20 Feb Un rêve d’Italie.
“Giampietro Campana director of Monte di Pietà in Rome, was one of the most brilliant figures of the Roman society of his time, and an eminently romantic character. He amassed the largest private collection of the 19th century but, carried away by his passion for accumulating artworks, was arrested in 1857 for misappropriation of funds. He was sentenced to prison, then exile, and his collection was put up for sale.”
The quote above is from the first information panel for the wonderful exhibition at the Louvre: “A Dream of Italy: The Marquis Campana’s Collection” up until February 18, 2019.
In just a few words, this panel gives us an inkling of the astounding arc of this man’s life, with few equals in the world of collecting.
Particularly striking are the final terse words: “his collection was put up for sale.”
We can only imagine what Campana felt in his heart; out of prison, in exile, down and out, and seeing his beloved possessions scattered far and wide without being able to do a thing about it.
“A banker as a well as a businessman, patron, philanthropist, archaeologist and collector, Campana was part of many economic, cultural, and scientific institutions in Italy and the rest of Europe.” This is what another panel tells us. The exhibition lets us appreciate his magnificent villa, no longer standing, visited even by the Pope himself, located near San Giovanni Laterano and filled with hundreds of artworks, as were his other homes in Rome’s historic center. Put simply, absolute glory…
And this makes all the more dramatic his unstoppable fall from the stars to the jailhouse, all the fault of his compulsive love of ancient art.
But, as we will see, his undoing would benefit certain people…
Following Campana’s arrest, the Pontifical State put his immense collection up for sale.
The most powerful nations of the day, such as England, and leaders like Czar Alexander II and Napoleon III dove headlong into his collection, buying everything to be bought, so that not a single thing was left to him.
Our poor Giovanni Pietro Campana, Marquis of Cavelli…
This is how his “Italian dream” ended.
Even without the ending, Campana’s life in general seems to have been lived in the key of the ambiguous, the counterfeit, and the borderline.
Even his vast, magnificent collection always had an “ambiguous reputation” as one of the panels reads.
In addition to Campana’s alleged embezzlement during his time as director of Monte di Pietà, the collection’s ill fame is due to the very many restorations that the pieces underwent, especially the ancient marbles.
In one room, we see a series of Greek-Roman statues shown on a black background, and they stun with their beauty.
There is a particularly irresistible bust of Antinous, Hadrian’s beloved.
But reading the panels, our enthusiasm is reined in a bit.
The “Ceasar” only has the upper and lower parts, while the head was reworked to resemble the Divine Caesar; and we learn that the statue called “Brutus” is like a Frankenstein with a body from one statue and the head from another.
And the biggest disappointment is from our so seemingly irresistible Antinous.
The description reads: “Only a part of the head is ancient, while the upper part of the skull, the bronze crown, and the bust are modern additions.”
What can we say? Hats off to the restorers.
In the next room, we get to meet some of them: the Pennelli brothers, heirs of Pierre Blanc, a sculptor from Marseilles who came to Rome around 1830.
The exhibition is an ongoing journey among sublime things, from the Della Robbia majolica pieces, to the gold collections, the stupendous cross designed by Giotto, the great battle of Paolo Uccello, and Etruscan and Roman jewels and artifacts.
Here is a magnificent example of Italian art’s innate capacity for creating absolute Beauty.
Put simply: an exhibition not to be missed.
Louvre Museum – Napoleon Hall
from November 7th 2018 to February 18th 2019