‘THE LAST GLORY OF VENICE’ AT THE ACCADEMIA GALLERIES
Exactly 200 years ago (it was August 10th) the new Accademia Galleries were inaugurated and first opened to the public. The director was then Leopoldo Cicognara (1767-1834), art historian, intellectual and collector, in charge of the Galleries since 1808, when Venice was ruled by Napoleon and the seat of the collection was still at the ‘Fonteghetto della Farina’ near St Mark’s Square.
The Academy of Fine Arts in Venice had been founded in 1750, and was refunded in 1807 by Napoleon himself, with the idea of keeping here, mostly for didactic purposes, an important amount of paintings proceeding from the many churches, ‘scuole’ (=benevolent organizations) and public magistracies that he had recently suppressed.
Of course, top quality artworks were sent to Paris, many important masterpieces were sent to the Brera Academy in Milan. Not to say about the thousands of paintings that were dispersed in the market of private collections.
Cicognara was very active at preventing further dispersions and tried to encourage young local artists, in the attempt of reviving Venice’s great artistic tradition. The New Galleries, located in the architectural complex of ‘La Carita’, included also works from the Academy students and some recently acquired collections, such as the chalks by Abbott Farsetti and the Girolamo Molin legacy.
The exhibit focuses on the moment of passage between the Napoleonic dominion and the Habsburg restoration, when, in 1815, important and iconic artifacts came back from Paris. It was thanks to the world-famous sculptor, Antonio Canova, that the Bronze Horses could come back to Venice.
Cicognara, close friend of Canova and still in office as Director of the Galleries (until 1828) went to Milan to inspect and escort the items back to the Lagoon.
The first section of the exhibit tells about the solemn arrival of the 4 Horses in St Mark’s Square and about the magnificent cameo with Jupiter Egiocus, so much appreciated by Canova, which was given back to the Marciana Library.
These episodes witness the respect of Austria for Venice’s artistic heritage. The artworks were given back as a sort of compensation for the devastating amount of losses due to the Napoleonic spoliations.
One of the gems of the exhibit is the corpus of paintings, statues, reliefs, large vases and other artifacts which in 1818 were donated by the ‘Venetian Provinces’ when the Emperor Francis I of Austria (who was, by the way, Napoleon’s father-in-law) got married for the 4th time (with Caroline Augusta of Bavaria).
These works of art were never exhibited in Venice before. Cicognara obtained that, instead of simply sending 10.000 golden ‘zecchini’, the tribute should consist of works of Venetian artists.
Of course, the idea was that of promoting contemporary arts. Cicognara was sided by Antonio Canova and Francesco Hayez. Other important contributors were Giovanni Demin, Lattanzio Querena, Roberto Roberti, who produced historical paintings. Giuseppe Borsato presented a memorable ‘Arrival of the Horses in St Mark’s Square’.
A spectacular table decorated with Murano enamels was also sent, to witness the traditional Venetian excellence in the art of glass working.
Another section is devoted to the large collection of graphic works by Giuseppe Bossi, starring over 3.000 pieces, including the renown Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci.
The important group of drawings was acquired by the Galleries to give the new Museum an international dimension and fame. Cicognara, Canova and Hayez never ceased their efforts in this sense.
Antonio Canova (1757-1822), is probably the greatest Neoclassical artist, worked for Napoleon and his family, also made a statue of George Washington for the State of North Carolina. His most famous work are perhaps The Three Graces.
Francesco Hayez (1791-1882). Venetian born, was the leading artists of Romanticism in Italy, renowned for his historical paintings and exceptional portraits. Most famous painting: The Kiss (1859)
The exhibition – opening on September 29th, 2017, continuing until April 2nd, 2018 – is curated by Paola Marini, Fernando Mazzocca and Roberto di Feo.
It will be the occasion to visit the new wing of the Accademia Galleries, opened in May 2015, in the former Palladian Monastery of the Lateran Canons.