From naturalism to historical imagination

The art gallery is on the second floor of the Monumental Complex of the Bourbon Prison. The new exhibition, curated by the DATA department of “La Sapienza” University of Rome, offers, thanks to an innovative and flexible display system, imagined on a single level, a sequence of paintings that shows the spirit of observation of the authors, their different languages, their sense of freedom, their power expressed and rediscovered in the description of reality: country life, hard work in the fields, tableaux vivants of domestic life, rural and poetic landscapes.
The paintings exposed in this section are an invitation to a journey through the images created by the fluid sign, made with oils and acrylics by the great painters of Southern Italy between the 19th and 20th centuries. The collection is the result of donations and acquisitions made over time, and includes paintings related to realism and new artistic trends starting from the second half of the 19th century.
An important nucleus is made up by the donation that the painter Achille Martelli left as a legacy to the Province of Avellino in 1903: thirty-one works, sixteen made by the painter himself, some of them unfortunately were lost.
Martelli was an adopted son of Irpinia, the land where after leaving his native Calabria, he lived for a long time working and teaching until his death. He also practiced painting on ceramics (smoke technique), founding a school with Lenzi in Bagnoli Irpino. One of the most beautiful work is “Oroscopo amoroso”, presented at the National Exhibition of Naples in 1877, where it received an enthusiastic judgment by Vittorio Imbriani who emphasized the painter’s ability to give freshness and vivacity to a conventional subject: “every particular, every accessory is true; and in particular the two peasant women, while they have a lyrical and gentle expression, more suitable to female faces, do not have the usual defect of similar creations: they are actually peasants, our peasants… not young ladies dressed as peasants, not fashion figurines, without life”.
It is possible to admire paintings and painted ceramics of eminent personalities, such as Achille Martelli and Michele Lenzi, but also of artists such as Domenico Morelli, Filippo Palizzi, Francesco Mancini, Giovanni Battista, Eduardo Monteforte, Francesco Sagliano, Giuseppe Boschetto, Vincenzo Caprile, the Volpe brothers, Alfonso Grassi and Federico Maldarelli, of whom a splendid painting is exhibited, example of the so-called neo-Pompeian painting. The work portrays a woman with an ancient costume, lying on a bed, inside a room with Pompeian red walls. This painting features all the expressive peculiarities of historical painting: the archaeological scholarship for the reconstruction of the Pompeian interior, the descriptive attention to the figure of the young woman, the fortunate taste of wrapping her body in the softness of silken clothes.
Their works, distributed over a span of two centuries, share a common adherence to reality, with the intention to reproduce objectively the nature, caught from real life, through chromatic and luministic values.
In 2016, Iole and Alfonso Palladino’s donation became part of the heritage of the Province of Avellino, thanks to the laudable gesture of the Judge Alfonso Palladino in memory of his beloved wife. Among the donated objects, in addition to a large number of literary texts, you can admire a 15th-century painting attributable to the school of Lotto, an 18th-century Venetian school canvas painting, and a splendid Sicilian 17th-century antependium masterfully incorporated into a 1970s bookshop.