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The Savoia Picture Gallery: 100 faces to save at Castello di Masino

The restoration of the Savoia Picture Gallery: an exciting project of conservation and research.
At Castello di Masino (Caravino, TO) FAI inaugurated the Salone dei Savoia last April 29th following the discovery and restoration of a cycle of frescoes from the end of the 17th century that reveals an entirely new face of this great hall.

Until then, in fact, the Salone was known to house a rich picture gallery with a 19th-century flavour, which has now been disassembled out of necessity: a unique and unmissable opportunity to launch a new restoration, conservation and research project on that very heritage of paintings; work that has never been tackled in such a complete and systematic manner.

The picture gallery contains no less than 97 paintings – covering 170 square meters of painted canvas and 275 m of frames – of large and small format, from the 17th and 18th centuries depicting leading figures of the Savoia court, but also portraits of personalities from the Spanish or French dynasties, and of the noble families that dominated the political scene in Europe and the Mediterranean at the time.

Preliminary investigations for the project and the first restoration work have already begun thanks to generous private funding, and the first diagnostic operations, necessary to assess the state of conservation of the paintings, are already yielding interesting results.

AN ‘IDENTITY CARD’ FOR EACH PAINTING

The entire picture gallery consists of eight large canvases and 89 medium and small canvases, including a series of ovals with female portraits. Before being removed, it was rigorously documented, i.e. mapped with the most up-to-date technological tools. Each painting was then subjected to a thorough photographic campaign – front and back, often bearing signatures, dates and various notes – and a series of diagnostic activities, including IR reflectography and UV fluorescence, in the Savoia Hall itself.

The Centro di Conservazione e Restauro La Venaria Reale (La Venaria Reale Conservation and Restoration Centre) assisted FAI in the initial verification of the collection’s state of conservation. These analyses have made it possible to carry out an up-to-date filing and to have available today, for the first time, a real “identity card” for each painting, equipped with all the information – inscriptions, measurements, and even the weight of each painting – that will be needed for restoration, study, and even future remounting.

The 8 large-format canvases are now located in the spaces of the La Venaria Reale Conservation and Restoration Centre, which, by virtue of an extensive and long-lasting collaboration agreement with FAI, is taking care of them, providing technological innovation, expertise and dedicated visiting and communication opportunities to follow the work in progress.

The 89 medium and small paintings, on the other hand, have been entrusted to the Nicola Restauri workshop in Aramengo (AT), which is already working on an initial group of works: starting with the paintings in a poor state of conservation, and then calibrating the interventions on the other works, with a restoration that will involve both the canvases and the carved and gilded wooden frames.

FROM VITTORIO AMEDEO TO THE “RATTO DELLE SABINE”

The large canvases are dedicated – 5 out of 8 – to personalities of the Casa Savoia, bearing witness to the strong bond between Carlo Francesco I Valperga and the Madama RealeMaria Giovanna Battista di Savoia Nemours, mother of the young King Vittorio Amedeo. The first painting to be set up in the Salon, back in 1807, was the Portrait of Vittorio Amedeo di Savoia.

Next to the portrait ofVittorio Amedeo, two portraits of his mother,Maria Giovanna Battista di Savoia Nemours (1644-1724), a woman of character and power, regent of the duchy on behalf of her young son after the death of her consort Carlo Emanuele II in 1675, were to stand out in the Salon. Three other large-format portraits are dedicated to: Giacinto SimianaMarquis of Pianezza, grand chamberlain to Carlo Emanuele II and maternal uncle of Carlo Francesco I, and to Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia Carignano known as the Mute; the third, hitherto believed to be the Portrait of Cardinal Giulio Mazzarino, is most likely to be identified instead with the Portrait of Lorenzo Trotti, bishop of Pavia, uncle of Maria Vittoria Trotti Bentivoglio, wife ofCarlo Francesco I from 1693. Last two of the large paintings in the Salon: a 17th-century painting depicting the Ratto delle Sabine (the abduction of Sabina Women), the only other subject in the collection, and the 18th-century portrait of Arduino, King of Italy from 1002 to 1024, from whom the Valperga family boasted descent.

A ‘CROWD’ OF MEN AND WOMEN

Alongside the large canvases, medium and small paintings were arranged on several levels in the Salon’s picture gallery, always with portrait subjects: a “crowd” of men and women, representing the panorama of European nobility between the 17th and 18th centuries, and who, thanks to the studies undertaken by the FAI, will be identified and examined in depth as historical figures, in their intricate vicissitudes; the history of the collection itself and of the individual works will be equally thorough, as they already show clear comparisons with the Savoy collections, inevitable models of the period, and especially for the Valperga family.

In the upper section, there were roundels with female portraits: these are derivations from the famous series of the Belle Donne created by the painter Jacob Ferdinand Voet (1639-1689), originally from Antwerp and active in Rome in the second half of the 17th century, for the noble Chigi family and so popular that they were repeatedly replicated, with variations, in Europe and in the main Italian courts

A UNIQUE RESEARCH OPPORTUNITY

The restoration of the picture gallery is accompanied by the building of a learning centre, which is also already underway, involving a collaboration between FAI and the University of Turin for in-depth scientific studies based on the documents conserved in the castle’s historical archives.

These will be assigned to young researchers with study grants specifically financed by the Foundation, already dedicated to research on the fresco decoration of the Savoia Hall itself. Each painting will be studied in detail to verify its authorship, dating, characteristics and cultural reasons, in historical and artistic comparison. The complete and up-to-date catalogue, the high-resolution photographs and the results of the research will be uploaded little by little onto a dedicated online portal, accessible to all, that FAI has been working on for some time: the digital catalogue of FAI’s collections that we will soon be telling you about.

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