The History of Ferrarese Picture Collections

Written by  Lucio Scardino
A new volume from the Fondazione, devoted to art collecting in the city between 19th and 20th centuries.

The series on art collecting in Ferrara, launched by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara, now boasts a new title: Antichi e moderni. Quadri e collezionisti ferraresi del XX secolo.

Edited by me, with the help of Antonio P. Torresi, the book begins with a preface by Andrea Emiliani. As in the two previous volumes, in this case too the details of hitherto unpublished inventories of Ferrarese picture collections are accompanied by a socio-cultural analysis of the world of collecting.

Subdivided into chapters, the new book starts from a 19th century event, namely the dispersion of the Varano collection, which occurred between 1882 and 1888. The marquis Rodolfo Varano, a senator and former mayor of Ferrara, was a lover of the figurative arts, as is demonstrated by the four hundred and eight paintings left, at his death, to a great nephew who lived in Rieti. The family collection was dispersed: most were bought by Giuseppe Cavalieri, a Jewish industrialist, who in 1888 was to sell forty-five pieces to the town council of Camerino, in the Marche region. The affair has been reconstructed here for the first time, just as light has finally been shed on the important exhibition of ancient art held in Palazzo dei Diamanti in 1892.
The exhibition included about ninety pictures, lent by twelve collectors on the request of a committee made up of the critics Girolamo Scutellari, Vincenzo Giustiniani and Carlo Fiaschi. But Giustiniani was also a remarkable art collector, who had put together a collection of Florentine impressionists, later sold off at auction.

After his debut as a painter at the Ferrara exhibitions of 1888 and 1889, this aristocrat managed a renowned ceramics works in Florence and, there, he was to acquire various exquisite pieces by artists of the Macchiaiolo and Divisionist schools. Bound by very close links to Ferrara, Giustiniani invited his fellow townsman the engineer Giuseppe Gatti-Casazza (a cultivated collector in his own right) to join him in the ceramics works; he and Agnelli wrote the first guide to the Schifanoia Museum while he also collected the works of Giovanni Boldini.

For his interest Vincenzo Giustiniani may be compared with his fellow citizen Alberto Zaina, who put together a fine collection of works by 18th and 19th century Ferrarese artists. Much of the central part of his collection was acquired in 1983 by the Fondazione Giuseppe Pianori for the Museo Civico d'Arte Moderna in Palazzo Massari.
Relations between Ferrarese collectors and art dealers were close and constant: it should suffice to recall the brother of Giustiniani's sister-in-law, count Renato Avogli-Trotti, who was an antiquary in Paris; Gatti-Casazza, who played the merchant amateur in his house in Venice; and Giordano Lanzoni, known as Tancredi, who began his career as a collector when he was the gatekeeper of palazzo Zaina.

Art dealers are reassessed in the book and due importance is accorded to prominent families like the Sgherbi and Ragazzi, who kept the local market alive for over a century, the eclectic Federico Camuri, painter, collector, photographer, restorer, antiquarian and inventor, and Eugenio Marchetti, antiquarian, viola player, painter, and caricaturist, who worked above all in Spain. Another extremely important place for Ferrara was "La cisterna", the first antique shop to open in the city, in 1919. It stood in corso Giovecca, where it was run by Ferruccio Luppia and Emilio Arlotti.

After "La cisterna" went out of business in 1938, the same building became home to Mario Magrini, who brought his collection there.
Magrini is a key figure in the history of art collecting in Ferrara in the 19th century, also because of the generous bequests he left to various public institutions. He was one of the few Ferrarese collectors to collect everything, not just paintings: his decision was shared by Lorenzo Nonato and Ireneo Farneti, whose eclectic collection was auctioned off in 1937.

After the second World War there was a boom in period furniture, which had come to be seen as artistically beautiful in itself and not merely functional.

In the last half century, therefore, the social context changed; various collections put together by aristocrats or inherited by them were dispersed or acquired by the new entrepreneurial bourgeoisie. This happened to the collections of pictures owned by count Mazza, duke Massari, and count Saracco-Riminalsi. Fortunately in some cases the Cassa di Risparmio stepped in and partly stemmed this dispersion by acquiring much of the Massari and Sacrati-Strozzi collections, later put on show in the Pinacoteca Nazionale. The Gulinelli collection was also broken up, even though in 1977 Natalia Valli, the last heir of countess Alma Gulinelli bequeathed three valuable fondi oro, or paintings on a gilt background, to the Pinacoteca. Gatti-Casazza also left some pieces from his collection to the museums of Ferrara.