150 years ago during the Battle of Lissa, Ippolito Caffi (1809-1866) lost his life on the sinking ship Re d’Italia, on which he had embarked to document the events of the war through his swift and accurate drawings.
Caffi, born in Belluno but Venetian by choice, was an extraordinary painter and reporter, a restless observer of society and a convinced patriot. 150 years ago (almost a sign of fate!) the Veneto and Venice were annexed to Italy. Venice was the city that Caffi loved most, whose freedom he fought for and whose spectacular beauty he translated into painting, employing a capacity for synthesis unequalled during the entire nineteenth century.
Now, to commemorate the coincidence of this double anniversary, the complete, impressive collection of his paintings, the property of the Venice Civic Museums Foundation, is to be shown after fifty years, in a major exhibition that is a tribute to the artist. Caffi was the most modern and original landscape artist of his time: his lightfilled paintings are unsurpassed in immortalising the soul of the places and peoples he encountered during his many trips throughout Italy, Europe and the Mediterranean basin.
The collection on show is a virtually unexplored and extraordinary treasure in every respect. It consists of a group of more than 150 paintings that Caffi’s widow, Virginia Missana, donated to the city in 1889, together with many loose drawings and twenty-three albums. For this exhibition, Caffi’s paintings, normally conserved in the Ca’ Pesaro depositories, will be accompanied by their first catalogue raisonné, published by Marsilio.
The collection is a chronicle of all the various cities and regions visited by Caffi, and represents the most comprehensive record of the artistic career of any nineteenth-century painter. Caffi’s restlessness and desire for knowledge made him a tireless traveller, and whether he visited places from personal choice, such as the Near East, but also Rome and Naples, or whether they were destinations he was obliged to visit out of patriotic militancy, he has left us a vibrant and unprecedented artistic record of his day, whose absolute uniqueness is now evident.