PALAZZO BROGGI VIA BROGGI 19 MILANO 20129 +39 02 295 001 WWW.SOTHEBYS.COM
MARIA CALLAS and her PYGMALION
the years with Giovanni Battista Meneghini
30 YEARS SINCE THE PASSING OF MARIA CALLAS,
SOTHEBY’S CELEBRATES THE “DIVINA” WITH AN AUCTION
OF OVER 2,000 PIECES OF MEMORABILIA – MUCH OF THESE SECRET
UNTIL NOW – KEPT LOVINGLY BY THE MAN, HUSBAND AND AGENT
WHO LAUNCHED HER INTO THE WORLD OF OPERA,
AND WHOSE HEART WAS EVENTUALLY BROKEN BY HER
• 63 love letters to her husband
• 2,000 photographs of Maria Callas on the stage and with friends,
including Bernstein, Visconti, Zeffirelli, Pasolini, Toscanini, Elsa Maxwell, etc.
• letters and documents
• personal record collection
• 300 music scores coming from Maria’s Paris Apartment
• the evening gowns created for her by the designer BIKI
Auction: Sotheby’s Milan, Palazzo Broggi, Via Broggi 19, Wednesday, December 12, 2007, at
3pm and 6:30pm
Exhibition: Palazzo Broggi, Via Broggi 19, from Friday, December 7 to Tuesday, December 11,
from 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 6pm
SOTHEBY’S Italia srl C.C.A.A.A. 883740
The letters (from 1947 to 1950) in this auction are
especially moving, such as the group of 63 (Lot 8,
estimate € 50,000-70,000) written to her older husband
by the young Callas when she was still an overweight,
insecure foreigner. Maria wrote three letters a day to
Titta (Giovanni Battista), and he kept each one with
the dedication of a lifetime.
There are also more than 2,000 photographs of the “Divina” on auction
subdivided into miscellaneous lots and estimated from 1,000 to several hundred
Euros. Among these photographs is the magnificent series dedicated to Medea, the
film (1969) written and directed by Pierpaolo Pasolini (who went on to become one of
her greatest friends) and produced by Franco Rossellini. There are 9 albums
containing 169 photographs (estimated at € 3.000-5.000) from Cinecittà, Turkey and
Syria, as well as others portraying Maria as Medea at the première of the film at the Paris
Lot 45 of the catalogue contains 150 contracts and documents from 1947
to 1958 from performances by Maria Callas: from those from the Fenice in 1947
for “Tristan und Isolde” and “Turandot”, to those from 1949 for " I Puritani" (when
Maria Callas replaced an ill Margherita Carosio at the last minute), many of which
are signed by her (estimate € 20,000-25,000).
The auction also contains many cards and letters from friends, from Marlene Dietrich
for the première of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Metropolitan (December, 1956) to
many others from Elsa Maxwell, the international “gossip press” queen infatuated with
Maria (she was also named in her will), and from Arthur and Wally Toscanini (Lot 92,
estimate € 600-800), Ghiringhelli, Tullio Serafin and Gianandrea Gavazzeni.
“Going to La Scala without Maria doesn’t interest me much,” wrote Lucchino
Visconti (14 letters, 7 telegrams and 3 cards,
estimate € 4,000- 6,000).
“Ombre, Malibran, Pasta, Patti will watch
your triumphant arrival with envy in the
greatest theater of the world... with rampant
admiration. Zeffirelli”, read the telegram by the
great Tuscan director, followed by 4 beautiful
autographed letters, one on the letterhead of the
Hotel Marino Scala di Milano (1956-1959, estimate
The auction also includes Maria Callas’ personal
record collection form the 1950’s to the 1970’s (estimate € 3,000-5,000) and a lot
containing 54 records with the approved and discarded originals from the 1950’s
(lot 48, estimated value € 5,000-7,000).
Meneghini meticulously collected press cuttings dedicated to his wife’s career in
diverse files covering the period of time from 1948 to September, 1957 (lot 75,
estimated value € 1,000-1,500).
The center of the catalogue illustrates a selection of paintings, described in brief, “Diana
uncovered by Actaeon” (reference to the couple is evident), a seventeenth
century work inspired by Titian that Meneghini declared to want for himself during
the negotiations that led to their separation on December 14, 1959. The
catalogue includes the entire proceedings and documentation in lot 83 (estimate
The painting “Cristo benedicente” by Guercino’s Workshop (Lot 118, estimated at €
7,000-10,000) comes from the Boncompagni Ludovisi of Rome collection, as does
“Madonna con Bambino” by Botticelli’s Workshop, notarized (Lot 121, estimated
value € 40,000-60,000).
In addition, there is another extraordinary presence in this
catalogue - “Madonna con Bambino” from the Venetian
School of the 1500’s, the painting that Maria brought with her
for her entire life, auctioned in Paris in 1978 and reacquired by
Meneghini. The painting is estimated € 8,000-12,000 (on the left).
Aristotle Onassis commissioned a portrait of Maria in 1961
by Alejo Vidal Quadras, a Catalan painter from the upper
bourgeoisie and portrait painter for the members of the royal
families in Spain, Greece, Jordan and Yugoslavia, as well
as for movie stars like Grace Kelly, David Niven and
Audrey Hepburn. In the large portrait of Maria, she is
wearing the dress that she wore to a New Year’s Eve party in 1960 accompanied
by Onassis (estimate € 2,000-3,000).
John Fitzgerald Kennedy gave Maria Callas a Tiffany silver bowl as a gift with the
engraving “To Maria Callas who fulfills the prophecy of President John Kennedy: our
generation shall be remembered for its artists” (estimate € 2,000-3,000). On the
evening of May 19, 1962 in Madison Square Garden, New York, Maria Callas sang
some of the arias from the opera “Carmen” by Bizet just before the celebrated
“Happy Birthday” sung by Marilyn Monroe.
The silver section also include the large London 1813-1814 silver cup
reacquired by Meneghini at the Paris auction (estimate € 6.000-8.000), the
large English 1865 candelabra with the engraving “A Maria Meneghini Callas,
Teatro alla Scala, stagione lirica 1955-56 Norma La Traviata Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Fedora” (estimate € 4,000-6,000).
Approximately 20 Lots of Cartier jewelry from the 1950’s, van Cleef &Arpels, etc.
contain two gold wedding rings with the engraving “Maria e Battista 21 Aprile 1949”
(estimate € 1,000- 1,500) and the gold lucky charm necklace designed by van
Cleef & Arpels, 1970, with various charms in gold and precious stones (estimate €
The catalogue also contains many coins and medals, such as the gold medal
from 1953 with the figure of the Verona Arena and engraving of the first
showing of Aida in the Verona Arena, 1913-1953, dedicated to Maria
Meneghini Callas (est. €400-600).
In the home of Wally Toscanini in 1951, Maria Callas met Biki – that is Elvira Leonardi
Bouyeure, a celebrated fashion designer from Milan. The singer was still overweight
and was wearing dresses that were not suited to her. In only a very short time –
remembers Biki – she went on a rigid diet and would take on the alluring, thin image
that would go on to characterize her for always.... Maria was a kind of sponge,
talent and antennae are great gifts….
Biki designed an entire collection for Maria Callas, and many of the 50 Lots of
dresses in the catalogue are Biki designs, including the aqua green silk evening
gown that Callas wore for her performance at Carnegie Hall in New York on
March 5, 1974 (estimate € 4,000-6,000).
The collection also contains the yellow silk chiffon Biki evening
gown from the mid 1960’s worn by Maria Callas,
accompanied by Onassis, in 1965 at a Guy de Rothschild
party (estimate € 3,000-5,000). In the early 1970’s, Biki created
the wine-colored silk chiffon evening gown with sequins
that Maria wore during her tour with the tenor Di Stefano in
1973-74 in a series of concerts in Europe, Canada, Korea and
Japan (estimate € 4,000-6,000, in the photographs right and below).
The tunic style sleeveless Biki turquoise chiffon evening gown
was worn by Maria at the reception held by Grace and
Ranieri of Monaco in 1974 (estimate € 4,000-6,000).
The collection also contains many stoles. Biki believed that
Maria only had one other “competitor” in the world for the
elegant manner in which she wore stoles, that being Pope Montini.
There are also many pieces by Yves Saint Laurent in the Maria Callas wardrobe, for
example the daywear cloak in purple wool from the 1970’s, estimate € 1,500-2,000.
The catalogue includes a collection of 300 music scores from
the Parisian apartment of Maria Callas that the “Divina” used
for her studies. Many of these contain her handwritten notes or
were autographed both by Callas, as well as other important
figures from the world of the opera.
The Swiss Paillard metronome also comes from Maria’s Parisian
apartment, (height, 23 cm, estimate € 1,000-1,500, on the left), a
faithful friend that followed Maria everywhere during the
countless voyages around the world made by the impassioned
and melancholy artist, a stubborn and vulnerable woman,
adored and neglected at the same time.
Press Contact: Wanda Rotelli
*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium