The artistic estates of banking institutions were regarded as “private” for a long time. They were only occasionally shown to guests and scholars who visited their public-relations buildings. However, in recent years a new cultural attitude has led us to reflect on the delicate problem of how to manage the most remarkable artistic treasures with a view to public enjoyment.
The solution adopted by Intesa Sanpaolo is an experience which can be offered as an example to those who feel the civic responsibility of channeling a private initiative towards the enrichment of public knowledge and a shared cultural growth.
The project has involved the Bank’s historic headquarters of Leoni Montanari Palace in Vicenza. The building was transformed into the homonymous Galleries in 1999, in order to allow the public for the first time to visit their art treasures on a regular basis. The rooms of the baroque Palace – with their exuberant plastic and pictorial decoration on mythological themes – are now the home of a permanent exhibition of ancient Russian icons, which scholars regard as one of the most important in the West. A collection of paintings of the EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY PAINTINGS OF THE VENETO REGION was already on the site almost two decades ago.
The result of this matching is now a unique combination of collections which may seem unusual. It will not appear incongruous, however, to those who know the history and the culture of the Veneto Region. On the one hand, the art collection exhibited on the main floor is an expression of the last, splendid painting period of the Serenissima (the “Most Serene” Republic of Venice), here represented by some of its most characteristic genres. On the other, the collection of icons is an eloquent testimony of the deep relations, developed over the centuries, between Venice, its mainland territories, and the Byzantine and Slavonic Orient.
About one hundred and thirty icons are permanently exhibited on the main floor of Leoni Montanari Palace; this is a significant selection from almost five hundred works, which was curated by Banco Ambrosiano Veneto at the beginning of the 1990’s. The dispersion of such a precious artistic and spiritual patrimony has been avoided by acquiring a first group of tablets from a private collection, and then by purchasing well-chosen works at international auctions.
A special warehouse for the conservation of the remaining works has been set up in the rooms annexed to the Palace, open to scholars and art-lovers, and equipped with the most up-to-date technology. There is also a restoration laboratory for the preservation and recovery of deteriorated pieces, and a research library for historical, exegetical, and iconographic studies.
The Galleries of Leoni Montanari Palace offer regular and diverse temporary exhibitions, host scholarly conferences, and organize didactic activities for local elementary, junior, and high schools. It will not be exaggerated to claim that they are outstanding facilitators for the cultural and spiritual meeting of the East and the West.