Bassano del Grappa was the centre of much war and conflict for over 1000 years until last century. But also for nearly two centuries it has been the home of a classical museum the Museum of Bassano del Grappa – a museum of class – now one of the top ‘second tier’ elegant museums in Italy with works ranging predominantly from the fourteenth to the 19th century.
It is not just an art museum but also a centre for study with a fine archive of Canova’s work and library of over 120,000 volumes. A visit to this classical museum requires a little assistance as the museum of Bassano del Grappa is located in the walking area of the old city in what was two hundred years ago, the monastery of the Church of San Francesco. The short walk is rewarded by some fine collections and pleasant surprises.
The main halls on the first floor are aligned in a cross and have classical high ceilings appropriate to the ecclesiastical history of the now elegant building. We entered the Museum of Bassano del Grappa through a gallery commemorating Antonio Canova, whose greatest sculptures are found far from his birthplace in nearby Passagno, but whose collection of graphic works and letters is housed nearly entirely in the Museum of Bassano del Grappa. Of his sculpture we have mainly models, created to sure his hand and eye before he turned to the marble slab.
We were, however, fortunate to witness a marvelous photographic exhibition of some of his finest sculptures displaying his great technique for achieving translucent marble and his love of the human form.
In the Canova gallery there is a door to the right leading to three smaller rooms housing 19th century art including paintings of Antonibon, the master ceramic house from Nove, whose name still graces a ceramic works near the square in that town.
More importantly, for the lucky visitor to the Museum of Bassano del Grappa, will be to hear, coming from a small door to the right in the first room, the sounds of a fine baritone singing an aria maybe from Tosca, Simone Boccanegro, Don Giovanni, or Rigoletto. This is a room devoted to the costumes of the wonderful singer and actor, Tito Gobbi, costumes spanning about 30 years of his career. Stand there, listen and shiver to feel the Scarpia costume coming alive (or is it dying) as he sings the duet with Tosca.
Returning to the Canova gallery, pass directly through the octagonal hall to a gallery devoted to the most famous and loyal of Bassano’s sons, the Renaissance artist, Jacopo Da Ponte, who adopted the name Bassano once he had become renowned. The works of Jacopo Bassano displayed herein the Museum of Bassano del Grappa, his home town, together with some of those of his progeny, are mainly of a pastoral nature, where the use of pastoral is in its two meanings relating to spiritual and farming life. In fact, Christian history predominates with one of the most outstanding works being the Circumcision, a curious selection of topic to a secular audience, though there is no doubt as to the role of the knife on the table.
A full day can be spent absorbing the works and particularly those from the renaissance period to the 18th century, in a pleasantly uncluttered museum, whose fine works deserve a larger audience and better promotion for the visitor to Veneto, or even for the regional Venetian. Be sated by the Museum of Bassano del Grappa.