LOVERE – Tadini Academy


Count Luigi Tadini (1745-1829) is a fine example of an aristocrat raised during the Lombardy Enlightenment whose interests embraced many fields of knowledge, art and natural enquiry. An  emblematic summary of his thought is given by the dedicatory inscription he had mounted on the entrance stairway to the gallery: A. MDCCCXXVI / LITTERIS ARTIBUS NATURAE / DICATUM. 

The count’s cultural project included the opening in Lovere of a museum in which he put on public display his private collections, as well as schools of music and drawing, important contributions to the training of young people as musicians, painters, industrial designers and craftsmen. Over time this project has become firmly established: the museum, recognised by the Lombardy Regional Authority, constitutes one of Lombardy’s principal galleries and played an important role in the history of collecting; the music and drawing schools are still active, offering pupils the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of artwork and music; the high standard of the concert season and musical studies are widely recognised. The Tadini Academy Gallery is housed in a Neoclassical mansion overlooking the lake, that was built (in 1821 to 1826) by Count Luigi, who in 1827 transferred there the paintings and other art objects that had up to then been kept in his residence in Crema, and opened to the public what may be considered the oldest 19th century museum in Lombardy after the Brera Gallery in Milan. At the heart of the collection are the terracotta sketch of Religion and the Stele Tadini, works by Antonio Canova, with whom Count Tadini had a close relationship (as demonstrated by their prolific written correspondence). To these may be added numerous paintings, including masterpieces by Jacopo Bellini, Paris Bordon, Fra Galgario and Pitocchetto; a collection of small Renaissance bronzes; a collection of porcelain from Meissen, Sevres and Capodimonte and a historical library. The 19th century is represented by masterly works by Francesco Hayez and the sculptures of Giovanni Maria Benzoni, who began his artistic training at the Tadini Academy itself. 

The Antiquities Cabinet (or archaeological cabinet), improved by recent restoration work, is still laid out according to Count Luigi Tadini’s design. As one of the oldest in Lombardy – together with that established by Pier Vittorio Aldini in Pavia University – it is an important part of the history of archaeology in Italy. The theatre set designer Luigi Dell’Era, responsible for the decoration of all the rooms, painted on the walls subjects taken from pictures in Antichità di Ercolano esposte (Naples, 1757-1792), whereas the four inserts based on red figure vases reproduce examples from Serie di pitture copiate da celebri vasi antichi, detti volgarmente etruschi (Venice 1801); these works were purchased by Count Tadini and are still kept in the historical library. The decoration is an interesting example of erudite, historically-informed archaeological taste rather than strict adherence to Neoclassical canons.The collection on display, wide-ranging with regard to the origin of the objects, appears to be largely composed of purchases made by Count Tadini during his travels in Italy between 1793 and 1797, when he stayed in Rome and made several visits to Naples: this is confirmed by research into the pieces themselves. For example there are records of the purchase of a socketed axe in Calabria, whereas the Roman bronze stamps (signacula) from central Italy were either bought by the count during this trip or afterwards from the antiquities market. The three surviving examples (a fourth that is recorded in the inventory has gone missing) served to authenticate and certify; they have an upper holding ring and prominently inscribed letters, suggesting that they were for use on hard surfaces, such as papyrus. The most interesting stamp is that of the emperor Marcus Aurelius Commodus, who reigned from AD 180 to 192. The pottery too, though it has not been studied in detail, is mainly from southern Italy; it seems likely that it was purchased during a sojourn in the Kingdom of Naples. Example are bell kraters, an aryballos-shaped lekythos and skyphos in Apulian red figure ware dating to the 4th century BC; an epichysis and trefoil-spouted oinochoe in Gnathia pottery. There is also some Attic black figure ware (a 6th-5th century BC lekythos) and Corinthian pottery (aryballos, third quarter of the 6th century BC). The culture of the “Grand Tour” is documented by the rare travel chest belonging to Count Tadini on display in the library, as well as by 18th century material bought under the illusion that it was antique: two large column kraters and four cold-painted lekythoi. 

With regard to the Iron Age material, the dates of which it is difficult to summarize briefly, a recent study identified the bracelets as coming from central Italy and most of the brooches from south Italy. The presence of several finds which resemble pieces from northern Italy, or indeed the province of Bergamo, suggests that Luigi Tadini also received local objects. This is supported by the  testimony of Lady Wortley Montagu, who in a letter dated 3rd September 1750 tells her husband of the discovery of burials on the hills around Lovere and of subsequent attempts to purchase the finds. There remain to be studied group of small bronzes, largely Italic or Roman, and the marble sculptures, which are largely pieces that have been given the form of busts by means of restoration with stucco. As far as the coin collection is concerned, the nature of the material makes it impossible to deduce how the collections were assembled; these consist of Tadini’s bequest (1829) and the collection of Giovanni Battista Zitti (purchased in 1913 with the Banzolini Storti legacy). The latter is clearly illustrative in purpose, with a coin for every emperor placed in chronological order. An important cultural centre for Lake Iseo and Valle Camonica, the Tadini Academy functioned as a depository for fortuitous finds made throughout the 19th century. The objects found during the controlled excavations of the cemetery of Lovere conducted under the direction of the Lombardy Archaeology Superintendency in 1955 and 1973 were also conserved there. This material was later removed by the superintendency for conservation treatment funded by the ministry, in view of its future museum display in a fashion appropriate to the importance of the Lovere site.


Marco Albertario, Director of the Tadini Academy Gallery