Just look at this place, stunning eh? This is the stairwell at Palazzo Ricci in Macerata. It’s a fairly large university town about an hour north of us in the Marche region. It’s most famous for its 7000-seater open air ampitheatre, the Sferisterio (built in the 1820s as a venue for handball!) which hosts an opera season each July. It’s a youngish, busy, affluent town and there are loads of clothes and shoe shops. For a few days we have C’s lovely cousin P staying with us and yesterday was their retail therapy day. I was happy to drive but I learned long ago about letting the girls do their shopping thing whilst I go off and browse around. It’s the only way…
Well we agreed a time to meet up (C’s always about half an hour late, so I plan for this) and off I toddled . I’ve mooched round the town before but yesterday I came across this surprising jewel of a find in Palazzo Ricci. The home of a former wealthy merchant (I think) it was taken over by the Banca Marche some time ago. I guess they must use it for client events and PR/AGM type occasions. But the building also houses the company’s collection of modern art from renowned Italian artists. The sign outside said free entry so I thought this’d be a fine and cheap way to pass an hour or so. But the big surprise was yet to come. When I entered the place and was just looking round the foyer for directions etc, a young and very attractive woman came out of an adjacent office and explained that it wasn’t possible to walk around the collection alone. I thought this might be one of those got-to-hire-an-expensive-guide scams that the Vatican has turned into an art form. So much for free entry. But she simply asked me to wait a few minutes, went back into the office, obviously to finish off a piece of work, then returned to say ‘OK let’s go’. Without a word of a lie this lovely girl then gave me a personal guided tour of the building and the entire collection over 3 huge floors.
The collection is most famous for a Madonna and Child in the chapel by Carlo Crivelli but the rest of it is a stunning assembly of Italian contemporary art from the likes of Annigoni (who did the famous painting of Queen Elizabeth), Giacomo Balla, Scipione, Lucio Fontana, Carlo Carra, very famous local artist Licini who’s from nearby Ascoli Piceno plus many more. I particularly liked this painting of a speeding train by Pannaggi:
It’s broad-sweeping in styles too covering cubism, surrealism, pop art, portraiture and so on. Interestingly there’s a lot of what my guide described as ironic art (her English was marginally better than my Italian but we managed) – where the paintings were intended to make a biting point usually about the church or politics it seemed. She made reference several times to propaganda works concerning the fascisti and Mussolini. I think she was saying that they were commissioned by the regime rather than opposing it – I got the distinct impression that the town and the area were very pro the regime, but I may well have that completely wrong. There was a huge painting of the student riots in 1968 which I’m sure created some political balance in the collection in case my earlier understanding was accurate.
The building too is delightful as you can see from the first image. One of the interesting features was that all the door surrounds, architraves, table and desk tops etc look like they’re made from richly-grained marble. In fact it’s a conceit and it’s all wood painted to look like marble. Really close-up it’s possible to tell but more than a couple of feet away and you’d swear it was the real thing. I wonder how much of a saving this delivered originally – the artwork itself is just superb and must have required tremendous skill. Maybe I’m missing the point and this was a more expensive option. Who knows and I couldn’t ask the question sufficiently well for my guide to understand. Ah well. It’s a bit small but you might be able to make out some of the features in the picture below:
I spent well over an hour in the place. I was the only visitor there – in fact I’d been the only one that day. The bank employs a number of the girls to show folks around – as it does get busier in the holidays she told me. She might have done this tour hundreds of times for all aIl know but you’d think it was her first time – she was so informative and enthusiastic. Brava Banca Marche for employing such great people and opening up such a rich collection to the public. I happily joined up with C and the girls who had come close to but had somehow resisted the temptation to buy some expensive shoes. Brava girls too -a double result you might say. I happily bought several glasses of very cool, crisp wine in celebration. Great day.