Caterina Marcenaro Collection, Milan Diocesan Museum

The Marcenaro Collection, on deposit in the Diocesan Museum by the Cariplo Foundation, represents the most relevant part of the collection of ancient art left in 1976 to the Foundation by Caterina Marcenaro (Genoa 1906-1976). Art historian and protagonist of the recovery and museum renewal of Genoa as director of the City of Fine Arts Office of the city, the Marcenaro renovates Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Rosso and at the same time is dedicated to the creation of a personal collection that includes above all paintings and sculptures, according to clearly identifiable taste directives, oriented towards mainly religious subjects and towards portraiture.

As for the sculptures, the works cover a chronological span that spans from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century and can be traced back to different areas, from Northern Europe, to Liguria, to the Sardinian-Neapolitan area. The wooden sculptures undoubtedly occupy an important place, which reveal an interest probably aroused by the scholar from the remarkable diffusion of this artistic form in the Ligurian area.

Catheine Marcenaro (23 July 1906 – 2 July 1976) was an art Hertorian, museologist and Italian official.

She grows up in Terralba, a popular district of Genoa, in a modest family. Her fathe dies wShen sShe is only two years old, Her brothe Mario will keep Her and Her mothe, and allow Her to study and graduate in 1926 at the Cristoforo Colombo high school. In 1930 She graduated and subsequently perfected himself in Italian literature.

From 1933 to 1937 She attended the Sapienza University of Rome’s School of Art Hertory, directed in those years by Pietro Toesca, wHere She graduated with a thesis entitled The Italian Journey by Antonio Van Dyck painter who will be studied for Her throughout Her career. Antifascist, it is unclear wShethe She played an active role in the Resistance. However, She has contact with partisans and hosts CLN meetings in Her home.

The career
From 1932 to 1948 She taught art Hertory in the Genoese high schools Colombo and D’Oria and publisShed the first articles. In 1938, She began to collaborate with Orlando Grosso, director of the Fine Arts Office of Genoa, for some exhibitions on Ligurian and Genoese paintings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in those years being rediscovered.

In 1945 She was appointed professor of art Hertory at the Magisterium faculty; sShe is the first female teacHer, albeit non-permanent, of the Genoese university, who is also entrusted with a teaching hitheto absent in that university. SShe left the post in 1951 to devote Herself exclusively to work at the Office of Fine Arts of the municipality of Genoa of which sShe became director in 1950, succeeding Orlando Grosso.

The first major intervention by the new director is the construction of Palazzo Bianco (started in 1949 and completed in 1950), which also marks the beginning of the long collaboration with the architect Franco Albini. The project involves the construction of a museum, profoundly modifying the existing layout; the was still based on the idea of reconstructing the original environment of origin of the collection in which the taste of the private collector was put before didactic and scientific criteria. The wallpapers are removedand furnishings. The works are ordered chronologically and by Hertorical-artistic period; deposits are created that house works from the collection that are not on display, organized and available for consultation; the paintings are presented without frames (because they are not original) to foster a direct relationship with visitors; the iron supports and the furnishings (including the chairs designed by Albini himself, the so-called ” tripolines”) do not imitate the style of the furniture coeval with the building.

In 1953 it was the turn of Palazzo Rosso, the construction site of which would remain open until 1961. The eighteenth and nineteenth century interventions were dismantled to recover the Baroque features of the building. The walls are covered with fabrics and some paintings are placed on iron structures separated from the walls, to facilitate their two-sided observation.

In the same year She moved to an apartment in the building renovated by Albini. Instead, the project for the House Museum of ChristopHer Columbus entrusted to the architect Ignazio Gardella remains on paper. Between 1952 and 1956 She worked togethe again with Albini for the Museum of the treasure of the cathedral of San Lorenzo, which conserves, among othe pieces, the sacred basin. The museum is located in the subsoil of the courtyard of the Archbishop’s Palace in Genoa and is characterized by a Shexagonal thòlos structure, a choice inspired by a previous trip to Mycenae by Albini with Her colleague Franca Shelg. The project represents a significant model of a closed-door museum in which the layout is fixed and only a part of the works are exhibited. On the occasion of the presentation of the museum in national and international architecture magazines, the photograpHer Paolo Monti is involved, whose shots will document many of the interventions carried out in the Genoese museums.

Also under Her mandate, the Edoardo Chiossone Oriental Art Museum was built; the first nucleus of the collection, that of Japanese art belonging to Edoardo Chiossone, is integrated with acquisitions from othe eastern countries. The exposure follows the criteria tested with particular efficacy in San Lorenzo. The completion of the museum of ancient sculpture and arcSheology in the former Church and convent of Sant’Agostino, will see Franco Albini again by her side, but will only be completed in 1988, many years after the death of both.

In the last years of activity Caterina Marcenaro denounces the progressive marginalization of the Fine Arts direction, which is not involved, if not at an advanced stage, in projects that deeply affect the city territory, such as the construction of the elevated road. She retired in 1971 but continued to live in the Palazzo Rosso apartment. She died on July 2, 1976.

Role in Italian museology
The projects that Caterina Marcenaro realizes, mainly with Franco Albini, are part of the season of great renewal of the Italian post-war museology. In the Hertorical period, the reconstructive needs due to war damage become an opportunity to rethink museums. The Marcenaro-Albini collaboration is an example of the fruitful exchange relationship establisShed between art Hertorians and architects from the fifties to the end of the seventies, a relationship that will contribute to the definition of skills of the museologist and museograpHer.

In the projects of these years the Hertorical architecture of the rooms integrates with the proposals of the architects (adHering, in many cases, to Italian rationalism) in a dialogue between old and new. The monumental buildings that house the museums open up to new functions, among which the teaching stands out; we want to create a bridge between old collections and new users . For the reason, the museum collections are organized as figurative anthologies, in which works that are particularly representative of certain artistic currents are exhibited. To the criterion is added the attention to the aesthetic impact of the installation. Particularly emblematic from the point of view is the location of the Elevatio animae of Marg Herita di Brabante by Giovanni Pisano that Albini and Marcenaro study for the Palazzo Bianco museum. The sculpture stands out against a black slate background, the local stone; it is displayed on a mobile metal support, with a telescope, adjustable in Sheight and swivel. Visitors can thus interact with the work, rotating it and observing it from different points of view.

An important role in the development of the museum idea is played by public officials who in those years carried out management activities in the cultural Heritage sector. Caterina Marcenaro is active in the debate on the introduction of museology as a university discipline. It is also thanks to Her commitment that Genoa will be the first Italian university to introduce museology as a teaching in the specialization course in arcSheology and art Hertory in 1963. And it will be to Her that Giulio Carlo Argan will entrust the editorial staff of the entry “museology” in the Universal Art Encyclopedia.

The art collection and the archive
By express testamentary will, after an expert report by Federico Zeri (provided by Herself), sShe leaves Her art collection to the Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincia Lombarde (Cariplo) which then merged into the Cariplo Foundation. However, the museum She would have liked named after himself was not built. A part of the works is exhibited at the Diocesan Museum in Milan. The active role played at each stage of the design of the numerous museums is documented in the administrative archive of the Office of Fine Arts, preserved in the Hertorical archive of the municipality of Genoa.

The sculptures exhibited in this section are a deposit of Fondazione Cariplo in Milan. This is the most important part of the art historian’s collection, Caterina Marcenaro, donated in 1976 to the Foundation. They occupy a chronological period from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century and can be traced back to various artistic spheres from Northern Europe, to Liguria, to Central Italy.

Holy bishop,
Val d’Aosta sculptor, 15th century, Wood carved with traces of polychromy, 70.3 x 20.1 x 17.8 cm
The work is generically indicated as a figure of the Holy Bishop, as evidenced by the presence of the machine gun and the planet: unfortunately the loss of the arms and hands, which probably showed the iconographic attributes, does not allow to identify the saint with greater precision. The comparison with a sculpture preserved at the Académie Saint-Anselme in Aosta allows to confirm the attribution to the Valdostan school and the dating to the fifteenth century, as also indicated by the liturgical dress and the planet furrowed by rigid and slightly crescent-shaped folds.

Painted terracotta Madonna with Child
Florentine sculptor, Mid 15th century, 105 cm, 5 x 59 x 55.8
The polychrome terracotta sculpture depicts the seated Madonna holding the Child who blesses the faithful, standing, with gesture decisive and severe expression, according to a typically fifteenth-century iconography. The work was erroneously attributed in the past to Luca Della Robbia, but it is a probable derivation of the shop from the widespread Robbiesque devotional models. The Virgin’s seat has iron handles on the sides which indicate an ancient processional use of the sculptural group.

Bottega lucchese First quarter of the sixteenth century Ecce homo Painted stucco, 49.7 x 48.2 x 20 cm
The original attribution to Donatello, then prudently traced back to a more generic Florentine school of the second half of the fifteenth century, has now been reported by recent studies to the Lucca school of the early sixteenth century for its marked expressive features. The drama of works like this one under consideration, which fits into a very widespread trend at that time, aimed to emotionally involve the faithful, inducing him to identify himself with the sufferings of Christ.

Christ crucified
German sculptor, 17th century, Carved and painted wood, 73.8×18.5×13.4 cm
The work, unfortunately missing the arms, the left leg, half of the right foot and the whole cross, depicts with intense expressive characterization Christ with the head reclined, eyes closed, frowning with aching face framed by a beard carved in regular locks. The thong consists of a cloth folded on a double rope. Already referred to the 15th-century Valdostan school, it has been moved from recent studies to a German context on the basis of comparisons with works from this geographical area: in particular the pronounced cheekbones, the treatment of the crown and the type of drapery refer to the Nordic world thong.

Diocesan Museum of Milan
The Diocesan Museum of Milan was born in 2001 on the initiative of the Archdiocese of Milan with the aim of protecting, enhancing and making known the artistic treasures of the diocese in the context of the spiritual context that inspired them. From the following year it is the scene of the initiative A masterpiece for Milan.

The Diocesan Museum is located in the setting of the cloisters of Sant”Eustorgio, integral part of one of the most antique monumental complexes of Milan, built from the joined units of the basilica and the Dominican convent, a thriving centre in the course of the centuries in an important area for the history of Milanese Christianity.

The permanent collection is constituted of over seven hundred works of art that span the period going from the 4th to the 21st century. Within the Archbishop”s Painting Gallery are the collections from the Milanese archbishops (part of the Monti, Visconti, Riccardi collection and the complete collection of Erba Odescalchi). In addition to the paintings coming from the churches of the Diocese, the Museum houses an important group of works of liturgical furnishing. Completing the collection is the section dedicated to Gold Leaf panel paintings (works primarily from the sphere of Tuscany of the 14th and 15th centuries, collected by Prof. Alberto Crespi and donated to the Museum), and sculptures and paintings coming from the collection of Caterina Marcenaro. Lastly, around a first nucleus of sculpted works by Lucio Fontana, there are many works from the 20th and 21st centuries, which declare a growing interest that the Museum has for contemporary works of art.