2008 Balzan Prize for the Visual Arts since 1700
Maurizio Calvesi (*1927 – †2020), one of the leading historians of modern art in Italy, was born in Rome in 1927, and graduated in the Humanities from the “La Sapienza” University in Rome in 1949.
A scholar of broad historic orientation with a special interest in the 20th century, he began with art in early modern Europe, but soon moved on to studies in 19th century and contemporary art. As a historian, he is famous for his studies on Francesco Colonna’s Il sogno di Polifilo, to which he devoted books in 1980 and 1996.
His brilliant career also includes positions in museum administration, in the teaching of art history and in art criticism. After serving as Superintendent of Art Museums in Bologna and west Emilia and as the Director of the Pinacoteca of Ferrara, he went on to the Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna e contemporanea in Rome. He has been active as a university professor in different Italian cities, including holding the chair in art history at “La Sapienza” until 2002, where he also led the Museo-laboratorio per l’arte contemporanea for many years. Vice-president and then President of the Committee for Artistic and Historic Heritage of the National Council of the Cultural Heritage of Italy (Comitato per i beni artistici e storici nell’ambito del Consiglio nazionale per i beni culturali), he is a renowned art critic and editor of scholarly journals.
Maurizio Calvesi’s most important work is in 20th century art history studies. He was editor and one of the authors of Storia dell’arte contemporanea (1985), analysing cultural trends in European and Italian art from the 1960 to the 1980s. One of his greatest achievements was to edit important chapters in the fundamental work Novecento. Arte e Storia in Italia (2000), a catalogue which not only documents the exhibit, but also lays the foundations for research on the formation of late modern and contemporary art in Italy.
Le due avanguardie. Dal Futurismo alla Pop Art (1966), re-published several times up to 2001, is considered the most important anthology of art theory regarding the Futurist movements from their origins to the so-called second Futurism of contemporary art. Maurizio Calvesi has also made important contributions to the study of Metaphysical Art, Dadaism, and Surrealism. His essay Storia della seduzione (1999), an attempt to trace the origins of contemporary art from the age of the Enlightenment onwards, resulted in the exhibition Da Boucher a Warhol.
Maurizio Calvesi, a highly productive scholar and an extremely important figure in the development of contemporary art, can be called the doyen of studies in the field of modern and contemporary art in present-day Italy.