The constitution of the C.I.H.A. national committees dates back to the Second World War. However, the presence of representatives from the different countries comprising the Comité International and, in particular, the Bureau, can be traced back to the international conferences on the history of art. From the first, the small Kunstwissenschaft congress, held in Vienna in 1873, to the successive event held twenty years later in Nuremberg in 1893. This was the time, under the presidency of von Lützow, when the Statutes were drawn up and the members of the so-called Permanent Committee on the History of Art elected. The triennial or quadrennial succession of congresses allows us to retrace the history of the Comité International, the creation of the national committees, and their fortunes and misfortunes.
Giovanni Cavalcaselle’s presence at the Vienna convention was a sign of Italy’s involvement from the earliest days, despite the fact that the scholar was in England during his period working with Joseph Archer Crowe.
During the Munich congress of 1909, Adolfo Venturi presented two reports, one dedicated to “Gothic painting in Italy during the early decades of the fifteenth century” and another, more methodological in character, entitled: “Della posizione ufficiale della storia dell’arte rispetto alle altre discipline storiche“ (The official position of the history of art with respect to other fields of history).
Italy’s position was reinforced in 1912 during the 10th international congress on the history of art, held for the first time in Italy. The event was promoted and organised by Adolfo Venturi in Rome in the prestigious setting of the Regia Accademia dei Lincei at Palazzo Corsini. The congress was very important not only for the noable participation of important scholars from various European countries, from Henry Thode to Paul Schubring, from Aby Warburg to Pietro Toesca, from Jan Veth to Louis Dimier, from Osvald Sirén to Puig y Catafalc, from Antonio Muñoz to Federico Hermanin, from Igino Benvenuto Supino to Andrea Moschetti, etc. The Roman congress was also attended by two Americans: Alfred Lincoln Frotingham, a colleague of Alain Marquand at Princeton, who presented a paper entitled “Di un nuovo metodo per distinguere le opere Bizantine dalle italo-Bizantine” (A new method for distinguishing between Byzantine and Italian-Byzantine works), and Gorham P. Stevens, who spoke about “The influence of Italian Architecture upon the American architecture of today”, not published in the proceedings released in 1922. One of the more relevant themes of the congress was dedicated to international artistic relations and, expressly, Italy’s associations with other nations throughout history.
The themes discussed in Rome resonated strongly during this period in history, so close to the outbreak of the First World War, when the nationalist tendencies that would later explode began to emerge.
The congresses that followed the Great War, beginning with that held in Paris in 1921, confirmed Italy’s presence; particularly important papers included that by Adolfo Venturi on the figurative arts at the time of Dante and another by a young Lionello Venturi, who outlined ‘the first lineaments’ of his History of Art Criticism, published successively in the United States in 1936. Papers were also presented by Luigi Coletti and Antonio Morassi, who spoke about the topical issue of rebuilding monuments destroyed during the war. There were also presentations on artistic relations between Italy and France and, finally, on music, a unique event in the history of the CIHA congresses.
Particular attention was paid to the methodological paper entrusted to Adolfo Venturi at the plenary meeting held during the 1930 congress in Brussels. Italy was represented by various scholars, from Lionello Venturi to Giuseppe Gerola, Luigi Serra, Riccardo Filangeri di Candida, Mary Pittaluga and others.
Conventions in Stockholm in 1933 and Switzerland in 1936 were attended by Italian scholars, together with officials from different museums and Sovrintendenze, such as Armando Quintavalle and his wife Augusta Ghidiglia, Pasquale Rotondi, Guido Ludovico Luzzatto and others. Perhaps due to the international political situation, the 1939 London congress, held at the dawn of the Second World War, attracted very few Italian and German participants. National committees began to form immediately after the war, initially organised as delegations from those nations that had contributed to structuring congresses, choosing their locations, themes and cultural framework.
Beginning in 1949, with the Lisbon congress, albeit at a reduced scale, the activities of the Comité International acquired stability and continuity; of significance, in particular for Italy, was the presence at the Portuguese congress of Emilio Lavagnino. He presented one paper on the restoration of the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini and a second on the Italian influence on Portuguese art during the Baroque period.
Italy reacquired importance in the CIHA only in 1952, in Amsterdam, during the 17th congress. It was at this time that the Italian Committee was reformed under the direction of Giulio Carlo Argan, who took on the responsibility of drawing up its Statue. Beginning in the 1950s, the congresses acquired a stable calendar, initially triennial and later quadrennial. The 1955 congress was hosted in Venice, and in 1979 it was the turn of Bologna, where Europeans were accompanied by non-Europeans from North, Central and South America and Asia, principally from Japan. The participation of Italians continued with an important presence, now also within the International Bureau, of such nationally prestigious figures as Oreste Ferrari, director of the Istituto Centrale del Catalogo, and Alessandro Bettagno, tenured professor at the University of Padua, who also organised annual meetings in Bologna in 1990 and Naples in 1998.
Between the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s the story of the Italian Committee grew uncertain and problematic, to the point of having no official presence at the 2004 Montréal congress. Following a few attempts to re-form the Italian Committee, also at the request of the International Bureau, in 2008 it was re-established under the impulse of a small group of art historians and officials from museums and Sovrintendenze. Giovanna Perini Folesani was elected president and the Statute revised. The presence of an Italian delegate at the international congress in Melbourne in 2008, the director of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Uffizi in Florence, Marzia Faietti, was widely appreciated by the Bureau and the Comité International.
Finally, the participation of the Italian Committee at the international congress in Nuremberg in 2012, including the coordination of sessions by Italian scholars and the presence of individual researchers, academics and museum officials, was cause for an even more appreciated affirmation of the Italian Committee, which advanced its candidature to host the 2020 congress in Florence. Successively, during the meeting of the International Bureau in Paris (November 2013), the Committee advanced a proposal for a congress in two cities (Florence 2019; São Paolo 2020), jointly organised with Brazil.
Following the end of term for the Italian Committee in 2012, and the election of the new Council of Directors and the nomination of Marzia Faietti as president, the Committee’s position was further reinforced by its presence at the annual congresses and through activities promoted over the past one and a half years.
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