Over the years, from 1923 to today, various factors have contributed to the formation and establishment of the Fondazione Cariplo art collection, which now boasts an extensive collection of art heritage. This short journey of discovery examines the key works in the collection, travelling through the various ages, styles and artists with evocative cross-references and counterpoints. The itinerary brings together the light 18th-century elegance of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo with the severe neoclassicism of Antonio Canova; the crude realism of the Risorgimento works of Gerolamo and Domenico Induno with the universal dimension of the Dance of the Hours, the undisputed masterpiece of Gaetano Previati.
It was probably in connection with his marriage to Alba Grimani in 1718 that Alvise Zenobio, a nobleman from Verona, commissioned Giovanni Battista Tiepolo to paint a series of Episodes from the Life of Septimia Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, for Ca’ Zenobio, the family mansion in Venice. The Cariplo Collection includes two inestimable canvases from this cycle, one showing a Hunter on Horseback and the other a Hunter with a Stag, in which the Venetian artist achieves the highest levels of compositional freedom and fluidity.
Antonio Canova made a gift of thirteen plaster reliefs to Abbondio Rezzonico, a member of the Roman Senate and nephew of Pope Clement XIII, between 1792 and 1795. It was Rezzonico who had commissioned the sculptor from the Veneto region to produce the recently unveiled commemorative monument to his uncle in St. Peter’s. In addition to Canova’s original study for a figure of Justice, which was eliminated from the final version of the papal tomb, the set includes complex scenes drawn from the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid and Phaedo as well as depictions of works of mercy such as Teaching the Ignorant and Feeding the Hungry.
Canova’s treatment of these subjects, some of which were new departures for him, is an outstanding example of his mature work as the foremost representative of European Neoclassicism. The reliefs are characterised by austere simplicity, grace of gesture, compositional balance and rigorously defined space.
Piedmontese by birth but Milanese by culture, Giovanni Migliara is the author of a large number of exceptional paintings now in the Cariplo Collection. This View of the Cathedral Square in Milan, one of the most admired subjects in the artist’s repertoire, shows the piazza as it was in 1828, when the 15th-century building known as the Coperto dei Figini and the Rebecchino block still stood on either side. Seen almost in the background, the Cathedral is the distinctive landmark of this particular area of the city, which underwent demolition in the second half of the 1860s. Migliara created an authentic compendium of places in the city’s Spanish and Neoclassical fabric now regarded as typical of “Old Milan”, developing a form of urban painting in which vividly captured episodes and aspects of everyday life are shown against a backdrop of recurrent settings.
Painted by the Milanese artist Luigi Bisi in 1840 to hang in the modern art gallery of the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, this painting of the Interior of Milan Cathedral was commissioned by Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria during his stay in the city for his coronation in 1838.
In a broad perspective view built up through the juxtaposition of areas of light and shadow, Bisi pinpoints not only all the details of the architectural setting and its decoration but also members of the congregation and elements of local colour.
Giuseppe Molteni’s painting of 1838 entitled Confession was also originally in the collection of Ferdinand I. This work was highly regarded by the artist’s contemporaries for the skill and delicacy with which he depicted a familiar and intimate episode in real life. The life-size format – still unusual for genre scenes at the time – combined with the refined painting technique, contributed to the success of the painting and made the artist’s reputation.
The View of the Naviglio Canal from the San Marco Bridge in Milan is one of the best-known and most characteristic representations of the city as it was in the first half of the 19th century. Painted in 1834 by Giuseppe Canella from Verona, it shows the stretch of the Naviglio from the San Marco lock in the foreground to the Medici Bridge in the distance. In the centre are two barges used to transport marble and granite for the sculptors resident in the Ca’ Medici, which can be seen on the left bank, and the nearby Brera Academy of Fine Arts. The extraordinarily precise attention to detail and dazzling brilliance of the canvas reveal a familiarity with the north European landscape tradition, which the artist came to appreciate during his various travels abroad.
In his depiction of the Last Meeting between Giacomo Foscari, Son of the Doge Giuseppe, and His Family Before Being Sent into Exile, a masterpiece painted between 1838 and 1840, Francesco Hayez offers a pictorial version of a subject in Venetian history that was extremely popular at the time, treated not only by Verdi in his opera shortly afterwards but also by Lord Byron in 1821.
The painter conjures up the atmosphere of 15th-century Venice, setting the scene in the first-floor loggia of the Doge’s Palace with the Church of San Giorgio, its Gothic façade still intact, in the background. The solemn figure of the Doge, juxtaposed with his pleading son, dominates the canvas in the centre. These two figures are complemented and counterpointed by the exile’s wife and mother, on the left, and by the children, with the group of persecutors and betrayers hovering in the background. The painting was much admired in Viennese artistic circles for its stylistic interpretation, characterised by warm hues and transparent, golden glazing typical of the Neo-Venetian style, which was the hallmark of the artist’s work in this period.
Italy’s unification prompted the appearance within history painting of works celebrating the victorious struggle for independence and nationhood known as the Risorgimento. The examples of this genre now in the Cariplo Collection include one of the first monumental canvases on the events of the period, namely The Battle of the River Tchernaya, painted in 1857 by Gerolamo Induno, himself a follower of Garibaldi, and inaugurating a new field which made Italian art competitive with international history painting.
The work depicts the battle fought between the French and Piedmontese forces and Russian troops near the Tchernaya on 16 August 1855 and is part of a series of paintings devoted to the Crimean War.
It is characterised compositionally by the division of the canvas into two parts: the battlefield on which the scene takes place, crowded with major and minor figures, and a cloudless sky tinged with pink. The central episode hinges on the mounted figure of General Alfonso La Marmora and secondary scenes are scattered all over the broad expanse.
Though characterised by greater detachment and more oriented towards genre painting, Domenico Induno’s Bulletin Announcing the Peace of Villafranca, imposed on Italy by Napoleon III on 14 July 1859, also belongs to the Cariplo Collection’s important series of works inspired by the Risorgimento. In addressing monumental historical subjects with the more spontaneous and modern tools of genre painting, the artist created a wholly personal iconographic repertoire developed through free, vigorous brushwork and the almost iridescent effects of delicate combinations of colours.
The Portrait of Marquise Virginia Busti Porro as a Young Girl in white Carrara marble is one of a series of successful private commissions undertaken by the sculptor Vincenzo Vela, who lived and worked at Ligornetto in Canton Ticino.
This work executed in 1871 represents the young Marquise as she elegantly offers a flower taken from the bouquet in her lap. The delicate image is created through the meticulous and realistic rendering of her physical features and dress, from the hairstyle to the lace, from the soft folds of her garment to her shoes.
Giovanni Segantini presented The Choir of the Church of Sant’Antonio in Milan at the yearly Brera Exhibition in 1879, when he was just twenty-one and still a student at the Academy. The work generated such enthusiasm that it was among those chosen to compete for the Prince Umberto Award. Although the compositional structure respects the canons of perspective painting as taught at the Brera by Luigi Bisi, the young artist takes a new approach to the subject, focusing on effects of light and handling colour and brushstroke in ways that contrast completely with the cold severity of academic interiors.
Produced in 1880 by Mosè Bianchi, one of the leading Lombard Naturalist painters in the second half of the 19th century, The Return from the Festival is a genre scene set in the countryside of Brianza. The open-air setting is depicted with masterly light effects and evocative combinations of colour, the hallmarks of Lombard Naturalism and of the best work by this artist from Monza.
The large-format painting, Preparations for the Feast of the Redeemer in Venice, is a fine example of BEPPE CIARDI’s brilliant pictorial manner. Born into an artistic family, he and his sister Emma benefitted from their father Guglielmo’s reputation and the successes of the 20th-century Venetian painting school. The subject, dear to the city’s artists, is connected with the popular celebration held every year to remind Venetians and the world of the plague that devastated Europe in 1576, and of the solemn vow made to end the pestilence and save Venice.
Gaetano Previati presented his large Divisionist canvas The Dance of the Hours at the 3rd City of Venice International Exhibition in 1899. It shows twelve female figures representing the hours and mythologically personifying the seasons. They dance between the sun and the earth in a cosmic space flooded with light, describing a circle that alludes to the never-ending succession of day and night. The dance becomes an allegory of time, the law that governs life. The universe is perceived as pure light and pure music.
In the rigorously Divisionist A Boat on Lake Maggiore, painted in 1915, Angelo Morbelli offers us a remarkable vista that takes in the Borromeo Gulf, Madre Island and the shore of Baveno, framed on the diagonal from inside the vessel, whose brisk movement is suggested by the fluttering tricolour flag at the edge of the painting. This may have been included as a reminder of the war underway at the time.
Autori — Giovanna Ginex, Domenico Sedini, Laura Casone, Elena Lissoni
Gruppo di progetto — Lucia Molino, Mario Romano Negri, Cristina Chiavarino