The intention was not to create a museum or a collection, but to reconstruct a lordly mansion of the mid 16th century in which were very disparate objects of the 15th and 16th centuries: paintings; tapestries; rugs; furniture; arms; ceramics; items of bronze, glass and iron; jewelry, and domestic utensils of every kind, all collected with careful study and returned to their original use.
Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi
With these words, Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi provided an overview of the rich typologies of the art and decorative arts he and his brother Fausto collected, and gave the motivation for the domestic focus of their collecting: recreating a lordly Renaissance home. Within this context, those very same antiques collected with such passion by the two brothers became objects of daily use, inserted into daily domestic life, thereby losing their connotation of historical objects.
Positioned as they were originally in the 19th century, the collections unfold from room to room. In the enchanting rooms of the house museum, old panel paintings by artists such as Giovanni Bellini, Bernardo Zenale and Giampietrino find their places next to gilded stucco coffers, wooden furnishings, and glass and ceramic pieces. Beyond their intrinsic value, each work is an integral piece of the coherent Bagatti Valsecchi project, and contributes to the spectacular whole.
Next to 15th and 16th century pieces, there are some exceptions to the rule, due perhaps to availability on the art market of the day, or – for pieces of particular quality – to the brothers’ understandable desire to not deny themselves works that, in any case, would have fit in well with the harmonious whole of the Bagatti Valsecchi home.
A few exceptions aside, the Bagatti Valsecchi collection of paintings is made up of 15th-16th century panel paintings that principally are from Tuscany, Lombardy and – though fewer – the area around Venice. The sumptuous domestic set up of the rooms flanks great artists’ works, of which the most notable is without a doubt Giovanni Bellini’s St. Justine. Works also are by minor masters, sometimes from provincial places such as around Como Lake or the valleys around Bergamo. The Neo-Renaissance frames harmonize the works with the rooms, and transform panels from dismembered polyptychs – a frequent category of object in the collection – into paintings that can stand alone, fading away their identity as panels once part of larger articulated pieces.
Reliefs inserted into the courtyard’s walls or, as fixed furnishings, into the walls of the home’s rooms make up the most important nucleus of the sculpture collection. Notwithstanding the small number of works, pieces that are problematical, both from the attribution and chronological points-of-view, are not missing. In addition, whether the brothers understood that some of the pieces were from the 19th, and not the 15th and 16th centuries, is still to be understood, for example, in the case of the Flagellation by Alceo Dossena located in the study.
The rich collection of furnishings is a fundamental part of the collecting and life-style project of the Bagatti Valsecchi home. The brothers had no compunction about flanking their 15th and 16th century pieces with heavily restored pieces, or even 19th century pieces in the Renaissance style, since their goal was to create an ambiance in which the total effect was more important and convincing than the originality of its single pieces.
Arms and Armours
This rich collection is entirely displayed in the Gallery of Arms, a room of great impact, in which the objects are placed on antique chests, while the pole arms and swords are noteworthy in the racks along the walls. “In style” and original objects flank each other, creating a great scenographic impact.