The Riminaldi Museum

Written by  Maria Teresa Gulinelli
An important eighteenth century civic collection.
The fine proportions and elegant eighteenth century interiors of the Palazzo Boncossi form the background to the current exhibition entitled "Civic memories: the Museum of Giovanni Maria Riminaldi". The exhibition displays a precious collection of marble sculptures, small bronzes, fine furnishings, mosaics and pictures from the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries.

This should not be seen as an isolated and temporary event, but rather as the definitive restoration to the public of a core group of works of exceptional artistic and historical value, being the first of a series of exhibitions focusing on the main acquisitions forming the rich heritage of Ferrara's Museum of Ancient Art.

Parts of the outstanding civic collections are little known because they have not been displayed for a long time; some of these works have never been exhibited.
The Civic Museum was born in 1735 with the foundation of the Roman lapidary and was formally established following the acquisition of the important coin collection from the eminent Ferrara scholar Don Vincenzo Bellini, in 1758. The institution was designed to archive the evidence of the city's past, and was housed inside the Palazzo Paradiso which was also the main premises of the university.

The original museum was greatly strengthened and in many ways changed by Gian Maria Riminaldi, the Ferrara aristocrat charged by Pope Clement XIV with the reform of the university in 1771.

Between 1763 and 1781, the prelate, who maintained his own residence in Rome, made continuous donations to the museum. Many of the works he sent to Ferrara came from his private collection; others were bought on the Roman antiquarian market. All were of outstanding quality and reflect his refined taste.

Interested in art, history and literature, and open to the new experiences of European culture, Gian Maria Riminaldi played a key role in Roman culture, creating a network of relationships with important intellectuals and collectors of the time and building links with wellknown artists.

Chronologically, the first of his gifts was the splendid lithotheque, an elegant, sinuous, lion's foot cabinet for displaying samples of rare marble and minerals.
In his role as reformer the cardinal also paid particular attention to the development of the Library and the Accademia which he regarded, like the Museum, as being essential aspects in the reform of the university structure, destined to interact and combine together in the education of the students.

The key to understanding the Riminaldi collection lies in the constant attention paid to the educational aspect, backed up by the Cardinal's own writings which advises that sufficient space be given to the items on display to encourage their examination and study.

Copies of outstanding quality present some of the most famous and prized subjects from antique statuary, from the Apollo displayed in the Belvedere courtyard in the early XVIth century to the busts of Niobe taken from a group that Winckelmann ascribed to the sublime phase of antique sculpture.
A particularly important item is the Farnese Hercules, discovered in 1540 during the excavation of the Baths of Caracalla and immediately acclaimed as the symbol of classical culture, represented in the Ferrara collection by an excellent XVIth century bronze copy. In fact Riminaldi's donations also include a rich collection of exceptional bronzes, reproductions from ancient and Renaissance masterpieces, together with works by artists such as Gianbologna, François du Quesnoy and Alessandro Algardi.

There are also numerous marble busts of the imperial type, and a series of urban inscriptions alongside fine baroque marble sculptures and a series of miniature mosaics made by XVIIIth century Roman artists using ancient techniques.
Characteristically, in view of Riminaldi's reforms to raise the status of the cultural institutions which had grown up within the University, the museum reached the height of its prestige in 1771 when it was allocated premises appropriate to its size and worth.

The current study of the collection will take an in-depth and systematic look at the many aspects already highlighted during the exhibition.
Finally, the recovery and scientific publication of the material will provide the preconditions for the future permanent exhibition of a representative selection from the Riminaldi collection in the Palazzo Schifanoia museum, which has housed the XVIIIth century civic museum since 1898.