Rebuilding the Ruffo collection, an inevitable opportunity for wealth and culture

Passing through the harbor carpet, almost near the Fratelli La Bufala pizzeria, at the beginning of the famous Palazzata built after the will of the Viceroy Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia from 1622, how many know that one of the most important in Italy and Europe? We are talking about the famous collection of Antonio Ruffo, Prince della Scaletta, which began in the 1940s and which in the late 1970s, unharmed passed from the anti-Spanish uprising in 1674-78, counted almost three hundred paintings commissioned from the greatest artists of the time, as well as to an endless array of balls, precious works of silverware and tapestries, furniture and other wonders.

In the Palazzo Ruffo di Messina, built thanks to the entrepreneurial wisdom of Antonia Spadafora, who energetically took over the family fate at the death of her husband, Don Carlo Ruffo, in addition to the stunning artistic collection (probably the most important private collection of a non-royal or papal family of its time) , the total intellectual aristocracy of the time, who loved to talk about all subjects of human knowledge. After the death of the prince, which took place in 1678, the collection began to be divided due to the various hereditary divisions, until it completely disappeared in the middle of the 19th century, when the remaining part of the works left in Messina , was destroyed per. a fire in the Ruffo di Gazzi villa.

The prince, as a great patron and art expert, dealt directly with the artists, imposing not only the themes but discussing the quality of the works themselves, which should always be the first choice. In fact, we have numerous letters addressed to artists by artemisia Gentileschi, Guercino, Rembrandt, Pietro da Cortona, in which Ruffo points out his thoughts and does not save money to have only the best for himself. The prince’s only concern was that he did not even find a small painting of Caravaggio, though he unleashed his envoys all over Italy in search of a small relic of Merisi to add to his amazing collection. But if he did not have Caravaggio, Ruffo – the only collector in Italy in his and our time – had three works by the Dutchman Rembrandt, which was considered by many to be even superior to Caravaggio, namely an “Aristotle looks at Homer’s bust”, a “The blind Homer “and a” Alexander the Great “. In addition to Rembrandt, Ruffo collected paintings by painters such as Guercino, Artemisia, Salvator Rosa, Andrea Sacchi, Ribera, Pietro da Cortona, Stomer, Novelli, Guido Reni, Mattia Preti, as well as the great painters of Messina in the seventeenth century such as Rodriguez, Barbalonga and above all Agostino Scilla, the painter-philosopher who was also a friend and adviser to Antonio Ruffo. In short, an image gallery that, if it still stood, could easily compete with many museums in the world.

What could you do? Unfortunately, many paintings have been lost due to the various scatterings they have suffered, but some have been traced in various places around the world by the scholars who have been dealing with the collection over the decades. For example, the canvas with “Aristotle looks at the bust of Homer” is kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it landed in 1961 after a whirlwind tour with merchants and art auctions. We not only know the location of this canvas; but of many others, such as Ribera, Stomer, Novelli, Rosa, and Artemisia, we know very well where they are at the moment, though the trip that brought them there is not always ready. A good initiative, organized in collaboration with the Regional Museum, the University and the Municipality, could be to collect the works that can be returned to the Ruffo Collection in a temporary exhibition. It would be an ambitious and far-sighted initiative; it would be like going back in time when Messina was truly a Mediterranean capital that could be on the same level as the major European cities. It would be, as the organization of major events shows, an opportunity to drive the economy and finally turn it around, “politics” often says without understanding its meaning: to make money with tourism.

Leave a Comment