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Renowned antiques dealer and designer Marin Montagut talks us through the artistic collections that fill every corner of his French home


y parents were antiques dealers, and my grandmother was an artist, so I grew up surrounded by a multitude of objects. As soon as I could walk, I was taken to antiques shops, resulting in a taste for collecting that had been passed down the generations.

Many of my current collections are connected to childhood memories. The artists’ palettes I’ve accumulated take me back to my grandmother’s house, where I would spend hours watching her paint.

In my home, I wanted to reinvent the spirit of what the Germans call the wunderkammer (cabinet of curiosities). These held collections of rare and unusual objects and were found in the castles and aristocratic homes of Central Europe. My ‘wonders’ are more modest. They are often humble tokens of everyday life, examples of folk art and cutpaper dioramas I have made that depict everything from flaming hearts to hot-air balloons.

When I travel, especially to Italy and Portugal, I always return with suitcases full of marvellous finds. From Italy I brought back silver ex votos (votive offerings to a saint or divinity) in the shape of a hand, face, foot and heart, from which I had moulds made to reproduce them in porcelain. In Portugal,

MI was fascinated by registos, ancient reliquaries with painted and decorated frames, which now constitute my biggest collection. I hung them together to create an expansive ‘wonder wall’ along the staircase. Interspersed among them are hearts once made by nuns using plain cardboard embellished with beads and embroidery.

Another of my favourite collections is of popular religious art figurines called santibelli (beautiful saints). Despite the

Italian name, these statuettes of the Virgin Mary, made of terracotta and painted in bright colours with gold accents, are from Provence. They owe their name to the Italian immigrant peddlers who used to hawk them in the streets of Marseille; up until the end of the 19th century, they were manufactured in the city’s workshops, where nativity figurines were made.

It is said that fishermen’s wives always kept one at home as a talisman to protect their husbands when they went to sea.

Whenever I go antiques hunting, I never approach it with a preconceived idea. Curiosity for the unexpected and the joy of finding something: that’s what I look forward to on days when I head out in search of new gems to showcase in my home. I will always find space for them.

This is an edited extract from Extraordinary Collections by Marin Montagut, published by Flammarion, £35*





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