The Milan Sforza Castle’s Photographic Archive: role and importance of photography for protection and knowledge of art between 1943 and 1944
The Milan Sforza Castle’s Photographic Archive was founded in 1933 as a new institution devoted to preservation and cataloguing of a rich collection of photographs constituted at the beginning of nineteenth century thanks to the architect and art historian Luca Beltrami, who had an important political and cultural role in Milan and in the unitary Italian state. His most important enterprise was the reconstruction of Sforza Castle (1893 – 1905), that in a few years became the centre of the City’s Art Museums.
In Italy was constituted the UNPA (Ufficio Nazionale Protezione Antiarea – National office for anti – aircraft protection) in 1930 to study and solve problems of art protection in case of war. In Milan, the local authorities worked together and collaborated since the second half of the thirties to define a program for art protection. Photography had a fundamental role to document these initiatives but above all to document the heavy damages due to the bombings of 1943 and 1944.
Milan had the 65 % of its monuments hit by the bombings, especially during the august of 1943, such as Santa Maria delle Grazie, with the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, La Scala Theatre, the Brera Gallery. Public institutions, as the Sforza Castle’s Art Museums, during the war, wanted to collect photographs of works of art and monuments damaged by the bombings. The Director of the Sforza Castle’s Art Museums, Giorgio Nicodemi (1928 – 1945), bought photographic campaigns by important Italian photographers of the period, Claudio Emmer, Antonio Paoletti, Dotti & Bernini, Giulio Galimberti, Mario Crimella, Dino Zani, Dario Gatti. They were professional photographers, working in Milan, who promptly decided to photograph monuments after the bombings, offering later these campaigns to the City’s authorities. They participated in the cultural climate of the period, especially to the “modernism”, that also influenced photography, in the passage from pictorialism to a new modern visual language. Many of their photographs were published in important reviews of architecture like “Domus” and “Casabella”.
The Milan Sforza Castle’s Photographic Archive holds about 700 photographs related to the bombings that hit the city in 1943 and 1944, discovered in the last years during the activity of cataloguing. These photographic campaigns were due to the mentioned photographs, whose biographies are well known thanks to new studies. Their acquisitions were registered in some documents of the historical archive of the Sforza Castle’s Art Museums.
They have been also fundamental, during the restoration of the monuments, to develop new studies about works of art discovered after the bombings, like the frescoes of Borromeo Palace (XV century) with the Storie di Esopo, attributed to Michelino da Besozzo in 1947.
During the last few years, with the contribution of the Milan Sforza Castle’s Photographic Archive, some of these campaigns have been studied more and presented in two important exhibitions which took place in Milan in 2004 ( Stefano Baia Curioni (editor) Bombe sulla città, Milano in guerra 1942 - 1944, Milan, Skira, 2004) and in 2009 (Cecilia Ghibaudi (editor), Brera e la guerra. La pinacoteca di Milano e le istituzioni museali milanesi durante il primo e il secondo conflitto mondiale, Milan, Electa, 2009).
- Ermanno Federico Scopinich, Alfredo Ornano, Albe Steiner (editors), Fotografia. Prima rassegna dell’attività fotografica in Italia, Milano, Domus, 1943
- Associazione Nazionale per il Restauro dei Monumenti Danneggiati dalla Guerra, Cinquanta monumenti italiani danneggiati dalla guerra, with texts by Emilio Lavagnino, forewords by Benedetto Croce, C. R. Morey, Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, Roma, 1947
- Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione – Direzione generale delle Antichità e Belle Arti, La ricostruzione del patrimonio artistico italiano, Roma, La Libreria dello Stato, 1950
- Rodolfo, Siviero, L’arte e il nazismo. Esodo e ritorno delle opere d’arte italiane 1938 - 1963, Firenze, Cantini, 1984, pp. 126 – 134
- Silvia, Paoli, L’annuario di Domus del 1943, in Per Paolo Costantini. Indagine sulle raccolte fotografiche, “Centro di Ricerche Informatiche per i Beni Culturali”, Quaderni 8, 1998, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, 1999, pp. 99 - 128
- Alessandra, Lavagnino, Un inverno 1943 – 1944, Palermo, Sellerio, 2001
- Jessica, Brigo, Il Civico Archivio Fotografico di Milano. Antonio Paoletti fotografo dei Civici Musei del Castello Sforzesco, “Rassegna di studi e di notizie”, vol. XXVIII, anno XXXI, Comune di Milano, 2004, pp. 131 – 148.
- Silvia, Paoli, Milano, 1943: la fotografia “moderna” tra cronaca e reportage, in Stefano Baia Curioni (editor) Bombe sulla città, Milano in guerra 1942 - 1944, Milan, Skira, 2004, pp. 79 – 87
- Silvia, Paoli, Cronaca e reportage nelle fotografie dei bombardamenti, in Roberta, Cordani (editor), Il volto della città perduta. Immagini della memoria, Milan, Celip, 2004, pp. 400 – 405
- Stefania, Buganza, Palazzo Borromeo, Milano, Scalpendi, 2008
- Silvia, Paoli, La documentazione fotografica a Brera durante la seconda guerra mondiale. Antonio Paoletti, Claudio Emmer, Bruno Stefani, in Cecilia, Ghibaudi (editor), Brera e la guerra. La pinacoteca di Milano e le istituzioni museali milanesi durante il primo e il secondo conflitto mondiale, Milano, Electa, 2009