Milan, an exhibition recounts Federico Zeri on the centenary of his birth


At the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan, an exhibition recounts the great Federico Zeri on the centenary of his birth, with some 30 works. His work, his relationships with institutions, museums, and collectors, from November 11, 2021 to March 7, 2022.

Scheduled at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan from November 11, 2021 to March 7, 2022 is the exhibition Giorno per giorno nella pittura. Federico Zeri, the exhibition that the Milanese institute dedicates to the great art historian Federico Zeri (Rome, 1921 - Mentana, 1998), on the centenary of his birth. Federico Zeri was one of the greatest connoisseurs and art historians of the 20th century. A free spirit and nonconformist, as he liked to call himself, but rigorous, endowed with a prodigious visual memory, he left in his writings a wealth of knowledge, research, and attributions, which are still points of reference for those who study the history of Italian art, particularly in certain areas such as painting from the 13th to the 16th centuries. His working tool, in addition to his vast knowledge of the artistic heritage, was his incomparable photo library, formed over the course of a lifetime, now the patrimony of all thanks to the Federico Zeri Foundation, based in Bologna at the “Alma Mater” University.

The exhibition, curated by Andrea Bacchi, director of the Fondazione Zeri in Bologna, and Andrea Di Lorenzo, director of the Museo Ginori in Florence, investigates and reconstructs the complex and varied relationships woven over the years by the great connoisseur with Milanese institutions, museums and collectors. Among the cultural realities that had the closest relations with Federico Zeri stands out precisely the Poldi Pezzoli, an institution for which the scholar always reserved extremely flattering words in his public communications and to which he wished to dedicate two paintings from his collection: Saint Elizabeth of Hungary executed by a collaborator of Raphael, probably to be identified in Domenico di Paride Alfani (Perugia, c. 1480- c. 1553), and the Pietà by Giovanni De Vecchi (Sansepolcro, c. 1536-Rome, 1614).

Federico Zeri at Poldi Pezzoli
Federico Zeri at the Poldi Pezzoli

Some 30 works are on display at the Poldi Pezzoli: in addition to the two paintings that came to the museum through the scholar’s testamentary bequest, on which new research and insights will be presented, there will be other works of great interest belonging to private collections and museums and which Zeri dealt with in his studies and publications or of which he directly suggested the purchase. A very significant nucleus of paintings is linked to the name of Donato de’ Bardi (a painter of Pavia origin, but active mainly in Genoa and Liguria in the first half of the 15th century), who was rediscovered and reevaluated by Zeri himself in a series of fulminating articles published beginning in 1973. By Donato de’ Bardi, all the panels of a splendid polyptych reconstructed by Zeri, which are divided between two private collections and the Pinacoteca di Brera, will also be on view in the exhibition, brought together for the first time.

These works will be juxtaposed with the Madonna breastfeeding from the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, which Zeri himself had proposed to attribute to Donato De’ Bardi, while current critics tend mainly to refer the panel to Ambrogio Bergognone. Also represented in the exhibition, with works of great quality and importance, Johannes Hispanus, a singular and interesting itinerant painter, Spanish by origin but long active in Italy between the end of the 15th century and the first decades of the 16th century, first in Florence, in Perugino’s workshop, then in Rome, in the Vatican workshops of Alexander VI Borgia, then in Venice and in various centers of the Po Valley (between Cremona and Ferrara), before concluding his periplo through the Italian peninsula in the Marche region, which became, in and around Macerata, his final home and where he died. To Johannes Hispanus, Federico Zeri dedicated a fundamental rediscovery article in 1948 that revolved around the magnificent Deposition from a private collection, datable to around 1510 and signed, an essential starting point for the reconstruction of the catalog of his works, which is being presented to the public for the first time in Italy. Next to the Deposition will be presented two other canvases by the author never before exhibited to the public depicting the story of Cimone and Efigenia, from Boccaccio’s famous novella.

The paintings on display are meant to represent the breadth of Zeri’s interests and expertise as a connoisseur and art historian, across the different schools of central and northern Italy and the various eras, from the 14th to the 18th century (artists on display include Andrea Previtali, Giovanni Battista Moroni, Giulio Cesare Procaccini and Alessandro Magnasco). The exhibition also illustrates the considerable contribution and impetus given by the scholar to the creation of important collections, and to the consolidation of a collecting taste marked by the appreciation of works of art of refined quality and in an excellent state of preservation, executed by the many artists who contribute to composing the variegated mosaic of Italian art history. In the exhibition, in addition to an in-depth video, a selection of lectures given by Federico Zeri at various important Italian institutions during the last years of his life and which have also become a “cult” for the general public will be screened.

Ercole de' Roberti, Male Portrait in Profile (Portrait of Hannibal II Bentivoglio?), recto ( panel, 47 × 36.2 cm; Milan, private collection)
Ercole de’ Roberti, Male Portrait in Profile (Portrait of Hannibal II Bentivoglio?), recto (panel, 47 × 36.2 cm; Milan, private collection)
Johannes Hispanus, Story of Cimon and Efigenia (from Boccaccio's novella): meeting of Cimon and Efigenia (c. 1495; oil on canvas, 106 x 140.5 cm; London, Private Collection)
Johannes Hispanus, History of Cimone and Efigenia (from Boccaccio’s novella): meeting of Cimone and Efigenia (c. 1495; oil on canvas, 106 Ă? 140.5 cm; London, Private Collection)
Giovanni De Vecchi, Pieta (c. 1590; oil on boxwood panel, 48 x 32 cm; Milan, Museo Poldi Pezzoli, legato Federico Zeri 1998, inv. 4707)
Giovanni De Vecchi, Pieta (c. 1590; oil on boxwood panel, 48 x 32 cm; Milan, Museo Poldi Pezzoli, legato Federico Zeri 1998, inv. 4707)
Hartford Still Life Master and Carlo Saraceni, Allegory of Spring (pre-1607; oil on canvas, 74.5 x 97.5 cm; Private collection)
Master of the Hartford Still Life and Carlo Saraceni, Allegory of Spring (before 1607; oil on canvas, 74.5 x 97.5 cm; Private collection)
Donato de' Bardi, Saint Ambrose (c. 1445-1450; 115.2 x 45.2 cm; Private collection)
Donato de’ Bardi, Saint Ambrose (c. 1445-1450; 115.2 x 45.2 cm; Private collection)

The installation, curated by Sistemamanifesto, under the supervision of architect Beppe Finessi, investigates the relationship between space and memory, a theme akin to Federico Zeri, who had an exceptional visual memory. The project is intended to be a tool to facilitate memorization of the works on display and their arrangement, inviting visitors to trace Zeri’s studies. The museum’s exhibition rooms have been divided into regular, successive and symmetrical compartments, as the rhetorical treatises of classical antiquity suggested in order to structure memories effectively; rules that Zeri also seems to have been inspired by for the arrangement of the library and photo library in his Villa at Mentana. This enfilade allows a division of the paintings into thematic nuclei. Catalog edited by Silvana Editoriale, with texts and essays by Andrea Di Lorenzo, Andrea Bacchi, Mauro Natale, Annalisa Zanni, Alessandra Mottola Molfino, and Renzo Zorzi, and scientific files on the works on display. Graphics by architect Salvatore Gregorietti. Various collateral activities will be organized throughout the duration of the exhibition: guided tours by appointment for different types of audiences, including the most frail: tours held by deaf mediators in LIS (Italian Sign Language) or for the elderly; educational itineraries for schools and children; and a series of lectures on the themes of the exhibition entrusted to specialists in the topics addressed. In addition, thanks to the support of Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte, the workshop, dedicated to adults and children, Federico Zeri, is almost always gold, will be held to discover the techniques of gold background and gilding, which fascinated Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli first and Federico Zeri later.

“It is a relationship of friendship, trust and mutual esteem,” says Annalisa Zanni, director of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, "that which linked the Museum and then-director Alessandra Mottola Molfino to Federico Zeri. I remember his commitment to the fundraising campaign Una dote per il Poldi Pezzoli, the loan of an important nucleus of sculptures from his collection in 1989 for the creation of the exhibition dedicated to him Il conoscitore d’arte, and finally the bequest of two paintings from his collection. Zeri knew the museum well, he loved the quality of its works but also its management, and this exhibition is meant to be our tribute to him as a scholar but also as a testimony to his strong civic commitment to the protection of Italy’s artistic heritage."

The communication of the exhibition will also be accompanied by a digital project called #DigitareZeri that will allow people to learn more about the figure and research of Federico Zeri and to learn more about some of the contents of the exhibition through the Museum’s social channels. The exhibition is among the initiatives organized by the National Committee for the celebrations of the centenary of Federico Zeri’s birth. The National Committee is joined, under the aegis and patronage of the MIC-Ministry of Culture-in addition to the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, the Zeri Foundation of Bologna, the Carrara Academy of Bergamo and the Vatican Museums. Under the patronage of: European Commission (Italian Section), Ministry of Culture, Lombardy Region, Metropolitan City of Milan and Municipality of Milan. Media partner: Grandi Stazioni Retail. Technical sponsors: BIG Broker Insurance Group/CiaccioArte, Mida Ticket, Mitsubishi Electric Climatization and UniFor. In collaboration with: Abbonamento Musei Lombardia, Associazione Amici del Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Club del Restauro del Museo Poldi Pezzoli and Fondazione Federico Zeri. All information can be found on the Poldi Pezzoli Museum website.

Milan, an exhibition recounts Federico Zeri on the centenary of his birth
Milan, an exhibition recounts Federico Zeri on the centenary of his birth


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