Nineteenth-Century Italian Painting. From
Neoclassicism to Symbolism
On November 19th, 2011, as part of the Year of Italy in Russia and Year of Russia in Italy, an exhibit entitled Nineteenth-Century Italian Painting. From Neoclassicism to Symbolism opened in the Armorial Hall of the Winter Palace; it was organized jointly by the State Hermitage Museum and the Civic Museums of Pavia. This exhibition is the largest retrospective of Italian painting of the century before last, and includes more than seventy works of art, half of which are from the collection of the 19th century Picture Gallery of the Civic Museums of Pavia. The participating museums include the Galleries of Modern Art of Florence, Milan, Turin, and Genoa. It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this exhibit, since the period on display is practically unknown to the Russian viewer (there are a little more than sixty paintings by the Italian artists of the Ottocento).
Based on the example of the best representatives of 19th century painting, this exhibit demonstrates the entire spectrum of styles and movements in which Italian artists were working: Classicism, Romanticism, Historicism, Macchiaioli, and Symbolism.
The primary features of Italian Classicism were represented in the work of Antonio Canova. The Lombard artist, Andrea Appiani appeal to the type of highly idealized paintings on various themes, as is demonstrated by the painting entitled Juno. The same classical canon of elevated harmony can be seen in Gaspare Landi’s paintings, Paris and Hebe. The heroic branch of Neoclassicism is represented by Vincenzo Camuccini’s painting entitled The Death of Caesar, which was popular at the time.
Appeals to episodes and heroes of their national history that had already been described in literature were characteristic for much of the painting of the 19th century, starting with Romanticism. The main artist of the movement was Francesco Hayez. In the painting entitled The Reconciliation of Otto II with his Mother, Adelaide of Burgundy, he rendered a significant but little-known event in medieval Italian history. In Venus Playing with Two Doves he captured the features of the famous ballerina Carlotta Chabert; in Secret Delation he showed a beautiful and cruel Venetian woman.
Romantic artists were fascinated with depicting great people, heroes and mavericks in their moments of glory or defeat. Examples of such works of art include: Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition by Cristiano Banti, Christopher Columbus returning from America (Christopher Columbus in Chains) by Lorenzo Delleani, and Lord Byron on the Coast of Greece by Giacomo Tre'court.
The Romantics revive interest in the “younger” genres of painting, such as depictions of the interior of buildings and views of cities (veduta). In the painting entitled Church of Santa Maria Degli Angeli in Venice Ippolito Caffi experiments with the viewer’s perceptions and light effects.
In the 1860’s, the Tuscan Macchiaioli continued the Romantics’ quest: Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, Telemaco Signorini, Giuseppe Abbati, Odoardo Borrani, Vincenzo Cabianca. These artists proposed a style that replaced the traditional light and shade with contrasting compositions of spots ("macchia"). In this new technique, the Macchiaioli presented generic scenes of everyday life, such as Singing the Stornello and The Betrothed, or the Bride and Groom by Silvestro Lega, Meeting in the Woods by Telemaco Signorini. The landscape in the paintings La Rotonda di Palmieri by Giovanni Fattori and View of Castiglioncello by Giuseppe Abbati are made interesting by the fact that the artists worked en plein air to create them.
The tendencies of symbolism are sharply expressed in Giorgio Kienerk’s triptych The Mystery of Man; the artist avoids clearly characterizing the figures represented, preferring to fascinate the viewer with esoteric symbols and a generally magnetic atmosphere.
In the last decade of the 19th century, European artists were experimenting with new forms of expression. In Italy, Angelo Morbelli was developing the technique of separating colors (Divisionism), which is exemplified by a painting on a social theme For 80 Cents. Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo was also a divisionist, who symbolically represented the ideal of high humanism in the painting entitled the Circle Dance.
The exhibit entitled Nineteenth-Century Italian Painting. From Neoclassicism to Symbolism is a response to the large exhibit that opened in March of 2011 at Castello Visconteo Leonardesques. From Foppa to Giampietrino: paintings from the Hermitage and the Museums of Pavia which showcased 22 paintings from the Hermitage collection.
The Curator of the Exhibit from the State Hermitage Museum is Natalia Borisovna Demina, researcher of the Department of Western European fine art, and the curator from the Civic Museums of Pavia, Susanna Zatti.
An academic catalogue has been prepared in the Russian and Italian languages for the opening of the exhibit (published by “Skira,” Milan-Geneva), with articles by Fernando Mazzocca, a professor at Milan University, Francesca Porreco, the custodian of the Civic Museums of Pavia and Susanna Zatti.
Press conference dedicated to the opening of the exhibition