Living Objects of Deceased People

Manuel welcomes customers from the desk of the main room of El Pianillo while Antonio works in the background. / CLAUDIA VILA

El Pianillo is the antique shop that Antonio González Silva has run on Seville’s Calle Feria for seventeen years. On Thursdays, he takes his diverse repertoire of objects that never expire outside the premises to become a part of the namesake street market.

Every time someone passes by the door, Antonio meets them with a big smile. He speaks with the customers; he gets close to them. It seems like he would like to invite everyone in for a coffee or a beer. He barely sits down, as he is constantly moving from one place to another to position the new products, modifying the decoration of the room, exploring the story that each of his objects tells him..
We are at Calle Feria, number fifteen. With red paint and a font that catches the attention of curious passers-by, a sign reads three words: Antigüedades El Pianillo. The sign gives name to a very particular space where part of the city’s essence and folklore resides and is reborn.. The decision to give the store that name was more casual than causal: they had recently purchased a pianillo,and it seemed to them the most appropriate name. The mascot, as Antonio refers to it, has been rented out numerous occasions to be used in films. This is also the case of  an old Orbea bicycle that is between eighty and ninety years old.
Antonio is helped by two italians: Manuel, who is his business partner, and sporadically, by his brother.. He has been in the antique business for 43 years. Throughout his life, he has sold to Sevillians, tourists from Spain and abroad, young people, old people, doctors, collectors, to anonymous customers and even celebrities. The Duchess of Alba loved ceramics, the writer Antonio Gala loves elegant canes, and the journalist Jesús Quintero loves old radios. However, the crisis has also affected this trade. “What has been most affected is the sale of furniture,,” says Antonio. He recognizes that before antique dealers fought  to get a piece, but now it is difficult to compete with Ikea, and the furniture is disappearing to make room for other things. He still finds it strange not to have at least one dresser in the store. In spite of everything, there are other products that always sell well, like a good book or a parchment. “This trade does not wane,” he insists. “There are more or fewer stores, but the trade does not disappear; before, fifty antiquarians worked and now there are only ten of us.”

Antonio González Silva reviews his collection of books at El Pianillo. / CLAUDIA VILA

The loudspeaker is always playing a Spanish folk song, most likely flamenco. In spite of being a cemetery of living objects and although some of the collections are drowned by humidity, it smells pleasant. In a glance, we see an amalgam of elements, from collections of keys, dolls –scary ones, he jokes-, ceramics, tiles, porcelain, cans, posters, reproductions,carvings of the Inmaculate Conception, fans, out-of-print books, poetry, classic literature, scrolls, prints, pictures. He even has medicine bottles (between three and four thousand) from a pharmacy called Burgos. Antonio learns the stories that these objects hold from the dealers he purchases them from, and then passes their biography onto his buyers. Among the most precious objects, there are some caricatures of monks and doctors made by Valeriano Bécquer, brother of the Romantic poet Gustavo Bécquer,,which is worth 1800 euros and that he would like to restore in the future.

One of the corners of El Pianillo / CLAUDIA VILA

Two paintings by Julio Romero de Torres, from Cordoba, have also passed along El Pianillo’s walls. One of these ended up with Florentino Pérez, president of the Real Madrid team, and the other, with the painter’s visible signature, continues to be in Antonio’s personal office, located in the back room where his private collections mingle. Some of the highlights are his collections of monographs by different artists, painters, musicians, and a large number of books on the history of Seville. He favors  them: “I feel them; I like to take them and admire their binding. I do not understand how they can be compared with a computer.” The books in the store are placed more haphazardly,but those in his collection have been organized with care.
On one of the shelves, numerous handmade horses and bulls rest. Antonio learned to make them with a craftsman, using materials such as flour, cardboard, glue, and newspaper, and he came to make thousands. He used to sell them in the Santa Cruz neighborhood for 50 or 100 pesetas (less than one euro) and they had many followers. He stopped producing them when the artisan died and ‘took the molds to his grave,” recounts Antonio. Its shape, its color, its uniqueness, the original and particularity of its composition made them figures with great value– at least sentimental value, for Antonio. In the room, there is also a 147-centimer Christ figure, carved in ivory and a photograph of Andrés Moro González, the most important antiquarian in Europe, with his sister. He relates the facts of Andres’ life, eyes shining with emotion. What is now known as the NH hotel was his property; there he developed his profession. Upon his death, the heirs sold it.The room is decorated with two paintings of virgins by anonymous artists; paintings by Manuel Monedero, disciple of Baldomero Ressendi; and others by Francisco Hohenleiter.

Antonio González Silva reviews his collection of books at El Pianillo. / CLAUDIA VILA

The composer Rafael Berrío explains a paradox in his lyrics: “And to think that this notebook in which you write, all of the books, the encyclopedia, the dictionaries…that all these inanimate objects of yours will survive you … ” The visitors know that and it attracts them. Antonio enjoys guarding all these objects that will survive us. He is in love with Seville, where he was born and wants to die. He is a brother of the Five Wounds, a fraternity associated with Holy Week. He recognizes that being an antiquarian is in his blood, that he learned from his family to be fascinated by memories and by objects that, for him, “have a life of their own.” Some even return to him in a cycle: he sells them and buys them again. He is referencing  a painting on the wall -half done-, where a child and a goat are represented. It also happened to him with a portrait of a person who looked like a relative of his. It’s as if they did not want to go.
What does one need to properly practice this profession? It’s clear to Antonio that it requires a great amount of historical knowledge, as well as passion. However, contradictory as it may seem, an antique dealer does not live on nostalgia. He lives on illusions.