Masterpieces

Ten masterpieces from the collections of the Galleria d'Arte Moderna (GAM) in Milan.

By Galleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

The Parnassus (1811) by Andrea AppianiGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

The Parnassus

An aesthetic icon of the European Neoclassical movement and the last finished work of its creator, Appiana's Parnassus fresco is framed by the lavish surroundings of the dining room in the Villa Reale. It forms part of a dialog with the other artworks exhibited in the rooms, adding to the overall effect of the art collections of the GAM. The fresco was produced in 2 short months in 1811, although after precise graphic and iconographic preparation. It recalls and innovates on the theme of Apollo surrounded by the muses on Mount Parnassus, which was already depicted by Raphael in the Room of the Segnatura and by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728–79) in the Villa Albani in Rome. Appiani's work demonstrates a greater flexibility and compositional complexity in comparison to the last of these predecessors, as can be seen in the classical nude interpretation of Apollo playing in the center. The refined choice of iconography depicted in this piece, commissioned by Viceroy Eugène de Beauharnais, was crafted on the suggestion of Luigi Lamberti (1759–1813), an expert on Greece, who immediately published a descriptive brochure about the fresco in Parma. In it, he explained certain details that illuminate the incredibly precise and accurate study of antiquity involved. Lamberti emphasized how Appiani moved closer to the spirit of ancient poetry compared to the work of Raphael, and especially compared to Mengs' more recent depiction, creating an even more fitting representation than those of the venerated Greco-Roman sculptors. They had always depicted the 9 muses as being isolated from one another, each separated into their own figurative space and removed from their leader, Apollo. As Lamberti saw it, "The esteemed painter has not only removed anything that could be viewed as alien from the picture, but has oriented all of the elements that comprise it in a single direction. Apollo is depicted at the center, seated on a throne, and is the painting's central figure." The motif of the richly decorated zither that the deity is playing reveals an awareness of Marcantonio Raimondi's print from the first design of Raphael's Parnassus. In Raphael's final fresco, it is replaced with a violin (a more modern instrument)—a decision that Lamberti was not happy with. Appiani has been innovative in his depiction of the muses, drawing on complex erudite references to ancient statuary and classical texts, while also reflecting a precise study of emotions, in keeping with the Lombard tradition of Renaissance paintings. Take, for example, Euterpe's gesture, with one hand "expressing wonder and delight as her sire and master's gentle action becomes one with her soul," or the careful attention with which Terpsichore listens to Apollo's song, having placed her lyre on the ground so as not to interrupt him. The artist's initial drawings can be seen in The Vallardi Album at the Brera Academy and at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, while a large preparatory cartoon can now also be found in Brera. This was sold to the Austrian government in 1857 by Giuseppina Strigelli, the wife of Appiani's eldest son, Raffaellino, after many years in storage at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana library.

Hebe (1796/1796) by Antonio CanovaGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Hebe

This sculpture depicts Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera, as she serves nectar to the gods. Its beauty embodies the canonical ideals that experimentalists sought to capture between the 18th and 19th centuries: her ethereal face, the fluid lines of the garments that outline and caress her body, and the graceful gesture of her arm holding the amphora are in harmony with the elegant motion of this young woman, who almost seems to float. The pure white plaster cast from 1798 is considered to be one of the most singular works of Venice-based artist Antonio Canova. It was the original model for the statue and was used to make the first 2 marble figures. These are now kept at the National Gallery in Berlin and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The 2 other 1808 versions of Hebe (one in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth House and the other at the Pinacoteca Comunale gallery in Forlì) are different mainly in their support structures, since the artificial cloud has been replaced with a simple tree trunk.

Portrait of the Singer Matilde Juva Branca (1851/1851) by Francesco HayezGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Portrait of the Singer Matilde Juva Branca

The enigmatic and austere gaze captured by Francesco Hayez belongs to Matilde Branca (Juva by marriage). An opera singer, she shared her musical talents with her sisters, Luigia (a mezzo-soprano), Emilia (a harpist), and Cirilla (a pianist). She was also a prominent personality at the salon hosted by her father, Paolo Branca. It was a renowned setting for artists and intellectuals, once dubbed "The Temple of Music" by Gaetano Donizetti, the famed opera composer.  The piece was commissioned by her husband Giovanni as a companion piece to his own portrait, which was also painted in 1851, by Mauro Conconi (one of Hayez' students). It is considered a masterpiece of 19th-century portraiture, thanks to the accuracy of its psychological introspection and its flawless formal resolution, which aimed to recapture the traditions of 16th-century Venetian portraiture. The positioning of the figure at a 3-quarter angle, her arm resting on a chair covered with an ermine mantle, creates a series of planes that expand the sense of space in the painting. The figure of the woman clothed in a luxurious, black silk gown is severe, contrasting with the lace that frames her hands and face. The hand holding the glove in the lowest tier of the painting hints at a homage by Hayez to the artist Titian, with an explicit reference to his Man with a Glove, which is housed at the Louvre in Paris, and Portrait of an Englishman, at the Palatine Gallery in Florence.

Venus (1855/1855) by Pompeo MarchesiGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Venus

Pompeo Marchesi is considered the Lombard heir to the sculptor Antonio Canova, to whom he paid tribute throughout his long career as an artist, with these references and idealist allusions evoking some of the Venetian master's finest works. The 2 met and visited each other during Canova's stay in Rome between 1804 and 1808, when the young artist from Como created Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix, from which Marchesi drew inspiration for his image of Venus. This later work, also known as the "Erotic Venus," is one of the variations of the 1826 Venus Pudica. However, it differs in its more provocative pose and attitude (the bust and breasts were partially concealed by a sheet in the first version) and by the presence of a net. This is a reference to a Homeric episode that describes Vulcan's discovery of Venus' betrayal with Mars, both harnessed to the marital bed by an invisible net that he positioned there in order to catch them in the act.

Rural Idyll of the Meadows in the Volpedo Parish (Ring a Ring o' Roses) (1906 c.) by Giuseppe Pellizza da VolpedoGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Ring-around-the-Rosy (Rural Idyll in the Meadows of the Volpedo Parish)

This is the second version—left incomplete by Pellizza da Volpedo before being finished by the painter Angelo Barabino—of another canvas that was thought to be lost for a long time. It then reappeared for auction at Sotheby's in London in 1980, having been kept in a private home in England for almost 40 years. Spring Idyll (1896–1901)—the original work, which is still kept in a private collection—was initially conceived as the first in a series of idyll paintings on the theme of love. The image was meant to represent a metaphor for life, which blossoms and flourishes time and again in the spring landscape. The depiction of children playing ring-around-the-rosy was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1903 where, despite conflicting reviews, it was remarkably popular with the public, before it was sold to an Amsterdam merchant in Rome in 1906. Nevertheless, Barabino would later complete this replica, scrupulously following the original drawing by the artist from Volpedo. In terms of the compositional structure, the artist found inspiration in a successful 17th-century work by Francesco Albani: The Dance of the Cupids, kept at the Pinocateca di Brera gallery in Milan. However, he changed the scene to the natural setting of Volpedo, and specifically the meadows by his family residence.

The Two Mothers (1889/1889) by Giovanni SegantiniGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

The Two Mothers

Presented at the inaugural Triennale di Milano exhibition in 1891, alongside Maternity by Gaetano Previati, The Two Mothers is one of Segantini's most celebrated and talked-about works, which firmly established the revolutionary new technique known as Divisionism. This genre scene, which is traditional only in appearance, represents the first step in Segantini's progression towards a so-called "painting of ideas." The woman with the baby, and the cow with her calf, are elevated to serve as universal symbols of motherhood. The studied effect of artificial light, shown in the rendering of the lantern-lit stable, gives this humble scene an intensity that could only be achieved with the Divisionist technique. Inspired by a profound and sincere sense of rigorously objective and impartial observation (influenced by the Italian "verismo" movement), this naturalism is captured through thread-like brushstrokes of divided color, with pure color applied directly to the canvas. Meanwhile, a more traditional technique can be seen in the earthy tones. The final effect is a work whose meaning goes beyond the surface of reality, aspiring to represent a universal image of the origins of life.

Blond Braid (1891 c.) by Giovanni BoldiniGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Blond Braid

Based on its messy, impulsive style, this work is generally dated to the beginning of the 1890s, by which point Boldini had already moved to Paris. The faintness of the strokes reveals not only the influence of Impressionist painting of the time, but an in-depth knowledge of Frans Hal's chiaroscuro technique. It seems that Boldini may have become close with him during a trip to Amsterdam in 1876. Unlike many of the artist's female portraits, in which the entire figure is used to showcase every detail of the protagonists' elegant and elaborate dresses, this painting only shows the figure's bust. The oval face of the girl, whose identity is not known, stands out with the pink hues of her full-bodied complexion. The background and her clothes fall away: the first into earthy shades in long, soft strokes of color; the second into pearly, almost transparent brushstrokes. Other interesting elements of color include the woman's reddish-blond hair, from which the painting takes its name, and the bouquet of small white flowers that can be seen behind her. The exquisite and aristocratic feminine elegance with which the artist portrays his subject draws parallels with the most renowned high-society portrait artists around the world, including European and American painters such as John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, Giuseppe De Nittis, Max Liebermann, Franz von Lenbach, and many more.

Lunch at Posillipo (1879 c.) by Giuseppe De NittisGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Lunch at Posillipo 

This piece chronicles an evening celebration experienced by Giuseppe De Nittis during his stay in Naples, between the end of 1878 and the spring of 1879. Critics agree on this date, ascribing it to the painter's return to Naples after the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878. Naples can be easily recognized from the backdrop, where Cape Posillipo and Palazzo Donn'Anna can be made out. The painter Edoardo Dalbono also described meetings between De Nittis and other artist friends on a terrace overlooking the gulf, where the evening's discussions about art would alternate with singing to the accompaniment of guitar. Who the figures are is more controversial—only the identity of De Nittis' wife Léontine, who appears at the center, is certain. The man and woman seated on the right have been recognized as Edoardo Dalbono and his wife, Adele, and several names have been put forward for the pair of bearded men. This ambiguity also stems from the fact that, according to some critics, they are not drawn from reality, but are references to French painting. In fact, the painting is considered a symbol of De Nittis' relationship with Manet's work. We know that the painting, which was unfinished and considered a minor work at the time, was brought to Paris by De Nittis. It remained there at his atelier until his death, at which point it was left to his widow, Léontine. After passing between several owners, it was purchased by Carlo Grassi, who donated it to the collections of the GAM in his will. 

Portinaia (Concierge; Impression d’une concierge) (1883/1884) by Medardo RossoGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

The Concierge (Model of a Concierge)

The Concierge was probably modeled in 1883, as reported by Rosso, or in 1884 at the very latest, as proposed by some 20th-century studies. The artist's muse was Sciora Orsola, the concierge of a building on Via Montebello in Milan, where he lived. Hidden away in her porter's lodge, the artist developed an intense fixation on her.  Rosso made at least 12 replicas of this subject. He considered this sculpture—a reinterpretation of the earlier "Sagrestano"—to be a turning point in his artistry, defining his own unique point of view and capturing a fleeting impression. Made of a blend of very clear wax, this is the only artwork that the sculptor donated to the GAM in Milan, in 1922. The museum records report that the piece was replaced by Francesco Rosso at the end of 1952, as a result of it being "destroyed by significant damage." This may have been caused by it being displaced during the war. In fact, Francesco recovered the damaged work, restored it, and then placed it in the Medardo Rosso Museum in Barzio, but it has since been lost. In exchange for this waxwork, the bronze Ruffiana statue was donated to the Milan museum. This was crafted under his direction, as evidenced by a letter from Costantino Baroni to Francesco Rosso dated November 10, 1952, and by 2 acts of the Municipality of Milan, dated November 17, 1952 and January 1953.

Vir Temporis Acti (Ancient man) (1914/1914) by Adolfo WildtGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

"Vir Temporis Acti" (Ancient Man)

In 1911, the sculptor Adolfo Wildt had left behind 19th-century plastic modeling and was engaged in a complex revival of ancient sculpture, revitalizing it with the most advanced artistic trends of that time. One of his works from this period, which has unfortunately been lost, is "Vir Temporis Acti" (Ancient Man): a figure of a soldier who has struck himself with a staff, as a symbol of self-inflicted pain, and the redemption and nobility of sacrifice. In this artwork, the powerful memory of Michelangelo's sculpture and the ancient nudes that Wildt loved to admire in the halls of the Brera Academy is brought to life, with decorative Secessionist-style details and a sense of lively, expressive pathos. Created for his German patron, Franz Rose, and destroyed during World War II, Wildt used this marble statue to isolate and recreate the details of the face several times (as in this sculpture), to convey an even stronger sense of pain that is at once remotely archaic and utterly contemporary. This work ends the journey through the GAM, forming an ideal bridge to the anxieties of the 20th century.

Credits: Story

The GAM in Milan would like to thank the Google Cultural Institute for the fruitful collaboration between them on this project. We believe that the use of high-definition artworks, which are freely accessible to a global audience, is the next frontier in Web 2.0 communication. Special thanks go to Executive Assistant Dr. Ilaria Gozzi, who supervised each step of the project, and to Ms. Marivanna Torre, responsible for external relations. Particular thanks also go to Dr. Omar Cucciniello and Dr. Alessandro Oldani, curators of the GAM.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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