In Arts + Entertainment

An Exclusive Look At The Private Art Collection Of Italy’s Elite

Arriving in Florence towards the end of the 12th century, the Corsini family have one of the oldest genealogical trees of the region. With almost 1000 years of history, the Corsini family played a prominent role in the development of Florence, starting out sheep farmers and merchants, and later moving on to have ties in politics and a heavy involvement in the church throughout the 14th century. The family even bore a number of Florentine bishops and princes; and in the 18th century, rose to further fame when Lorenzo Corsini was ordained as Pope Clemente XII.

Madonna and Child with Six Angels c1500, Sandro Botticelli (Florence c1445-1510) Photo: Galleria Corsini, Florence

The Corsini’s connection with the art world began in the 17th century, with the construction of the two palazzos – Palazzo Corsini on the Arno river, and the Rome residence of the same name – that would later house their extensive collection of renaissance and baroque paintings. Their palazzos became icons for Florence, and as of the 19th century, stopping in to view the collection became a done thing for every traveler to the area.

In 2018, the Corsini name is still alive and strong with the family members of today claiming heir to the historical family estate in Chianti, a 30-minute drive from Florence. The functioning estate is home to sweeping olive groves, a vineyard and the bygone family villa. They are also still tied in with the ‘Florentine baroque’ style palazzos commissioned by their predecessors in the 17th century.

Ruined building c1685-1693, Niccolò Codazzi (Naples 1642-Genoa 1693) Photo: Galleria Corsini, Florence

Leaving its home in its Florentine palazzo and crossing international borders for the first time, the showing of the Corsini Collection at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) is the only showcase of the collection in Australia. A coup for the West Australian art and Italian communities, the exhibition – A Window on Italy –The Corsini Collection: Masterpieces from Florence – has already seen incredible support since its opening on the February 24th.

Featuring a hand-picked selection of paintings from the personal family collection, as well as decorative objects and furniture from inside the Palazzo Corsini, the collection is a stunning display of Florence’s renaissance and baroque periods. A combined effort between AGWA director Stefano Carboni, AGWA curator of historical and modern art Melissa Harpley, and the Corsini family, the collection has been pieced together to tell the story of the Italian city and esteemed family.

Saint Andrea Corsini 1630, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri known as Guercino Photo: Galleria Corsini, Florence

“We were adamant that we told a fabulous story of Italian art. So, Stefano – our director – was in Florence and worked with the family on the selection of works for the exhibition,” said Harpley of the rigorous artifact selection process.

“The family themselves had a strong sense of what would work for them and the key works within the collection. They were also keen for the family story to be told a bit; so, they were involved in, for example, the selection of portraiture of members of the family, but also some of the decorative art objects that have travelled with the exhibition.”

Glorification of the Corsini Family: sketch for the ceiling fresco of the Presentation Room of the Palazzo 1694-1695, Anton Domenico Gabbiani (Florence 1652-1726) Photo: Galleria Corsini, Florence

The quality of the works in the Corsini collection is something that AGWA has never seen before. In fact, Perth hasn’t seen a Bodicelli in a very long time, if ever. His renaissance pieces, Tintoretto’s renaissance and baroque artworks, the mannerism pieces by Pontormo are of course the show stoppers of the exhibition; but it is the collection of private family portraiture, works on paper, furniture and collective objects that really transform AGWA’s modern space and bring the ambience of the Palazzo Corsini to the gallery.

Surviving the devastation of World War II and the 1966 Florence floods, the stunning classical collection preserved an important piece of history, and the compelling stories that go with it. The story of family is one that most visitors can identify with, regardless of art and history knowledge. But there are more stories than just those of the Corsinis that run through the collection.

Music 1650, Giovanni Martinelli (Montevarchi 1600-Florence 1659) Photo: Galleria Corsini, Florence

Harpley attributes the wide appeal of the exhibition to the richness that these different stories bring to it. “The Corsini Collection tells the story of art and the stories of family. It tells the story of Florence and Italy the place, and its political and cultural history. I think it does a lot for people who are interested in art as there are some fabulous examples of paintings. For people who aren’t interested in art but maybe social and political history, there are some things in the exhibition that they will find of interest as well.”

“For people who are interested in the family history, there are a lot of portraits through which they can track that story. For the people who are more interested in classical art, there are obviously some beautiful religious paintings from the Italian renaissance period that tell the Christian story – like some beautiful Madonna and child paintings. But then there are some great other images from classical Greek mythology too,” says Hardley.

The Corsini collection is showing at the Art Gallery of Western Australia Australia until June 18th, 2018. Tickets start from $15pp. 

Published 22 March, 2018