DICTIONARY OF ART HISTORIANS
A Biographical Dictionary of Historic Scholars, Museum Professionals and Academic Historians of Art
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(1921 in Rome, Italy - 1998 in Mentana, (near Rome) Italy)
Collector and art historian of
renaissance Italy. Zeri was born into a wealthy Roman family. He attended Rome University, where he initially studied botany.
In 1944 he
switched to the department of fine art under Pietro Toesca (q.v.), a leading scholar of (then) undervalued Italian medieval art.
Toesca introduced him to
Roberto Longhi (q.v.). He also made the personal acquaintance of influential
rival to Longhi,
Harvard art historian Bernard Berenson (q.v.). Zeri described his meeting
as lasting "from 16:32 to 16:54 precisely".
After graduating, Zeri worked for the Italian Ministry for Cultural
Heritage in its fine arts committee for six years. In 1952, however, Zeri
left, claiming that mismanagement and bureaucratic
lethargy in the ministry were destroying the very monuments they were
intended to save. Others suggested that Giulio Carlo Argan (q.v.), the
Inspector, actually dismissed Zeri for reasons of conflict of interest with private work.
This proved to be a boon for Zeri, who developed his profile as an
art historian by writing and lecturing. He published catalogs from two famous private collections in
Rome, the Galleria Spada (1954) and the Galleria Pallavicini
(1959). He advised collectors such as the Venetian Count Vittorio Cini. He
was a visiting professor in the United States at Harvard and Columbia. In 1957,
still only 36,
he published Pittura e Controriforma, a book on Mannerism praised by
Donald Posner) and was commissioned to catalog of the Italian paintings for the Metropolitan Museum
of Art (The Florentine School, 1971; The Venetian School, 1973;
and The Siennese School, 1980). At roughly the same time, he also
collaborated with Burton Federicksen (q.v.) on the Inventories of Italian
paintings in the United States. In 1976 he published a similar catalog of
Italian painting in Baltimore's Walter Art Gallery. These are considered
among his best scholarhsip.
In the 1980s Zeri took over co-editorship of the 13-volume Storia dell'arte
italiana, the scholarly survey of Italian art. In later years,
he focused his writing on forgery and issues of methodology. L'Inchiostro Variopinto (1985)
recounts his unmasking of fakes.
Dietro L'Immagine: conversazioni sull'arte di leggere l'arte (1987, translated
into English as Behind the Image, 1990) focused on methodology. Zeri
was appointed a founding member of the Board of the J. Paul Getty Museum in
Malibu. In 1993, when he could not dissuade the
museum from purchasing a Greek kouros, which he insisted was a forgery, he
resigned in protest. The
incident was widely reported and today the museum lists the piece as "circa 530
B.C. or modern forgery." In 1994 he published Giorno per Giorno nella Pittura
a book highlighting lesser-known
works in Italy that Zeri championed. Although he chided his country as unfit to be
a custodian of its own treasures, he
supervised the restoration of the Royal Palace and the Sforza Castle in Milan
shortly before his death. Zeri was awarded an honorary
degree from the University of Bologna, nearly the only honor he received within
Italy. He subsequently left his villa/museum/library to the University.
Home Country: Italy
Sources: [autobiography] Confesso che ho sbagliato ("I confess I was wrong"). Milan: Longanesi, 1995; [cited] Previtali, Giovanni. "The Periodization of Italian Art History." History of Italian Art. vol. 2 Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994, p. 16, note 18; Dolcetta, Marco. Federico Zeri: un velo di silenzio. Milan: Rizzoli,1999; Bona Castellotti, Marco. Conversazioni con Federico Zeri. Parma: Ugo Guanda, 1988; Federico Zeri: diario marchigiano, 1948-1988. Turin: U. Allemandi per la Banca delle Marche, 2000; Bolla, Luisella, and Cardini, Flaminia. Federico Zeri: l'enfant terrible della televisione italiana. Rome: Rai Eri, 2000; Posner, Donald. "Introduction." Friedlaender, Walter. Mannerism and Anti-Mannerism in Italian Painting. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965, pp. xvii; [obituaries] The Daily Telegraph (London). November 2, 1998, p. 21; The Times (London). October 21, 1998; Anne Hanley. The Independent (London), October 7, 1998, p. 7.
Bibliography: and Gardner, Elizabeth E. Pittura e Controriforma: L'arte senza tempo di Scipione da Gaeta. Turin: Einaudi, 1957; [Metropolitan Museum of Art Catalogs] Italian Paintings : a Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York: The Museum, 1986; Italian Paintings: Florentine School; a Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1971; Italian Paintings: Sienese and Central Italian Schools: a Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art . New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980; Italian Paintings: Venetian School; a Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society,1973; and Packard, Elizabeth C. G. Italian Paintings in the Walters Art Gallery Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery, 1976; Diari di lavoro 1. Turin: G. Einaudi, 1983; La Galleria Pallavicini in Roma : catalogo dei dipinti. Florence: Sansoni, 1959; La Galleria Spada in Roma: catalogo dei dipinti. Florence: Sansoni 1954; and Francesco Rossi. La raccolta Morelli nell'Accademia Carrara Milan: Silvana, 1986; L'inchiostro variopinto. Milan: Longanesi, 1985; Dietro l'immagine: conversazioni sull'arte di leggere l'arte. Venice: N. Pozza, 1998, English, Behind the Image: the Art of Reading Paintings. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987; and Fredericksen, Burton B. Census of pre-nineteenth-century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.