a boy looks at a painting
19-09-2021

Museums and Galleries of Italy

The Culture of Art in Italy and its Places

Italy has one of the largest artistic heritages in the world, and there are just as many places that guarantee the preservation and exhibition of the works of art that make it up, to the point that the entire peninsula is scattered throughout the country, making it one big museum of eternal beauty. But if we want to proceed in an orderly fashion through the thicket of galleries and art galleries waiting to be populated by curious visitors, what are the fundamental stages of the Italian exhibition itinerary?

The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael

North

Starting from the north of the peninsula, the first obligatory stop is undoubtedly Milan. Home to two very important art galleries (the 17th-century Ambrosiana, commissioned by the then archbishop-regent Federico Borromeo, who made his own precious art collection available for the purpose, and the Brera Art Gallery, set up by order of Napoleon), the city hosts a notable representation of Italian artistic history from Roman classicism to 20th-century talent, not excluding works of great Flemish art.

Although there are Venetian masters among the masterpieces on display in the Milanese collections, the exclusive home of lagoon art in its entirety remains Venice with its rich Gallerie dell'Accademia: their history, marked by continuous relocation and renovation work that has affected even the most recent times, has not affected the quality of the exhibitions, which are still among the most significant testimonies to the economic and cultural power of the Serenissima.

detail of Botticelli's Primavera

Centre

When one thinks of art in Italy, the impulse image is almost always that of the Italian Renaissance and, consequently, of its undisputed cradle: Florence. Under the imposing shadow of the Medici family, the creators of much of the city's history, there are, for example, the bronze and marble works of the most famous Tuscan masters offered by the Bargello National Museum, although the most popular destination is still the Uffizi Gallery complex, studded with those eternal masterpieces that together belong to the cultural consciousness of every Italian citizen.

Rome could be described as an immense open-air museum, with streets used as exhibition routes and works of art in every corner. And here too, alongside the work of artists, there is the decisive action of wealthy patrons: it was the ambition of Cardinal Scipione Borghese that gave birth to the Galleria Borghese, for the realisation of which he had no qualms about forcing the hand of some owners to sell their best pieces; and it was for the prestige of the Roman pontiffs that the famous Vatican Museums saw the light, over the course of entire centuries, as components of a veritable time machine launched through human genius.

Flagellation di Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi

South and Major Islands

In the southern sun, the work of as many illustrious names lives on in all its splendour, embellishing these lands already consecrated by the knowledge of past civilisations.

The same can be said of Naples, which is divided between the inestimable number of paintings and statues preserved in the extraordinary Bourbon palace that houses the National Museum of Capodimonte, the extensive series of paintings by artists that can be visited in the sumptuous Royal Palace, also designed by Vanvitelli, and the illusory play of marble in the 16th-century Sansevero Chapel.

Or Sicily, in its triangular perfection, whose peaks are Palermo with Palazzo Abatellis, a regional gallery second in importance in the south only to the Neapolitan gallery of Capodimonte; Messina with the MuMe, reborn after the catastrophic earthquake of 1908; and Catania with the Museo civico di Castel Ursino, Etna's medieval jewel that amply represents the art of the South.

And finally Sardinia, where the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Cagliari is worth mentioning, where paintings, coats of arms and sacred ornaments of ancient workmanship are flanked by contemporary examples; and the Pinacoteca Mus'a in Sassari, which boasts works by Italian and European artists from the Middle Ages to the middle of the 20th century, including a significant collection of Sardinian artists from the early 20th century.

By Vincenzo Canto