Exhibition | The Universal Museum: From Napoleon’s Dream to Canova
Now on view at the Scuderie del Quirinale:
The Universal Museum: From Napoleon’s Dream to Canova
Il Museo Universale: Dal sogno di Napoleone a Canova
Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, 16 December 2016 — 12 March 2017
Curated by Valter Curzi, Carolina Brook, and Claudio Parisi Presicce
A major exhibition recounting the recovery of Italy’s masterpieces from France—from Raffaello to Titian, from the Carracci to Guido Reni, Tintoretto, and Canova.
It was in 1816 that the Papal States’ masterpieces of art and archaeology returned to Rome after the Napoleonic confiscations. This event was preceded and accompanied by other administrations of the peninsula recovering many of more than 500 paintings that had been confiscated throughout the Italian territories in the course of French military campaigns from 1796 to 1814 and packed off to Paris where they were selected for display in the embryonic Musée du Louvre.
As the works of art that had been taken to France began to return home, the whole of Italy was confronted with the problem of what to do with the thousands of paintings and sculptures that had been removed from churches and convents after the religious orders had been suppressed in the early 19th century. The fate of the Musée du Louvre as a universal museum, the loss of several masterpieces of art remained in France, and most of all the sheer mass of paintings now in state ownership and stored in improvised warehouses, fuelled a lively debate on the public value of art heritage and fostered the foundation of museums that still number among the country’s leading cultural institutions today, including the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, and the Pinacoteca in Bologna.
It was in these and other museums in Italy and abroad, which looked with interest to the Louvre’s experience, that a revisitation of art history began and eventually led to significant progress being made in the fields both of scholarship and of the public display of cultural heritage. Thus the aim of this exhibition is to retrace the salient phases in these historical events but also—indeed above all—to offer a critical interpretation capable of stimulating today’s audiences to appreciate the value that our national cultural heritage acquired in those years, when it was seen for the first time as a key tool for educating citizens and at the same time as playing a linchpin role in a common European identity. This interpretation remains absolutely relevant and topical, which is why the exhibition sets out also to trigger an occasion to reflect on the cultural heritage as a primary terrain for the definition of a common European language.
Valter Curzi, Carolina Brook, and Claudio Parisi Presicce, Il Museo Universale: Dal sogno di Napoleone a Canova (Milan: Skira, 2017), 312 pages, ISBN: 978 88572 34939, £40.