ARTE LIBERATA 1937-1947 – Masterpieces saved from war – the exhibition in


DECEMBER 16th, 2022 – APRIL 10th, 2023


Arte liberata 1937-1947 The Scuderie del Quirinale presents ARTE LIBERATA 1937-1947. Masterpieces saved from war, a new major exhibition, from 16 December 2022 to 10 April 2023, in Rome, curated by Luigi Gallo and Raffaella Morselli and organised by Scuderie in collaboration with Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, ICCD – Istituto Centrale per il catalogo e la Documentazione and Archivio Luce – Cinecittà.

The exhibition offers a selection of over one hundred masterpieces saved during the Second World War, as well as an extensive documentary, photographic and audio panorama – brought together thanks to the collaboration between forty Museums and Institutes – for a compelling and emotional account of a dramatic moment for our country, but one that was equally far-sighted and foundational for a new civic awareness.

A dutiful homage to the women and men who, in the dramatic contingency of war, interpreted their profession in the name of a common interest, aware of the universality of our heritage to be saved.

At the heart of the exhibition project is the far-sighted action of so many Superintendents and officials of the Fine Arts Administration – often forcibly retired after refusing to join the Republic of Salò – who, assisted by art historians and representatives of the Vatican hierarchy, became the interpreters of a great undertaking to safeguard the artistic and cultural heritage.

Among them were Giulio Carlo Argan, Palma Bucarelli, Emilio Lavagnino, Vincenzo Moschini, Pasquale Rotondi, Fernanda Wittgens, Noemi Gabrielli, Aldo de Rinaldis, Bruno Molajoli, Francesco Arcangeli, Jole Bovio and Rodolfo Siviero, secret agent and future plenipotentiary minister in charge of restitution: people who, without weapons and with limited means, became aware of the threat hanging over works of art, taking sides on the front line to prevent it, aware of the educational, identity and community value of art.

ARTE LIBERATA 1937-1947 – Masterpieces saved from war – the exhibition in Rome, Scuderie del Quirinale
Gallery. Photo Credits: Alberto Novelli

Compelling stories with a high civic value, which unfold in the exhibition through three main narrative strands.

The first – Le esportazioni forzate e il mercato dell’arte – refers to the alteration suffered by the art market in the aftermath of the signing of the Rome-Berlin axis (1936); in order to indulge the collecting cravings of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring, the Fascist hierarchs favoured allowing the sale of important works of art, even under constraint, such as the Lancellotti Discobolo (constrained since 1909), a Roman copy of the famous bronze by Myron – one of the highlights of the exhibition – or the masterpieces from the Contini Bonacossi collection in Florence.

The narrative pertaining to the second core – Spostamenti e ricoveri – begins in 1939, when, with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, the Minister of Education Giuseppe Bottai set in motion the operations to secure the cultural heritage, with the consequent elaboration of the plan to move works of art. From here many stories unfold: the relations between Italian superintendents and the Vatican, the efforts of individual officials to inventory and hide cultural assets in Lazio, Tuscany, Naples, Emilia and northern Italy, the fundamental commitment of female curators such as Fernanda Wittgens, Palma Bucarelli, Noemi Gabrielli, Jole Bovio and others, as well as the looting of the Jewish Library in Rome.

Among the key figures in this section is Pasquale Rotondi, the young superintendent of the Marche who was commissioned to set up a national depository and rescued masterpieces from Venice, Milan, Urbino and Rome in the deposits of Sassocorvaro and Carpegna, totalling about ten thousand works in his custody.

An exemplary case in the formation of a professional identity for Italian art historians.

The third and final strand – La fine del conflitto e le restituzioni – considers the missions for the recovery and preservation of stolen works at the end of the war. Italian officials were joined by men from the ‘Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program’ (MFAA), a task force made up of art professionals from thirteen different countries and organised by the Allies during the Second World War to protect cultural property and works of art in war zones.

With the end of the war, the adventure of returning stolen Nazi property began, with over six thousand works found to date.

A unique opportunity to admire, for the first time brought together in the same place, works of the highest artistic value that have fortunately survived: from the Discobolo Lancellotti to Titian Vecellio’s Danae to Santa Palazia by Giovan Francesco Barbieri known as Guercino, from the famous portraits of Alessandro Manzoni by Francesco Hayez and Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger to numerous masterpieces housed in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in Urbino, such as Luca Signorelli‘s Crucifixion, Federico Barocci‘s Immaculate Conception and Piero della Francesca‘s Madonna of Senigallia.

Also on show are approximately one hundred and forty photographic reproductions and over thirty historical documents as well as more than twenty excerpts from period films; significant evidence of one of the most dramatic pages in the history of our country.

Destructions and looting of monuments and works of art have always been part of wartime manoeuvres. However, the Second World War should be regarded as an essential moment in the modern reflection on the protection of cultural heritage, with a new approach to the themes of restoration and museography that followed the dramatic outcomes of the conflict.

The experience of those art historians gave rise to a new way of understanding the protection and enhancement of cultural heritage, starting with the foundation of today’s Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale.

In addition, after the Second World War, Italian museography launched one of the most prolific seasons for the valorisation and dissemination of the country’s cultural capital: Italian museums became the field of experimentation of a permanent didactic approach aimed at all citizens, places of civic awareness in relation to the territory.


Mario De Simoni, chairman Scuderie del Quirinale

It is an exhibition of stories. Stories of women, of men, of works of art protected, saved, lost and recovered.

The tale of wartime protection remains a warning about the risks run by the artistic heritage, saved by the interpreters of a true epic: their heroic deeds are an example of patriotism and sense of duty, testifying the effectiveness of the action of an entire generation of state officials who saved the immense Italian cultural heritage, offering it to subsequent generations. An exhibition that is an example of institutional collaboration, with the participation of Mic’s General Directorate for Museums, the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, the Archivio Luce – Cinecittà, and the Central Institute for Catalogue and Documentation, and of collaboration with partners who have supported the project: Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, American Express, Unilever-Magnum, Banca Passadore & C., and Fondazione Passadore 1888, whom I thank for standing by us on this occasion”.

Raffaella Morselli, curator

The túche, the fate or destiny to which the ancient Greeks subjected the adventures of gods and men, is the noun that best suits the works gathered in this exhibition. Any one of them could have been gone if someone had not worked to have this or that one packed, hidden, transported, saved. The resistance of historians and art historians, in what was the war of objects, was the key to determining the fortunes of Italy’s endangered heritage during World War II. This exhibition stitches together, for the first time, many stories of individual workers animated by a strong civic conscience, and transforms their singularities into a great collective epic of passion and commitment”.

Luigi Gallo, curator

The exhibition tells the story of an epic feat of preservation carried out by women and men who believed in the ethical value of art and its role in our national identity. Among them are state officials, representatives of the Vatican hierarchy, civilians and military personnel who, with courage and determination, have made it possible to pass on the immense, delicate Italian cultural heritage to the present day. And that is fortunate, because without the past we would be without a future. This is testified by the actions of Pasquale Rotondi, the historic director of Palazzo Ducale, whom everyone in the Marche region remembers for the lucidity of his choices, the composure of his behaviour, and the depth of his culture. In his honour, the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche has collaborated on the exhibition with prestigious loans and important research and documentation work that testifies to the far-sightedness of its protective action. The operation was also made possible thanks to the availability of the Civic and Diocesan Museums and the collaboration of the Superintendencies”.


As usual, also at the exhibition ARTE LIBERATA 1937-1947. Masterpieces saved from war, starting in January 2023, the Scuderie del Quirinale will be offering visitors a rich programme of collateral encounters: a series of conferences – coordinated by journalist Paolo Conti and held at the Scuderie del Quirinale’s headquarters – designed to explore some of the peculiar aspects of the exhibition through the accounts of art historians, archaeologists, documentary filmmakers and the protagonists of the recovery of stolen works of art, such as the Monument Men and the Nucleo Arma dei Carabinieri.

Following the path traced by the exhibition, the meetings will take participants through a compelling tale of the atmospheres, vivid memories and feelings that characterised the difficult war years when much in our country seemed lost.

The programme of meetings is available at:

The catalogue is published by Electa.

Press release from Scuderie del Quirinale, Comin & Partners, about the exhibition in Rome, Arte liberata 1937-1947.

Dove i classici si incontrano. ClassiCult è una Testata Giornalistica registrata presso il Tribunale di Bari numero R.G. 5753/2018 – R.S. 17. Direttore Responsabile Domenico Saracino, Vice Direttrice Alessandra Randazzo. Gli articoli a nome di ClassiCult possono essere 1) articoli a più mani (in tal caso, i diversi autori sono indicati subito dopo il titolo); 2) comunicati stampa (in tal caso se ne indica provenienza e autore a fine articolo).

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