Art: The Party's Over

"Going, going, gone!" echoed a thousand times through the vast marble interiors of Venice's 17th century Palazzo Labia last week. Going, going, gone was another vestige of Venetian elegance, knocked down by the gondola-load to smaller-than-life nobodies representing Swiss antique dealers, dubious shops on Madison Avenue, secretive European and American collectors, and doubtless some ambassadors from small countries, intent on robbing Italy's art treasures via the diplomatic pouch.

In 1646, a Spanish merchant family named Labia started building a palace just off the Grand Canal. The palace's ultimate glory was a set of...

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