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In his introduction to the book At the Emperor's Table, Andre Leon Talley points out that the elegance of Mr. Valentino's ornate homes derives from an accumulation of considered details. No object has arrived in his New York City apartment or London flat or at the Château de Wideville by accident: The oversize, antique, baroque-pattered Italian linen napkins given to luncheon guests in Manhattan, for example, are a relic of the era when women sitting for meals needed to cover the skirts of their voluminous gowns, for example. "Such are the details that elevate Valentino's dining experiences, even the smaller ones," Talley notes.


A similar sense of history animates Mr. Valentino's large collection of tureens. "When Mr. Valentino places a Garrard of London William IV silver soup tureen, stamped 1837, at the center of his table in the dining room of his London home," Talley writes, "it is because he appreciates and understands that the French began placing food on tables in tureens and platters, arranged in decorative groupings, in the mid-eighteenth century." Mr. Valentino has a wide assortment of antique tureens—silver plate, porcelain, faience. Even lunch at sea on the T.M. Blue has its own dedicated tureen, part of a blue-and-white dinner service reproduced from an 1820 Torquay design. 


Of all Mr. Valentino's beautiful objects, the ones that move Talley the most are his collection of Meissen swans. He recalls his first visit to Wideville in 2004 as a "Proustian experience" galvanized by the arrangement of the uncannily lifelike porcelain birds. "Upon viewing Valentino's noble white Meissen swans on ponds of linen in his dining room, my involuntary memory of the swans floating in King Ludwig of Bavaria's grotto in Luchino Visconti's film Ludwig called to mind not only the dramatic scene of the narrative," Talley writes, "but also the very music that provoked my elegiac response." Every object brought into a Valentino home has been selected to evoke that kind of associative rapture—the feeling of touching or seeing a beautiful thing with its own historical memory, its own set of accompanying manners and gestures. What is most beautiful of all is that these objects aren't sitting in a museum vitrine to be wondered at by passersby—they are actually in use, storing up more memories as Mr. Valentino's guests tuck into pasta served from antique tureens and smile upon vegetable-shaped faience ornamenting the table. They live on in time.

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