This exhibition aims at presenting, through a series of paintings of such extraordinary quality that for some of them it would not be out of place to define as masterpieces, the variety and richness of the fascinating and submerged universe of the collections of the Banking Foundations. Submerged, because in most cases these collections have not yet been transformed into museums open to the public, even if the works often have transited in exhibitions or have been places for deposit in the public collections of the city where the foundations have their headquarters. This exhibition intends to make known to the general public the works of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Twentieth centuries, through a selection of artworks that are important not only for their beauty, but also are such that it is possible to propose an exhibition that will involve the sensitivity of the public through the representation of some universal themes, such as the life and death, love, motherhood, work, expressed by means of the pictorial genres and their transformation.
A powerful narrative dimension, also linked to the motif of the family saga so present in contemporary literature, is also to be found in the monumental masterpiece by Leonardo Dudreville Love: First Discourse that dominates the space dedicated to the Twentieth century with its size and its absolute inventive iconographic and compositional originality. It is certainly the most challenging work of a painter with a strange and irregular path, it made a strong impression and aroused controversy at its appearance at the XIV Venice Biennale where it was presented in the section dedicated to the Six painters of the Twentieth century, the movement that, guided by Margherita Sarfatti, had been consecrated by successive Milanese exhibitions and had dominated art in the national sphere. Perhaps it was precisely this painting, too close to the brutal realism of the German New Objectivity and so extraneous to the classicist and Mediterranean ideals of the Twentieth century, to determine the distancing of its author from that group.
In Love: First Discourse, the setting of the lagoon can be recognised from the foreground occupied by the bank of a canal, from which arise the wharf poles and the outline of a gondola seating a pair of lovers and two old musicians, and by the sight of a small passage that occupies the lower-right pane. There are three characters: a sad man hidden in the shadows and two embracing lovers shown from behind who are moving away. This evocative scene has something of the cinematographic to it, just as in substance it is the cinematographic impression that characterises the entire piece. The composition has in fact a visual framing that is antique and modern at the same time. It is organised in many panels that reveal the inside of the homes, as if the walls had become transparent, where the painter wanted to unveil as many scenes all relating to various aspects of that enthralling dominant theme that is love. The concurrency with which these glimpses of everyday life are made recalls on the one hand the way antique altarpieces were organised, to which the general structure of the painting refers, but on the other, to the much more current one that by now characterises the most contemporary of the arts, cinema. The painting, even and especially for its impressive photo-realism, is like a great popular film, epic and passionate, highly captivating.
In the Quarrel the Venetian motif of a dispute between women, bringing to mind for example the play Brawling in Chioggia by Goldoni, is rendered with a furious pace, almost that of sorcery, which avoids any anecdotal suggestion. The figures in fact move as if throwing themselves beyond the surface of the painting, with exasperated gestures that contort their bodies, projecting them on that livid and unreal format of the stripe of reddened water of a fiery sunset and the wings of the trees in the foreground. A strange pine with the roots and branches convoluted like the spires of a monstrous being and a peach tree in bloom, which appear to rise from the stone on which the mysterious figure is lying, absorbed in the foreground at the right, forming a sort of art decò frame to this derisive ballet which only slightly misses the mark of becoming a sort of modern dance macabre.
In 1926 the other great heretic present on the Venetian artistic scene, Cagnaccio, seems to propose a different road in the expression of this particular and early Magical Realism, in line with the German Neue Sachlickeit. The theme, which is that of the heroic effort of work raised to an epic dimension is linked to iconography that in the course of the Nineteenth century had experienced some fortune, that of the barges and the boats that were transported by men along the bank of a canal. The two protagonists, rendered in all their physical and moral pride, one with his face and gaze directed forward and the other downward, appear locked, as in the frame of a cinematic sequence in which everything is suspended, in a pose of impressive plastic strength. The slender and muscular anatomy is rendered with such dramatic evidence that it makes us think of the body of the crucified Christ. It is not by chance that an image of the Pietà appears, as a naive painting in the painting, on the side of the coloured boat that, like a huge toy that still has something of a Futurist feel, enters from the right into the visual field. The realistic manner in which every detail is depicted, up to the most disconcerting detail of the belts and ropes being pulled, is so exasperated as to assume a metaphysical dimension.
In Mother and Son of Carlo Carrà there emerges a monumentality that can only refer it to the Italian Twentieth century in which it is located, with completely different references and outcomes. The painting, consecrated by its fortune in exhibitions both old and new, is among the works which are most affected by the phase, in the second half of the Thirties, in which its author had been involved in the practice of large decorative revetments cycles. In our canvas, the painter transfers the style employed in these works to address a theme, the universal one of motherhood, beloved in the traditionalist climate of the Twentieth century and certainly encouraged by the ideology of the Fascist Regime. But with respect to formulations more linked to the religious iconography of the subject and to the recovery of the ancient masters, though in the monumental plasticism that characterises the main figure, the references are to the Neoclassical Picasso, that of the large female figures of Mediterranean inspiration, and to the metaphysical experience of Carrà himself.
The “Twentieth century adventure”, as it was called by Massimo Bontempelli, point of reference not only for writers but also for artists, had to be traced to different outcomes on the road to monumentalism, such as the expression of heroic subjects and of the mythology closely reconnected with the national experience, encouraged by the Regime, of mural painting. Remaining on the Milanese scene, another protagonist of the Twentieth century like Funi of Ferrara, here present with Minerva and Glory, the two magnificent preparatory drawings executed in 1940 for the mosaic decoration of the dome of the Meeting Hall of the new wing of “Ca’ de Sass”, the official headquarters of the Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, which propose an aulic and classical language that was completely different from primitivism and from the Picasso-inspired suggestions of Carrà. There remains an extraordinary technical mastery in the modelling of the anatomical shapes and drapery that reminds us of the fresco artists of the Renaissance, Masaccio, Signorelli, Piero, then subject to renewed interest if not actually a cult devotion.
Outside of the certainties and perennial values of life celebrated in the artistic values of the Twentieth century, daily existence, those existential torments and then the hermetic poetry that Montale will celebrate as the “pain of living” constitute the background of the more subdued figurative art which of the so-called Roman School, represented with the most intense masterpiece of the most tormented of its protagonists, Gino Bonichi who as Scipione will run through one of the briefest creative parables - he died at the age of only twenty-nine - but among the most surprising of Italian painting between the two World Wars. The symbolic elements that comprise this unusual and unsettling still life, emancipated from all conventions, seem to rise in the overturned space of The Octopus, as in the suspended time of a séance. The creased photo, the old feather, the eel and the octopus, assumed as a protagonist not only for its emblematic valence but also for its plastic vibration, slide on the carpet that seems suspended in the air, or raised as if by the force of a medium, and they weave among them relationships that have been extracted from the subconscious, with the same procedure then followed then by the most experimental poets.
Outside of each movement and grouping, appear two isolated geniuses such as Vincenzo Gemito and Pietro Annigoni, stubborn witnesses, one in the first two decades of the Twentieth century, the other before and after the Second World War, of an unconditional commitment to the craft and to tradition. The great Neapolitan sculptor, left adrift due to the years of dramatic exclusion caused by his mental disorders, he once again found his identity and glory due him was finally acclaimed at the official level, until becoming a legend, and satisfied in the realisation of large drawings of extraordinary virtuosity in being able to combine different techniques and materials, emotionally moving in that they were able to elevate reality to a heroic dimension derived from the intense contact with the past.
The return to the powerful realism of the century in the style of the rediscovered genius Caravaggio marks some of the most significant moments of dialogue between the Twentieth century and the great masters of the past. The final outcome is the impressive masterpiece of the portraitist Annigoni. We are speaking of the dramatic image, linked to the 1945, the last year of the war, of an outcast like the tramp Cinciarda, depicted standing in the foreground, tragic and yet proud to pose in an attitude and a pictorial space that render him impressively in the manner of the Menippo of the Museo del Prado by Velázquez. The quality of the work, outside of time for its style so closely linked to the past, was however understood by part of the critics who were freer from modernist prejudices, such as Luigi Maria Personè. In 1952, when the committed realism was that of Renato Guttuso, he stood in front of our painter, finding him characterised in his realism by a metaphysical anxiety, given that “Cinciarda is the lone pilgrim on the roads of the world, but who, even with his eyes open and itinerant, he is already out of the world, in an area of tragic mystery”. The mystery of those eyes which, looking at us, ask us questions or invite us to ourselves question the meaning of life.
Comitato Acri — Marco Cammelli, Elisabetta Boccia, Cristina Chiavarino, Patrizia Rossi
Coordinamento organizzativo — Lucia Molino
Albo dei Prestatori — Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara, Fondazione Cassa dei Risparmio di Forli, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Gorizia, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio della Provincia di Macerata, Fondazione di Venezia
Ringraziamenti — Emanuele Barletti, Massimo Alessandro Bianchi, Linda Di Bartolomeo, Aurelio Eremita, Laura Feliciotti, Alessandra Gini, Marie Evangeline Maillard, Andrea Massari, Giovanni Morale, Elisa Mori, Franco Mungai, Marianna Pellegrini, Paolo Rambelli, Renato Ravasio, Elena Vidoz, Adelfo Zaccanti, Biblioteca Molesi di Trieste
Un sentito ringraziamento a — Mario Romano Negri, presidente Commissione Arte e Cultura,Fondazione Cariplo; Arnoldo Mosca Mondadori, consigliere con delega alla Cultura, Fondazione Cariplo
Un ricordo e un ringraziamento postumo a — Pier Mario Vello