Collecting and Display in Italy

Posted in books, reviews by Editor on October 21, 2009

Recently added to caa.reviews:

Carole Paul, The Borghese Collections and the Display of Art in the Age of the Grand Tour (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008), 358 pages, $124.95 (9780754661344)

Reviewed by Jason Kelly, Assistant Professor, Department of History, IUPUI; posted 23 September 2009.

Paul JktCarole Paul’s ‘The Borghese Collections and the Display of Art in the Age of the Grand Tour’ is an analysis of the shifting attitudes toward collection and display—form, content, and contexts—in the world of Settecento Rome. With a focus on the Borghese’s Galleria Terrena, the suites where most of the family’s paintings hung, and the Casino Nobile, home to the sculptures, Paul examines the interrelated narratives of aristocratic patronage, grand tour sociability, the international aesthetic landscape, and the development of museums. Her arguments rest on a detailed reading of the redesign of the Borghese galleries under Prince Marcantonio Borghese IV and his architect, Antonio Asprucci, beginning in 1767 and continuing to 1800. Paul argues that the re-outfitting of the Galleria Terrena and the Casino Nobile was “one of the most significant cultural events in Rome during the age of the Grand Tour” (2). The analysis of this process sheds light on how these exhibition spaces became the high point of the princely display of antiquities and paintings in eighteenth-century Rome. As readers familiar with Paul’s earlier publications, especially ‘Making a Prince’s Museum: Drawings for the Late-Eighteenth-Century Redecoration of the Villa Borghese‘ (Los Angeles: Getty, 2000), will recognize, ‘The Borghese Collections’ is the culmination of work that has been developing for some time. It extends many of the themes discussed in the earlier book by examining the entire aesthetic, iconographic, and didactic program of the late Settecento Borghese estate. . . .

In common with Christopher Johns’s ‘Papal Art and Cultural Politics: Rome in the Age of Clement XI‘ (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), Peter Bowron and Joseph Rishel’s ‘Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century’ (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000), and Jeffrey Collins’s ‘Papacy and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Rome’ (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004), ‘The Borghese Collections’ examines eighteenth-century Rome’s vibrant artistic climate. Whereas Johns and Collins are concerned with papal collections and display, Paul’s work reveals the extent to which Roman aristocrats both innovated and competed with the Vatican. When comparing Prince Marcantonio Borghese IV’s program to that sponsored by Pope Pius VI Braschi at the Pio-Clementino in the 1780s, it is clear that rivalries spurred, at least in part, both patronage and new schemes for display. Along with these earlier books, Paul’s work reveals the importance of collecting as a political strategy, and she explains the centrality of iconographic programs to their design. ‘The Borghese Collections and the Display of Art in the Age of the Grand Tour’ is essential reading for students of Settecento museums, architecture, design, and the Grand Tour. . . .

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Writing for the TLS (30 September 2009) on the topic of artistic plunder in antiquity, Mary Beard (Cambridge classics professor and author of the blog, A Don’s Life) invokes Paul’s book in connection with evaluating the lines between collecting as an act of cultural productivity and collecting as a form of cultural destruction:

For a start, the contested boundary between the cultured patron and the obsessive, rapacious collector is an almost universal one. This is nicely illustrated in Carole Paul’s meticulous account of the display of the Borghese collection of paintings and antiquities in eighteenth- century Rome, ‘The Borghese Collections and the Display of Art in the Age of the Grand Tour’. In discussing the formation of the collection she devotes a short section to the seventeenth-century Scipione Borghese – a “distinguished . . . patron of the arts,” “a great Maecenas.” It is only in the next paragraph that we learn that “Scipione was also a remarkable – and ruthless – collector, who would stoop to confiscation and theft to obtain paintings, and even had artists imprisoned when they displeased him.” Same person, same habits: it all depended which side of Scipione’s patronage you were on.

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