Asti: Palazzo Mazzetti

Interior of the Palazzo Mazzetti.

The stately Palazzo Mazzetti stands along the long Corso Vittorio Alfieri, named after the famous playwright and poet (1749-1803) who was born in Asti. The history of the palazzo goes back to the Middle Ages, but the current Palazzo Mazzetti is in essence an eighteenth-century building. It was remodelled in 1751-1752 by another scion of the Alfieri family, Benedetto (1699-1767), an uncle of Vittorio. The Palazzo Mazzetti currently houses the picture gallery or pinacoteca of Asti. This is where we bought our Smarticket, a ticket that gives access to this museum and several other museums in Asti. After buying the ticket we started exploring the pinacoteca. Medieval and Renaissance art are usually my favourites, but the Palazzo Mazzetti also has a great many beautiful works of art from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is of course impossible to discuss the entire museum collection, so I will confine myself to my ten personal favourites.

1. La Femme

This work by Giacomo Grosso (1860-1938) from 1895 was labelled as one of the top pieces in my travel guide. Grosso was an Italian painter, born in the vicinity of Turin, but he gained much of his experience in the French art world. Perhaps his French experiences can help explain the French name of the painting. Unfortunately I have not been able to establish who the woman in the painting is. She is in any case neatly dressed, while Grosso certainly liked a bit of nudity every now and then. His painting Il supremo convegno (now lost) even caused a scandal at the 1895 Venice Biennale.

La Femme – Giacomo Grosso.

2. Christ and the apostles on the shores of the river Borbore

This work from ca. 1671 is a coproduction by father and son Laveglia. Pietro Laveglia (1625-1675) was originally from Paris, while his son Giovanni Antonio Laveglia (1653-after 1710) was born in Italy. The Borbore is a river that runs past Asti, a tributary of the river Tanaro. The best part of the painting is its background. There we can see what Asti must have looked like in the seventeenth century. The walled town used to have about 120 towers. Unfortunately only about ten of these remain today. In this respect Asti can be compared to Bologna.

Christ and the apostles on the shores of the river Borbore – father and son Laveglia.

3. Plan of Asti in the thirteenth century

This plan on the wall of the Sala degli Stemmi matches perfectly with the painting made by father and son Laveglia. I cannot say whether the plan reliably depicts Asti as it was in the second half of the thirteenth century (a claim we read above the plan), but several buildings are instantly recognisable. See for instance the cathedral of the town on the left and the collegiate church of San Secondo on the right. In the upper part of the plan the Castelvecchio has been depicted, which is regretfully no longer there. The plan was made in 1937 by the local painter Ottavio Baussano (1898-1970).

Plan of Asti in the thirteenth century.

4. Spes nostra salve

This is a large work by the painter Lorenzo Delleani (1840-1908), who was famous for his landscapes. The official name of the painting is Pellegrinaggio ad Oropa, with Oropa being a famous Marian shrine in Piemonte. “Spes nostra salve” means “hail, our hope”, and is part of a Marian hymn. In the foreground local farming women and a child are watching as a group of pilgrims passes by. In the background the sanctuary is already visible.

Spes nostra salve – Lorenzo Delleani.

5. Ruth

Ruth – Francesco Hayez.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a work by the Romantic painter Francesco Hayez (1791-1882) in this museum. His watercolour of the Biblical figure of Ruth from the eponymous Book is tiny, only 34 by 25 centimetres, but it is very beautiful. A larger version of Ruth, an oil painting, can be found in the Musei Civici in Bologna. Hayez painted the larger work in 1853 and the watercolour a little later. The Museum of John Paul II Collection in Warsaw, Poland, also claims to possess a version of Ruth painted by Hayez. In this version her breasts are covered, which Pope John Paul II would no doubt have appreciated. It should, however, be noted that the Warsaw museum has been accused of having a number of forgeries on display.

6. Retreat from Paris

Ritirata da Parigi, made in 1872, is a sombre painting by Carlo Nogaro (1837-1931) from Asti. The theme of the painting is the Franco-German war of 1870-1871 and the siege of Paris that took place during that war. Nogaro personally experienced the war, as he had moved to Paris in 1866 and worked on the Italian ambulances that rendered aid to the wounded. With some justification the painter included his self-portrait in the work. The grey landscape that we see is that of Noisy-le-Sec east of Paris. The Palazzo Mazzetti also has another work by Nogaro, Sull’Arno, which is a lot more cheerful and colourful, but perhaps less impressive just because of that.

Retreat from Paris – Carlo Nogaro.

7. Il Trasteverino

Of course I must also mention another painter from Asti in this post, i.e. Michelangelo Pittatore (1825-1903). A Trasteverino is someone who lives in the Roman rione (district) of Trastevere, which is situated on the other side of the river Tiber. The Trasteverino we see in Asti is a fairly young man with a hat and earring, a twinkle in his eyes and a fine set of teeth under a well-kempt moustache. The man is having a meal and is giving the painter a slightly cheeky look. Somehow the painting reminded me of the Bean eater by Annibale Carracci from the sixteenth century, while the use of claire-obscure is highly reminiscent of the work of Caravaggio.

Il Trasteverino – Michelangelo Pittatore.

8. Portrait of Corrado Cagli

The portrait of Corrado Cagli (1910-1976) was painted in 1956 by Renato Guttuso (1912-1987), the most famous Sicilian painter of the twentieth century. His best-known work is probably Vucciria, a painting of the eponymous market in Palermo. That painting can obviously not be admired in Asti, but the portrait of Corrado Cagli is also worth a look. Cagli himself was a painter as well and the two men were good friends. The portrait was donated to the Palazzo Mazzetti in 1978 by Francesco (Franco) Muzzi, who administered Cagli’s archive.

Portrait of Corrado Cagli – Renato Guttuso.

9. Plaster crucifix

A couple of days before our visit to Asti we had visited the Museo Civico in Casale Monferrato. Part of that museum is the Gipsoteca Bistolfi, which possesses more works of the sculptor Leonardo Bistolfi (1859-1933) than any other museum in the world. Because of our experience in Casale we immediately recognised the plaster crucifix in the Palazzo Mazzetti as a work of Bistolfi. The crucifix dates from 1901. Bistolfi made a similar crucifix, but this time in bronze and many times larger, for the mausoleum of the Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863-1938) in Gardone Riviera.

Crucifix – Leonardo Bistolfi.

10. The Palazzo Mazzetti itself

After my visit I could only conclude that the Palazzo Mazzetti is the ideal accommodation for this collection of paintings. The rooms of the palazzo are beautifully decorated, with (often gilded) stucco, painted ceilings, and paintings and sculptures of members of the Mazzetti family. One of the rooms is dedicated to the work of the cabinetmaker, sculptor and woodcarver Giuseppe Maria Bonzanigo (1745-1820), who was born in Asti.

Interior of the Palazzo Mazzetti.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.