For centuries, knowing Italy, its extraordinary artistic heritage and millennial civilisation, but also the nature and human qualities of a beautiful and complicated country, was a significant part of the cultural development of the elite class of all Europe; that is why the Voyage of Italy was an experience to have at least once in a lifetime for the youth of the most important European families, both the noble ones and the rising trade and financial ones, between the very end of the 17th century and the first half of the 19th one. The voyage became a true and authentic mania for all the classes that could afford it.
The Grand Tour was more than a simple touristic journey: it was a period of extraordinary development in contact with exceptional history and culture. Every European cultured man from that age dreamt to do at least one trip to Italy, for the signs of the classic past, both Greek’s and Roman’s, for the wonderful bucolic landscapes and to appreciate a kind of happy-go-lucky way of living, in which the daily challenges were tempered by an infinity of festivals and parties and countless occasions for entertainment and show.
Rome was the favourite destination, but the voyage pace, both outward and to come back, was set by the stops, longer and shorter ones, in the main cities scattered along the route, with mandatory deviations to Venice, Florence and Naples at least.
An important role, for choosing both the routes and what to see and keep in the memory, was played by scholars, art dealers and painters who were able to produce images, not only for monuments, but also for the events which characterised the voyage of Italy, for each traveller personally.
For this exhibition, some traditional views of the Voyage of Italy have been chosen and put together as a gallery of “portraits” of places, imagination and memory. Thus, they do not pay attention to the appearance of the Italian landscape only, but also to the nature of the men who have built that landscape. These views can nurture those psychological sensations that the Italy image gives to the Italians’ character, especially abroad and at least in the mind of those people who could see it only once, but who wanted to remember it forever.
So, some other painting are together with the ones of some Grand Tour “pioneers”, such as the Flemish Jan Miel and Hendrik Frans van Lint, the Dutch Johannes Lingelbach, the German Philipp Hackert, the French Hubert Robert, true and authentic reference points of the foreign groups visiting Rome or Naples, across the various ages. These painting are by a wide rank of Italian landscape painters, from Giovanni Paolo Panini to Ippolito Caffi, from Giulio Carlini to Angelo Inganni, to arrive at the naturalist turning point by Giovanni Fontanesi.
Through these paintings, the exhibition sums up that captivating and surprising image of Italy entirely. That one the painters reproduced to have it last longer as an effigy and not only in the memory, at least in the foreigners’ who could afford to add this precious souvenir to the journey expenses.
Here they are the most appreciated Italian postcards: from The View of the Titus Arch by Hendrik Frans van Lint to the view of the colosseum by Huber Robert, from The View of the Bay of Baiae by Carlo Bonavia to the View of Rome, with Castel Sant’Angelo by Ippolito Caffi, from the View of the Canal Grande by Antonio de Pian to the Piazza del Duomo (Milan Cathedral Square) by Angelo Inganni.
But also the peculiarities of the local traditions and the strange Italian way of life: the Charlatan by Jan Miel, the chaotic Market Square by Johannes Lingelbach; and also the celebration, from the lavish one in front of the Palazzo del Quirinale by Antonio Cioci, to the noisy Venice Carnival, in the Concert in the Gondola by Friedrich Paul Nerly, and the private party which they seem to prepare to in The Tolstoy Family in Venice by Giulio Carlini.
But Rome was still the capital of Christianity and here it is the allusive Saint Paul’s Sermon, in the ruins of the ancient Rome, by Giovanni Paolo Panini; and also the people and visionary devotion of the Prayer to the Virgin Mary by Joseph Severn or the cosy and composed one of In the Church of S. Maria della Pace by Anselmo Gianfanti.
Next to the classic views of the Grand Tour, the exhibition places a section on the “discovery” of the Apuan landscape, with artworks from the Museo Civico of Reggio Emilia, Archivio di Stato di Massa, Provincia di Massa-Carrara and private collections, to represent one of the many pleasant places for which Italy has always been considered as the garden of Europe.
A territory whose nature suggested strong emotions to the ancient travellers, from Petrarch to Michel de Montaigne, comes to the attention of modern travellers, thanks to the view of its mountains, shaping the far or close horizon of a large area, from Florence to Lucca and Pisa, in addition to the coast of Liguria or the northern part of the Tyrrhenian Sea, from Lerici with its Poets’ Bay to Livorno. In conclusion, an attractive landscape not only for travellers, but also for the people visiting the art cities nearby or the coast.
The first views of the Apuan territory must be attributed to foreign travellers staying nearby, like the English Admiral William Paget or his fellow countrywoman Elisabeth Fanshawe, or the Swiss painter and writer Julie Goldenberger who settled down here and also spent her last years in Carrara.
But there are also ones from professional painters, such as Saverio Salvioni from Massa, who painted for a long time the wide panoramas of the Carrara quarry at the beginning of the 19th century, or Giovanni Fontanesi from Emilia who, showing the interest for the territory images, dedicated a great deal of his output to the Ligurian-Apuan landscapes. The exhibition path ends with the painting Michelangelo Quarries of Carrara Marbles (1860-1865) by Antonio Puccinelli. It represents the perfect summary of the work of an artist loyal to the Purism of his masters (Bezzuoli and Minardi) while telling the “history painting”, but who adheres to a new way of looking at the sentimental suggestion of the landscape, in the Apuan area.