Sunday, 12 August 2012


Genova la Superba, this is how the beautiful town is nicknamed. At first glance there's not much left to feel superior about, the town is choked with the concrete of ugly buildings and the industrial harbour.
However, the charm and beauty of this town is still there and a visit is very rewarding. I always spend a week close to Genova in August, and I don't always make time to visit museums, but I did today and wasn't disappointed.
I must say I am partial to this place because I was born here, in Sant' Ilario ( it seems my parents didn't need to think very hard for my name). I think Genova is the most elusive "città d'arte" in Italy. The nature of its people is discrete and introverted, the magnificence of its palaces lies behind their closed doors and the visitor is left with a labyrinth of tiny streets, the carrugi, climbing up from the harbour. Here you can taste the low life of a real Mediterranean hub ( listen to poet and musician Fabrizio de Andrè's "Creuza de Ma" to get an idea in music of what a rich cultural melting pot this place is).
Genova has had periods of wealth and power in modern history. As a "Repubblica Marinara" it dominated the seas in early medieval time and peaked in the XV and XVI centuries. The city enjoyed a renewed wealth in the early XX century with the shipping industry boom.
The accumulated wealth allowed noble families to buy and commission works of art from the most sought after artists of the time, most famously Caravaggio, Rubens and Van Dyck, who painted many portraits during his long stay in town.
The rich collection of paintings, mostly baroque, Reni, Guercino, Mattia Preti, in town is housed in two beautiful palaces opposite one another in the centre of town, Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Bianco.
I hadn't been for a few years and went back today to be once again surprised and delighted. As my understanding of painting slowly improves ( or better, as I gradually understand I don't know a thing about painting) revisiting and rediscovering is an incommensurable pleasure.
These are museums that contain some real masterpieces, with very few visitors and clearly not much money to share the collection online in high resolution, perhaps Google Art Project will intervene one day!

As I started my visit today I was left breathless by the first painting I saw: Paris Bordone's Portrait of Unknown Gentleman, it seemed breathed on the canvas for how delicately it was painted.

Gentleman with Red Sleeves is another intriguing painting by Bordone ( nowadays when you start typing Paris on google the first suggestion is Paris Jackson ?!) with a licentious plot. A man with a undecipherable expression is seen holding a folded letter while in the upper corner a small figure of a lady is giving the same folded note to a servant.

It's like his Venetian Lovers in Brera: who's the husband, who's the lover?

Veronese's Giuditta beheads Oloferne under the terrified eyes of a black servant who anticipates Olympia's maid, while in another Bordone baby Jesus looks at the viewer with a serious and accusing stare.

Palma il Vecchio's Madonna with Child and Saints strikes from across the room for the incredible pale golden light the radiates from the painting. It's just the perfect example of pure Venetian, the moving tenderness of paint handling and subject, the infinite subtle variations of colour.

In Palazzo Rosso I found again Guido Reni's beautiful and untroubled Saint Sebastian that I had seen last year when Dulwich Picture Gallery put together all eight of Reni's variations on the same subject.

If you are zigzagging across Italy, don't forget to visit Genova, the "knee" (ginocchio) of our peninsula. It's also one of the regions with the best food!

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