Hayez. The romantic painter’s workshop

GAM – Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin

17 October 2023 – 1 April 2024

curated by Fernando Mazzocca and Elena Lissoni

in collaboration with the Brera Academy of Fine Arts

Hayez l'officina del pittore romanticoArt, history and politics intertwine in the major exhibition that the GAM – Turin’s Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea dedicates to the romantic mastermind Francesco Hayez (Venice 1791 – Milan 1882), accompanying the public to discover the artist’s world and inside the painter’s workshop to reveal his techniques and secrets. An original itinerary that compares paintings and drawings, with more than 100 works from prestigious public and private collections to which some important paintings by the artist kept at the GAM are added, such as the Portrait of Carolina Zucchi in Bed (The Sick Woman) and the Announcing Angel.

Open to the public from 17 October 2023 to 1 April 2024, the exhibition “Hayez. L’officina del pittore romantico” [Hayez. The Romantic painter’s workshop] is organised and promoted by the Turin Museums Foundation, GAM Turin and 24 ORE Cultura – 24 ORE Group, curated by Fernando Mazzocca and Elena Lissoni, in collaboration with the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, from which an important collection of approximately fifty drawings and some of the most important paintings come, many of which were found in the workshop of the painter, who was professor of painting at the Academy for forty years.

Hayez. The romantic painter’s workshop

In addition to previously unpublished or little-seen works, some of the most popular masterpieces can be seen, such as The Meditation from the Musei Civici in Verona – Achille Forti Modern Art Gallery and the Secret Accusation from the Castello Visconteo Civic Museums in Pavia, which is accompanied by The Council of Revenge, a prestigious loan from Liechtenstein. The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Vienna.

Through ten sections in chronological succession, the exhibition starts from his formative years in Venice and Rome, where Hayez enjoyed the protection and friendship of Canova, up to his first achievement in Milan and the last works in his mature years. A special focus section is dedicated to the drawings for the Crusaders’ Silk, his most ambitious and challenging work, which the painter planned as his masterpiece, executed between 1833 and 1850 and intended for the Royal Palace in Turin, where it can still be admired. The exhibition evokes the intense biography and creative journey of the artist, an undisputed protagonist of Romanticism.

A “civil painter”, an interpreter of the fates of Italy as a nation, capable of extending the scope of his painting from history to current political events, he was also one of the greatest portrait painters of all time, who was able to interpret the spirit of his era through his work.

He was the protector of beauty, love and the values of the Risorgimento. In his long life, he was the protagonist of epoch-making changes, witnessing the transition from Neoclassicism to Romanticism. He was praised by Giuseppe Mazzini as the nation’s great virtuoso, and shared the same ideals with Manzoni and Verdi, establishing a unique relationship with them, based on friendship and cultural understanding. The Italy of the Risorgimento was recognised in his style, which still manages to communicate universal sentiments and values, including through a civil dimension that actualises history.

This exhibition is innovative in bringing the paintings and drawings together for the first time, allowing us to reconstruct and understand the artist’s creative process, and to introduce us into his workshop. In the work of Hayez, who considered himself to be the last representative of the great tradition of Venetian painting and who had been trained under Titian and the Venetian painters of the 15th and 16th century, at first glance drawing may seem secondary to colour. His contemporaries were impressed by his particular way of working that was based on the instinct of the time, with constant changes, also and especially during the process, which in many cases can even be recognised with the naked eye. The excellence and uniqueness of this technique are the charm and strength of a painting admired by the public and critics alike.

But we also know of hundreds of drawings by Hayez – most of which are preserved at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts – most often sketched in a quick and direct movement, as if they were visual notes to be used later when creating compositions, and only on very rare occasions reproduced in detail in large dimensions for subsequent translation onto canvas. In addition to the “sketches, quick thoughts, studies” mentioned above, which constitute an exceptional testimony of the painter’s method of working, the artist left a very refined production of d’après: drawings and watercolours that faithfully reproduce some of his most famous works – probably intended as gifts for the most affectionate collectors – and which constituted a powerful instrument to disseminate his inventions.

Francesco Hayez, born in Venice in 1791 and as a child witness to the fall of the ancient Republic, spent most of his life and achieved his success in Milan, where he passed away in 1882, bursting with age and glory like a new Titian, the painter to whom he liked to compare himself. In his very long life, almost a century, he was a leading player in epochal changes, witnessing the transition from Neoclassicism to Romanticism, of which he was one of the creators, to the new realist movements that emerged after the Unification of Italy. He is to be considered, together with Manzoni and Verdi, among the Fathers of the Country, not only because of his art, but also because of his political ideas. His training in Rome under Canova, who supported him with the conviction that he would become the artist capable of restoring Italian painting to its lost greatness, just as he had done in sculpture, was fundamental. This was recognised by his greatest supporters, such as Stendhal who considered him ‘the greatest living painter’ and Mazzini who consecrated him as the interpreter of national aspirations. He lived an exceptional life both from a personal point of view, emerging from humble beginnings and abandonment by his family, and had an outstanding career during which he engaged in dialogue with the great artists of his time, scholars, writers and musicians. His many loves and a great vital impulse are documented in his painting, which expressed a series of universal values, celebrating female beauty and the power of love, as in the series dedicated to Romeo and Juliet”, comments curator Fernando Mazzocca.

The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue “Hayez. L’officina del pittore romantico” published by 24 ORE Cultura, available at the exhibition bookshop, in bookstores and online.


Exhibition Route and Sections

Hayez. The romantic painter’s workshop

GAM – Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin

17 October 2023 – 1 April 2024

curated by Fernando Mazzocca and Elena Lissoni

in collaboration with the Brera Academy of Fine Arts

The exhibition begins in Section I . Francesco Hayez’s debut and early success between Rome and Milan (1809-1820). After his initial training in Venice, a city that, with the end of the Republic, no longer offered the conditions for a young ambitious man to flourish, the artist had the chance to attend Canova’s studio in Rome, an extraordinary international meeting place where the final stages of the neoclassical approach unfolded for him. With his participation in major public commissions and institutional competitions – including the Great Painting Competition organised by the Brera Academy in Milan, which saw the success of Laocoon – his name became known nationwide. It was precisely in these years that drawing took on a central role for Hayez: the artist adopted a practice that proceeded from preparatory studies of individual details to the overall composition, juxtaposing both a contemporary sensibility and lavish Titian colour, in an intense dialogue with ancient models.

Immediately after the first room the visitor encounters the Focus Section. The Crusaders’ Thirst. The preparatory drawings of the extraordinary monumental canvas, begun in 1833 and completed in 1850 on commission of King Charles Albert for the Sala delle Guardie del Corpo in the Royal Palace in Turin (where it can still be admired), testify to Francesco Hayez’s connection with Turin and the city’s special and privileged relationship with the artist. One of the great masterpieces of European romanticism that Hayez considered to be his most important painting, this is the work that engaged him the most, also in terms of time, in its long and complex conception and creation over almost twenty years, documented by dozens of drawings, pencil sketches, visual notes, testifying to a working practice founded on the recovery of the great pictorial tradition models and the uninterrupted re-elaboration of his own inventions. The equally troubled execution had finally led to a very high achievement in the rendering of the movements and gestures of the figures, in the superb relationship between the nude and the drapery, in the variation of atmospheres and colours, conveying a poignancy and suggestiveness unparalleled in historical painting of the time.

Section II is dedicated to Milan. The rise of Romanticism (1820-1829). Hayez’s definitive achievement came with his move from Venice to Milan in 1820, thanks to the sensational exhibition of his work, Pietro Rossi (Milan, Brera Art Gallery), the manifesto painting of Romanticism, and Hayez’s success with Carmagnola, enthusiastically endorsed by Alessandro Manzoni and Stendhal. Through a new style in drawing, Hayez broke away from the ideal dimension of Neoclassicism and from subjects inspired by mythology and ancient history, proposing a romantic and national painting that was also capable of interpreting the political tensions of those years. Moving in a different direction are the portraits of Carolina Zucchi, his model and lover, portrayed in the intimacy of the bedroom, as well as in many history paintings, and in the early versions of Mary Magdalene, a theme repeatedly investigated by the artist, starting with an interpretation of Canova’s upsetting model and arriving at a new, disconcerting sensuality.

This is followed by Section III. The Civil Dimension of the Great History Painting (1829-1840). From the end of the 1920s and for the following decade, Hayez was a candidate for the role of civil painter, interpreter of the nation’s destiny – as Giuseppe Mazzini would later acknowledge him -, expanding his repertoire. Paintings such as Peter the Hermit, inspired by the theme of the crusade and dense with references to the need for national liberation, lend epic grandeur to this new direction. The dimensions of the paintings expand to allow for a more choral organisation of the composition, which is now set in vast natural sceneries and perfectly orchestrated, recovering the lavishness of the great Venetian tradition – including Titian, Veronese and Jacopo Bassano – in the perfect montage between the main and secondary episodes. But it is in the paintings inspired by the struggle fought by the Greeks to gain their independence from Turkish domination – a modern crusade enlivened by Byron’s verses and the passionate adherence of public opinion – that history painting finally opens up to political actuality.

Section IV. From Juliet to Imelda. Romantic heroines. Critics of the time recognised Hayez as the creator of the transition from classical mythology to a new Romantic repertoire, fuelled by medieval history and the modern novel, in which heroes and heroines are at the centre of overwhelming passions – often with fatal outcomes -, in tune with the sensibility of the time. It is no coincidence that the myth of Romeo and Juliet was treated extensively by Hayez, varying his interpretation of it throughout his career, alternating it with the tragic story of Imelda de’ Lambertazzi, centred on the drama of the farewell between the two lovers, a theme that returns – with a more markedly sentimental meaning – also in the small composition inspired by the love affair between Louis XIV and Mademoiselle de La Vallière. This series dedicated to lost lovers ended up in the artist’s most important work, that famous Kiss that represents the most intense and poetic moment of the relationship between two people in love, in which one could recognise the passion that had accompanied the birth of united Italy, but so full of charm and mystery as to become the iconic image of a universal feeling (Milan, Brera Art Gallery).

Alongside the more challenging historical themes, throughout his career Hayez focused on a decisive sector in the art market of the time, that of portraiture, on which Section V. The Portrait as Mirror of an Era is centred. His commitment to this genre is characterised by the attention devoted primarily to the inner dimension of the character, rendered through a subdued realism. Thus the Portrait of Emperor Ferdinand I reveals the tormented sensibility of the Habsburg ruler who, suffering from the weight of his role, would eventually be forced to abdicate in 1848 in favour of his nephew Franz Joseph. However, it is especially in the exceptional gallery of female images, rendered through a skilful balance between psychological introspection and the pictorial enhancement of clothing, that the artist reveals himself to be an unsurpassed interpreter of the most secret and restless soul of Romanticism, as in the case of the Portrait of the Contessina Antonietta Negroni Prati Morosini.

Section VI of the exhibition, Venice between History and Myth, is dedicated to the history of Venice with some of Francesco Hayez’s best-loved and most engaging masterpieces to this day, such as The Secret Accusation and The Council of Revenge, which mark an important turning point in Hayez’s historical painting, in the way he interpreted the myth of Venice, his city of origin to whose events he had dedicated so many paintings during his long and successful career. A city that appears here as the gloomy and enigmatic setting for political and amorous scheming, where the reasons of the heart come into conflict with the cruel reason of state, a representation dominated by gloomy hues and a murky atmosphere, with which the artist contributed to the establishment of the myth of Venice.

The exhibition then takes us through Section VII on The Bathers and the Heroic Nude. Throughout his career, Hayez also focused on the representation of the nude, a theme that was favoured by him since it allowed him to display his extraordinary pictorial qualities in the rendering of the male and female body. A biblical character emblematic of strength par excellence, Samson represents one of the most significant themes. A large number of preparatory drawings for this subject derive from the close study of life, documenting the different stages of the work up to the final fine-tuning in the large cartoon, the last stage before the execution of the painting that would hang for at least thirty years in the artist’s studio to testify to the exemplary value of this heroic nude. The powerful virile body under tension had caught the attention of the critics, who were astonished at the breakthrough made by the painter, who until then had been engaged in the execution of a superb series of female figures of provocative sensuality such as bathers, odalisques, nymphs including the Bathing Nymphs which, despite its mythological title, represents a thoroughly contemporary scene – as suggested by the 19th century clothes scattered in the foreground – well in advance of Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe.

The exhibition continues with Section VIII. Biblical figures and themes. Biblical themes were also prominent in Hayez’s repertoire because they allowed the rendering of costumes and atmospheres that bordered on the 19th-century passion for the Orient. This taste for the exotic picturesque, rich in cues and inventive possibilities, includes several paintings inspired by episodes from the Old Testament, such as The Coronation of Joash (1840), in which the scenic setting and drapery are achieved with superb technique, in a highly refined play of colour and light, evoking a distant and fascinating world, the setting for dramatic events in ancient history. On a different front, with a more disengaged repertoire of dazzling Harem Interiors and sensual Odalisques, where seduction triumphs, the artist experiments with new expressive formulas connected to the rendering of the feminine nude, dealing with the great tradition of Renaissance painting, including Titian and Correggio, until reaching solutions of extraordinary modernity. Thus, the sublime biblical heroines – Tamar of Judah, Ruth, Rebecca – are poignant icons of ideal women, glorified in their wistful beauty, capable of expressing, exactly because of an exhausting perfection of form combined with a great sentimental and introspective strength, the spirit and restlessness of modern times, projecting them into a universal dimension.

Section IX. The Last Years (1862-1881). While Hayez still benefited from great physical and mental energy, he was no longer able to engage in history painting in his later years; nevertheless, he wished to testify to his intact vitality through his treatment of his ever-favoured motif of the nude, interpreted with a new sensitivity and a looser pictorial conduct. This mature production includes the enchanting Bather, in which the master unfolds his extraordinary technical expertise in the study of light and chiaroscuro, the later Nude Study and the Bust of a Woman with Scattered Hair, very modern in its intense realism and unprecedented painterly angularity. In his graphic production, too, the sign becomes vibrant and the volumes emphasised through the use of white lead and chalk. More than ten years after leaving the professorship in painting at the Brera Academy in 1875, Hayez could proudly declare: “At eighty-five I was still a painter”. This proud vindication of one’s role and the craft practised throughout one’s life can be found in the last self-portraits, carefully studied – as in a kind of inner scanning – in numerous drawings focusing on every detail of the face, the hands, the palette.

Concluding the exhibition is Section X. Beautiful and Lost. A new image of Italy. With Ecce Homo, an extreme work of his maturity begun in 1867 in the aftermath of the Third War of Independence, Hayez seems to interpret a universal grief, both human and divine, in the face of the horrors of war. The great Risorgimento event, of which the artist, consecrated by Mazzini as “painter of the nation”, had been the greatest interpreter, was now over. One of the most emblematic and symbolic works of our Risorgimento was born from that temperament, The Meditation. This figure of a dishevelled young woman represents, in its shocking sensuality, the allegory of the “beautiful and lost” homeland, of an Italy that – distressed by the defeated hopes of 1848 – continues to offer its magnificent naked breasts to suckle its children and dream of brighter destinies.

The exhibition was made possible thanks to numerous institutional lenders: The Brera Art Academy, Milan; the Venice Art Academy; The San Luca National Academy, Rome; Tadini Academy, Nineteenth-century Museum, Lovere; National Braidense Library, Milan; Cariplo Collection Foundation, Italian Galleries – Piazza Scala, Milan; Franco Maria Ricci Collection, Labirinto della Masone, Fontanellato; Venice City Museums Foundation, Cabinet of Drawings and Prints, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice; Uffizi Galleries, Florence; GAM – Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Turin; GAM – Modern Art Gallery, Milan; MAG – Museo Alto Garda, Riva del Garda; Musée Faure, Aix-les-Bains; Municipal Museums of Ancient Art, Bologna; Visconteo Castle Civic Museums, Pavia; Civic Museums, Varese; Verona Civic Museums – Achille Forti Modern Art Gallery; San Martino National Museum, Naples; Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan; Revoltella Museum, Trieste; Vincenzo Vela Museum, Ligornetto; Liechtenstein. The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Vienna.


Hayez. The romantic painter’s workshop


GAM – Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea

Via Magenta, 31 Turin

From 17 October 2023 to 1 April 2024


Tuesday to Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Closed on Mondays 

The ticket service ends one hour before closing time


Exhibition only


Full € 13.00 | Discounted € 11.00

Full € 17.00 | Discounted € 15.00




School office/group office/call centre:

Infoline +39 011 0881178 e-mail gruppiescuole@tosc.it

Monday to Friday from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m


Infoline +39 011 2178540

School office/group office/call centre:

Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m









Press release from GAM – Turin’s Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea.

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).

Write A Comment

Pin It