With his innate sophistication, extravagant dandyism and glorious sense of humor, Manfredi della Gherardesca was, "the most dazzling peacock among us". As Dreweatts prepares to launch a major auction of the late designer's collection, Manfredi's close friend, Alex di Carcaci, remembers a "wholly original" friend and a true inspiration. 



Manfredi pictured with his son, Aliotto © Costantino Ruspoli


I first met Manfredi when he was living in the top-floor flat of a tall stucco house overlooking a large garden-square in Pimlico. It was a place of fun, and the whole of London seemed to troop in through its doors, either to visit him, or to see the decorator and antiques-dealer Christopher Hodsoll, who was on the floor below.

This was in the late 1980s, a boom-time for the art-trade, and we were all young and carefree and making the most of the craze for art and antiques then sweeping through America, when Wall Street was churning out, almost weekly it seemed, a host of newly minted millionaires wanting to live in the grand European manner.

Manfredi belonged to a group of young Italians who gravitated to London to work in art, boys and girls who brought a certain verve to what, with a few notable exceptions, had until then been rather a musty profession. Manfredi was the most dazzling peacock among us, always doing great deals, laughing, chattering away in numerous languages and ever attired in show-stopping suits lined with bright silks.


 Manfredi's home in London © James McDonald


He came blessed with an innate sophistication - further honed by his time in New York with Citycorp Art Advisory - but by the time we met, he'd moved to Sotheby’s in Bond Street, back in the days when auction-houses were forever in the news thanks to mind-boggling prices achieved for both Impressionist and Contemporary paintings.

Soon enough, Manfredi was branching out as a private art-advisor to a few prominent clients and, by this stage, he caught the buying bug himself. With his exemplary eye, he developed an extraordinary collection of his own; his first ever personal auction-purchase having been a Delacroix discovered at Drouot, which he took with him to every house in which he subsequently lived.

Much as Manfredi performed upon an international stage, his strong sense of Italianness was never to leave him, and he was always to feel quintessentially Florentine. Descended from the House of Gherardesca - a noble Pisa family which, by the 11th century, had already become distinguished - Manfredi would return to Tuscany whenever he could, to the family estate he shared with his brother and sister.


Manfredi della Gherardesca (1961-2022)


And it was in that ancestral castle, a medieval fortress at the heart of those wooded acres, that Manfredi began to cut his decorative teeth, restoring its interiors in his own inimitable style. Throughout his life, Manfredi’s many decorated rooms were always informed by his own inherent, extravagant dandyism and glorious sense of humor. Never shy of color, he favored the sunny Mediterranean hues, a great favorite being richly-fruited orange, which he considered the perfect antidote to melancholia.

He adored, he always said, “to live in full houses”, which spoke of the accumulated tastes of generations; indeed, his own taste was very broad and very high, running from serious kitsch to serious masterpieces. To Manfredi, interiors should transcend the everyday to become theatre; nor was he ever afraid of taking an aesthetic risk in order to make this magic happen, mixing, as he would, Warhols with many-colored Venetian glass, and dark portraits of stern 17th-century cardinals with modern artifacts.

What is more, he knew how to layer objects as disparate as ivory memento-mori, with Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dogs and outsized fans of coral. Soon enough, friends were wanting their own houses to resemble his, and indeed, he did always seem to be jetting off to New York or the Caribbean to oversee commissions there, while, later in his life, he was to design very brilliant Surrealist mises-en-scène for shows of les Lalannes’ work.


Collector, designer, and curator, Manfredi della Gherardesca


But for a man whose homes had meant so much to him, he was ever on the move, always restless, always travelling at the drop of a hat for the viewing of an exhibition in some obscure museum or to inspect the round of fairs that punctuate a dealer’s year. Abreast of all things, his own collection grew and grew and grew, such that, although individual elements were housed in his different homes, his treasures were nonetheless always with him, meticulously catalogued on his iPhone.

Before writing this piece, I took another look at his Instagram account, such a hectic record of his last few years, filled with glamour and beauty and jokes and family and friends - and then, suddenly, it stops. But when someone has been so wholly original in life, and so unique, and so well-loved, it feels almost impossible to imagine them gone.



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Alchemy of Design: The Collection of Count Manfredi della Gherardesca will take place on 24 April 2024 at It celebrates one of the most colorful, culturally erudite and well-loved figures in the London and international art and design scenes.

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