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Luigi Salerno research papers, 1948-1996

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Finding aid for the Luigi Salerno research papers, 1948-1996

Biographical / Historical Note

Luigi Salerno was born on 3 September 1924, in Rome, Italy, to Aldo Salerno and Maria Santangelo, who was the sister of the art historian Antonino Santangelo. He attended the Università di Roma, "La Sapienza," where he graduated in 1946 with a laurea in Storia dell'arte moderna and a thesis on the Macchiaioli, written under Lionello Venturi.

Salerno's exemplary academic work garnered him a scholarship from the Istituto d'archeologia e storia dell'arte (1946-1949) and a fellowship to study at the Warburg Institute in London in 1948, where he worked closely with Rudolf Wittkower. His exposure to the work of Fritz Saxl, Ernst Gombrich, and Wittkower, and to their art historical methodologies, would be fundamental for the development of his research. While in London, Salerno met Denis Mahon, with whom he would develop a lasting friendship which resulted in numerous collaborations, including a major work on Guercino (1988). Mahon advised and critiqued early works authored or edited by Salerno including those on Giovanni Lanfranco and Giulio Mancini, and the two corresponded regularly throughout Salerno's career. Salerno and Mahon would later be involved together in the rediscovery of two Caravaggio paintings acquired by American museums in the 1970s: the Detroit Institute of Arts' Martha and Mary Magdalene and the Cleveland Museum of Art's The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew. Through Mahon, Salerno was introduced to Benedict Nicolson, the long-time editor of The Burlington Magazine. This fruitful relationship resulted in a friendship, as well as the appearance of a number of articles written by Salerno in the Burlington and other English language journals.

As a young man, Salerno lived for a time with Alessandro Marabottini, then assistant to Professor Salmi. The two shared a flat on the Aventino in Via Sant'Anselmo, until Salerno married Elda Campana in 1953. Elda Campana and Luigi Salerno had two sons, Pietro Paolo, born in 1955 and Carlo Stefano, born in 1960.

In 1947, Salerno joined the Antichità e belle arti del ministero della pubblica istruzione, and was assigned shortly thereafter to the Soprintendenza alle gallerie di Roma (1948). His 1958 appointment as director of the Soprintendenza ai monumenti del Lazio, an administration responsible for the care and preservation of historic monuments throughout Lazio, prompted Mahon to write: "Congratulations on your enormous new responsibilities - which would terrify me!" Salerno remained at the Soprintendenza until 1967, during which time he developed research on Rome's urban history. He prepared numerous publications on monuments and sites in Rome including, Altari barocchi (1959), the Palazzo Rondinini (1964), Piazza di Spagna (1967), Roma communis patria (1968) and with Luigi Spezzaferro and Manfredo Tafuri, Via Giulia: una utopia urbanistica del 500 (1973). The vast publication on Via del Corso (1961), prepared under Carlo Pietrangeli, and to which Salerno made numerous contributions, became a model for studies on urban history.

During this period, Salerno continued to be involved with exhibition organizing committees and to publish works on a variety of topics, such as Giovanni Lanfranco, Caravaggio, the Carraccis and the Mancini manuscripts. His scholarly interest in 17th century Italian painting would find fulfillment in the immensely popular and successful exhibition Il Seicento Europeo (1956), whose catalog Salerno wrote in collaboration with Alessandro Marabottini. In 1959, he was on the research committee of the important exhibition Il Settecento a Roma and was appointed research professor in art history at the Università di Roma. He firmly established himself as an assiduous scholar with his publication in three installments of the Burlington Magazine of the inventory of the collection of Vincenzo Giustiani (1960).

Salerno took on numerous editorial projects as co-director for visual arts for the journal Palatino, as founding co-editor of the journal Storia dell'arte, directed by Giulio Carlo Argan, and as a member of the editorial committee of the Enciclopedia universale dell'arte (1958-1967), also led by Argan. He taught briefly in the United States, accepting a visiting professorship at Pennsylvania State University during the fall of 1965. This sojourn sparked a friendship between Salerno and Robert and Catherine Enggass, who translated several of Salerno's works. In 1968-1969, Salerno won a Fulbright scholarship for the academic year which he spent as an affiliated fellow at the American Academy in Rome.

In addition to his administrative and teaching duties, Salerno pursued research on artists and topics in art history which he felt remained neglected in Italy, notably the painter Salvator Rosa, the so-called unacademic painters and Italian still life painting. He also wrote extensively on landscape and vedute. He was largely responsible for bringing Salvator Rosa to the fore among his contemporaries, preparing two monographs on the painter (1963, 1975). In a review in The Burlington Magazine, Francis Haskell, who considered Salerno's first monograph "excellent," noted it was the first major work devoted to the artist in over fifty years. As a result, Salerno's name became inexorably intertwined with that of the artist and he received numerous expertise requests from individuals who believed themselves to be in possession of a genuine work by Rosa. Salerno's interest in unacademic painters grew and dissent in art was a theme he would continue to explore throughout his career. He became a specialist on artists such as Filippo Napoletano, Jacques Callot, Angelo Caroselli, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Pier Francesco Mola, Nicolas Poussin, Salvator Rosa and Pietro Testa.

In 1967 Salerno assumed the position of director at the Calcografia nazionale. During his tenure Salerno headed major initiatives to inventory, photograph and catalog printing plates in the collection. By the late 1960s Salerno was director of the Ufficio esportazione, also known as the Dogana, an office responsible for monitoring and issuing licenses for the exportation of works of art. In 1973 he was transferred from his position in Rome to the Soprintendenza dell'Aquila, where he stayed only a few months. Taking advantage of new legislation which allowed for the early retirement of high-level administrators, Salerno chose to devote himself more fully to his research interests. This enabled him to publish an essay and catalog entries for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition, The Age of Caravaggio (1985), and a number of important volumes including: L'opera completa di Salvator Rosa (1975), Pittori di paesaggio del Seicento a Roma (1977-1980), La natura morta italiana, 1560-1805 (1984), I dipinti del Guercino (1988), and his last major work I pittori di vedute in Italia (1991). After a long convalescence, Salerno died on 22 July 1992.

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