Neoclassicism Collection, Milan Modern Art Gallery

The Neoclassicism is a trend culture that has developed in Europe between the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Born as a reaction to the late Baroque and the Rococo and inspired by ancient art, especially the Greek – Roman one, it was variously characterized, but easily recognizable in the various arts, in literature, in the theatrical, musical and architectural fields.

Even in its most decorative forms Neoclassicism had a marked political significance: it, as already mentioned above, reached its peak during the Napoleonic age, especially at the time of the Empire. Roman memories, the consulate, the glorious symbols of imperial eagles on the banners of the legions. The entire classical mythological repertoire was taken up by writers and artists; the former revived characters and episodes of contemporary life in a mythological key, while the latter depicted and sculpted in the guise of Olympic Jupiter or a famous and unconventional hero of classical Greece.

Antonio Canova and Andrea Appiani
The enchanting marble Vestal faces the youthful figure of the Hebe. Both are by Antonio Canova, the greatest sculptor of his age and whose works were greedily sought after by rulers, popes, and aristocrats all across Europe. The peculiarity of his works lies in the creation of a new canon of female beauty by shaping the flesh and fabric drapery, aimed to give that impression of “living flesh” so celebrated by commentators. Of the Hebe, a classical subject that encountered great success, Canova made at least four marble versions; the work here on display is the plaster cast, recently subject to painstaking restoration. Andrea Appiani is presented here by his paintings with a mythological theme, along with a rare sacred work and a small model for the Splendors of Napoleon cycle, the paintings that once decorated the Caryatid Hall of Palazzo Reale in Milan.

Appiani and Portraiture
Andrea Appiani’s portrait making is well illustrated by the paintings found in this room, which show us the faces of the most famous people during his time: noble ladies, men of power, artists. These are emblematic works of the innovations the artist contributed to this painting genre: monochrome backgrounds that emphasize the subject, soft lines and colors, delicate nuances that contrast with the decidedly Neo-classical formal rigor. Note in particular the double portrait of the Petiet family with children, a splendid example of the very high quality of Appiani’s technique at the height of his success, and the intense portrait of Achille Fontanelli, Minister of the Kingdom of Italy during the Napoleonic Age.

History Painting
Both seated female figures – the allegory of History for a monument to Napoleon today dismantled and the Weaver, which Schadow also made in a second version (Milan, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana) – accompany works that bear witness to the inclinations of 19th-century painters for the history genre. With his large canvas (Jacob Asking To Marry Rachel), the artist from Piacenza, Landi, attempts to impose himself on the Roman art scene with this emblematic work in ability and skill. Giuseppe Bossi, the first Secretary at the Accademia di Brera, is present here with his monochrome painting tied to the grand canvas of Oedipus (Trezzo sull’Adda, Library) while Diotti, a teacher at the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, portrays the well-known episode of the Oath of Pontida.

Camillo Pacetti and Benedetto Cacciatori
On display in this small room is an important collection of terracotta models, an eloquent testimony to the creative process in 19th-century sculpture. As the professor of Sculpture at the Accademia di Brera, Camillo Pacetti was in charge of decorations for the Arco della Pace and the Duomo. In particular, note the model for the first version of the New Law or New Testament Allegory and the Saint John Evangelist, both sculptures intended for the façade of Milan’s cathedral. Benedetto Cacciatori, the student and future son-in-law and heir of Pacetti, is attributed with the two Allegories of the Po and Ticino Rivers, made for the exterior façade of the Arco della Pace, in addition to Hercules and Deianira.

The Female Figure
A favorite theme in 19th-century painting was the female figure. The works in this room range from the provocative Magdalene by Hayez, which scandalized for its nudity, to Biblical and literary heroines portrayed by Giuseppe Sogni, up to the pair of portraits by Natale Schiavoni, delicate images that call to mind Titian’s portraiture. The collection ends with the marble Venus by Pompeo Marchesi, which re-interprets the famous prototype of the Paolina Borghese by Canova (Rome, Galleria Borghese) in an explicit tribute to this master from Veneto.

Landscape Painting
A painting genre considered “minor” up to that time with respect to history or sacred-theme painting, in the 1800s views became more popular, culminating with the first Landscape Painting class at the Accademia di Brera in 1838, taught by Giuseppe Bisi. He is attributed with the View of Genoa, with its delightful scene in close-up. Of a more narrative nature are the landscapes of Lombardy painted by Gozzi and the Italian ports portrayed by Fidanza, commissioned by the Viceroy Eugenio to execute accurate descriptions of the Kingdom of Italy. Romantic inclinations are evident in the Vendetta by D’Azeglio and in the works of the German artists Achembach and Lange.

Nineteenth-century Collection
This collection began to take shape in 1861, when lawyer Fogliani – executor for the sculptor Pompeo Marchesi’s will – wished to donate to the City of Milan this artist’s collection made up of celebrated works from Canova to Marchesi himself. This was the first of many donations that would enrich the Municipality with art that, in 1903, would be gathered together in a Contemporary Art Gallery. In fact, starting in 1865 – with Count Gian Giacomo Bolognini’s endowment – up to an important addition in 1902 with works by professors and students from the Brera Fine Arts Academy and Picture Gallery, the modern art collection grew to such an extent it was separated from the ancient art collections. Inaugurated in 1877 in the Public Gardens Hall, the works remained here until 1903 when, with the addition of the National Archeological Museum, a new venue was found in the Sforzesco Castle: the Modern Art Gallery was born that year, as an independent section.

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Right from the start, the Gallery, intended for the City, has hosted and enhanced local works and masterpieces thanks to endowments and donations. This bears witness to the expectations and recognition of this Museum on the part of citizens, who are also associated with other institutions: the Society for Fine Arts which, from 1843, purchased on a regular basis from art exhibitions, especially those at Brera. These works were subsequently divided among members and donated to the Gallery.

In 1920, when the State gave Villa Reale to the City of Milan, the Modern Art Gallery found its definitive location. That same year, the collection grew thanks to a donation by Vittore Grubicy De Dragon (with works by Giacomo Campi, Giovanni Carnovali, Giovanni Costa, Tranquillo Cremona, Federico Faruffini, Silvestro Lega, Filippo Palizzi, Gaetano Previati, Daniele Ranzoni, Giovanni Segantini) and, in 1921, with sale by public tender, The Fourth Estate by Pellizza da Volpedo entered the Gallery’s collections.

If for decades Villa Reale co-existed with other institutions (for example, the Naval Museum or as a venue for civil weddings), which limited the growth of its collections, since 2006 it has been the sole and exclusive showcase for the Modern Art Gallery and its activities.

Galleria d’Arte Moderna – Milano
From 1903 the Galleria d’Arte Moderna preserves the modern art collections of the City of Milan, an artistic heritage of about 3,500 works. The collections are displayed from 1921 within the Villa Reale, one of the masterpieces of milan’s neoclassical era. Designed by the architect Leopoldo Pollock, it was built between 1790 and 1796 as the house of the earl Lodovico Barbiano di Belgioioso. Villa Reale later became the residence of the Viceroy Eugenio di Beauharnais, stepson of Napoleon.

Among the undisputed protagonists of the Milanese and Italian art history present in the collection there are Antonio Canova, Andrea Appiani, Francesco Hayez, Tranquillo Cremona, Giovanni Segantini, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Giovanni Boldini, Medardo Rosso, Gaetano Previati.

Thanks to private collections and to the donations of important families, such as Grassi and Vismara, the artistic heritage of the Gallery has been enriched with masterpieces of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The exhibition activity of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna dialogues with applied art, the contemporary languages and the thematic analysis of artists present in the permanent collection.

What makes Milan’s Modern Art Gallery of international stature is the value and quality of the works on display and housed here: Francesco Hayez, Pompeo Marchesi, Andrea Appiani, Tranquillo Cremona, Giovanni Segantini, Federico Faruffini, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Antonio Canova, Daniele Ranzoni, Medardo Rosso, Gaetano Previati are some of the important artists present, as they are undisputed protagonists of Art History for both Milan and Italy. Their works represent art as it unfolded from the 18th to 19th centuries, in particular the current that originated in the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera and slowly took hold even beyond national borders. Thanks to 20th-century art collectors and donations by some prominent families (Treves, Ponti, Grassi, Vismara, for example), over the years these masterpieces have enriched the Gallery’s art heritage and confirmed its fundamental mission of perpetuating the diffusion of culture. Visitors can admire in the Villa’s halls works by Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, Giovanni Boldini, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and other key players on Italy’s 20th-century art scene.