This exhibition is the first ever dedicated to the topic as a whole. It proposes to offer a critical-bibliographic picture of this very important cultural phenomenon concerning the history of taste and collecting in Italy between the late XVIII century and early XIX century. Among other things, this phenomenon exerted a considerable and direct influence on the formation of the major public art collections in the most important European countries.
The exhibition begins with the fundamental contribution of Giovanni Previtali (La fortuna dei primitivi. Dal Vasari ai Neoclassici, Turin, 1964), published exactly fifty years ago. With a scientific committee made up of art historians, historians of collecting and art critics, the exhibition intends to delve into this theme that to date has been relatively neglected. Significant progress has been made since the pioneering studies of Venturi, Previtali, Haskell and Pomian. The time is therefore ripe to reflect on this phenomenon and, especially, on the people who collected works by the primitives, to some extent systematically (and therefore not occasionally), and on those who strove to lay hands on these panel paintings with precious gold grounds (merchants, agents, procurers and restorers). Singling out Florence as the privileged site for an exhibition like this one is practically a foregone conclusion, given the wealth the Tuscan-Florentine area has had historically in the production of artworks in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Almost all the collections of primitives indeed boasted works from this geographic area.
The exhibition will review the principal personalities who were in the forefront of this recovery, exponents of the church (from simple abbots to powerful cardinals), as well as noblemen and scholars who could not resist the attraction of these fragile and precious artistic representations.
The rooms will therefore exhibit works of art (paintings, sculptures, objects of sumptuary art and illuminated codices) that were once in the collections of Francesco Raimondo Adami, Stefano Borgia, Angelo Maria Bandini, Alexis-François Artaud de Montor, Joseph Fesch, Teodoro Correr, Girolamo Ascanio Molin, Alfonso Tacoli Canacci, Sebastiano Zucchetti, Anton Francesco Gori, Agostino Mariotti, Matteo Luigi Canonici, Giuseppe Ciaccheri, Tommaso degli Obizzi, Gabriello Riccardi, Giovan Francesco De Rossi and Guglielmo Libri, to cite only the best-known names. An animated dialogue will accompany visitors along a sort of ideal stroll through the Italy of collectors from the late XVIII century to the early XIX century. Visitors will be encouraged to make quick visual comparisons aimed at grasping the taste, the eye and the aesthetic sensitivity of the various collectors whose collections will be compared for the first time. Alongside paintings that at that time constituted the principal interest of collectors, there are other, equally important sections tied to illuminations and sculpture. The intention is to show the circularity of interests of collectors who with a pioneering approach sought to preserve these historical-scholarly representations, every day threatened by the risk of destruction or abandon.
The very numerous visitors of the Galleria dell’Accademia will thus be able to appreciate a selection of works of art of high and, in many cases, of the highest level, based on a serious scientific project, which will offer yet another confirmation of the heights of quality Italian art attained from the XIII to the XV century.
The artists whose work will be on display in this exhibition include, among others, the Master of Magdalene, Arnolfo di Cambio, Bernardo Daddi, Taddeo Gaddi, Nardo di Cione, Lippo Memmi, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Pietro da Rimini, Beato Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Andrea Mantegna, Cosmè Tura, Piermatteo d’Amelia and Giovanni Bellini. The exhibition catalogue is expected to constitute the till-now inexistent text of reference dedicated to this specific theme taken as a whole.