By Costanza Beltrami

Pioneer art historian Adolfo Venturi was born in Modena on 4 September 1856. Initially trained as an accountant, Venturi became curator of the Estense Gallery in Modena in 1878, and General Inspector of Fine Arts at the Ministry of Public Instruction in Rome in 1888. While there he outlined a general catalog of national artistic heritage, introduced measures against the illicit removal of artworks, and founded L’archivio storico dell’arte, later known as L’arte, the first Italian-language journal to specialize on Italian art.

In 1901, Venturi was appointed Professor of Medieval and Modern art at the University of Rome, the first chair of art history at an Italian university. He later founded a specialist school of advanced study in art history, which trained the leading scholars and public officials of subsequent generations, including Venturi’s own son Lionello.

Venturi’s approach to art history is exemplified in his lifework, a history of Italian art from the beginning of Christianity to the sixteenth century. Begun in 1901, the twenty-five volume work remained unfinished at Venturi’s death on 10 June 1941. Aiming to offer a national perspective on Italy’s heritage following the country’s unification in 1861, the text considers painting, sculpture, and architecture in both pre-eminent centers and peripheral regions. It is a developmental history of style where the methods of connoisseurship organize artworks into schools and regional affiliations.

Venturi’s skill as a connoisseur was called upon in a sensational trial, the Hahn v. Duveen court-case on the authenticity of Leonardo da Vinci’s celebrated masterpiece La Belle Ferronière.

Venturi’s long and eminent career established art history as an academic subject in Italy. Unsurprisingly, he received many honorary titles and was elected as Senator of the Kingdom of Italy in 1924.

References: “Venturi, Adolfo.” Dictionary of Art Historians.; Giacomo Agosti. “Venturi.” Grove art Online. Oxford art Online. Oxford University Press.; Laura Iamurri, “Art History in Italy: Connoisseurship, Academic Scholarship and the Protection of Cultural Heritage,” in Art History and Visual Studies in Europe: Transnational Discourses and National Frameworks edited by Matthew Rampley, Thierry Lenain, Hubert Locher, Andrea Pinotti, Charlotte Schoell-Glass, Kitty Zijlmans (Leiden and Boston, 2012).

Studio Orlandini, Portrait of Adolfo Venturi in his study, 1924, photograph. Photo credit: CSAC-Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione di Parma.

Cover page of Storia dell’arte italiana, volume 1: Dai primordi dell’arte cristiana a tempo di Giustiniano (History of Italian Art, volume 1: From the beginning of Christian Art to Justinian) (Milan: Hoepli, 1901). Photo Credit: Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg.

Article regarding the Hahn v. Duveen court-case, The Illustrated London News, 18 July 1931, from the Duveen Brothers archive at the Getty Research Institute.

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