FRESH PAINT

ITALY’S MU­SE­UMS HAVE NEVER BEEN AS GOOD AS THE TREA­SURES THEY CON­TAIN – BUT THE RENZI GOV­ERN­MENT IS SHAK­ING THINGS UP, GIV­ING IN­STI­TU­TIONS MORE AU­TON­OMY AND EVEN HIR­ING FOR­EIGN­ERS TO BRING THEM UP TO SCRATCH.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY JOSEPHINE MCKENNA POR­TRAIT JAMES O’MARA

James Brad­burne is sprint­ing down the cor­ri­dors of one of Italy’s most fa­mous art mu­se­ums point­ing out his favourite trea­sures. Un­for­tu­nately there’s only a hand­ful of vis­i­tors around to share his en­thu­si­asm as the 60-year-old art di­rec­tor races past colour­ful fres­coes de­pict­ing bib­li­cal tales to rooms filled with Re­nais­sance mas­ter­pieces. “I love this one be­cause it’s so funky,” says Brad­burne as he sweeps across St Mark Preach­ing in Alexan­dria painted by broth­ers Gen­tile and Gio­vanni Bellini in 1507. He has a quick glance at a Veronese and a Tin­toretto be­fore com­ing to a halt in front of Raphael’s The Mar­riage of the Vir­gin. “Joseph is sup­posed to be old – why does Raphael de­pict him like a young Brad Pitt? What’s go­ing on with Mary’s vir­gin­ity?”

Brad­burne has set a crack­ing pace since he was ap­pointed by the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment to breathe new life into the Pinacoteca di Br­era and ad­join­ing li­brary in Mi­lan last Oc­to­ber.

Born in Toronto, he is one of 20 art di­rec­tors – seven of them for­eign – se­lected by the gov­ern­ment to drive the most dra­matic shakeup ever seen of Italy’s mu­se­ums and arche­o­log­i­cal sites. Cul­ture Min­is­ter Dario Frances­chini has called it “turn­ing the page” af­ter “decades of re­tar­da­tion”. Last month, as the gov­ern­ment ad­ver­tised for di­rec­tors for a fur­ther nine sites – in­clud­ing Her­cu­la­neum near Mt Ve­su­vius and Os­tia An­tica near Rome – he said, “The revo­lu­tion con­tin­ues.”

Brad­burne is on a per­sonal cru­sade to make sure trans­for­ma­tion comes to the Pinacoteca.

“All of Mi­lan is proud of this col­lec­tion. They know it’s ab­so­lutely top notch. But they don’t know why it doesn’t feel like the Ri­jksmu­seum or the MOMA in New York. They feel a lit­tle em­bar­rassed.

“The Mi­lanese want to be proud of their Br­era. They have a mon­u­ment in the cen­tre of the city but when you come in here it is not up to snuff. One of the chal­lenges is to make this mu­seum loved by the city.”

A short stroll from La Scala opera house in the heart of Mi­lan, the Pinacoteca sits in­side a Baroque com­plex which was com­pleted in 1776. It in­cludes a pres­ti­gious art academy, lush botan­i­cal gar­dens and the city’s old­est astro­nom­i­cal ob­ser­va­tory.

The gallery it­self was con­ceived by Napoleon Bon­a­parte who dreamed of cre­at­ing the “Lou­vre of Italy” af­ter he swept through the coun­try and crowned him­self king in 1805. But these days the Pinacoteca sits in a for­got­ten cor­ner in the cen­tre of the city.

Just a few streets away, the for­mer Royal Palace houses world-class ex­hi­bi­tions be­side the city’s beloved Duomo and art lovers reg­u­larly queue up at the Gal­lerie d’Italia, a con­verted bank with a far smaller col­lec­tion and a must-see buzz about it.

The Pinacoteca looks drab and dated in com­par­i­son. There is very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about its mag­nif­i­cent col­lec­tion, which in­cludes works by Car­avag­gio, Ti­tian, Bot­ti­celli, Piero Della Francesca and Man­tegna. Even the ticket of­fice is hard to find.

“You go through a shop and you don’t know where the en­trance is,” says Brad­burne. “It is sad, it is shabby. This is not the en­trance to one of the finest col­lec­tions of the coun­try. The first im­pres­sion is dis­ap­point­ment.”

For years Italy’s gal­leries and mu­se­ums have been vic­tims of their own stag­na­tion and mis­man­age­ment. Too of­ten tele­phone lines don’t work and web­sites don’t

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