Migliara Giovanni, Convent – Milan, Interior of the Ospedale Maggiore; Interior of a Convent
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1,820 - 1,825; oil on paper mounted on canvas
cm. 48,8 x 61,5
Signed bottom right: "GIO. MIGLIARA"; on the back, top of the frame: “Migliara Monastero”; partially covered label on the stretcher from the 1937 commemorative exhibition
Inventory: AH01497AFC
Provenance: Alessandria, Margherita Micheletti (in 1985)
Exibition: 2009-2010, Milano, n. 14

The stretcher of this work still bears the partially visible label from the commemorative exhibition  devoted to Giovanni Migliara, mounted at the Pinacoteca Civica, Alessandria, in 1937, however the painting is not mentioned in the exhibition catalogue. In the 1985 deed of sale the painting is stated as being in the same private collection from which the important group of fifteen works by Migliara entered the Cariplo Collection that same year. These also included View of the Façade of Milan Cathedral, formerly identified in 1999 as a version owned by Rizzoli, but which, on the contrary, featured in the Alessandria exhibition, though now it does not bear any exhibition label.

Considering that this painting is the same size as the one under examination here, during restoration and relining undergone before it entered the collection the two canvases may have been mixed up and consequently also the labels.

Information for a possible reconstruction of the critical reception and changes in ownership of the work is to be found in the 1937 monograph on the artist, where an oil on paper work mounted on canvas is mentioned, Maggiore Convent with Nuns, Woman and Child, whose size and technique correspond to that of the work in the Collection. The former inscription “Monastero” on the frame, would seem to support this hypothesis, while the title Milan, Interior of the Ospedale Maggiore which the work bore when it entered the Collection in 1985, suggests that the subject of the painting was also misrepresented over the years. The view of the cloister framed by the doorway would seem be of the Milanese Benedictine Convent reformed by Charles Borromeo in 1569, and suppressed in 1798, which Migliara often depicted in many other paintings including Cloister of the  Maggiore Convent in Milan (Alessandria, Musei Civici) and the Interior of a Cloister with Nuns (Cloister of San Maurizio at the Maggiore Convent in Milan) (Milan, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana).

Two nuns are giving food and water to a young woman and her suffering child in the entrance hall of a convent. The portrait of Charles Borromeo clearly visible on the wall and, above all, the woman’s old–fashioned costume, with a veil and coloured apron, suggest that the setting of the scene is a Milanese convent towards the end of the 16th century. Events and episodes drawn from medieval and Renaissance monastic life often inspired Romantic painters and writers with a host of ideas, as in Ildegonda by Tommaso Grossi, whose 1825 edition was illustrated by Giovanni Migliara, and the famous story of Suor Geltrude in The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni, a novel that suggested a series of drawings to the painter, one of which is Don Abbondio Mounting a Mule (formerly owned by Carlo and Felice Bongioanni, Casteggio).

In the eyes of Migliara’s public, the charitable spirit of the earlier Church featured in this painting must have contrasted with the life of pleasure and enjoyment led by the contemporary clergy, which the artist often criticised and looked upon with a disenchanted and ironical gaze in many of his canvases, including Date et Dabitur Vobis (Give and it shall be given unto you) – whereabouts unknown – in which a pot–bellied monk follows the Gospel teaching on charity by distributing blows with his ladle to the poor who are lined up waiting for soup. The same amused tone is rendered more biting when religious quotations accompany images that contradict their moral message and can  be found in Friars in the Kitchen and Returning from Begging Alms. Criticism of the clergy, sometimes with sarcastic emphasis that was not entirely devoid of political implication, was widespread in the artistic circles of the Counter-Reformation, and was a distinctive aspect of Migliara’s art.

From November 2011, the work has been on view at the Gallerie d’Italia in Milan.

Sources:Archivio Storico Intesa Sanpaolo, Patrimonio archivistico Cariplo, Opere d'arte. Atti d'acquisto ex Cariplo. Fald. 2/3, pratica no. 879 R/695 (Milano, Interno dell’Ospedale Maggiore)


Paola Zatti, Giovanni Migliara, Interno di convento, in Sergio Rebora, a cura di, Le collezioni d’arte. L’Ottocento, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, Milano, 1999, n. 164, p. 258, ill.;
Lorenza Tonani, “Aut maritus aut murus” il caso emblematico della monaca di Monza, in La Monaca di Monza. La storia, la passione, il processo, catalogo della mostra a cura di Lorenza Tonani, Milano, Castello Sforzesco, 25 novembre 2009 - 21 marzo 2010, Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo , 2009, p. 35, n. 14, ill. p. 131 (Interno di convento);
Elena Lissoni, in Fernando Mazzocca, a cura di, Da Canova a Boccioni. Le collezioni della Fondazione Cariplo e di Intesa Sanpaolo, Skira, Milano, 2011, n. III.27, p. 186, ill.

Elena Lissoni
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