Within Venice it was Molmenti who marked the shift from Romanticism to Realism, opening the way for those young artists who would then establish a name for themselves both within Italy and abroad.
Born in 1819 at Motta di Livenza, Molmenti had moved to Venice when still a young man. Like Ippolito Caffi, he was fascinated by the orientalism of the city, but he also worked in the areas of religious art and, above all, portraiture; his contemporaries, however, were impressed not only by the sharpness and accuracy of his portraits, but also by his realistic handling of light.
Appointed as a teacher at the Accademia di Belle Arti in 1851, he dedicated himself with great passion to his teaching duties, becoming the much loved maestro of many of the most famous artists produced by Venice (and elsewhere) during the second half of the nineteenth century: Giacomo Favretto, Luigi Nono, Tranquillo Cremona, Napoleone Nani and Ettore Tito, to name but a few.
A veritable magnum opus of the artist’s poetics, the large Death of Othello was painted for the aristocratic family of the Papadopoli in 1879. Donated to Ca’ Pesaro in the 1920s by the Banca Commerciale Italiana, it depicts the last scene of Shakespeare’s tragedy, when Othello realises that his jealousy has led him to kill an innocent Desdemona and runs himself through which his own sword.
The work has recently been returned to the museum after many years on loan to Palazzo Balbi; it was also exhibited in the Sale Apollinee of the re-built Fenice Opera House during the inauguration.
The three new donations arrive as a timely celebration of its return.
Two paintings, from Molmenti’s heirs, cast light on the painstaking preparation behind the finished work; they now hang beside other studies for the same painting that were already part of the Ca’ Pesaro collection: a Head of an Old Man, bequeathed by the artist’s grandson, Pompeo Gherardo Molmenti, and Emilia Fainting, acquired in 1961.
One of these new acquisitions provides evidence of how the artist originally envisaged the scene: Othello is shown, without a turban, in a more central position, whilst there is no small altar and the bed on which Emilia has fainted is in a different position (just as the young pages on the right are shown differently). The other study reveals that the artist had already worked a long way towards the final composition: Othello is shown to the left of the proscenium, whilst the Venetian nobleman (undoubtedly a self-portrait) is shown in the foreground, with the some changes to the right of the composition.
The third painting acquired through the generosity of the Venice International Foundation is a finely-worked oval portrait of Uncle Ferrari. This is shown here alongside two interesting works from the museum collection: a Portrait of a Lady and the Portrait of a Young Lady which was exhibited at the 1923 exhibition of Nineteenth-Century Venetian Portraiture by Nino Barbantini. One of the masterpieces of Venetian – and Italian – portraiture of the nineteenth century, the latter picture of a young woman with a fan is still a dazzling work, in which the artist’s sublime mastery of his medium enables him to capture the woman’s beauty, the fineness of the fabrics and the richness of the jewellery. Luchino Visconti is known to have drawn inspiration from this painting for the costumes of Principessa Salina in the film Il Gattopardo.
We would like to thank Molmenti’s heirs, living in both Great Britain and the USA, for their contribution to the setting-up of this small exhibition.