Recent Acquisitions by the Museo Poldi Pezzoli

23/9/12 - Acquisitions - Milan, Museo Poldi Pezzoli - In 1881, the Milanese aristocrat Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli transformed his wealthy residence into a museum in order to present his extensive collections of paintings and decorative arts to the public. This example was instrumental in the creation of the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris. Though permanently linked to the memory of its founder, the Museo Poldi Pezzoli is however very dynamic and constantly improving. This Lombard institution has an important restoration policy, notably for its Botticelli and Bellini masterpieces [1] and also adds regularly to its holdings, mainly through donations or bequests. In 2004 alone, it received a Virgin Mary Seated in Throne with the Child and Angels by Louis Brea, a Portrait of the Rimoldi Family by Giuseppe Molteni and, particularly, The Knight in Black by Giovan Battista Moroni.

1. Manufacture de Torre del Greco
Tiara,mid XVIIIth century
Gilt Bronze and Coral – 18 x 4.8 cm
Milano, Museo Poldi Pezzoli
Photo : Museo Poldi Pezzoli

In the past few years, these generous private donations have continued to flow in, enabling the Museo Poldi Pezzoli to add to its wealthy collections despite the serious financial difficulties currently faced by Italian heritage. For the year 2009, we would like to mention first of all a gilt bronze and coral tiara from the Torre del Greco factory (ill. 1). Located south of Naples, this city became a specialist in coral art production as of the late 17th century and is still famous for this activity today. The jewel acquired by the museum dates from the mid-18th century ; its motifs of palmettes and rosettes already reveal a Neo-Classic style, particularly in vogue in the Campania region thanks to the archeological discoveries at Pompey and Herculanum in the early 1740’s.

Two 17th and 19th century Italian paintings were acquired in 2009 as well. The first is a copy painted around 1640-1645 by Sassoferrato (ill. 2), of the famous Annunciation by Il Baroccio, executed between 1582 and 1584 for the Della Rovere chapel in the Basilica of Loreto, currently held at the Vatican museum. This is one of the copies for which Sassoferrato is known today, after the great 16th century masters from Urbino, Raphael and Il Baroccio. The replica at the Museo Poldi Pezzoli is smaller than the original canvas, as is the other Sassoferrato copy, an even smaller format, once belonging to the Campana collection which now resides at the Louvre. The latter shows a piece of fabric on a chair in the lower left-hand corner, while the one acquired by Poldi Pezzoli adds a sleeping cat onto the motif : these variations correspond to inventions inserted by Sassoferrato to this part of Baroccio’s painting which is different today, revealing only the dozing animal [2].

2. Giovanni Battista Salvi,
called Il Sassoferrato (1609-1685)
Annunciation, c. 1640-1645
Oil on Canvas - 171.5 x 119 cm
Milano, Museo Poldi Pezzoli
Photo : Museo Poldi Pezzoli

3. Eleuterio Pagliano (1826-1903)
The Founding of the Company of Mercy, 1857
Oil on Canvas – 85 x 65 cm
Milano, Museo Poldi Pezzoli
Photo : Museo Poldi Pezzoli

The bozzetto of The Founding of the Company of Mercy by Eleuterio Pagliano (ill. 3) is preparatory for a painting exhibited by the artist in 1857 at the Pinacoteca di Brera where it was acquired by Rosa Trivulzio, the mother of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli who then inherited it. The study has thus been reunited with the final work bequeathed to the museum in 1879. A native of the Piemonte region, Pagliano joined the Accademia di Belli Arti di Brera in 1836. He also participated in the "Five Days of Milan", between the 18 and 22 March 1848, resulting in the withdrawal of the Austrian army from the Lombard city, an event which contributed to the fight for independence and subsequent reunification of Italy in 1861. This political commitment was expressed in part of his artistic production illustrating other patriotic episodes, such as Garibaldi’s Landing along with his Alpine Hunters at Sesto Calende on 23 May 1959 (another critical moment in the battle against the Austrian occupation of Lombardy) held at the Musei Civici in Varese. Pagliano was also interested in earlier historical periods : a reflection of the craze for nationalist history throughout 19th century Europe, the subject of The Foundation of the Company of Mercy is set in the Florentine Quattrocento. A man is presenting the corpse of a young woman to the gonfalonier ; the body could not be buried at Santa Croce due to the strict hours. This injustice apparently encouraged the political authorities to grant further prerogatives to the Company of Mercy, founded in the 13th century and which merged in 1425 with the Company of Bigallo, afterward responsible for burying the poor. With its attention to detail in the costumes and furniture as well as the theatrical construction of the composition, The Founding of the Company of Mercy recalls the creations of Paul Delaroche. Pagliano later painted other dramatic historical works, connected to funeral themes, such as The Death of Tintoretto’s Daughter in 1861 (Milan, Galleria d’Arte Moderna) but especially The Body of Luciano Manara at Santa Maria della Scala in 1884 (Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea), an intensely realist tribute to Garibaldi’s chief of staff killed on 30 June 1849 at the age of 24 while defending Rome against the French, who had intervened in favor of the Papal state.

Two 18th century Italian paintings joined the collections at the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in 2010. The Piazzetta near the Dock of San Giorgio Maggiore (ill. 4) is part of the well-known series of Venetian vedute painted by Guardi. The date wavers between 1745 and 1760. The composition as well as the subject were clearly influenced by Canaletto, in a style which nevertheless is strictly unique to Guardi and his rapid strokes, an almost evanescent definition of the architecture as well as the figures, alongside a rather funereal atmosphere. Guardi produced other, very similar panoramas, the closest now residing at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford and at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow [3]. The Milan museum already owned six works by the "vedustista", capriccios as well as urban landscapes including another View of the Piazzetta, which is later in date and with a more closely centered format.

4. Francesco Guardi (1712-1793)
The Piazzetta near the Dock of San Giorgio Maggiore,
between 1745 and 1760
Oil on Canvas - 48.5 x 84 cm
Milano, Museo Poldi Pezzoli
Photo : Museo Poldi Pezzoli

5. Giacomo Ceruti called il Pitocchetto (1698-1767)
Portrait of an Ecclesiastic, c. 1740-1745
Oil on Canvas – 119 x 95.5 cm
Milano, Museo Poldi Pezzoli
Photo : Museo Poldi Pezzoli

Although Giacomo Ceruti was born in Milan, the Museo Poldi Pezzoli only held one canvas by him since 1879, Portrait of a Nun [4]. There is now an additional likeness of a religious figure, Portrait of an Ecclesiastic (ill. 5). This is part of a now scattered ensemble originally containing four works, once held in the Martinengo collection at Brescia : a Portrait of a Man and a Portrait of a Woman acquired in 1976 for the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection today in the museum of the same name in Madrid, as well as another Portrait of a Woman formerly in the Paracchi collection at Novate Milanese. The identity of the models has not been easy to determine : the ecclesiastic might well be a member of the Fenaroli family from Brescia, represented shortly after joining the Philippine Order in the early 1740’s. In any case, this theory coincides with the work’s date, the period of Ceruti’s artistic maturity. The neutral background, the limited palette, the model’s sober expression and the immediacy of his presence all belong to the Lombard realist vein, with Ceruti as one of its leading representatives to the point of using ordinary people for his subjects, thus earning the nickname of Il Pitocchetto. At the same time, certain details, particularly the gesture of the left hand, reveal an elaborate formal search tying Ceruti’s painting to court portraits.

6. Doccia Factory
Coffee Pot, between 1780 and 1800
Hard-paste Porcelain with a Glazed Decoration
Milano, Museo Poldi Pezzoli
Photo : Museo Poldi Pezzoli

Finally, we end our review with a coffee pot in hard-paste porcelain, from the Doccia factory (ill. 6), also acquired in 2010. Founded in 1737 by the Marquis Carlo Ginori outside of Florence, the factory became known throughout Europe along with those in Meissen and Vincennes, and continues to produce today. The early pieces were inspired by antique and contemporary sculpture, notably the work of the Tuscan artist Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi, but also table arts. This is the case of the object here, manufactured at a time when coffee drinking had become a common pastime in Europe. The graceful forms of the handle and spout, as well as the delicate enamel décor of Oriental influence, allow us to date this piece between 1780 and 1800.

Version française

Benjamin Couilleaux, mercredi 26 septembre 2012


[1] The Madonna with a Book by the first in 2012 and Imago Pietatis by the second in 2011.

[2] Another variation found in both the Milan and the Paris paintings is the dark curtain, a contrast in color with the red tapestry and folds of the canvas in question.

[3] In The Opera completa di Francesco Guardi published in 1974, Luigina Rossi Bortolatto listed no less than seven paintings (p. 101, n°197 to 202), to which we can now add the one in Milan. A signed version resided at the time in Bologna in the Modiano collection. As for the Glasgow and Hartford versions, the author dates them respectively as being from 1760-1765 and 1770-1780.

[4] It owns however, six beautiful canvases by Ghislandi, the other great Lombard portraitist of the Settecento (to which we can now add a painting attributed to him and a second given to his circle).

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in News Items : A Study by Antonio González Velázquez for the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux

Next article in News Items : Pre-emption of a Portrait by Alexandre Roslin for the Musée Cognac-Jay