A week ago I traveled via Rome to Genoa, Italy where I accompanied two of our European paintings, an 1888 Claude Monet view of The Mediterranean and a 1923 Chaim Soutine Landscape at Cagnes. Both paintings are part of the exhibition organized by Linea d’ombra for the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, Columbus’s Sister-City, titledThe Mediterranean: From Courbet to Monet to Matisse.
The exhibition opened on November 27 and will extend through May 1, 2011. Incidentally, most museums now require a staff member to accompany paintings lent internationally; this applies nearly world-wide. In my duties as courier, in Chicago I watched as both crated works were put on pallets in Alitalia’s air freight terminal and several hours later, from the passenger waiting area, I observed the freight pallets being loaded onto the Boeing 767, which flew to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport. Thankfully, I flew in the passenger compartment on a half-full flight. Serving as a courier involves a great deal of waiting and Rome’s airport, especially its cargo terminal, was my first long spell waiting; waiting for Italian customs and Alitalia’s cargo crew to bring the pallet to the appointed spot to be unloaded. On the same flight was the Registrar from the Joslyn Museum of Art in Omaha, Nebraska, which had lent a large Monet to the same exhibition. Finally, after a few dicey moments with a new customs official, who seemed to be completely unaware of the international shipment of artwork for exhibitions as well as the duties of a courier (accompagnatorein Italian), the crated paintings were loaded into an unmarked van and we set off in a follow car on the six hour drive to Genoa. In between dozing off and on, pit stops at the Italian equivalent of Speedway, numerous tunnels and falling darkness and rain, we arrived in Genoa around 7:30 PM. Once our crated pictures had been safely locked away in the galleries at the Palazzo Ducale, it was off to the hotel, a hot shower, change of clothes, and a delicious meal of fettuccine with monk fish and artichokes at the hotel’s very good restaurant.
The next day was a free day since our crated paintings were required to acclimatize for at least 24 hours in their new locations. Although It was raining, I set out with the Joslyn’s Registrar to explore the town and our first stop was the Jesuit church (the Gesù) near the Palazzo Ducale. Someone later told me that this church is the most important Baroque (17th century) church outside Rome and I can well believe it. Every surface of the interior is covered with multi-colored marble mosaic or gilt. And the altarpieces, all recently restored, are magnificent masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens, Simon Vouet, and Domenico Cresti, called Il Passignano. Our next stop was the Palazzo Bianco and the Palazzo Rosso, two city museums on the Strada Nuova (now the Via Garibaldi) famed for their Renaissance and Baroque masterworks. But surprises were in store even there. The museums also contained a marble statue by the neoclassical artist Antonio Canova as well as two violins owned by Niccolò Paganini, who was born in Genoa, along with a collection of medals and awards the famous violinist garnered over his lifetime. The one violin Paganini was called “the cannon” because of the great burst of music he could bring from it. After the museums, we explored the small streets (called vico) that lead down towards Genoa’s old port. Suffice it to say, it was interesting to see the narrow old streets and the microcosm of life there that appears to have changed little in the last several hundred years. In the old port, we walked by the aquarium and shopping mall created for the 2004 Capital of Culture exposition. After winding our way back to the centrally located hotel, I rested and later had what would be a very early 7:30 PM dinner with an old graduate school colleague, Timothy Standring, Curator of European art at the Denver Art Museum, who was in Genoa conducting on-going research on the Genoese artist Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. The dinner at Vico Palla, a well-known restaurant in the old port district, was fantastic—lots of fish, some raw and some cooked, pasta and pesto (a Genoese speciailty), and great house wine.
My final full day in Genoa began with the uncrating of our two paintings at the Palazzo Duccale. All went smoothly and there were no problems to be found—a courier’s dream. After that I had a meeting with Piero Boccardo, the Director of the Palazzo Bianco to discuss bringing a major loan to Columbus as a way of celebrating Genoa and Columbus’s Sister-City relationship and to help celebrate Columbus’s 2012 Bicentennial. The meeting was fruitful and I am sure to write more about this in time. After the meeting, Raffaella Besta, the museum’s Curator gave me tour of the Palazzo Rosso along with a stop on the rooftop observation deck, which afforded magnificent panoramic views of the city. Fortunately it was a beautiful day well-suited for picture taking. Later in the day I trekked up to the principle railway station where a white marble statue of Christopher Columbus sits looking westward towards the port. And later that evening while out walking with the Joslyn’s Registrar, we happened across two seemingly incongruous sights, the house of Christopher Columbus, now a national shrine, facing a sea of parked Vespas! In Genoa, as in much of Europe, old and new live side-by-side. Although I had to leave the next day for a rather grueling twenty-four hour multi-staged flight back to Ohio, I was grateful for having had the opportunity to visit Genoa, a city I look forward to visiting again.
Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.
Dominique H. Vasseur
CMA Curator of European Art