Giacomo Carrara (Bergamo, 1714-1796) 

Education and travels

Giacomo Carrara was born in Bergamo in 1714, the eldest child of Carlo Carrara and Anna Passi. His mother came from an aristocratic family of Bergamo, while his father was a landowner in the wool trade, who in 1690 had purchased the palazzo in Via Pignolo where Giacomo would spend his life.

Giacomo and his brother Francesco, who both attended the Collegio Mariano in Bergamo, went their separate ways, the former devoting himself to erudite studies, with a particular passion for art, while the latter chose a career in the Church in Rome, where he became a cardinal in 1785.

In 1755, the death of his father Carlo meant that Giacomo received his share of the inheritance, and he left for a long educational journey to Parma, Bologna, Rome, Naples, Florence, and Pisa. This gave him an opportunity to meet artists and scholars with whom he would stay in contact for the rest of his life, but also to start expanding his family’s art collection. When he returned, he married his cousin Marianna Passi, who always supported her husband’s studies and his insatiable passion for collecting.

 

The Pinacoteca and the School of Painting

Two closely related projects accompanied Giacomo throughout his life: the founding of a School of Painting and of a picture gallery for his art collection, which he would open to connoisseurs.

To achieve these aims, in 1766 he bought an old building in Via della Noca in Bergamo, which he radically transformed. This was the original neoclassical body of the building designed by Simone Elia that is now home to the Accademia Carrara.

When Carrara died in 1796, the catalogue drafted by Bartolomeo Borsetti recorded 1,275 paintings, as well as a significant but unquantified number of other paintings in the gallery and in the palazzo in Via Pignolo.

Of the paintings currently in the Museum, only 407 are known with certainty to have come from the Carrara Collection, and indeed in 1835, many of the paintings bequeathed by Giacomo were sold at auction. The whereabouts of only a few of the works sold are now known – in particular those that entered the collection of Guglielmo Lochis.

 

The Aesthetic Preferences of a Collector

The Pinacoteca reflected Carrara’s erudite tastes and offered a sophisticated overview of the Italian schools of painting, and in particular those of Lombardy and Veneto, ranging from the Renaissance to the artists of his day.

The paintings were displayed in eleven galleries, some of them along thematic lines, such as those devoted to writers, painters, historians, and poets. They were arranged in rows at various heights on the walls, with the works placed up against each other, and separated simply by a thin, gilded strip. The paintings were generally arranged by genre, but the main necessity was to show as many works as possible, as was commonly the practice when setting up a picture gallery.

 

More Than a Collector

Giacomo Carrara is best known as a collector. Less well known, but equally important, was his work as a client, patron, and champion of the arts, and especially his commitment as a scholar and as a man of culture. Giacomo gave Francesco Maria Tassi a lot of information, only some of which ended up in the drafting of the Vite de’ pittori, scultori e architetti bergamaschi (1793), and he also worked with Giovanni Gaetano Bottari on the Raccolta di lettere sulla pittura, scoltura ed architettura (1754-73) and with Francesco Bartoli on the first art guide to Bergamo (1774).