Federico Zeri (Roma 1921 – Mentana 1998)

The Personality

An art historian of international renown and heir to an illustrious tradition of connoisseurs, Federico Zeri was not just in a class of his own in his discipline, but also a true polymath, a brilliant writer, pungent controversialist and eccentric collector, and a leading figure in post-war Italian culture. He donated his library and photo library to the University of Bologna, and left a collection of forty-six sculptures to the Accademia Carrara, significantly enriching the Museum’s

collection.

 

Federico Zeri, abitazione, Mentana 1990

 

A Connoisseur on Two Continents

A pupil of Pietro Toesca, from a very early age Federico Zeri associated with the leading art historians of the time: from Bernard Berenson to Roberto Longhi, to Denis Mahon and John Pope-Hennessy. In 1948 he was appointed director of the Galleria Spada in Rome, but in the early 1950s he abandoned his various posts in the state sector and embarked on a career as an independent scholar.

With his talent as an art expert he soon made a name for himself among the antiquarians and collectors of the time, such as Vittorio Cini, John Paul Getty, Alessandro Contini Bonacossi and Daniel Wildenstein. He had particularly close dealings with the United States, where he lectured and assisted with the cataloguing of many museum collections, including that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Zeri’s interactions with the world of Italian culture, on the other hand, were somewhat troubled. An implacable critic of the damage inflicted upon the artistic and scenic heritage, he remained isolated in his own country.

[foto di Zeri con alcuni collezionisti o antiquari?]

 

Publications

Federico Zeri penned many articles for scientific journals, and these were later compiled in five volumes entitled Giorno per giorno nella pittura (1988-1998), but also in some memorable books. Pittura e Controriforma (1957) is a pioneering study of late Mannerism in Rome, while Due dipinti la filologia e un nome (1961) is a compelling investigation of an anonymous painter, the Master of the Barberini Panels, later identified as Fra Carnevale of Urbino. Zeri contributed to newspapers and weeklies for many years, and collected his occasional writings in highly successful books, which are still being reprinted today, such as Mai di traverso (1982) and Inchiostro variopinto (1985).

[foto di copertina di Due dipinti la filologia e un nome ed. 1961]

 

Zeri and the Accademia Carrara

Zeri’s dealings with the Accademia Carrara started in the early 1950s, when the first references to works in the Bergamo museum began to appear in his articles. The most remarkable discovery came in 1953 with the attribution of the Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist (inv. no. 58 AC 00204) to the young Altobello Melone. Zeri’s encounters with the works in the collection became less frequent in later decades, but his links with the Carrara were strengthened again during the research that led to the publication, in 1986, of the catalogue of the Giovanni Morelli Collection, together with the then director Francesco Rossi.

[foto della copertina del catalogo Morelli]

 

The Bequest to the Museum

The last episode in Zeri’s long friendship with the Museum was his decision – which he had made in the late 1980s but which he officially expressed in his will – to leave his own collection of sculptures to the Accademia Carrara, thus filling a void in the Museum’s collection.

The bequest became effective upon his death and, in the current arrangement of the Accademia Carrara collection, Federico Zeri’s sculptures are now in Gallery XXIV.

[foto della sala XXIV]