Gaspar Van Vittel’s “Il Palazzo Ducale di Venezia visto da San Giorgio” in the Grand Tour: Sogni … [+]
As Italy, and the rest of the world, tries to look forward to a post-pandemic future, a new exhibition in Milan shares a message of optimism and recovery by delving into the past.
Canaletto’s A Regatta on the Grand Canal depicts Venice’s main waterway teeming with extravagantly decorated boats and crammed with spectators cheek by jowl along the sidewalks. It is a scene of an annual boat race that took place during carnival celebrations in the lagoon city each February. While Canaletto’s painting depicts the past, it is also a poignant reminder that these spectacular carnival events have been canceled or held virtually for two years running now amid the coronavirus emergency. Canaletto’s artwork is currently on display in Milan as part of Gallerie d’Italia’s Grand Tour: Sogno d’Italia da Venezia a Pompei exhibition. The show journeys down the peninsula, as wealthy 18th-century travelers would have, in a celebration of the architectural and natural glories of Italy that also expresses a yearning for post-pandemic recovery and revival.
Canaletto’s “A Regatta on the Grand Canal” c.1740
At Gallerie d’Italia’s Grand Tour: Sogno d’Italia da Venezia a Pompei exhibition, around 130 paintings and objects from the gallery’s collection and on loan from several prestigious galleries around the world tell the story of the educational and formative route 17th, 18th and 19th-century travelers would have followed around Italy. It is a homage to the wonders of the country as discovered and admired during the Grand Tour, and the travelers who forged an idyllic perception of Italy. Through the differing styles and themes of the artworks, visitors to the exhibition can understand how the historic cities, archeological remains and natural sights made such a powerful impression on the international tourers. And the visitor, too, goes on a metaphorical journey to rediscover Italy.
The exhibition is organized in themes focusing both on artistic styles and the grand tourers’ interests. One section hones in on views of cities and ruins that strive for precise detail and realistic representation. Thomas Patch’s Veduta di Firenza da Bellosguardo depicts the spread of the city of Florence in glorious precision while Giovanni Paolo Panini’s Carlo di Borbone visita la basilica di San Pietro pays as much attention to the architecture as to the magnificent costumes of the visiting entourage. In this section of the exhibition, there is also a startling pair of artworks by Michelangelo Barberi that depict the Roman Forum and St Peter’s Square using minute mosaics, the tiny tiles only visible when peering very close.
Hubert Robert’s “Capriccio con il Pantheon davanti al porto di Ripetta”, 1761
Ancient archeological ruins — some at Pompeii and Herculaneum being discovered in that period — were another fascination of the Grand Tour travelers. Paintings in the exhibition show how artists and writers imagined and reimagined the remains, trying to capture the sensations of awe at the vestiges of this pinnacle of civilization. In Hubert Robert’s Gli scavi di antichità, a visitor has entered into the dark arched building in the process of being excavated and is shown an ancient sculpture by the light of a flaming torch, representing the wonder of discovery.
Nature was also a source of awe, particularly sensational scenes like waterfalls, a violent sea or an erupting volcano. Given the rise of the sublime in art in this period, Vesuvius in action was a much-desired subject. Dominating one wall of the exhibition is a fiery, lava-filled depiction of the erupting volcano whose might and fury is emphasized by two small silhouetted onlookers in the foreground.
Pierre-Jacques Voltaire’s “Eruzione del Vesuvio alla luce della luna”, post 1774
The artworks on display in the exhibition had mainly been commissioned by the travelers themselves as souvenirs. Panini’s Veduta ideata is a charming example of a capriccio painting where a client requested multiple classical buildings to be brought together into one imagined scene. Here, Panini surrounds the Antonine Column with the Pantheon and other temples that do not exist in this layout in real life.
The exhibition also focuses on the protagonists themselves, who gave rise to the idyllic and romantic image of the Bel Paese. On the walls of one room, the noblemen, artists, intellectuals and academics stand nonchalantly against backdrops of dramatic ruins, one arm leaning casually against an ancient statue as through claiming dominance. Pompeo Batoni was the prestigious portraitist who immortalized the intrepid explorers. He made sure to set the scene in his studio with fragments of ruins, one in particular of a lion cropping up in multiple paintings.
Pompeo Batoni’s “Ritratto di Henry Pierse”, 1774-1775.
The exhibition has been staged by Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo bank, which has a department dedicated to cultural endeavors. The gallery where the show is held is not often on tourists’ radars, but it should be. The building, in Piazza della Scala in Milan, is worthy of admiration in itself. Originally built for the bank, the majestic rooms still bear traces of business activity with brass counters and wrought iron clocks.
The Gallerie d’Italia have other venues in Naples and Vicenza and a collection that totals 30,000 works. Included are works of 19th and 20th-century Italian art, such as a Canova statue featured in the Grand Tour exhibition, and the Martyrdom of St. Ursula by Caravaggio, located in the Naples gallery. The collection also features Attic and Magna Graecia ceramics and Russian icons.
Preparation for the Grand Tour: Sogno d’Italia da Venezia a Pompei exhibition took place during two extremely challenging years. As CEO of Intesa Sanpaolo Progetto Cultura Michele Coppola stated, for the Intesa Sanpaolo bank the exhibition is an important message of the responsibility of the company towards its community and the necessity of the private sector to promote art and culture in a post-pandemic society.
GRAND TOUR: Sogno d’Italia da Venezia a Pompei
19 November 2021 – 27 March 2022
Gallerie d’Italia – Piazza Scala, Piazza della Scala 6, Milano