Favaretto, I. - Menegazzi, A.: Un museo di antichità nella Padova del Cinquecento. La raccolta di Marco Mantova Benavides all’Università di Padova. pp. X-227 di testo, Tavv. LXXVIII B/N fuori testo, «Collezioni e Musei Archeologici del Veneto», 47, ISBN 978-88-7689-278-3, 170 €
(Giorgio Bretschneider Editore, Roma 2013)
Compte rendu par Francois Dupuigrenet Desroussilles, Florida State University

Nombre de mots : 1036 mots
Publié en ligne le 2014-06-19
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
Lien: http://histara.sorbonne.fr/cr.php?cr=2098
Lien pour commander ce livre


          The volume under review marks the fortieth anniversary of the renowned series Collezione e musei archeologici del Veneto launched in 1973 under the aegis of Gustavo Traversari, thanks to which the Veneto region is foremost among Italian regions for its covering of antique collection. It also signals the relaunching of a series that had turned into a sleeping beauty since 2001 because of the lack of support of the Veneto political authorities, with just two publications in 2009 and 2012.[1] This would be cause enough for rejoicing, but the editor in chief of the Collezione Luigi Sperti, a professor at Ca’Foscari University in Venice where he teaches archeology and the history of Greek and Roman art, made the bold decision to detract from the tried and proved  format of the 46 preceding volumes that presented inventories of specific and coherent collections of antique artifacts: landmarks in the series were, for example, Gustavo Traversari’s initial volume Sculture del V-VI secolo a C. del Museo Archeologico di Venezia (1973) or Girolamo Zampieri’s Ceramica greca, etrusca ed italiota del Museo civico di Padova (1991). He responded instead to the request of two scholars from Padua university, Irene Favaretto and Alessandra Menegazzi, who with the help of a group of twelve young researchers produced a census of the collection of Marco Mantova Benavides (1489-1582), now hosted in the Museo di scienze archeologiche e d’arte of the Liviano building of the University of Padua, where Greek and Roman antiquities share the limelight with original sixteenth century art and modern copies.


          Marco Mantova Benavides was an eminent member of Padua’s urban aristocracy and a practicing lawyer renowned for his role as conciliator on behalf of clients that could be poor widows as well as the duke of Urbino or the grand-duke of Florence. But he was mainly famous as a professor of civil and canon law in the university of Padua where he taught from 1515 until his death, during the heyday of the only university in the Venetian Republic where the tolerant libertas Patavina attracted students from all over religiously divided Europe. Despite numerous attempts to lure him to teach in Rome or Bologne, Mantova Benavides remained faithful to his hometown and to the Venetian state all through a distinguished career that owned him the title of count palatine bestowed by the emperor Charles V and the pope Pius IV, one of his former pupils. Apart from his considerable production in the field of law, his literary achievements, both in Latin and in the vernacular, were comparable only to those of his colleague from Pavia Andrea Alciato, like him an eminent humanist, and he was made a member of the Paduan academies of the Infiammati and the Elevati. Pietro Bembo or Pietro Aretino were his friends. Even Erasmus of Rotterdam lavished praise on the Paduan lawyer.


          In the family house in Sant’Urbano, then in the palace that he built in via Porciglia near the monastery of the Eremitani, decorated by the painter Domenico Campagnola and the sculptor Bartolomeo Ammanati, this die-hard bachelor amassed over fifty years a fine library and one of the most famous collections of his time, a Kunst und Wunderkammer that was as famous for his Greek coins as for its Renaissance bronze statues, its musical instruments or its fossils and naturalia, complete with a crocodile hanging from the ceiling. Marc’Antonio Michiel gave a brief description of it in his Notizia d’opere di disegno as early as 1537, mentioning a Saint Jerome in the desert by Raphael and numerous antique statuettes, but the main source that documents the collection is the inventory written by his grand-son Andrea Mantova Benavides in 1695, with the hope that his heirs would keep it intact. This was not to happen as Andrea’s son Gaspare sold about a third of the collection to the naturalist Antonio Vallisneri whose heirs bequeathed it to the university in 1730, whereas the coins and renaissance bronzes were sold to the abbot Ascanio Varese, who had amassed in the monastery of San Giovanni di Verdara a considerable art collection that was dispersed after the suppression of the convent in 1783 between the Biblioteca Marciana, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale and the Ca’d’Oro in Venice. Most of the musical instruments were sold to Tommaso degli Obizzi whose collection was in turn bought by the Habsburgs and is now in Vienna.


          This tormented history, clearly but maybe too briefly presented in the introduction written by Irene Favaretto, explains why the inventory under review offers only a partial view of the “galleria e museo” Benavides of Mantova, the one that was bought by Antonio Vallisneri and subsequently bequeathed to the university of Padua. Its five parts successively present in 140 precise and very readable entries its antique sculptures, its sculptures imitated from Antiquity, its renaissance sculptures, its antique ceramics and its sixteenth century vases. The last part of the book is dedicated to technical and organizational aspects of research about the collection with a very interesting account of the reorganization of its display in the Museo di scienze archeologiche e d’arte and precious analysis of the restoration work on the head of the Gattamelata statue and the identification of sculptures thanks to “archeometrics”.


          Even if one could have dreamt of a census of all Marco Benavides artifacts to have a full view of the collection, not only those still extant in Padua but those that are now dispersed in the whole world and also those whose existence is only known by the inventory of 1695, the work of the two editors and their collaborators is to be praised wholeheartedly as it is not only a major contribution to antique archeology because of the quality of the objects described – Greek sculpture in particular -  but also to sixteenth century art, sculpture mainly, and ultimately to the history of taste in a Paduan milieu still marked by the towering presence of Andrea Mantegna at the end of the Quattrocento

[1] Gemme dei civici musei d’arte di Verona, ed. G. Sena Chiesa, 2009 ; Elena Di Filippo Balestrazzi, Sculture romane del Museo archeologico nazionale Concordiese, 2012.