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One of Italy’s most extraordinary collections returns home in Turin’s Royal Palace

by Marco Carminati

On December 5, the “Galleria Sabauda” has re-opened its doors to the public in the very heart of Turin's “Polo Reale” museum complex, a series of palaces and gardens located in the center of the former capital of the Kingdom of Savoy. Its area encompasses 46,000 square meters and hosts three kilometers of exhibition routes.

The Polo brings together the city's Royal Palace, with its historic apartments, once occupied by the royal family; the Royal Armory, which hosts one of the finest weapons collections in the world; the Royal Library, with its 250 thousand volumes and a collection of thirteen drawings by Leonardo da Vinci as well as his famous “Codex on the Flight of Birds;” Palazzo Chiablese, which hosts the headquarters of the “Polo Reale” organization and is used for temporary exhibitions; the Archaeological Museum; and the Royal Gardens.

And now the Galleria Sabauda, located in the Manica Nuova building (New Wing building) of the Royal Palace, will also become part of the complex. Be warned, the Galleria Sabauda is not your average museum: it hosts one of the most important paintings collections in Italy –and one of the most stunning ones.

King Carlo Alberto established the gallery in 1832 so that the greater public could enjoy the collections of paintings that the many dukes and kings of Savoy had accumulated over the course of three centuries of passionate collecting.

In the following years new purchases and donations went on to enrich that already impressive collection. By the end of its development the Galleria Sabauda turned out to be a collection of great masterpieces and it showed a distinctive character that clearly set it a part from other Italian galleries: it not only displayed a rich plethora of works belonging to different Italian art movements, but also contained some of the finest examples of “transalpine” art –especially French and Flemish paintings.

King Carlo Alberto had located the Galleria inside “Palazzo Madama,” one of the palaces belonging to the Royal family. Later, it was transferred in the ancient Palazzo dell'Accademia delle Scienze, which was already home to the Egyptian Museum.

The Galleria Sabauda and the Egyptian Museum have been under the same roof until 2005.
In 2005, the “Polo Reale” project was coming to a close and the Manica Nuova building of the Royal Palace was being freed up. So the Galleria Sabauda could “come back home,” so to speak. It is now once again displayed against the backdrop of the court palaces with all their grandeur.

As a consequence of the move, the Egyptian Museum could then expand to the exhibitory spaces previously occupied by the Galleria Sabauda. The Museum started a radical refurbishment of its collection, which will be available to the public on April 1, 2015 –now displayed in twice the area it used to occupy.

Thanks to this great restoration project, which was supported and implemented by many players including the government (the Italian state, Piedmont's regional government, Turin's municipal government, Directorate Generals and Superintendents for Culture) and private ones (Arcus foundation, Compagnia di San Paolo foundation, Fondazione CRT and Consulta foundation), the body of work of the Galleria Sabauda is now displayed across the three floors of the Manica Nuova building of the Royal Palace.

The collection will be presented to visitors following a new organizational logic. Works used to be clustered around dynasties –from Emanuele Filiberto kingdom (1550) to the era of Carlo Felice (1831 ). Works that were donated by Piedmontese entrepreneur Riccardo Gualino featured as an extra, in the last stretch of the gallery.

Today, works are instead arranged in chronological order: from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, regardless of the art movement they belong to.

Visitors will be able to get a comprehensive view on how fifteenth century artists used to paint across Piedmont, Tuscany or the Flanders and compared it with the style of sixteenth century paintings from Turin, Florence or Venice.

With such a “ mix” of paintings, great masterpieces often appear in front of visitors all of a sudden. A Van Eyck right next to Beato Angelico and Memling, Bellini juxtaposed with Macrino d'Alba, Van Dyck and Rubens not too far from Orazio Gentileschi.

The long corridors that overlooked the different rooms of the exhibition feature information panels that help visitors navigate the collection. Visitors will find one final surprise in the attic of the building, which hosts a restoration lab including a dedicated conference room where restored works will be presented to the public.

But that's not all. The last room of the exhibition also hosts the legendary collection of Riccardo Gualino, which curators Gabrielli and Bava left last in order to honor the old “dynasty cluster” disposition of the glorious “Galleria Sabauda.”