ONE of Florence’s most prominent families, the Corsini family, may be touring their private art collection outside of Italy for the first time but Australians have been drawn to these Renaissance and Baroque paintings for centuries.
Art Gallery of WA curator Melissa Harpley said when it came to securing Australia’s only showing of the artworks, there was historical documentation proving its popularity.
“The gallery was open to visitors in the 19th century and when looking at visitor books from then, they found people from Australia were visiting their collection in the 1840s,” Harpley said.
“The interest has been there for a long time so maybe this is the moment to take the leap. They’ve lent individual works before but now they felt it was time to try this.”
A Window on Italy – The Corsini Collection: Masterpieces from Florence includes paintings by Italian artists including Botticelli, decorative objects and furniture from the Palazzo Corsini, each with its own remarkable tale.
“The works tell a fabulous story of the history of Italian art, particularly in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, but also up to the 20th century,” said Harpley, who has taught Baroque art at UWA.
“Overlaid with that is the fabulous story of the family themselves; you have a story of patronage and taste through art collection but we also have images of members of the family themselves from Sant’ Andrea Corsini (1630) through to Donna Elena Corsini who saved the collection in 1944 during World War II.
“The art tells that family story and because the family is so important in Florence, we get the story of the city too; there are many layers and a richness that I find fascinating.”
Key pieces that demonstrate this include photographs before and after the Arno river in Florence burst its banks in November 1966 and the portrait of Saint Andrea Corsini with bullet holes through the canvas when it was shot by the retreating German army in 1944.
Fearful the collection might be confiscated, Princess Elena Corsini saved larger paintings by hiding them behind a false wall, but the wet plaster made a soldier suspicious and he shot the portrait which was hanging on the wall.
The passion and love for these artworks by the family continues today with Countess Livia Branca and Countess Elisabette Minutoli travelling to Perth with the collection. Harpley said they were warm and generous, and that working with them had been a highlight of her experience on this exhibition which is on until June 18.
“The main thing when you’re entrusted with someone else’s collection is how you design a space and how you display it to respect it,” she said.
“It comes down to thinking about wall colours and what will work with the images. It’s rare for us to have gold frames on this kind of scale. You needed a rich colour for them to sit on; blue and gold sing.”
What: A Window on Italy – The Corsini Collection: Masterpieces from Florence
Where: Art Gallery of WA
When: until June 18 with tours, lectures and family-friendly events programmed
Tickets and more information: www.artgallery.wa.gov.au