The exhibition offers visitors the first comprehensive display of the vast and astonishing collection which American husband and wife George Washington Wurts and Henrietta Tower put together at the turn of the 19th century and subsequently donated to the Italian state – specifically to the museum of Palazzo Venezia, where it is still housed today. The exhibition also sets out to recreate the context: that unique turn-of-the-century approach to collecting which became so intimately bound up with Italy that it frequently resulted in the donation either of individual works or of entire collections to the Italian state. The exhibition explores the dynamics of (particularly Anglo-American) collecting and of the international market against the backdrop of radical change being experienced by the young Italian nation and its new capital, Rome, in those years. The construction of the Vittoriano, which began in 1885 and was completed and inaugurated to coincide with the Exhibition celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Italian unity in 1911, became the very emblem symbolising the city at the dawn of the 20th century.
The section of the exhibition hosted in Palazzo Venezia is devoted to the Wurts, showcasing the most significant works from their collection, many of which were removed from storage, studied and cleaned specially for the occasion.
The context within which the Wurts’ passion for collecting flourished is ideally recreated in the Gallerie Sacconi at the Vittoriano, where numerous exhibits from prestigious Italian and foreign museums and private collections conjure up the atmosphere of a world made of auctions, of dealers, of markets both national and international, and of the triumph of quality craftsmanship inspired by a stylistic revisitation of the art of the past. The exhibition unfolds in parts of the Vittoriano that include recently restored areas not normally open to the public, including the Gallerie Sacconi themselves, thus shining the spotlight on the monument’s interior architecture which, far from simply hosting the exhibition as a mere theatre or “vessel”, ends up playing a leading role in and of itself.