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As reported in ATG No 1732, March 25, the Semenzato family had broken away from the merged Finarte-Semenzato - Italy's leading auction house - after four years to set up a rival saleroom. Two weeks later the Venetian courts backed a bid by Finarte chairman Giorgio Corbelli to block not only San Marco's first sale, slated for March, but any ongoing business the company planned.

Corbelli claimed that Franco Semenzato, by then vice president of San Marco, had violated the non-competitive agreement he had signed, which is valid for a period of five years.

Finarte also objected to San Marco using the Semenzato name as they had rights over it, and to the employment by San Marco of a number of experts who had left with Semenzato.

With the court ruling earlier this month, Franco Semenzato has had to leave the new auction house and may have nothing to do with the company for five years from the end of 2005; any breach could leave him liable to a €50,000 compensation payment to Finarte per infringement. Secondly, the name Semenzato can only appear with respect to the surname of the managing director and auctioneer, Marco Semenzato (Franco's son). In addition, any experts migrating from Finarte to Semenzato will attract a fine of €100,000.

San Marco has restructured and now has a series of Italian and foreign shareholders presided over by Tonino Beccegato, although 42 per cent of the capital remains in the Semenzato family.

Both sides appear satisfied. "We would have preferred confirmation of the full injunction," states Finarte's lawyer, "but the ruling shows that an illicit activity did indeed exist and highlights the fact that the five-year competition clause had indeed been violated by Franco Semenzato".

Giampaolo Cortellazzo, San Marco's lawyer, stated: "We are delighted that the injunction has been lifted, as this cancels out a motivation that did not exist. As for the use of the name 'Semenzato', it is worth remembering that Finarte has already stopped using it."

Another of Finarte's claims was that Franco Semenzato took away with him a €20m collection of Old Master paintings, a collection whose consignment had been finalised by him while still at Finarte. However, it appears the judge thinks otherwise as he has not prevented their forthcoming dispersal by San Marco.

The sale, now scheduled for July 9, will contain virtually all of the pictures originally to be offered in March, plus a further 30 or so: a total of 109 lots, including such artists as Carpaccio, Van Dyck, Strozzi and Crivelli. The venue has also changed: it will no longer be Cà Rezzonico, itself a controversial choice as it is a public museum, but the piano nobile of the Venetian Casino near the railway station. An agreement has been signed for this purpose between the auctioneers and the Casino for the next three years. The sale of Old Masters will be preceded the day before by an auction of furniture and works of art.

By Lucian Comoy