1. The Visconti Fortress and Maria Luigia

The Visconti Fortress, or Rocchetta, is the oldest nucleus of the Pilotta. Built between the XIV and XV centuries it was previously a prison and then a residence for court functionaries. In the firts half of the XIX century part of the structure was ceded to the Academy of Fine Arts which could thus extend beyond the Halls used since the XVIII century. In the Rocchetta were than displayed the Correggio altar pieces which had never been taken back to their respective Churches after Napoleonic requesitions but were placed here to be studied. In perfect continuity with the Halls, this section houses today some of XIX century artworks of Parma production: from mythological to historical and religious painting, including portraits and landsacapes.

In this room can be found some of the masterpieces relative to the patronage of Maria Luigia of Habsburg, wife of Napoleon, who became sovereign of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla in 1814. A great patron of the arts, the Duchess operated on the cusp of a backward-looking neoclassical taste still essentially Imperial and an emerging romantic attention for historical subjects and nature. Representative of the first tendency is the work by Francesco Scaramuzza here displayed which depicts a monumental Silvia and Aminta, sent in 1862 to illustrate Parma at the Great Exhibition in London. More indicative of the roomantic style are the two magnificent Rebel bought directly by Maria Luigia, two canvases of Giuseppe Molteni, another «official» court painter of her Duchy. The small work by Ferdinando Storelli, however, represents the aesthetic which the Duchess hoped would be a long lasting and significant Parma school of landscape painting.

Photo credits
Giovanni Hänninen

 

2. The commissioning of religious painting

In accordance with a paternalistic view of the State, one of the areas in which Maria Luigia’s commissioning was exercised most fully was certainly that of religious painting. Iconographies of mercy, or those celebrating acts of either charity or almsgiving by the sovereign multiplied exponentially and saw the involvement of official court artists.
In this room, the St. John the Baptist by Francesco Scaramuzza and David with head of Goliath by Enrico Barbieri are charged with retrospective references in the typical academic style of that time in which contemporary production is meant to be a revival of unsurpassed national models from the ancient. It can also be found in the reconstruction of the first chapel on the right from the Church of Sn Ludovico, already adapted by Ferdinando di Borbone as a Ducal Temple and enriched with the three altar paintings here exhibited on the northern wall and commissioned by Maria Luigia in 1840.
More in general, all artworks displayed in this room evince references to the masters of Emilian painting in a « nationalistic » key of exaltation of parmesan genius. Throughout, the lesson of classicism is imbued with the pathos of Correggio, exalted, as will be seen in the adjacent room, as the founding father of that school, and enriched by references to the Carracci brothers and to Guercino.

3. The bourgeois myth of the artist

The study of Correggio and other champions of the Emilian school was stimulated by an epoch making change in the status of both artist and work of art. If, until that moment, creative work had been connected to precepts and hierarchies established by the sovereign power, the development of bourgeois society opened up spaces of freedom where there was greater permeability between artistic genres and subjects and where the figure of the creative genius emerged, avant-garde of the productive capacity of industry. Thus, after the masterpieces of Correggio, in this room are exhibited the consequences of a process of study and re-elaboration of his works. Some of the major protagonists of academic production are here represented with important examples from their work preceded by a self-portrait, indicating the deep significance of the new status achieved. At the end of the series, the masterpieces of Giorgio Scherer establish establish a direct link between myth and the intellectual and creative universe of the artist, while the works of Cletofonte Preti show the emancipation of everyday life. Throughout, the Emilian Renaissance lesson re-elaborated in the national context of a Duchy by now bourgeois can be perceived.

4. Works of art and tecniques of reproduction

From the second half of the XIX century on, the figure of the artist, who stood at the forefront of a purely bourgeois creativity, symbolised the ability of transforming the reality of engineers, architects, town planners, industrial technicians, businessmen and financiers, even more so with the spread of the technical forms of reproduction of a work of art. The principle by which the power of everything real could be found enclosed within the universal laws of reason did the rest, and, progressively, as the West discovered and exploited the world for its own interests, its aesthetic reduced the Other to an exotic declination of itself. In his famous monograph on Correggio, the German Julius Meyer described the life of the artist as the affirmation of a superlative genius fatally destined to conquer the art studios and academies of Europe with the imposition of his universal style : this viewpoint was supported by the widespread diffusion of his work through printed engravings which could be reproduced in series and were easily marketable. At the same time the development of new reproductive forms led to substituting traditional copperplate engraving, including the litograph which was invented around 1799 by Aloys Senefelder. Even more significant was photography and the first experiments with the medium began to spread through Italy in 1839 just when Toschi was beginning his admirable undertaking of Correggio’s «Freschi».

5. Colonialism, Orientalism and Globalization

Industrial competition between nations, in which the small Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla attempted to distinguish itself by inventing the reasons of a purely Emilian identity, produced an opening heralding both economic progress and those epoch making dramas with which the world is still grappling. Meeting the ‘Other’ convulsed artistic canons and produced a very rapid overcoming of academic genres, swept away by the sheer variety of the world. This period saw the emergence of the principles and tragic entanglements of contemporary life and is represented here at the moment of its birth within the academic culture of Parma with the emancipation of landscape painting, focused by now on the forces -natural and therefore scientific- which characterize the vast universality of the real.
The spectacular canvases of Alberto Pasini, like a diorama of its time, reproduce in an immersive key the exotic landscapes where the lives of the most remote peoples were conducted. Others find counterpoint in the works of Cecrope Barilli which seek the exotic hidden in the primitive lives of the popular classes as he devotes himself to forms of existence akin to those of colonized lands. The Ruins of a Temple in the desert by Pasini brings the series to a close with an orientalism against which post-colonial XX century thought would inveigh.

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