The Foundation and Ferrara's History

Written by  Gianni Venturi
A review.
To appreciate fully the involvement of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara in cultural affairs over the last ten years, a review of its work is instructive. The Foundation has focused on the cultural heritage which reached its apex at the d'Este court and during the Renaissance, promoting an approach through critical works in a way which provides the city with a fresh sense of events and historical situations.

An example of this is the important exhibition entitled La leggenda del collezionismo which, following the acquisition of the 23 pictures in the Prosperi Sacrati collection, authoritatively reviewed the stages of an episode in the city's history from a new angle with great critical acclaim and emotional impact. But the Foundation's major undertakings do not appeal simply to Ferrara's local pride; alongside the work of restoration and recovery, and the publications, there lies the equally lofty aim of providing a critical account.

The glorious series of volumes of painting under the d'Este produced by the Cassa di Risparmio in the decades following the Second World War provided the inspiration for the Foundation's subsequent publications which both continue on the path set out by the preceding volumes and reflect the need to relate a restoration, an exhibition or an acquisition to the cultural and historical background, justifying and explaining the meaning and significance of the Foundation's work. In 1996 the Leggenda del collezionismo exhibition was accompanied by an exhibition of art books published by the Casse di Risparmio.

This journey through the publishing houses of the Casse di Risparmio and the Banche del Monte demonstrated the exceptional quality of Ferrara's publications, to be augmented in time by irreplaceable works such as the great scholar Adriano Franceschini's three volume Artisti a Ferrara in età umanistica e rinascimentale, or the books produced in 1998 to accompany one of the finest exhibitions ever supported by the Foundation, Miniatura a Ferrara del tempo di Cosmè Tura all'eredità di Ercole de' Roberti.

On the publication of the facsimile of the Borso Bible, accompanied by two imposing volumes of commentary on the Codex, it was decided to publish a corpus of Ferrara miniatures which, taken together with the exhibition catalogue, now provides an indispensable resource for studies into this aspect of art history. 1994 saw the publication of Hermann's famous text, La miniatura estense, which forms the basis of all subsequent work on Ferrara miniatures. This was followed in 1995 by Guglielmo Giraldi miniatore estense, an examination of the personality of the greatest of these miniaturists; finally in 1998 the exhibition catalogue appeared, covering events during the glorious period of miniature painting in Ferrara up to the time of annexation to the Papal States.

Alongside the most remarkable miniatures, the exhibition displayed rare and precious works by miniature painters including extraordinary panels by Tura and Roberti. The unrepeatable occasion of the restoration to the city of so vital a part of its own history confirmed the synergy existing between the city's institutions and the Foundation.
The significant new aspect highlighted in the restoration of works of art and monuments to the city is represented in this case by the fact that the Foundation's motivation for exhibitions was to link them to the acquisition of important works or to reappraisals of exceptional cultural moments in the city's history.

The most recent, but by no means the least important of the Foundation's forays into this area in terms of the complexity and influence of its results, is the restoration of the Bastianino Giudizio universale in the apse of Ferrara Cathedral. Scholarly opinion has rated this restoration and the studies arising from it as an exemplary for both the quality of the results and the light which it has thrown on a painful but fascinating period in Ferrara's history, the late sixteenth century. The crisis of the state has taught that, at the height of hard-sought and still uncertain power, buttressed by alliances and marriages, the support of the arts was needed to maintain the image of the Court.

An aspect of Ferrara's history worthy of investigation - and which the Foundation has begun to examine - is the way in which the Court selected the architects, planners, painters and musicians whose work enhanced the status of the d'Este family. The last period of Ferrara's history under the d'Este has had a critical and historical revival through the Bastianino restoration.

For some time, Iadranka Bentini has researched Bastianino and his links with the dei Filippi school (and the results, together with the impeccable restoration of the frescoes in the Castello, can be seen in the two volumes of proceedings of the exhibition she edited, Bastianino. La pittura a Ferrara nel secondo Cinquecento, 1985, and L'impresa di Alfonso II. Saggi e documenti sulla produzione artistica a Ferrara nel secondo cinquecento, 1987, in collaboration with Luigi Spezzaferro).

It goes without saying that the participation of the Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara in the restoration, the exhibition and the scholarly work was crucial. The Foundation assumed responsibility not merely for the works but also for academic contributions to the "Bastianino YEAR", 2000. Issue no 13 of this magazine, which is entirely devoted to the great painter, and the ceremony at which the marvellous fresco was restored to the city, now represent the tangible results of this extraordinary undertaking.

At the international conference dedicated to Bastianino, Enzo Raimondi paid tribute to the painter's first and greatest connoisseur, Francesco Arcangeli, and highlighted the nature of these painting which can be compared with Tasso's poetry. The artistic and historic heritage of Ferrara come together to make the city one of the newest and most complex expressions of modernity, of that world which provides the foundations for contemporary thought.