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Anna Laetitia Pecci-Blunt collection of maps of Rome, 1557-1883

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Pecci-Blunt (Anna Laetitia) collection of maps of Rome

Biographical/Historical Note

Anna Laetitia ("Mimì") Pecci-Blunt was born on 15 March 1885. Her father, Count Camillo Pecci was head of the Guardia nobile pontificia and a nephew to Pope Leo XIII (Vicenzo Gioacchino Pecci), and her mother, Silvia Bueno y Garzon was a Spanish noblewoman from Cuba. After passing the years of World War I in Switzerland, Anna Laetitia Pecci settled in Paris and soon immersed herself in artistic and intellectual circles, becoming friends with Georges Braque and Jean Cocteau. She was introduced to the wealthy and cultured American banker, Cécil Blunt, son of the collector Ferdinand Blumenthal. The marriage between the two was celebrated in 1919 with the benediction of Pope Benedict XV, who gave Cécil Blunt the title of Count Pecci-Blunt. The couple took up residence in Paris where they opened their home to writers, poets, artists and musicians including Salvador Dalì, Cocteau, Paul Valéry, Francis Poulenc and Paul Claudel. The Pecci-Blunts had five children: Dino, Laetitia, Viviana, Camilla and Graziella.

In 1929, the Pecci-Blunts decided to spend part of each year in Rome and they purchased, near the Campodiglio and the Piazza Venezia, the palazzo in Piazza Aracoeli 3 designed by Giacomo della Porta. As in Paris, this residence became a cultural hub, reflecting Anna Laetitia Pecci-Blunt's desire to foster exchange between Italian and foreign artists, musicians and intellectuals. During this period Pecci-Blunt began to acquire prints, published works, drawings and paintings thematically focused upon the city of Rome. Many of these materials were purchased in Rome, however she also acquired art during her frequent trips to Paris. Pecci-Blunt's collection included views, plans, maps of Rome and depictions of the inhabitants of the city in popular costume. As intense urban development under Mussolini transformed Rome in the 1930s, interest in the city's past grew among certain circles in Rome. The collection came to be known as "Roma Sparita" because of its nostalgic focus on the Rome of a bygone era.

In addition to her collecting activities, Pecci-Blunt's patronage of the arts blossomed during this period. She began hosting an annual series of spring concerts at her palazzo and invited musicians such as Darius Milhaud, Arthur Rubinstein, Poulenc, George Auric, Igor Stravinsky and Nathan Milstein to perform. By 1934 plans were laid to open an art gallery. The Galleria della Cometa opened in April 1935 under the direction of Libero de Libero and featured contemporary artists including AFRO (Afro Basaldella), MIRKO (Mirko Basaldella), Corrado Cagli, Giorgio de Chirico, Guglielmo Janni and Gino Severini, among others. In 1937 a New York branch called The Cometa Art Gallery was opened. Both galleries were named after Pecci-Blunt's family coat of arms, a comet. She had adopted the symbol from her relative, Pope Leo XIII.

For a brief period, both galleries were in operation until mounting political tensions forced the closure of the gallery in Rome in 1938. Anna Laetitia and Cécil Pecci-Blunt spent the years of World War II in New York, before returning to Italy in 1947. Upon her return, Pecci-Blunt resumed her cultural and artistic activities, and in 1948, the first meeting of the Associazione Amici dei Musei di Roma was held in her palazzo. Shortly after, she expressed her desire to donate her collection of drawings, watercolors and other paintings to the Museo di Roma. Over the next twenty-odd years, she continued to support artistic endeavors in all forms, holding concerts, building and operating a theater (Teatro di Cometa), and serving in an advisory capacity to the museums of Rome. She was honored for her artistic patronage and philanthropy in 1960 with a Medaglia d'oro per l'arte e la cultura and in 1964, for her encouragement of cross-cultural interchange, with a Légion d'honneur from the French government.

During her years of activity with the Amici dei Musei di Roma, she provided funds for acquisitions and discouraged purchases that would duplicate items in her own collection. Upon her death in 1971, she donated her collection of drawings, watercolors, and paintings to the Museo di Roma, while her collection of prints and published works were sold and dispersed.

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