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Tra connoisseurship e militanza culturale: Pietro Selvatico e Ernst Förster nell'oratorio di San Giorgio (1837-1846)


The Nineteenth-Century rediscovery of the Oratory of S. Giorgio offers the opportunity to question the conservation methods, historical analysis and creative reception of fourteenth-century painting in this crucial period for the establishment of art history as a scientific discipline. This essay reconstructs the historical circumstances of the discovery of Altichiero’s frescoes and the consequent discussions among connoisseurs concerning the autography and the cultural value of these paintings. The protagonists of this scholarly discussion – the German art historian Ernst Förster (1800-1885) and his Italian colleague Pietro Selvatico Estense (1803- 1880) – see the Paduan fresco cycle as a model both for modern draughtsmanship and monumental fresco decoration. This dualistic character of reception, which is both erudite and aesthetic, seems to be due to the relationship that both scholars have with Alexis-François Rio, whose ideas on Christian art would have significantly influenced the development of contemporary sacred art. For this reason the scholarly discussions during the 1830s and 1840s are to be considered preliminary moments to the late Nineteenth-Century pictorial decorations in the Basilica of St. Anthony.