered my initial interest, which grew even further after reading “Bastoni, dall’essenziale allo stupefacente” by Coradeschi and Lamberti: I discovered “dual” walking sticks (i.e. containing objects such as a sewing kit, a writing kit, a musical/optical instrument, a liqueur flask complete with glass).
Thanks once again to my mother (who has always stimulated my choices in terms of reading), at the age of twelve I discovered French literature – in particular “Bel Ami” by Guy de Maupassant – and subsequently became a fan of Honoré de Balzac. Reading his book “Cousin Pons” (that describes the life of a collector of precious objects) and visiting Paris (above all the Louvre des Antiquaires, a sort of huge warehouse of antiques in rue de Rivoli), I developed a passion for fancy goods, especially French ones. A visit to the Palace of Versailles and the French castles did the rest: from that moment on I became a great enthusiast of everything French and linked to the Bourbon dynasty, first the legendary Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, then Louis XV and his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, and finally Louis XVI and his famous queen, Marie Antoinette.
By the age of 14, my collections had extended and I returned from my journeys not only with walking sticks but with other souvenirs too: knightly decorations, antique jewellery, English pottery and silverware, Sheffied silver plate, cutlery and tableware, antique tie-pins, French art nouveau glassware and art déco objects, historical curios and vintage clothing and accessories.
An expert antiquarian and family friend, who I still consider my master, was the first to recognise that I had talent and a natural leaning towards this line of work; he encouraged me to attend specialised exhibitions and develop my knowledge.
I subsequently decided to enrol on a degree course in History at the University of Genova, specialising in the Medieval period, and I graduated with first class honours. The title of my thesis was “The symbolic, magical, astrological and therapeutic side of gems and precious stones in the Medieval Age”. In the meantime I attended specialisation courses in antiques at the Boetto Auction House in Genova, and gemmology courses at the CISGEM in Milan, always keeping up to date with the latest developments thanks to trade journals and so on.
In 2004 I opened an antiques gallery in my home town, Tortona, and also took part regularly in fairs focusing on antiques and vintage items in Milan-Novegro, Parma, Vaprio d’Adda, Saluzzo, Belgioioso, Modena and Forte dei Marmi.
mirabilia.gallery: this “online antiques shop” is my latest adventure. It will not only introduce me to a wider range of people, but also give me the chance to explain my own idea of what an antiques dealer is (or better, what he should be) nowadays: a “dealer” certainly, but first and foremost a collector, an expert who’s enthusiastic about his work and loves what is beautiful. And, more than anything, an honest and trustworthy friend for his customers; someone who bases his work on the right quality-price ratio. This is the type of antiques dealer I want to be for you, thanks also to the help of everyone who works with me.”