Portrait of Emilio Mazzoli inside the paintings warehouse; on the left, ErmEstica ceramic herm: TassoDel noRatto by Luigi Ontani (2013); behind, the large picture on the wall is Song by Alex Katz (2004).

Only in Italy would a provincial gallery be the capital of art. Back in the day, great poetry was written, from Leopardi onwards, and it is no coincidence that Emilio Mazzoli preserves in the countryside outside Modena one of the most beautiful collections of Italian poetry of the twentieth century, with many rare pieces and plaquettes for bibliophiles – perhaps even the young poems of Ungaretti printed in Alexandria, Egypt, but we didn’t dare ask.

We found example in a recent interview by Carlos D’Ercole, where Mazzoli remembers Schifano back in 1970: “I had commissioned some works and I had given him eight million lire at the time. Mario was then suddenly arrested and the paintings confiscated. On the Christmas day he was released, he calls me from the highway saying he’s coming to Modena to repay me by painting again. I put him in an apartment and in a few days he gives me double the agreed works.” In the same year, Mozzoli was the one to finance Alighiero Boetti’s first trip to Afghanistan, on which artists from Turin discovered the poetics of the oriental carpet not only as a decorated fabric, but a work of art that makes the interrelationship between the fundamental dimensions of life intuitive in its structure. That’s why Mazzoli often appears as the subject in the paintings of his artists, because it is part of their domestic landscape, a familiar object of affection.

Entering the Galleria Mazzoli under the arcades means entering a school of life: “Art must live intensely, we must not run after famous names for subjects. You have to look at the work before the artist, if you find it you’ve won, is like a game. Even if the truth is that in the end the paintings always know where they have to go,” says Mazzoli.

We asked him about the status of the art market today. And he replies: “It’s all right, but abroad. In Italy, the system is penalised by taxes. Those who have money to spend, spend outside Italy. The result is that there are two or three international galleries left. Twenty years ago, just before his death, Gino De Dominicis told me that we are in full “Kali Yuga”: a black period according to the Indian tradition. There are too many businessmen who think they are fast but are in fact slow: many want to take the train when it has already left the station.”

 Goffredo Parise describes Mazzoli as “A human, mysterious envelope, a fusion of a sixteenth-century friar and a Conrad schooner captain, with a bowler hat […]” All that remains is to accompany this captain to his safest port, his country house, unknown to most. The house is like a Roman villa from the imperial age. The building blocks are not quite architectural, but amiable for their lack of vernacular expression; they are above all marvellously worn caskets, worn down by daily use, lived in and often shared with other artists, relatives, critics, and friends.

In the yellow three-storey house near the entrance is a vinegar cellar, and in the basement a collection of wines, grappa, liqueurs that one can no longer drink from the 1980s, preserved only as objects of pure collection. Then there is the library, truly unique and entirely personal mixing poetry of rare early twentieth century editions (amazing those of the Russian and Cuban avant-gardes) to pocket editions with pages curled from too much reading. Colourful pre-war comics and an unsustainable amount of artist’s books sit near small works of great masters like a delightful portrait of Mazzoli with closed eyes by Gino De Dominicis. Outside, there is the park dotted with fruit trees bearing plums, pears and apricots. Here and there, however, sudden and mysterious, the bronze sculptures of Cucchi, Paladino, Chia emerge, sneaking like shadows.