Brea? Better than Michelangelo
by Vittorio Sgarbi
There is a surprisingly unhinged controversy, at a moment like this, characterised by the forced economic disinterest of public institutions with regard to art, over a notably large painting (258 x 123 cm), an Ascension against a gold background, well-preserved, that formed the central element of a large altarpiece full of Flemish and Provencal touches that inspire the Renaissance style of Lombardy, thanks to the genius of Ludovico Brea, with Donato de´ Bardi, a superb Ligurian artist from the 15th century. The work has been acquired by the State, after those normal procedures as laid down by the law, for the National Gallery at Palazzo Spinola.
Genoa and Ligurian painting enjoyed a Golden Century in the 17th century but also enjoyed a more than exceptional 15th century. For the city and the region, the Ascension is of the utmost interest and bears immense historical significance. We know, with records at hand, when it was conceived (1483), for whom (the notary, Pietro di Fazio), for which physical destination it was intended (the Church of the Consolazione in Artoria, subsequently changed for the Genoese church). Much has already been said about the certain intuitive way to understand art that makes no distinction between documented works and attributed works. This was an issue that was raised once again, for example, on the occasion of the acquisition of the wooden crucifix by Michelangelo, for which it would be legitimate to ponder whether the State should have been willing to provide some hypothetical criticism.
With the Ascension by Brea, from this particular point of view, we find ourselves in a completely different category, for which any doubts concerning whether or not it was a good idea to purchase works of uncertain hand no linger exist.
It has also been said that the “local” dimension” regarding Brea would not legitimise such high market quotations such as the one reached by the Ascension, above the all-important million euro figure. Who knows the antiques world, knows well that there are artists who are even more “local” than Brea who, for the most varied of reasons, from rarity to critical acclaim, possess quotations that are higher still and not dependent upon popularity. Furthermore, market quotations are hardly ever the main parameters by which a country needs to be inspired when desiring to protect works of art. Even those people who are not specialists are aware that in the history of art there exist not only universally important works but also works of cultural interest that respond to demands that differ greatly from those more significant masterpieces. In the case currently being examined, in the history of art from Liguria, geographically including not only that portion of coast right up to Nice, where Brea came from, but also the lower part of Piedmont, Lodovico is without doubt more relevant than Michelangelo, even though the former’s absolute value as an artist is less eminent. Thus, those institutions having the duty to represent the history of art in Liguria should treat Brea to a higher level than Michelangelo. Yet, we may be sure that had Palazzo Spinola promoted the purchase of a work by Michelangelo with no connection to Liguria, instead of the Ascension, few people would have objected, whatever price had been paid for it. This would have been a memorable exhibition of provincialism by those who would have interpreted art as a sort of cultural show, like a sequence of stars on parade. Lodovico Brea’s performance outshines therefore in brilliance. Balancing between Jan Van Eyck and Piero della Francesca, Brea, like other artists of his generation, transferred the Gothic world into the new language of the Renaissance, maintaining an archaic style somewhere between the devotional and the solemn, rendering his works utterly precious. Let there be little doubt, then, that his stature, in Liguria, is comparable to that of the equally stimulating Giovanni Bellini in Venice. With the more commanding role, however. A celebration for the museum that is welcoming through its doors this Ascension.