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Titian, Tiepolo and Canaletto: Venetian paintings from Vittorio Cini’s collection go on show for the first time

The businessman and politician’s Venice-based Fondazione Cini is world-famous, but his own art collection is only just being rediscovered

For the first time ever, part of the Italian industrialist and art patron Vittorio Cini’s collection of Venetian art will go on show to the public—a veritable who’s who of the Venice’s greatest artists, including Titian, Lorenzo Lotto, Francesco Guardi, Canaletto and Gianbattista Tiepolo. Works by less internationally known but historically important artists such as Carlo Crivelli, Cima da Conegliano and Bartolomeo Montagna, will also go on show at Palazzo Cini, Vittorio Cini’s former residence in Dorsoduro, from 8 April to 15 November. 

Bartolomeo Montagna, Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Francis (around 1485)

Cini’s name and legacy looms large over Venice because of the Fondazione Cini, the non-profit cultural organisation headquartered in the former Benedictine monasteries of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, across the water from the Doge’s palace. The life of its founder and patron, however, is less familiar, and the same can be said of his personal collection of Italian art, much of which has been dispersed over the years as it made its way down various branches of the family tree after he died in 1977.

Up until now, the public has only ever had access to his collection of art from Tuscany and Ferrara, which has been hanging at Palazzo Cini since 2014, when the Fondazione Cini restored and reopened the residence. The coming together of Cini’s Venetian collection, however, is a point of pride for the city as well as an opportunity for fresh academic research.

“Gathering these works together has been difficult and we are particularly proud of our efforts. You only would have seen these paintings if you had been invited to Cini’s house while he was still alive—now these paintings have come home,” says the show’s curator Luca Massimo Barbero, the director of the Fondazione Cini’s Institue of Art History and the associate curator at the nearby Peggy Guggenheim collection. He says that foreign academics have already made trips to Venice to study the works in the collection, which ranges from the 14th to the 18th centuries.

Standout Medieval and Renaissance works from the show include Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata (1440s), a striking late-Gothic work by Michele Giambono, and a large altarpiece by Bartolomeo Montagna, Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Francis (around 1485), whose style followed that of his predecessors Giovanni Bellini and Antonello da Messina.

Later works that are sure to generate interest include Titian’s Saint George Slaying the Dragon (1513-20), a work that had previously been attributed to Giorgione then to Palma Vecchio and then again to Giorgione, and two large-scale “capricci” (imaginary landscapes) by Canaletto, painted around 1722 in a much softer, looser style, shortly after he came back from Rome. “It’s not the Canaletto we know,” Barbero says, “and you can see elements of Roman classicism in both works.”

The show is supported by the Fondazione Cini’s partner Assicurazioni Generali.