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Italy Lends the Getty a Bounty of Berninis
ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
The New York Times 02/02/2008

ROME — A major loan exhibition of Bernini’s sculptures, paintings and drawings that is also described as the first full viewing of this artist’s portrait busts is headed for the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles this summer.

Including major loans from Italian museums, the exhibition underlines the benefits gained by the Getty from its recent handover of several dozen Greek antiquities that Italy asserted had been looted from its ancient archaeological sites.

When talks for the return of the artifacts stalled last year, Italy threatened to impose a cultural embargo against the museum. “There was a moment last summer when we really were on standby,” said Catherine Hess, an associate curator of sculpture and decorative arts at the Getty who helped organize the exhibition. “No one knew what would happen if the cultural embargo went through.” Finally, an accord for the restitution of 40 artifacts was brokered in August.

Among the exceptional loans for the Bernini show is a sensual bust of Costanza Bonarelli, the wife of one of Bernini’s assistants. (She became romantically involved with Bernini as well as with his younger brother — a love triangle that became so divisive, archival evidence suggests, that Bernini slashed her face, and Pope Urban VIII was asked to intervene).

The portrait, which dates from around 1637, was lent by the National Museum of the Bargello in Florence and is considered one of Bernini’s finest. “Perhaps in normal times we would not have lent it,” said Cristina Acidini, who oversees state museums in Florence. But given that the Getty asked to borrow it shortly after it reached its pact with the Italian Culture Ministry, “it seemed natural that we grant the loan.”

The ministry had pledged to help the museum secure loans as part of the restitution accord. “The spirit of the agreement is really about cultural cooperation,” said Daniel Berger, a former employee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York who is now a consultant at the Italian Culture Ministry and was involved in the negotiations. “It entails a two-way street, which also promotes Italian culture abroad.”

Loans from the National Gallery at Palazzo Barberini in Rome for a show of 16th-century drawings by Federico and Taddeo Zuccaro also hung in the balance during the long negotiations, but that exhibition opened at the Getty in October.

The Bernini show, “Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture,” which opens on Aug. 5 and is to travel in November to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, is said to be the largest assemblage of Bernini portraits under one roof, among them a painting, around 20 busts in marble and bronze and over half of 20 known portrait drawings by the artist. (The list is not yet final.)

Of the roughly 60 works in the exhibition, about a third are from Italy, from both public and private collections. “It’s in our interest to work with the Getty, and they with us; we have many things in common,” said Angela Negro, a curator at the Palazzo Barberini, which is lending three works — Bernini portraits of Popes Urban VIII and Clement X and a 1634 statue of a dwarf by the Flemish artist François Duquesnoy.

Bernini enjoyed the lavish patronage of several popes and aristocrats in 17th-century Rome, still manifest today in the abundance of palazzos and public sculptures by this Baroque artist in the heart of the city.

The exhibition also includes pieces by contemporaries like Pietro da Cortona, Alessandro Algardi, Andrea Sacchi and Guido Reni and gives the Getty the chance to show off its own Italian Baroque holdings, including paintings by Guercino and Domenico Fetti. There is also a bust of a woman by a Bernini assistant, Giuliano Finelli, that once belonged to William Randolph Hearst and was bought by the Getty in 2000.

After nearly three years of negotiations that led to the return of artifacts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Princeton University Art Museum; and the private New York collector Shelby White, there is a sense here that Italian cultural officials are ready to turn over a new leaf (even as they pursue works in other American and European collections).

Among the other major Italian loans to American museums in recent months are three gilt relief panels from Ghiberti’s famous doors for the Baptistry in Florence, which are traveling around the United States and were shown at the Met from Oct. 30 to Jan. 13.

“No museum in the world can contemplate not working with Italy because of its immense cultural patrimony,” Mr. Berger said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/02/arts/design/02bern.html?scp=2&sq=italy&st=nyt


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