Top Old Masters Dealers Accused of Workplace Hostility in $3M Lawsuit

Old Masters dealers Marco Voena and Edmondo di Robilant, co-owners of the gallery Robilant + Voena, are facing accusations of fostering a “toxic” work environment brimming with bigotry, sexual harassment, and body shaming, according to a $3 million-plus lawsuit filed by a former curatorial employee.

Virginia Brilliant, who worked at Robilant + Voena’s Manhattan location as an independent gallery consultant from December 2019 until a few months ago, submitted the legal complaint to New York State Supreme Court at the beginning of May. Previously a curator at the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, where she led the European paintings department, Brilliant claims that Voena and di Robilant subjected her to sexual harassment and repeated verbal abuse in the form of racist, sexist, antisemitic, and homophobic comments during the span of her employment. The news was first reported by the Daily Beast.

Hyperallergic has contacted di Robilant, Voena, and the gallery for comment on the accusations.

Specifically, the 14-page suit claims that di Robilant and Voena made discriminatory comments that referred to Black people as “disgusting,” Jews as “cheap,” and Brilliant as a “stupid f–-king c-nt.” Brilliant also alleges that Voena used a homophobic slur to characterize clients who were assumed to be members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as when ranting about his business partner and his family members. 

Brilliant claims that the two dealers incessantly harassed her for her appearance, religion, and gender, at one point informing her that she was “just Jewish enough to be convincing to American clients.” She further alleges that she was discriminated against based on her gender, citing a young male employee who was hired to work at the gallery despite having “no background in Old Master Paintings” and having never held a curatorial position at a museum or commercial gallery. This employee “received double the compensation … plus benefits, which had been denied to her as an independent ‘consultant,’” the lawsuit claims.

Brilliant additionally accuses the pair of pressing her with invasive questions about her personal sex life and subjected her to inappropriate stories and details about their own sexual experiences and partners. In at least one instance, Brilliant claims that di Robilant “encouraged [her] to have sexual relations with a colleague to secure a consignment.” On other occasions, di Robilant’s spouse reportedly recommended that she lose weight by adhering to an absurd diet that consisted of Xanax and champagne, and later mailed her “over 1,200 illegal unprescribed Xanax tablets” in addition to weight loss drugs “sourced in the Balkans” so that she could lose 25 pounds in time for The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) held annually in Maastricht in the Netherlands.

These unsolicited medications were allegedly delivered to Brilliant while she was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with in February. Because she was hired as an independent contractor at Robilant + Voena, she was not entitled to employee benefits, such as a health insurance plan or paid leave; following her cancer diagnosis, however, Brilliant claims that her employers agreed to cover medical expenses affiliated with her treatment.

However, Voena and di Robilant have allegedly refused to abide by this arrangement, failing to pay her bills or reimburse her for them.

Compounding these egregious accusations of workplace abuse, Brilliant is also claiming that her employers violated their contract by withholding her commission for a painting by 17th-century artist Orsola Caccia that she sold for $575,000. According to her commission agreement, Brilliant argues that she is entitled to 10% of the profits obtained from the sale; however, after her employers reportedly instructed her to submit an invoice for less than half what she was owed, she has still not been paid. 

Following her hiring in December 2019, Brilliant was reportedly solely responsible for conducting scholarly research on works of art to produce detailed essays, translating documents from Italian into English, producing videos, selling art to museums and private clients, assessing auctions for potential business opportunities, on top of running Robilant + Voena’s New York gallery, which opened in November 2020. Despite working eight hours a day for six days a week, she was provided no support staff until April 2023, she claims.

In total, Brilliant is demanding $57,500 in unpaid commission; $200,000 in unpaid medical bills; at least $2 million on claims of workplace mistreatment, sexual harassment, and discrimination; plus $580,000 in four years of back pay, in addition to legal fees. Di Robilant and Voena now have until July 3 to file a formal response.

Since partnering in 2004 to launch their joint business venture, Robilant and Voena have established galleries in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Their client roster boasts well-known institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Frick Collection, London’s National Gallery of Art, and Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. 

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