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.
Our pictorial journey begins, not only by chronological precedence, but also for its extraordinary impact, with the monumental canvas, to this day, the most significant work that has emerged from a mysterious Flemish master as known as Simon Johannes van Douw, not yet well known except for a limited number of works. The most famous is certainly this masterpiece, unique in its monumentality and in its broad and epic proportion, which its author wanted to sign with pride, inserting his name, in the manner of carving an epigraph in the block of stone on which is seated to the left of centre one of the characters that animate this grandiose and picaresque market scene. So numerous are the figures that it is impossible to count the humans and animals of different sizes that crowd this exciting scene set in Italy, painted by an artist who we do not have any notions as to whether or not he was ever in our country.
L’opera si presenta, nella sua straordinaria invenzione che fonde diversi generi, come il paesaggio, il capriccio architettonico, la scena di genere, la pittura di animali e la natura morta, come una brulicante commedia della vita ambientata appunto in Italia, sullo sfondo dei solenni resti del mondo classico, dove si riconoscono le colonne e gli archi del Tempio dei Castori e di quello di Vespasiano nel Foro Romano, come la fontana del Campo Vaccino.
From the theatrical and fantastic dimension - of picaresque narration - in which van Douw had intended to elevate aspects of everyday life, one descends to the humble and unassuming reality, rendered with extraordinary intensity and immediacy, of the Mother Who Sews with Two Children of the finally rediscovered anonymous Maestro della Tela Jeans. The painting had immediately aroused a great deal of attention, fascinating the world of the scholars, first for its touching beauty and then for the mystery that had enveloped the name of its author for such a long time. The painting cuts straight to the heart for the intensity with which, although through an almost brutal depiction of everyday reality, the painter has been able to render the theme of an industrious motherhood. The very strong horizontal framing, almost to compress the characters within the dark rectangular space, focuses attention on the material aspects of objects, such as the bed and the understated but intense still life formed by the impoverished relics of everyday life brought scandalously to the fore in the foreground. And then that unforgettable play of glances that goes from the melancholy eyes of the older child on the right that stare at the viewer, to the mother’s eyes that are lowered and concentrated on her work and, finally, the closed eyes of the sleeping baby.
The Venus with Cherubs by Carlo Cignani and the Allegory of Spring by Bartolomeo Guidobono represent, between the Seventeenth and the Eighteenth centuries, another side of the mythological evasion that casts life, outside from the urgencies and the pain of reality, into a dimension that is estranged from the ordinary, projected into the mythological and allegorical dream. Between the nakedness of the goddess of Cignani and the more chaste sensuality of the figure of Guidobono, captured in a very similar pose with her arms raised over her head, breathing the same aura of immobile and timeless grace that has its ancient ascendant in Correggio, source of inspiration for these painters of success who were contended by the aristocracy and the courts, the Farnese of Parma for the first, the Savoy of Turin for the second. But then even between the winged pages of the beautiful fairy tale it is always life imposing itself, emerging from the beautiful details, such as the doves at play with the cherubs in the painting of Cignani and the birds and flowers, extracted from the woven wicker basket rendered with masterful optical evidence, in the enchanting canvas of Guidobono.
The whimsical theatre of life, the reality, the Arcadian grace of mythological fiction, and then the epic, heroic dimension is expressed in the triumphant representation of virile force, which alone could only be interpreted by, at this time well into the Eighteenth century, the young, but already bewitching Tiepolo. Standing out are the two great figures of the Hunter on Horseback and the Hunter with Deer, finally traced back to his hand and plausibly inserted in the dispersed cycle with the Stories of Zenobia, made between the second and third decade for the Venetian nobleman Alvise Zenobio, perhaps on the occasion of a marriage with the Grimani family. These two stunning masterpieces seem to anticipate the breath, in the chromatic material imbued with light and a fragrant plastic force, of the frescoes of the Archbishopric of Udine and especially of the cycle of paintings of Palazzo Dolfin in Venice where one finds similar decorative solutions, both in the format and in the compositional system, to those present in our paintings.
The young and cocky hero represented by the hunter on horseback dominates the figuration with a particular power, moving into the enamelled landscape delimited by the blue outline of the mountains. The outline of the steed, rendered with extraordinary chromatic force in the relationship between the blacks and whites, imposes itself from behind in the foreground. While the figure, splendid in his costume, exhibits his arm from under the rolled up sleeve and sets his audacious gaze, turning his head back, on the viewer.
The Farewell to Socrates by his Wife Xanthippe, already attributed to Francesco Caucig, restores a nocturnal image relative to the reflection on the theme of death. This painting, aside from the for now not easily resolvable identification of its author, finds a place of particular significance in this show, because it has a dialogue with the bas-reliefs of Canova exhibited at the beginning of the route that the Gallerie d’Italia dedicates to the Nineteenth century. At a period of time not distant from these works, dated between 1787 and 1792, one may conceivably assign this painting that proposes the moment narrated in the segment of the dialogue in which the disciples, who, having entered into the prison of the philosopher found that he had been “just then released from the chains” and Xanthippe, who “held his baby in her arms was sitting beside him”. This moment is rendered in a particular domestic dimension, when instead it had always been the heroic dimension that had prevailed, in which he had demonstrated his extraordinary moral strength when, surrounded by grieving disciples, he had serenely drunk the hemlock.
The iconography of the philosopher, who accepts his own death with dignity, was the privileged one already in the Seventeenth century, where the theme had made its first appearance in some paintings such as the one attributed by Roberto Longhi to the Maestro degli Angeli Pallavicini or in the splendid canvas now traced to Gioacchino Assereto of the Fondazione Cassa dei Risparmi di Forlì. With respect to the choral format with which the subject had always been treated, with the figure of the philosopher in the centre who keeps the fatal cup raised or is about to bring it to his lips, here the Genoese painter appears focused on the close dialogue between two characters shown in half figure, precisely the protagonist, who doesn’t have the traditional likeness of Socrates taken from ancient marbles but is marred by an ascetic and heroic old age rendered with an almost expressionistic brush, and his executioner, a young man with arrogant appearance who wears a red beret and expresses himself with gestures so eloquent as to appear vulgar. This masterpiece lives in contrast between the visionary nobility in the shape of the philosopher, that seems to emerge from the darkness or however from an unreal space, and the naturalistic evidence with which he is rendered, as if illuminated by a reflector while the other remains in shadow, the bearer of death.
It is the play of the glances and the gestures to dominate and, to a certain extent, that is what unites the three beautiful portraits by Pompeo Batoni, Angelica Kauffmann and François-Giullaume Ménageot which concludes the journey through the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries. With their different types, those respectively of the worldly portrait, the idealised or allegorical portrait, the family portrait, they testify to the variety and the new impetus in which a genre, regarded as minor in the academic hierarchy, has been able find its momentum in the Age of Enlightenment and return to the ideal beauty of the ancients. The English Lord of Batoni, rendered in all his proud elegance in the precious detail of the Van Dyck dress then very much in fashion, seems characterised by an extraordinary optical and psychological definition where the scientific vocation of the century blends with the extenuated formal nobility. A strong sentimental accentuation animates the eloquence of the famous poetess of Arcadia evoked by her friend the painter in the inspired attitudes of Melpomene, the ancient muse of tragedy. While the newfound freedom of relations in a society that has been renewed by the ideals of the great Revolution seems to animate the family reunion as evoked in the pages of a modern novel in the painting of Ménageot.
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 Risparmi 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