Sharing Our Italian Treasures

September 23, 2016
Index Magazine

Sharing Our Italian Treasures

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Saint Longinus, c. 1630–31. Terracotta with gilding over gesso. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing and Friends of the Fogg Art Museum Funds, 1937.51.

The Harvard Art Museums boast a vast collection of Italian and Italianate objects. Now highlights have been showcased on a website produced by the Italian Consulate.

Italian Treasures in the U.S. is a searchable online database of American museums with works of art from Italy. More than 40 works from the Harvard Art Museums collections are featured, including objects by Bernini, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Canaletto. While many of the works were produced during the Renaissance, there are also a few ancient examples, as well as objects from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Danielle Carrabino, associate research curator in European art, and Isabella Donadio, permissions and image research coordinator, provided the Italian Consulate with a wide range of examples to choose from for the site. The consulate selected only the best-known Italian works among those made available for use.

These include the Decadrachm of Syracuse (5th century BCE), which is part of our ancient Sicilian coin collection, one of the largest such assemblages in the world. Saint Longinus (c. 1630–31), a gilded terracotta sculpture by Bernini, represents the museums’ unparalleled collection of bozzetti (clay sketches) by the artist.

Michelangelo’s drawing Goldsmith’s Designs and Other Studies (1521) is another notable work. Michelangelo burned many of his drawings at the end of his life, and likely wouldn’t have intended for Goldsmith’s Designs to be publicly accessible today. However, “it’s perfect for our collection because it’s great for teaching,” Carrabino said. “It shows that drawing doesn’t always result in a finished work of art, but it can be a place for artists to explore their ideas.”

Carrabino said she was pleased that the Italian Treasures site would serve as a virtual introduction to the Harvard Art Museums. The formidable Italian collection is a testament to the foresight and generosity of a number of important benefactors, including famed art historian Bernard Berenson and Fogg Museum associate director Paul J. Sachs, she said. Carrabino encouraged users of Italian Treasures in the U.S. to visit the museums in person to experience even more Italian art.

“We have a lot of the big names,” Carrabino said, “but we also have some of the names that aren’t as well known, and that’s led to great research, as well as new opportunities for teaching and learning."