22 agosto 2022
by Maria Rita Nocchi

The beauty of R'Accolte

 De Chirico - Le Muse inquietanti 
 De Chirico - Le Muse inquietanti 

Sit down and make yourself comfortable, switch on your PC and go to the R’accolte website. In just a few seconds, the doors will open to one of the largest museums in the world. A virtual museum, which makes the extraordinary heritage of the art collections of the banking foundations and savings banks accessible to all: 14,000 works, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and ceramics—from ancient times to the present day—belonging to 76 collections from 58 cities.     

“There really are a huge number of works,” confirms the curator of R'accolte, the art historian Elisabetta Boccia.

“These range from absolute masterpieces—Guercino, Canova, De Chirico, Chagall, Boccioni, Carrà, Burri, Berengo Gardin, Pistoletto—to works of lesser global value, of more local value, but still very important because they are the expression of a specific territory, its culture and traditions. However, very few people know about this immense heritage. The majority don’t know how heterogeneous and extensive the art collections of the foundations are.”

 Even small towns can boast works of great value. This is the case of Cento, in the province of Ferrara, which in honor of its most famous citizen, the painter Gian Francesco Barbieri, known as Il Guercino, owns two precious paintings, ‘La Sibilla’ and ‘Santa Maria Maddalena’, as well as numerous etchings, woodcuts and burin engravings. Or Tortona, in Piedmont, whose collection focuses on Divisionism and proudly exhibits two pre-futurist and figurative paintings by Giacomo Balla: a portrait of Onorato Caetani and a splendid landscape.

In the case of the foundations, the passion for collecting—for centuries an exquisitely Italian trait for centuries—is combined with patronage and the desire to preserve our artistic heritage and make it accessible to the wider community. 

“Owning a work of art, cataloging it, also means safeguarding it,” observes the art historian. “We rely on the sensitivity of the administrators of the foundations, who, appropriately advised by art historians, can choose to buy certain assets before they are put on the market. Or they decide to buy them to prevent them being taken away from the territory to which they are tied.” In short, there are works that belong very strongly to a place, that are an expression of its spirit and traditions, and it is good that they remain there. 

Therefore, even those who are not art enthusiasts can enjoy browsing through R'accolte. “The site is certainly intended for scholars and specialists, but not only them,” continues Elisabetta. “It aims to stimulate the curiosity of ordinary people too, to encourage them wonder about what surrounds them. I am pleased to receive positive feedback in this sense. Recently, a visitor to the site told me that he had found a painting by his grandfather included in the collection owned by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Livorno. For him it was a real surprise.”     R’accolte was set up ten years ago. At first, it was only an experimental project in Emilia Romagna—the region with the largest number of foundations—then it spread nationwide. Today, the site has undergone a thorough restyling to ensure the entire artistic heritage is available to a wide audience, and to ensure an innovative browsing experience for scholars and specialists in the immense catalog, organized according to the very latest international criteria. The site offers in-depth content, analytical data sheets, focuses, video interviews, curious facts and news, together with the continuously updated program of art events organized by the foundations throughout Italy.

"We have always worked in full collaboration with the representatives of the foundations, who have been happy to share their heritage,” emphasizes Elisabetta. “We are united by the awareness that, together, we are undertaking actions towards protection and conservation.” 

It is impossible to describe all the collections, given just how many and how extensive they are. Just a few notes: the Cassa di Risparmio di Bologna has among the largest collections, with 507 pieces. The treasure of its collection is the plaster carving of Penitent Saint Mary Magdalen, made by Antonio Canova between 1806 and 1813. Then there are other figures of excellence in the history of art, for example the brothers Annibale and Agostino Carracci, Guido Reni, Lavinia Fontana—the first woman to paint an altarpiece—up to the masters of the twentieth century, Filippo De Pisis, Giorgio Morandi, Felice Casorati, Carla Accardi. This varied collection is today happily established in certain prestigious buildings in the old city center of Bologna, renovated by the foundation and open to the public.

Browsing through the catalog, you can see that the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Torino owns the ‘Venus of the Rags’, the most iconic work by Michelangelo Pistoletto, a treasure of Arte Povera that was the first purchase of the foundation, founded in 2000 with the specific aim of enriching the permanent collections held by the Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Turin and the Castello di Rivoli. 

The collection of the Fondazione Cassa Risparmio di Rimini instead focuses on medieval art. To cite just one work, Elisabetta suggests Giovanni Baronzio's 'Stories of the Passion of Christ' from 1330, “a very beautiful panel with a gold background.” From the Middle Ages, with a great cultural leap, we move to Japan: the Fondazione del Monte of Bologna and Ravenna has a collection of fine Japanese prints from the nineteenth century.     

 In central Italy, precisely in Perugia, there is another particularly valuable collection: over 200 paintings ranging from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, by authoritative artists such as Perugino, Pinturicchio, Matteo da Gualdo, Signorelli, Cerrini and Dottori; and a precious collection of Renaissance majolica that can be admired in the exhibition spaces in Palazzo Baldeschi. Added to this is the legacy of Alessandro Marabottini, a passionate collector and professor of art history, who died in 2012. “An eclectic collection of about 700 works, including paintings, engravings, miniatures, from the sixteenth to the twentieth century: we have already started cataloging and it will soon be visible online.”   

The Cassa di Risparmio di Macerata (CARIMA) offers over three hundred precious works of Italian painting and sculpture from the twentieth century. In the rooms of Palazzo Ricci, formerly used by CARIMA for representative purposes and now a museum, the tour starts with a sculpture by Medardo Rosso, an impressionist artist from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and moves through the great names of the first and second Futurism:  Boccioni, Severini, Balla but also Soffici, Depero, Prampolini and Pannaggi, De Chirico. The exhibition then follows the ‘Roman School’ with artists of the stature of Scipio, Mafai and Raphaël. And then Art Informel by Burri and Fontana and Pop Art bySchifano, Festa, Ceroli. The collection ends with the great protagonists of the postwar period: Cascella, Mannucci, the Pomodoro brothers, Messina, Manzù. 

 The Foundation di Sicilia has a wonderful archaeological collection: over 4,700 artifacts from archaeological excavations

conducted mainly in Selinunte, Solunto, Terravecchia di Cuti, Himera, but also from purchases made in past decades “by enlightened men,” thanks to whom archaeological material of considerable interest has been preserved in Sicily, which otherwise would have been lost. 

 Currently the site is divided into thematic areas - Portraits, Women, Landscapes of the 19th Century, Legends: "We have chosen 15-20 works for each of these themes, creating if you like a common thread linking the assets of the various foundations,” concludes Elisabetta. R'accolte, however, is not a static website. “I like to think of it as a program in continuous evolution, thanks to new acquisitions, insights, updates, historical and artistic research laboratories.” We shall also soon have available some virtual exhibitions curated by art historians. In short, a website to keep your eye on. So, happy browsing to all! 

Unlocking the ivory towers of foundation-owned art

The Italian banking foundations own many works of art, perhaps little known to the general public. In addition to R’accolte, what other measures can be taken to improve access to this heritage? 

“The banking foundations have ‘inherited’ their art heritage from the savings banks and have continued to improve it. In the thirty years since they were established, the foundations have implemented numerous initiatives to facilitate access to cultural heritage for as many people as possible. In the belief that enjoying art and culture should not be the privilege of the few, but a right of all, the foundations help to organize exhibitions and reviews, as well as pathways to bring children and adults closer to art, theater and music. They also help to transform libraries from simple book deposits into places to meet, study, play, watch films, opening the doors to a wider public.” 

Prime Minister Mario Draghi recently joked that bankers never 'use' their hearts. Do you believe that initiatives such as R’accolte can help to improve people’s understanding of the patronage of banking foundations?

"In recent years, the banking foundations have been implementing a new form of patronage, whose ultimate goal is the growth and empowerment of communities. The goal is certainly to contribute, in a subsidiary way together with the public, to the care and maintenance of the historical and artistic heritage of our country, but without forgetting to involve people in the ‘reappropriation’ of these assets, which are an essential part of our identity. Especially at times of great uncertainty, such as we are currently experiencing, beauty can help us to discover ourselves as part of a common destiny. Ensuring everyone has access and a deep understanding of the extraordinary wealth of our heritage, releasing it from the ‘ivory towers’ in which it is often locked away, is a priority for the foundations. And R’accolte is a very clear expression of our way of understanding beauty.”

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