The internationally renowned Molinari Pradelli Collection is the most important series that took shape in Bologna in the XX century. It is remarkable for the consistence of the works and their select quality, as well as for the refined taste that famed orchestra conductor Francesco Molinari Pradelli (1911-1996) instilled in the course of his numerous travels and international relations throughout his professional career.
Francesco Molinari Pradelli was born in Bologna in 1911 where he attended the “Gian Battista Martini” music school, studying piano under the guidance of Filippo Ivaldi and orchestra conducting under Cesare Nordio, and completing his musical training in Rome. In 1938, from his very first performances, the press defined him as a “conductor with a glowing future, while Arturo Toscanini commended him as a young man “with talent who will go places”. In Rome, he distinguished himself in conducting concertos with soloists like Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Wilhelm Kempff. In the 1940s, he performed on the podiums of Milan, Pesaro, Trieste, Bologna and Florence, directing in particular, works by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner. His international success began with a 1949 tour in Hungary and then on to the most important theatres in Europe and America, with a repertory of thirty-three concertos and twenty-eight operas, from 1938 to 1982.
His most gratifying successes include a series of memorable shows at the Arena of Verona: Guglielmo Tell by Rossini (1965), Norma by Bellini with Montserrat Caballé in the title role (1974), which was also performed in Moscow, Carmen by Bizet in 1961 with a cast of exceptional singers, and Turandot by Puccini in a 1969 production that witnessed the debut of Placido Domingo. His success continued with six consecutive seasons at the Staatsoper of Vienna, followed by triumphs in American theatres, first in San Francisco and, as of 1966, at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Molinari Pradelli was also an assiduous presence in Florence for more than thirty years, beginning in 1942, as orchestra conductor of the Teatro Comunale where he conducted many crowd-pulling symphonies featuring works by Beethoven, Rossini, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Wagner. The 1964-65 season saw him conduct Verdi’s Forza del destino, an opera that had long been in his repertory. In 1967, he opened the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino opera season with a modern production of Maria Stuarda by Donizetti, followed by Carmen (1968) and Lohengrin (1971).
In the 1950s, the Maestro began to cultivate a growing passion for painting, first for nineteenth-century works, and then discovering an interest for Baroque painting. He developed a very original attraction for still-lifes, a genre that was just then beginning to garner interest from scholars, in which he combined the pleasure of owning artwork, aesthetic appreciation and the desire for knowledge, stimulated by museum visits in the cities his professional career took him to. This interest also showed in the quantity of books and specialised journals in his home, in the photographs, the notes he wrote in his artistic-historical studies conducted consulting the historiographic sources, and in his assiduous correspondence and relationships with art historians Roberto Longhi, Federico Zeri, Francesco Arcangeli, Carlo Volpe, Ferdinando Bologna, Marcel Roethlinsberger, Erich Schleier, Giuliano Briganti and Mina Gregori.
His collection of some two-hundred paintings that in time lined the walls of his Bologna home and later, the Villa at Marano di Castenaso, was admired by the greatest art historians of the XX century, from both Europe and America. As the exhibition documents with a selection of one-hundred paintings, the Maestro rigorously preferred seventeenth- and eighteenth-century painting, collecting works from the various Italian schools, without exception, and with a particular attention for models. Figure paintings are pre-eminent in works by the Emilian school – with paintings by Pietro Faccini, Mastelletta, Guido Cagnacci, Marcantonio Franceschini and, especially, the Gandolfi brothers – and by the Neapolitan school – with paintings by Luca Giordano, Micco Spadaro, Francesco De Mura, Lorenzo De Caro, etcetera. The collection also includes masterpieces by Venetian artists – Palma the Younger, Alessandro Turchi, Sebastiano Ricci, Giovanni Battista Pittoni – Ligurian and Lombard artists – Bernardo Strozzi, Bartolomeo Biscaino, Giulio Cesare Procaccini, Carlo Francesco Nuvolone, Fra Galgario and Giuseppe Bazzani – and by Roman artists like Gaspard Dughet, Pier Francesco Mola, Lazzaro Baldi and Paolo Monaldi.
The Collection’s very early international fame, which derived from the numerous still-life paintings by artists such as Jacopo da Empoli, Luca Forte, Giuseppe Recco, Cristoforo Munari, Arcangelo Resani and Carlo Magini, is the sign of an uncommon intuition that made the renowned orchestra conductor an authentic connoisseur of Italian Baroque painting, a precursor in the modern studies on still-lifes.