Zimbabwe Meets Italy: Marking the Return of the Three Italian Masters

The meeting point between Italy and Zimbabwe is unique through a number of Italian Masters donated by Sir Stephen Courtauld, who was the biggest patron of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.  His involvement towards the establishment and construction of this Gallery and his donation of a number of European Masters is a huge contribution. He did this through the first Director of the National Gallery Salisbury, Frank McEwen. Zimbabwe’s relationship with a number of European countries is through some of these masters, hence the saying, “Art brings people together”. It is through these three artworks that Zimbabwe meets Italy.

This exhibition marks the return of the Italian Masters. They draw attention to issues surrounding the history of collections: their acquisition, their place in the era of Colonialism. This raises questions concerning ownership and power. What does this collection tell us and the outside world about the National Gallery of Zimbabwe?

A Patriarch

Zimbabwe Meets Italy: Marking The Return of the three Italian Masters exhibition seeks to stimulate dialogue of Historical and Contemporary issues of local and global relevance: attitudes and values, prejudice, racism, political repression, poverty, wealth and repatriation.

It is during the restoration of the Eltham Palace in the south of London that the Director of Museums and Collections of the English Heritage requested to borrow the aforementioned works for display.  The palace was built in 1936 for the English gentleman and his wife.  After years of correspondence, the works finally arrived in London on the 6th of July 1999 from Zimbabwe.

The works stayed there for a period of 19 years until their return to Zimbabwe in April 2018. According the Kara Smith, the prolonged stay of the works was attributed to the significance that the works have in England, especially to the Eltham Palace where they were once placed.  The paintings were hung in the Italian Drawing Room where they were originally hung in the 30s when Sir Courtauld and his wife moved in.

Zimbabwean artists in this show respond and celebrate the return of these old masters. Their return from English Heritage after so many years show the relationship between our two institutions from a seed planted by Sir Stephen Courtauld to this grand exhibition. The National Gallery of Zimbabwe is proud to juxtapose contemporary Zimbabwean artists alongside these Italian Masters whose works are a taste of time.  Andrea Piazza’s The King Poland Being Received By The Doge of Venice narrates the Venetian life in the 17th century. Paolo Veronese’s, Patriarch questioning this issue now in the 21st century. The issue of patriarch has remained questionable besides being in the 21st century, be it in Europe, Asia or Africa. The rights of women remain being trampled upon. Paolo’s 15th century work and his subject matter is still relevant today. Artists are always ahead of their time and they sometimes foresee the future. This is by no accident; it is their role as storytellers of our societies. Zimbabwe Meets Italy: Marking The Return Of The Italian Masters Exhibition contributes to the global art dialogue of how museums and galleries use their collections.

The works in this show are created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulse. The central concerns in this show include theories of multi-culturalism, representation of gender and forays outside the canon.

Our exhibitions are created to promote audience building for the Gallery and to also illustrate that the world often neglects the meeting point between the past and present. Therefore, this show represents legends, memories, diaries, historical correspondence, records, and many other things that surround us. Accounts conveyed by different mediums help us to comprehend the past, contextualise the present and understand the resulting connection to these artworks.

These master pieces were central to telling the Courtauld story and hence, exhibition.

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