19th Edition of Restituzioni

Giovanni Bellini and Bellini family workshop, Triptych of St. Lawrence (St. Lawrence, St. Anthony, St. John the Baptist, Madonna and Child with Angels), c. 1461-1462 Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia - ©G.A.VE/with the permission of the Ministry of Culture 

In Naples, the Restituzioni programme presents 26 centuries’ worth of magnificent art

When the maestros of today apply their exceptional skill to works from historical periods brimming with expressive inspiration, wonders like the Restituzioni programme flourish. This engaging and unique experience, now in its 19th edition 33 long and prosperous years after its inception, is the result of the close partnership established between Intesa Sanpaolo and the ministerial authorities tasked with protecting and safeguarding Italy’s artistic heritage.

From Saturday 21 May to Sunday 25 September 2022, a rich and varied exhibition of around 200 works from every period showcased the remarkable results of an intense series of restorations (made all the more difficult by the pandemic) and provided the perfect opportunity to inaugurate the new, prestigious Gallerie d'Italia museum complex in via Toledo, Naples.  

This exhibition, laid on by the Restituzioni programme, offered visitors a spectacular and emotionally stirring display of the restoration work done to cultural and artistic heritage that goes beyond art and culture itself to occupy a space in the innermost depths of the human experience, whatever its era. 

26 centuries of art were explored, with works from all regions of Italy on display for the very first time, ranging from large cities to delightful villages steeped in history, tremendous beauty and priceless, one-of-a-kind treasures.

As well as involving all twenty regions of Italy, this new edition welcomed works located in other countries in Europe and overseas, such as the mythological painting The visit of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, to Theseus (1500-1505) by Vittore Carpaccio, on loan from the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris, and a Pompeian fresco that, despite being almost irreparably damaged by a fire that destroyed the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro in 2018, has been remarkably restored to the best possible standard. 

An overview of the masterpieces restored

Among the multitude of works that set the Restituzioni programme apart is an ancient, 498-page Missal belonging to bishop François de Prez, which dates back to the 1560s. Richly decorated and with two full-page Christological miniatures, it is located at the Library of Aosta.

From the Turin Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art comes Bell, an imposing polychrome plaster sculpture by Luigi Mainolfi. Disruptive and delicate in equal measure, it was created between 1978 and 1979. This highly evocative work offers classical symbolic references to the endless and often tumultuous stages of the life and actions of mankind. 

From the church of Santa Caterina di Caedè in Piedmont comes a Nativity Scene with statues carved in workshops in Genoa and Naples between the second half of the 18th century and first quarter of the 19th century.

And now we come to a truly fascinating example of art that is both symbolic and eternal, represented here by the mantle and associated regalia made in Paris for the coronation of Napoleon as King of Italy at the Cathedral of Milan on 26 May 1805. The wonders include a sceptre with an effigy of the Lion of St. Mark wielding a halberd, the golden crown of the Kingdom of Italy, and the iconic mantle actually worn at the coronation. The Napoleon clothing and accessories from the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan are kept at the city's Museo del Risorgimento.

From the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan comes the Battle of Milvian Bridge (1521), by Giulio Romano. A preparatory black chalk cartoon whose great poignancy is derived from the facial expressions and dynamic march of the soldiers.

Another work whose great prestige has been restored is the Shroud of Cardinal Branda Castiglioni (c. 1443), from the Museo della Collegiata in Castiglione Olona.

The greatness of Édouard Manet is demonstrated here by the unfinished equestrian-themed painting Portrait de M. Arnaud à cheval (Portrait of Michel Arnaud on horseback), kept at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan.

An altarpiece by Girolamo Romanialso known as Romanino—dated between 1545 and 1548 and propelled by the alternating devotional and heavenly figures it depicts, comes from the Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo in Brescia.

The 1913 work by Umberto Boccioni entitled Dynamism of the Human Body, from the Museo del Novecento in Milan, is among the artist’s most symbolic futurist works. It is a work with a vibrant history and one whose display has been a bone of contention worldwide.      

From the Palazzo Ducale Museum at the Castello di San Giorgio in Mantua, the Polyptych of St. Anne of Koper (1513) by Cima da Conegliano has been fully restored to its former glory.

Another magnificent Polyptych is the one dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, located in the Padua Cathedral Baptistery (14th century).

The recent restoration of the Triptych of St. Lawrence (1461-1462) from the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice allows us to admire the precise and fluid technique of Giovanni Bellini, to whom significant parts of the work—created by the Bellini family workshop—are attributed.

Another work by Bellini from the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte in Naples and an absolute masterpiece in the history of art is The Transfiguration (1478-1479).

The Crucifixby Raffaello da Montelupo—on the altar of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (1522-1524) is striking for its graceful realism which, thanks in part to the skilful use of colour, depicts a suffering, suspended Christ sporting a hollow look.

A very rare example of a talismanic shirt (mid-17th century), whose distinctive collar is inscribed with the "99 names of God" on the inside, comes from the Museo delle Civiltà in Rome.

The painting The Sun (1904) by Piedmontese artist Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, from the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome, exudes the magnetic power of the "here and now" and that perfect, irrepressible moment when the light of the sun strikes the human eye, commanding its full attention at the expense of every other visual detail.                      

Another asset of restoration is its ability to help depictions made to disappear over time by overlapping paint to reemerge. This is what happened with Bronzino’s painting Virgin and Child with the Infant John the Baptist and Saint Elizabeth (1560-1570), from the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte in Naples.

The complex restoration work carried out in 2020 by the Restituzioni programme brought out the expressive power and three-dimensional effects of St. Jerome in Penitence (1457-1465) by Antonello da Messina which, together with the Three angels visit Abraham, comes from the Pinacoteca Civica di Reggio Calabria.

A wonderful story of art and restoration

Among the works on display, a special mention goes to St. Cecilia and St. Apollonia (mid-18th century) for the circumstances, events and, ultimately, "happy ending" that characterise the work they have undergone and their subsequent display. These are two canvases that form part of a group of nine paintings—attributed to Lorenzo De Caro—dedicated to the Franciscan and martyr saints who spread the Gospel message of St. Francis in Tolve, Lucania. Surprisingly modern and narratively bold female figures, artfully illuminated by the skilful use of colour and shadow of varying density, in keeping with the proud tradition of Neapolitan baroque art. All the canvases were stolen in 1996 before being found two years later in a forest near the village. Cut, bent, jumbled together and buried inside cardboard boxes, they were found in a state of severe decay.

The remarkable restoration work that these canvases have undergone has brought them back to life, restoring the sublime sharpness and passionate candour of the faces of the two saints, Cecilia and Apollonia. A similar example of this from the previous edition of Restituzioni is G.B. Ferro's large altarpiece depicting the Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Eligius, which, like the two canvases, was mistreated.