New exhibition at the Art Gallery of WA captures Italian art at its finest

The Palazzo Corsini in Florence is home to one of the most amazing collections of artwork

WORLD War II was raging in Europe in 1944 when brave Italian woman Princess Elena Corsini smuggled from Florence priceless paintings belonging to her family. She hid some paintings from the Germans in the countryside and, when peace came, the works were returned to their rightful place inside the family home the magnificent Palazzo Corsini on the banks of the Arno river.

Thanks to Elena Corsini’s bravery, a new generation has the opportunity to view the works from the esteemed Corsini collection at the Art Gallery of WA’s next international exhibition, A Window on Italy-The Corsini
Collection: Masterpieces from Florence which opened last month and runs until 18 June.

Historical and modern art curator Melissa Harpley, who visited Florence last year and spent several days with the Corsini family, says her visit was a fantastic opportunity to meet the family, “They were delightful, excited about the collection, passionate and proud of it,” she says.

“It was also terrific to see the works in the flesh so to speak, in the home where they normally live and are on display in the Palazzo Corsini overlooking the Arno River. Most of the collection was saved during World War II and hidden away by Princess Elena Corsini, an extraordinary brave woman.”

Towards the end of World War II the German army was retreating through Italy. The Corsini family was aware the German army had been looting artworks along the way so Princess Elena worked with some of her staff to hide as much of the collection as they could to try and preserve it. Some works were hidden in a crypt in a church in Florence, and others were loaded onto a truck and driven to one of the family’s country properties.

Princess Elena instructed that a false wall be built to hide the artworks. The Germans arrived, noticed the false wall and one officer – thinking there might be people behind it – shot at it. Luckily, the only work damaged was the painting of the family saint, Saint Andrea Corsini and this work is included in the Perth exhibition. The family decided not to have the work conserved so that bullet hole is still visible.

“People will find that quite a moving experience,” Melissa Harpley said. It is the first time 74 works from the Corsini collection have left Florence though individual works have been lent to different exhibitions. The collection tells many stories; the history of Italian art and the fascinating story of the Corsini family themselves told through the exhibition and the collection.”

The Corsini family came into prominence in Italy in the 13th century and occupied various professions. One of the Corsinis was the Pope Clement X11. The Corsini princes were among the most important and influential families in central Italy from the Middle Ages to the 17th century.

Melissa Harpley says the collection features paintings from Italian artists such as Botticelli, Pontormo, Tintoretto and Caravaggio and is rich in Italian paintings from the Renaissance and Baroque period with the subjects of the paintings covering religious stories, portraits and mythological scenes.

Decorative objects, furniture, costumes, works on paper, along with a lavish dining room setting for six, portray the life of the Corsini family and bring the ambience of Palazzo Corsini to Perth. Highlights include Madonna with Child and Six Angels by Botticelli and the Caravaggio portait of Maffeo Barberini.

“The exhibition is something the Corsini family has been thinking about for a while,” says Melissa Harpley. “It is a collaboration between Mary Kisler, senior curator at New Zealand’s Auckland Art Gallery, who was doing some work in Florence and met the Corsini family and our director Stefano Carboni.”

“The exhibition presents an exquisite and absorbing window into Italian art and history,” says Mr Carboni. “Through their patronage of the arts over hundreds of year, the Corsini family has acquired and safe-kept a magnificent collection of works, rarely seen outside Florence.

“The works not only tell the story of Florence and Italian art over the centuries but also reveal the history of an extraordinary Florentine family.”

A personal touch at the exhibition opening was the presence of Corsini family members Countess Livia Branca and Countess Elisabetta Minutoli who came to Perth from Italy especially for the opening, along with David Gramazio, of exhibition partner Monde Mostre.

Win Win Win

Thanks to the Art Gallery we have five double passes to giveaway to the Corsini Collection.

To be in the draw simply fill in the form below with Corsini in the subject line or write to Corsini Competition C/- Have a Go News PO Box 1042, West Leederville 6901.

Closes 31/3/18.

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