The Royal Palace of Venaria (Reggia di Venaria Reale) – a prior home of Italy’s royal Savoia family located 10 km from Turin – is celebrating 150 years of Italian unity with an exhibit spanning centuries of Italian art.
“La Bella Italia” features over 350 paintings and sculptures, gathered from every major cultural center in Italy, and covers antiquity to 1861, the year the Kingdom of Italy was established.
The list of artists featured reads like a who’s who of famed Italian painters: Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello, Michelangelo, Titian, Donatello, Botticelli, Tiepolo, Canova, Beato Angelico, Correggio, and Bernini, among others. Also included are renowned non-Italians who passed time on the peninsula, like the Flemish painters Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck, and Spanish painter Diego Velazquez.
Francesco Hayez’s celebrated “The Kiss”, a Romantic symbol of the Risorgimento, is on show. The famed portrait depicts medieval lovers engaged in a passionate kiss, but contains symbolic meaning for the unity of Italy. Painted in 1859, the man wears red, possibly representing Italian patriots fighting for independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while the girl wears blue, a color associated with France, which had just made an alliance with the Savoia dynasty.
Another masterpiece imbued with Italian identity on display is Rubens’s “Romulus and Remus” , from roughly 1615-1616, showing the mythological twin founders of Rome nursing from a wolf. Anthony Van Dyck’s “Prince Tomaso di Savoia Carignano”, painted in 1634, portrays the prince who established the Savoia Carignano family line from which the kings of Italy descended.
An example of artistic and political rethinking from 18th-century Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova is also in the show. “The Muse Polimnia” was commissioned in 1812 as a portrait of Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, grandduchess of Tuscany under Napoleon Bonaparte. He finished the piece three years later, after the emperor’s demise, and thus idealized the facial features and added other touches to transform it into an homage to the Veneto provinces for the imperial house of Austria.
The exhibit is hosted in the palace’s lemon house and armory, and runs through September 11.
Top left: Reggia di Venaria Reale
Right: Francesco Hayez’s “The Kiss”
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.