The Story of a Collection


Luciano Sorlini (1925–2015) was an important Brescian entrepreneur. He was born into a family from Valcamonica that since the nineteenth century had specialised in the metalwork sector. Once in Brescia, the Sorlini family diversified its activities and in 1960 Luciano opened his own factory in a town in the Lake Garda inland area, Calvagese della Riviera where he soon decided to reside settling in the seventeenth-century palazzo he bought around 1970 and that today is the seat of MarteS.
A man of great determination, intuition and intelligence, during the seventies Luciano Sorlini started to frequent the Veneto and Venice, a city that soon charmed him and where he eventually bought the palazzo on the Gran Canal that once was the residence of the Grimani family. From the same family he also later acquired the Castello di Montegalda in the province of Vicenza.
Both these monumental buildings were in need of restoration, a circumstance that led Sorlini to explore fields that were new to him, such as art and architecture conservation, restoration, and enhancement.

The palazzi also needed suitable furniture and that was when Luciano Sorlini started to become familiar with some of Italy’s major art dealers, undertaking his passionate research that would mainly focus on the art of eighteenth-century Venetian painting. Over the years, his collection kept growing through important acquisitions of antique furniture and a great number of old paintings, a heritage that Luciano Sorlini decided to protect with the creation of a Foundation.

After his death in 2015, it was Luciano Sorlini’s wish that his children Cinzia, Silvia, Stefano and his grandchildren Giulia, Angelica, Luigi, and the Foundation named after him would establish an institution where the artworks he had collected with so much love and passion could be kept, enhanced and shared with the public. This institution is MarteS – Museo d’Arte Sorlini located in the family palazzo in Calvagese.

Art wasn’t Luciano Sorlini’s only love. Since early on in his life, flying had been another great passion of his.
For Sorlini the airplane was a natural means of transportation: he obtained his first pilot licence in 1950 and later also obtained the instrument flight certificate (to fly at night only with the aid of aircraft instruments). He flew his beloved FIAT G 46 until a few months before his death.
Luciano Sorlini even salvaged some aircrafts from World War II which after due maintenance a thorough restoration he was able to fly.
These important airplanes from World War II and ten other vintage airplanes, all in working order are now property of Luciano’s daughter Silvia who with her husband Giovanni Marchi continues this unique “collection” in the hangars of Calvagese and Ceresara (Mantova).

The Collection

Sorlini, an authentic art lover, directed his collection towards the works by the masters of the past and was never interested in contemporary art although he did appreciate modern design.
Sorlini started his collection during the 1970s, at a time when international art dealers rediscovered the art of Venice, a trend that led to numerous exhibitions that in turn paved the way towards a greater knowledge and appreciation of Venetian painting.
In this period Luciano Sorlini met Egidio Martini (1919–2011), an expert of eighteenth century Venetian painting who was also an art conservator and collector.
For some of his acquisitions Sorlini followed Egidio Martini’s advice, but soon Luciano was able to make his own choices thanks to his studies and his natural taste and sense of quality.
Initially intended as complementary additions to the furniture inside his residences, especially in the Grand Canal palazzo known as “palazzo Grimani of the Golden Tree,” the Sorlini collection mainly focuses on eighteenth-century Venetian painting providing a clear reflection of the interests of “Mr Luciano” (that was how everyone called him).
Alongside the great masters – Tiepolo, Ricci, Guardi, Canaletto, Rosalba Carriera – the collection also includes works by less famous painters whose output however is crucial towards a full understanding of the art produced in the Republic of Venice: Pittoni, Diziani, Molinari, Bellucci, Fontebasso and many others.

The Brescian entrepreneur’s judgement and good sense led him to not limit his acquisitions only to paintings by the most famed artists. He maintained that the money for a mediocre Canaletto could be better spent on masterpieces by less renowned but far more rewarding artists.
So the core of Sorlini’s collection consists of eighteenth-century Venetian paintings, figure paintings, such as joyful mythological scenes or episodes from the Old Testament, no still lifes, and a few portraits and landscapes (not veduta paintings). Especially during the early stages of his collection, Sorlini was mostly drawn to luminous, pleasing and brightly coloured paintings.
Towards the end of the 1990s, however, there was a change of direction and the collection welcomed somewhat unexpected paintings, such as a Madonna by Giovanni Bellini (Venice 1430 –1516) from the Contini Bonacossi collection. This was a painting from a different period and by a prestigious artist that simply captivated Luciano Sorlini who was thrilled at the idea of owning such a masterpiece.
Another extraordinary addition was the series of six large teleri by Gianantonio Guardi (Vienna 1699 – Venice 1760) depicting episodes of the Story of Joseph once part of the decorative apparatus of Palazzo Grassi, and later owned by prince Lutormirski.
Concomitant to this shift of focus in the collection was Luciano Sorilini’s decision to establish an institution for the conservation of his collection: the Fondazione Luciano Sorlini.

The Exhibition at Museo Correr

The artworks that Luciano Sorlini chose for the Museum are representative of his collection and of his personal taste. A collection whose value and consistency had already been recognised by art enthusiasts in 2005 when a selection of Sorlini’s paintings “from Bellini to Tiepolo” was included in an exhibition at Museo Correr in Venice.


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