The medieval town of Portogruaro is very popular with visitors because it has a beautiful old town centre where they can savour the sight of frescoed porticos, picturesque watermills, entrance towers and the town hall, which stands next to the large central square.
From late January until 04 April 2021, there is an extra reason to visit the town: Palazzo Vescovile will be hosting an exhibition of the Cavallini-Sgarbi collection, which features an assortment of works produced between the 15th and 19th centuries by various Italian and European artists. Enjoy a marvellous experience in refined, magnificently appointed surroundings as you admire the works on display. The sublime exhibition not only showcases the works of art but also reveals fun and fascinating stories and anecdotes about both the artists and the collector: the renowned Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi.
The collection is interesting not only because it contains some truly exceptional pieces such as The Madonna of the Pomegranate by Giuseppe Cesari (also known as Cavaliere d’Arpino), but also because of the strikingly avant-garde portrayals of women, some aspects of which feel almost contemporary today.
Two of them stand out in particular: the first is the Nursing Madonna by Antonio Cicognara from 1490. The painting shows the Virgin Mary not just breastfeeding in public, but also completely baring her breast. In many other works, her breast is covered by the head of the infant Jesus or her own hand, but here it is totally exposed. These images are old but modern at the same time. They are extremely natural, truthful depictions that come from the distant past but are still part of our world today.
The second compelling work is almost the opposite of the first: painted by Il Morazzone in 1622, it shows Saint Mary Magdalene being carried to heaven by angels and it is genuinely enthralling. We all know the story of Mary Magdalene: she was a repentant prostitute who became a disciple of the Lord and ascended to heaven in the company of angels after her conversion. As in many other paintings with this subject matter, here Mary Magdalene is accompanied by chubby cherubs and looking up towards heaven. However, in this case she is not only nude but conspicuously touching one of her breasts. All of this is underlined by the fact that one of the cherubs is watching with a wily look in his eyes. It is a subtly saucy and amusing scene that feels very contemporary and authentic. It might be a little unorthodox, but there is something quintessentially human about it.
The collector is keen to share how he and his family have embraced art, and therein lies the appeal of the collection. The exhibition comprehensively steps away from the “private” sphere and opens it all up to the public, so that everyone can bask in its glories.
The collection is presented in an ideal setting: Palazzo Vescovile in Portogruaro’s Renaissance town centre was once the home of the local bishops and it is now a cultural centre where visitors are encouraged to contemplate beautiful creations in wonderfully welcoming and comfortable surroundings.