Masterpieces from Italy’s Chigi Palace on view for first time in U.S. at Auburn’s Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art

Published: February 05, 2021
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Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences has a connection to “Bernini and the Roman Baroque: Masterpieces from Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia,” one of the new exhibitions featured at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art when it re-opens for the semester on Feb. 9.

The Palazzo Chigi or Chigi Palace, a prominent historical feature in the hillside town of Ariccia, Italy, is well known throughout the country, as it was designed by the legendary Italian artist and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

It is also well known to students who participate in the Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program, as they live in the grand palace for the duration of the 12-week program. Now, with this exhibition, program alumni and new visitors alike can experience some of the wonders of the palace.

The noble Chigi family inhabited the massive residence for centuries, including when Cardinal Fabio Chigi was elected head of the Catholic Church in 1655. Chigi, who became Pope Alexander VII, was responsible for commissioning Bernini to design St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The colossal colonnades that surround the square—the arms stretching out from St. Peter’s Basilica—bear the pope’s name, as well as the Chigi family symbol, which can be found throughout Rome and Ariccia.

After the Chigi family gave the home and all its contents to the city of Ariccia in 1988, it became a public museum and location for special events. Many of the furnishings are the same as they were four centuries ago.

Auburn’s College of Human Sciences and the city of Ariccia reached an agreement in 2002, making the city home to Auburn’s only permanent overseas campus.

“The Auburn connection and the prestigious opportunity to be the first presenting venue in the United States made this exhibition a natural fit for our 2021 exhibition season,” said Cindi Malinick, chief curator and director of the Jule Collins Smith Museum. “Throughout the academic year, we compare and contrast a wide variety of movements and artists.”

Bernini dominated the Baroque movement between the early-17th and mid-18th centuries, and his sculptures and architecture can be found all over Italy and around Ariccia.

The term baroque connotes an abundance of detail, a sense of surprise, drama, contrast, grandeur and deep color—all hallmarks of an extraordinary generation of artists who converged in Rome at the dawn of the 17th century. The artistic style became a cultural phenomenon, spreading concurrently from Naples to Venice, Vienna to Prague and Bohemia to St. Petersburg, finally assuming its full global dimensions when it reached the Americas. “Bernini and the Roman Baroque: Masterpieces from Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia” explores the genesis of this artistic movement through a selection of 55 works from 40 artists, including 10 works by Bernini.

“Museum visitors are welcome to consider the rich historical period when these works were created,” said Malinick. “Themes in the paintings remain relevant today—morality and spirituality, power and position—some even reflect the struggles of the bubonic plague.”

Later in the semester, Malinick said additional pieces—textiles, such as papal robes and other wardrobe pieces from the palace’s grand tradition—will join the exhibition. Connected engagement opportunities throughout the semester will also center on Italian food, wine and music.

The exhibition, which runs through May 30 in Auburn, is organized by Glocal Project Consulting and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C.

The co-curator is Francesco Petrucci, the Chigi museum’s director and the resident history professor for the Ariccia program. He is an international authority on 17th and 18th century art and architecture and is well known throughout Europe for his knowledge of Bernini and Baroque art. Petrucci wrote his doctoral thesis at Rome’s Sapienza University on the Palazzo Chigi.

Other works on view at the Jule Collins Smith Museum include “Outside In,” a joint exhibition with Auburn’s Museum of Natural History featuring Audubon works-on-paper and plant specimens; “Lila Quintero Weaver: Darkroom Drawings,” featuring the museum’s first foray into graphic novels; and, selected works from TenSeventyTwo—A Campaign for Collecting and Conserving Art, highlighting artists of color.

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