Between the end of the XVII century and the beginning of the XVIII century the famous collection of works of art, rare and precious objects, paintings and coins belonging to the Farnese family which had been moved from Rome to Parma about half way through the XVII century were on display in a large hall within the Pilotta Palace. Charles Bourbon (Carlo Borbone), last descendant of the Farnese to govern the city of Parma, transferred a large part of the collection to Naples in 1734 except for the famous paintings La guarigione del cieco nato (the healing of the man born blind) by El Greco and the Ritratto di Paolo III Farnese (the Portrait of Paul III Farnese) by Sebastiano del Piombo.
From Fine Arts Academy to Ducal Gallery
The collection of the National Gallery of Parma has its origins in that of the Ducal Fine Arts Academy set up in 1752 by the Duke Don Filippo Borbone (1749-1765) within the Palazzo. Filippo Borbone (Philip Bourbon) was the second son of Philip V King of Spain and Elisabetta Farnese and he arrived at the Ducal Throne thanks to the astute machinations of his mother. Amongst many other things Philip had to accept the loss of the rich Farnese art collection which had been transferred to Naples in 1734 at the behest of Philip’s brother, Carlo di Borbone, King of Naples,(Charles Buorbon), eldest son of Elisabetta Farnese and, as such, legitimate heir to the family patrimony and heritage.
The loss of the superb collection which the Farnese family had amassed in its various places of residence from the Ducal Palace to the Ducal Palace in the Gardens, from the Pilotta to the Palaces of Colorno and Sala Baganza left a huge gap and the new Duke was forced to work hard in order to bring artistic lustre to his court. Few works escaped the transfer but amongst those that remained can be found The Portrait of Paul III by Sebastiano del Piombo and the Healing of the Blind Man by El Greco.
In fact, one of the first acts passed by Philip Bourbon’s government was to forbid the removal from Parma of Correggio’s masterpiece The Madonna of St Jerome (La Madonna di San Gerolamo) which, at that time, was in the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate. This was to avoid the fate that had befallen the famous painting by Raffaello of the Madonna di San Sisto sold in 1734 and forced to emigrate from Piacenza to Dresden.
Just a few years later in 1765 the Duke acquired this famous painting by Correggio, which is better known as “il giorno” (“the day”), placing it in the painting collection of the newly founded Fine Arts Academy. Thanks to the Duke’s marriage to Louise Elisabeth, daughter of Louis XV of France, and to the reforming practices of the powerful minister Guillaume Du Tillot, the small Duchy of Parma opened to the new enlightenment ideas and in just a few years transformed into a refined and cosmopolitan cultural centre.
Development was accompanied by intelligent and well thought out acquisitions in Paris such as the huge canvas which Gabriel Francois Doyen had shown at the Paris Salon in 1759; this “Morte di Virginia” (“Death of Virginia”) was bought by the Duke in 1760.
The Academy of Fine Arts founded in 1752 at the suggestion of Don Philip and brought into being by the first Minister Guillaume du Tillot, was of vital importance for the artistic and cultural revival in Parma. A portrait of Du Tillot by Pietro Melchiorre Ferrari can be found in the Gallery. The Academy quickly became one of the most lively and vital institutes of this kind in contemporary Europe , directed during the first few years by the Abbot and arcadian poet Carlo Innocenzo Frugoni, and his authoritative team of teachers like Giuseppe Peroni, Prospero Bresciani and Giuseppe Baldrighi who had significant links with the Academies of Bologna, Rome and, naturally, Paris. Artists arrived from this latter city who would settle definitively in the Emilian city of Parma, amongst them the architect Ennemond Alexandre Petitot and the sculptor Jean Baptiste Boudard both of whom gave lustre to this small Court in the Po river valley. By means of the regular competitions which took place until 1795 impetus was given to a proficuous season of artistic enrichment thanks to a series of about 70 works amongst which emerge for vivacity of interpretation the paintings of Cannizzaro, Borroni, Trabellesi, Gaspare Landi, Felice Giani and Jacques Berger. In 1771 Francesco Goya took part in the competition of the Parma Academy with a work which won second place Il genio della Guerra conduce Annibale in Italia (The Genius of War leads Hannibal to Italy) which is no longer in the Gallery collection. The cultural destination of the Pilotta as envisaged by Du Tillot was further enforced with the establishment of the Biblioteca Palatina – the Palatine Library in 1769 and with the setting up of the first nucleus of the Parma archaeological collection with items coming from the excavations at Veleia.
During the government of Don Ferdinando (1765 – 1802) between 1786 and 1787 a number of significant Tuscan paintings from XIV and XV centuries from the collection of ‘primitives’ of the Marquis Alfonso Tacoli Canacci entered the collection of the Ducal gallery. Amongst them the standout works are the Madonna col Bambino e santi by Agnolo Gaddi and the small Beato Angelico showing the Madonna col Bambino e santi. The gallery had its first re-organisation in 1811 carried out by the painter and academic Biagio Martini.
The Regia Gallery
After the dispossession carried out under the Napoleonic government a conspicuous group of works coming from suppressed churches and convents which had been taken to Paris by the French returned to Parma in 1816 and were added to the original nucleus. Not all paintings were returned but they included the masterpieces of Correggio and other important exponents of the artistic culture of the ‘500, ‘600 and ‘700 both local and Italian.
Maria Luigia of Austria, Duchess of Parma between 1816 and 1847, must take merit for a further increase to the gallery with the acquisition of the Sanvitale collection in 1834 and in 1839 the Callani and Baiardi collections. The Sovereign asked the painter and engraver Paolo Toschi, director of the Academy from 1820, and the architect Nicola Bettoli to unite and plan an organic exhibition layout within the gallery.
Between 1821 and 1825 the architect Nicola Bettoli created various imposing and elegant spaces for the academy picture collection; the Oval Room where the two colossal Roman basalt statues, Bacchus and Hercules, coming from the Orti Farnesiani on the Palatine Hill, were placed and the Sala delle Colonne – Room of Columns with a niche at the end where Canova’s statue of Maria Luigia in the guise of Concordia was placed later on. The acquisition of the Sanvitale collection was the occasion to undertake another set of work in the rooms around the Rocchetta between 1835 and 1855, rooms which were completely restored to their XIX century appearance in 1991.
After the death of Maria Luigia, the collections of Giuseppe Rossi and the Dalla Rosa-Prati family were acquired in 1851. In 1855 the Gallery was re-organised by Michele Lopez and in 1882, after the unification of Italy, new exhibition spaces were added and dependence on the Fine Arts Academy (the Accademia di Belle Arti) came to an end.
The academic picture collection came to be known as the Regia Gallery. In 1887 the Farnese and Bourbon portraits which were donated by the Royal House of Savoy to the Palatine Library entered the collection.
The fundamental re-organisation carried out by Corrado Ricci in 1896 was accompanied by the first printed catalogue which bore precise witness to the consistent patrimonial heritage of the Gallery.
From the beginnings of the XX century to the present time
By the beginning of the XX century the Gallery had become State property and with the succession of new directors the collection increased thanks to important acquisitions like the huge painting by Dosso Dossi San Michele Arcangelo e il Demonio- St. Michael Archangel and the devil bought in 1907 or the famous Schiava Turca- the Turkish Slave by Parmigianino brought to Parma from the Uffizi in 1928 thanks to a happy exchange with a number of Florentine school gold background paintings.
1938-1939 saw the re-organisation brought about by Armando Ottaviano Quintavalle which separated the paintings into schools and suggested a chronological order. The organization proposed by Augusta Ghidiglia Quintavalle was effected in 1967 together with a global reconstruction project entrusted to the architect Guido Canali.
The project was separated into various phases and took about 20 years and as well as the restoration of the Palazzo involved a huge increase in exhibition space with the realization of new pathways through the gallery, modern services and state of the art technical installations for air and humidity control and lighting systems.
The first phase of the work was completed in 1986 and allowed for the recuperation of the North and West wings of the Palazzo destined to host works of art from the Middle Ages and the XVIII century. The second phase was completed in 1991 and involved restoration of the XIX Bettoli project.
From the Court to the City: transformations in the Pilotta from the last Farnese to today
Once the plan for a monumental frontage giving onto the market square of the “Ghiaia” was abandoned, the Pilotta Palace was destined to remain above all an immense ‘container’ for services associated with the Ducal residence, an aggregate of imposing buildings joined together according to different plans and projects, sometimes contradictory and almost never completed.
The only constant which can be identified during the course of its tortured, centuries long building history would seem to be the choice to distinguish two distinct zones within the monumental complex: the area to the South, near the Ducal residence, identified itself almost immediately as the ‘cultural’ wing hosting over time theatres, galleries, museums and libraries whereas the stables, barracks, hay stores, storage areas and laboratories with their attendant smells and noise were relegated to the Northern part of the complex.
It was above all the interiors that interested the last Farnese who centred in the Pilotta the family’s extraordinary artistic and cultural collections: around 1649 the famous library and prestigious collection of antique coins arrived in Parma: in 1662 the celebrated collection of paintings and drawings and in 1673 part of the collection of ancient marble and bronze statues.
Initially the paintings were hosted in the newly renovated Palazzo del Giardino but the wish of Ranuccio II, Duke from 1646 to 1694, was to reconstruct the long ‘Corridor’ Gallery in order to transform it into a modern space suitable to exhibit the most precious jewels in the family collection. These wishes were also pursued by his son Francesco, Duke from 1694 to 1727.
In this way during the final Farnese period the imperial staircase led to the vestibule from where access to the library was possible on the left, to the theatres of Aleotti and Lolli from the centre and from the right to the Picture Gallery and to the scientific cabinet or Room of Globes.
The Farnese dynasty died out and in 1734 the entire Farnese heritage was transferred to Naples: thus the Pilotta lost its artistic wealth and it was only with the establishment of the Bourbon court in Parma that new cultural and artistic initiatives were undertaken. During the second half of the XVIII century with the establishment by the new Duke, Don Philip of Bourbon (Duke from 1749 to 1765) of the Ducal Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1757 and the foundation of the Palatine Library by Don Ferdinando Bourbon (Duke from 1765 to 1802) in 1769, the Palace of the Pilotta quickly regained its function as the heart of cultural activities both in the Court and in the City, a role which it would maintain substantially unchanged until the present time. It was in this period that the position of the Library and the Picture Gallery were inverted with respect to the final Farnese years: the former room dedicated to the Library now hosted the newly established painting gallery and the new Library found its place in the former ‘Corridor’.
During the Restoration under the Duchess Maria Luigia of Austria, 1816 to 1847, all the cultural institutions present in the Pilotta underwent transformation: the roof of the Farnese Theatre was restored in 1819, the Sala Rossi next to the Library was built in 1820, the Gallery of the Academy was enlarged between 1821 and 1825 as was the Palatine Library and the State Archives for which a new building was added between 1832 and 1835.
Such changes involved the interior while the outside maintained its disparate and austere appearance which had always been its main characteristic.
In order to render the Ducal residence of Maria Luigia more decorous the court architect Nicola Bettoli was entrusted with re-organising the interiors and Court reception rooms. The façade of the Palazzo was renovated in the elegant neoclassical style between 1833 and 1834.
The destruction of the building after the disastrous bombing of the Pilotta in 1944 helped to crystallize the current image of the building as an imposing “ruin” in the heart of the city.
The 1970s saw the beginning of a major refurbishment of the interiors used by the Soprintendenza Patrimonio storico-artistico (Direction of the historical and artistic patrimony) which comprised the South, North and West wings and the Farnese Theatre. The work was carried out in stages until finally completed in 1991 with the re-opening of the long itinerary in the National Gallery. The work undertaken also allowed for a total change to the museum pathway, a re-organisation of the collection, an increase in services and a new edition of the printed general Catalogue after that of 1896 and of 1939. Work then continued with restoration of the spaces for the Offices, Library and reading rooms of the Direction of the Artistic and Historical Heritage of Parma which was completed in 2001. The last stages of the project were to affect the XIX century collection; the rooms have been selected but work has not yet started. Restoration of the great Court known as ‘ del Guazzatoio’ (of the water trough) was finally completed in 2007: a huge area which characterizes the entire complex and which can be put to great use in function of the institutions which occupy the entire Palazzo.