THE COLLECTION OF BRONZES IN THE MUSEO NAZIONALE DEL PALAZZO DI VENEZIA IN ROME
Palazzo Venezia holds one of Italy's main collections of small bronzes. It comprises works from two large private Roman collections, forming part of the vast holdings of the museum, which include arms, tapestries, paintings, ceramics, porcelain, furniture, textiles, ivory, silver, medals, seals, marble and wood sculptures, terracotta maquettes and reliefs and innumerable other objects.
The first of these private collections, consisting of 110 bronzes, belonged to the Roman art dealer Alfredo Barsanti, and contained many fine examples of works modelled and fused in Padua, Venice, Florence and Rome by artists such as Riccio, Severo da Ravenna, Roccatagliata, Tacca, Susini, Algardi, and Bernini.
At the height of his success Barsanti worked from a stately palazzo in Via Sistina, near Piazza di Spagna: high value works of art passed through his study, which was equipped with a well-stocked library. Only small bronzes remained in his possession in the apartment. These bronzes made up his own private collection, which were arranged in five large glass cabinets that were usually covered by heavy drapes, only removed for the visits of connoisseurs and members of Roman high society.
In 1922 Barsanti put together a catalogue of his collection of bronzes, one of the most opulent books produced to illustrate a private collection: it was authored by the renowned archaeologist Ludwig Pollak, with an introduction penned by Wilhelm Bode, the curator and creator of the new museum collections in Berlin. The catalogue was only distributed as a complimentary edition, given to specialists in the field, and presented to the ruling houses of Europe, to heads of state worldwide and to significant collectors. In the same year Barsanti, the dealer, collector and editor, was honoured by the king and the pope.
Major European and American collectors frequently attempted to buy various works from Barsanti's collection, but in vain. Its sale took place only in 1934 when Duke Visconti di Mondrone, the podestà, or mayor, of Milan, raised funds from private individuals, companies and industries, to acquire the collection and donate it to Benito Mussolini, the head of government. When the collection came to Palazzo Venezia, which then served as Mussolini's seat of power as well as a museum, the fascist leader gave the collection to the museum, such that it belonged to the Italian State.
The other collection, comprising 113 bronzes, belonged to the diplomat Giacinto Auriti, and contained excellent Italian and European works by sculptors such as Aspetti, Della Porta, Giambologna, Susini, Tedrote and Du Quesnoy, together with a group of bronze objects used during daily court life and by ruling elites during the Renaissance and the Baroque (such as inkwells, mortars, caskets, bells and clocks). Auriti assembled his collection in the course of his diplomatic career, which included spells in the United States, Spain, Romania, Austria and Japan.
He bought the major part of his Italian and European bronzes in Vienna, where he lived between 1921 and 1933, thanks to the advice of his friend Leo Planiscig, the curator of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. In 1963 Auriti generously bequeathed his collection to the Palazzo Venezia museum.
The Palazzo Venezia collection of small bronzes is completed by around one hundred statuettes, plaques and small reliefs that were either bought or donated to the museum. The most recent acquisition was made in 2005, a splendid altarpiece by Jacob Cobaert. The work is decorated with 19 gilded and silvered bronze statuettes, and topped with a replica of one of the crucifixes modelled by Bernini for the altars of St. Peter's Basilica.