ITALIAN WORKS OF ART AROUND THE WORLD
The question of the Italian artistic heritage’s dispersion is very complex.
The reason why a so large number of Italian works of art is still in many foreign countries, is due to several factors.
Primarily, because of the misappropriation of the artworks due to foreigners regnant countries, that have made the history of Italy and that have succeeded over the centuries. Then, because of the phenomenon of collecting that has existed in a systematic way for over five centuries, and especially by the fact that from the unification of Italy onwards, the dispersion of the Italian artistic heritage came in succession thru hallucinating procedures and criteria, with the complicity of shrewd antique dealers, officials government, and by compliant and inappropriate laws and rules. Last but not least, the undue subtraction and thefts that constantly have been perpetrated against the Italian artistic heritage.
Rightly, the Napoleonic plunder and the failure in giving back so many masterpieces, is always remembered in this regard, but if such dispossession make us indignant, we must also ask ourselves why in Italy came many other works that were not part of that looting (excluding those that definitely were already out of Italy before the nineteenth century). For the uninitiated, the Napoleonic thefts refer to a number of subtractions of goods, in particular works of art, made during the military conquests of Napoleon Bonaparte. The subsequent peace treaties were the legal instrument used by Napoleon to legitimize these divestitures: between the clauses he considered the artworks as a tribute to war.
In 1799, in the Kingdom of Naples, the General Jean Etienne Championnet put into effect the same policy, as shown by a letter sent to the directorate in the windy year VII (25 February 1799):
« I announce you with pleasure that we have found riches that we thought to have lost. In addition to the arts in chalk of Herculaneum, there are two equestrian statues in marble by Nonius, father and son; Callipygian Venus will not go alone to Paris, because we found in the Porcelain Factory, the superb Agrippina awaiting death; the full-size marble statues of Caligula and Marcus Aurelius, a nice Mercury in bronze, and marble busts of the greatest value, including that of Homer. The convoy will leave in a few days. »
The works stolen by the Nazis and their allies before and during the Second World War, have been millions across Europe, including books and valuable documents. In this regard, we should remember the work done by Rodolfo Siviero, a non-commissioned Carabinieri’s officer, in charge of directing a diplomatic mission to the Allied Military Government in Germany, with the aim to establish the principle of restitution of stolen works to Italy. Since the fifties, and on behalf of the Italian Government, he has dealt systematically a search of all the works of art that were stolen and exported from Italy. This intense activity, which earned him the nickname “art’s 007”, lasts until his death in 1983. During this period Siviero often denounced the lack of attention that government institutions devoted to the problem of the recovery of our artistic heritage.
Berlin 1945-1946, the Second World War is over and the Red Army occupied the city. And here begins the odyssey of many masterpieces which were secretly taken away by the Russians. According to the calculations of some German experts, the number of works of art disappeared from Germany, at the hands of the Russians, would be about one million of pieces. But we cannot know how many of them came from Italy occupied by the Germans, when Hermann Goering ordered the depredation.
In the past, other artistic commissioners were instructed to “negotiate” the return of looted works but, among compensation, sales and prescriptions, many are no longer returned in Italy. Despite everything, I am consoled by the thought that Italian art would not enjoy such a universal reputation, if its works were not present in some of the greatest museums in the world. Louvre, British Museum, National Gallery in Washington, Metropolitan in New York, Hermitage in Petersburg, Alte Pinakotheke in Monaco of Bavaria, Prado in Madrid and the Kunst Historisches Museum in Vienna, which are visited each year by millions of people from every continent. And in each of those museums the visitor finds ‘Italy’. This “mutual advantage” is perhaps the only reason that heals our consciences.
As mentioned at the beginning, there is no country in the world that has no Italian historical relic or masterwork on display in their museums, and albeit the largest number can be found in French and English museums, America is no exception.
Although the United States have not their own art history (being officially founded only in 1776), following an optimal and targeted plan of purchase, persisted over the centuries, they hold great examples of classical art, medieval and modern, kept in so egregious way in their museums; the legitimacy of the housing is obviously questionable, despite the sensitivity of the issue: just think of one in all, to the Chariot of Monteleone di Spoleto now in the Metropolitan museum, illegally transported in New York from the Umbrian city in 1902, in the same years in which Italy was formulating a law to protect the assets belonging to its National Artistic Heritage.
For Americans who read me, I would like to give a complete listing of all our works that are scattered on their territory, but a systematic and comprehensive research is impossible, and it will give back an endless list.
I can tell you that about Michelangelo you can see the “Young Archer,” a marble sculpture of 1491, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and “The Torment of Saint Anthony” a tempera of 1487, at Fort Worth in Texas.
About Caravaggio you can see, “Marta e Maria Maddalena “, olio su tela del 1598 all’ Institute of Arts a Detroit. “Sacrificio di Isacco”, olio su tela del 1603 al Princeton, Barbara Piasecka-Johnson Collection. “San Giovanni Battista”, olio su tela del 1604 al Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas. “Crocifissione di Sant’Andrea”, olio su tela del 1607 a Cleveland Museum of Art. “Negazione di San Pietro”, olio su tela del 1609 al Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York e il “San Francesco in Estasi”, al Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art di Hartford.
The Wadsworth Atheneum has other wonderful works of Italian medieval and modern art: sifting in the section relating to his collection on the official website, it is apparent the presence of historically important paintings by Italian artists, such as Ritrovamento di Vulcano, painted by Piero di Cosimo in 1505; the Ritratto di un uomo in armatura, 1512 by Sebastiano del Piombo; Giuditta e la serva con la testa di Oloferne, 1624, by Orazio Gentileschi; the Veduta di Piazza San Marco, 1750 by Canaletto; the Trojan Horse, 1773 painting by Giandomenico Tiepolo.
The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., has one of the finest art collections in the world.
The strongest collection is the Italian Renaissance collection, which includes two panels from Duccio’s Maesta, the great tondo of the Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi, a Botticelli on the same subject, Giorgione’s Allendale Nativity, Giovanni Bellini’s The Feast of the Gods, the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the Americas, Ginevra de’ Benci; and significant groups of works by Titian and Raphael.
In the Metropolitan Museum of Art you can admire works of Francesco Bartolozzi, Stefano della Bella, Bartolommeo Bonghi , Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri), Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco M. Mazzola), Francesco Piranesi, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Marcantonio Raimondi, Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio Santi), Giovanni Giacomo De Rossi, Antonio Tempesta, Enea Vico, Francesco Allegrini, Piedmontese, Giuseppe Galli Bibiena, Giovanni Battista Foggini, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Triumph of Fame; (reverse) Impresa of the Medici Family and Arms of the Medici and Tornabuoni Families, Giovanni di ser Giovanni Guidi (called Scheggia), San Giovanni Valdarno, Alessandro Longhi (Italian, Venice 1733–1813 Venice).
Also, you can see, The Adoration of the Shepherds by Andrea Mantegna, The Birth of the Virgin, Fra Carnevale, Bartolomeo di Giovanni Corradini, Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement, Fra Filippo Lippi, Saints Peter, Martha, Mary Magdalen, and Leonard, Correggio, Madonna and Child with Angels by Pietro di Domenico da Montepulciano, Madonna and Child with Saints by Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia, The Entombment and Christ in the Wilderness by Moretto da Brescia, Saint Andrew by Simone, Paradise by Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia, The Adoration of the Magi by Giotto di Bondone, Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Pietro Lorenzetti, The Agony in the Garden and Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints by Raffaello Sanzio, Christ Crowned with Thorns by Antonello da Messina, Portrait of a Young Man by Cosimo di Domenico di Bonaventura, Madonna and Child by Vincenzo Foppa, The Flight into Egypt by Cosmè Tura, The Journey of the Magi by Stefano di Giovanni, Portrait of a Young Woman by Lorenzo di Credi, The Resurrection by Perugino, and many others anonymous Italian masterworks.