Acceptance Speech – Rome, 21.11.2008


Maurizio Calvesi

2008 Balzan Prize for the Visual Arts since 1700

For his outstanding work on the history of modern and contemporary visual art, which has contributed to a better understanding of the nature and development of modernism as well as to the study of the origin of new trends in contemporary art

Mr. President,
Members of the Balzan Foundation,
Members of the General Prize Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

My own most heartfelt personal gratitude, as well as the gratitude of all art historians, I express – we express – to the Balzan Foundation, for having included among subjects susceptible to prizewinning a very noble and fundamental one, to be precise, the history and criticism of art, which are otherwise all too often forgotten in the calendar of prizes great and small. “An institution that has earned absolute merit in terms of universal culture”: here I retrieve the words pronounced in describing the Balzan Foundation by Giovanni Conso, the President of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, which I have had the honour of being part of for many long years. On the other hand, it is difficult for me to express how much the Prize awarded me by the Balzan Foundation gratifies not my vanity, but engenders faith in my work, and encourages its consolidation in its conclusive phases. It is a form of recognition that goes above and beyond any other form of recognition I might have received in my long life. In fact, the Balzan Prize, as has been rightly and undeniably said, is the most prestigious form of recognition that the scholar of a humanistic discipline can be awarded.
It has come to me at an age whose number is defined in the French language as quatre-vingts, four times twenty years, that is to say, that age at which the fifth fraction follows with difficulty. Nevertheless, I have the good fortune to be able to still count on many energies for my work, and this prize, which may possibly free me a little more from having to earn a livelihood and has intervened like a healthy shock to stimulate these energies even more, giving me hope to finish at least some of those scientific projects I still have in store for you, as well as to be able to continue to find a point of contact with young people, coordinating the research of scholars who (most of them) have lived less than two of those ‘twenties’: some of them, however, are my ex-students, but among these last individuals, or the most recent of the many that I have had, and as such I have not been able to help them in looking for a steady job. This is the painful reality, a dramatic decline in positions for researchers, unfortunately, especially in Italy, that, Mr. President, runs the risk of paralysing those research activities that over the centuries have made Italy not only an excellent country for art, but have also earned it a place in the avant-garde of the sciences.
Besides, of course, the illustrious components of the special Committee, my thanks go to the Chairmen of the Boards and Committees of the Foundation, Bruno Bottai, Achille Casanova and Sergio Romano, as well as Suzanne Werder, Secretary General of the Balzan Foundation “Prize”, who with great kindness, and allow me to say, mutual respect  assisted me with appropriate information on the agenda. Thanks also to my friend and art historian Roberto Ciardi, who assisted me in the presentation of such a vast range of documentary material.
Only eight individuals of Italian nationality, out of one hundred prizewinners have received a Balzan Prize in the past thirty years before me. This fact is another reason for pride and satisfaction, and more generally I read it as recognition of the entire Italian discipline of art history, which has had such eminent protagonists, starting with my master-father, Lionello Venturi, one of the very few Italian scholars who preferred exile to the humiliation of swearing allegiance to Fascism. And then I must also recall one who was a little like a grandfather, and not only mine since he was Lionello’s father, but also of all Italian art historians; here I mean the great Adolfo Venturi. Furthermore, I must also recall my “second masters” Giulio Carlo Argan and Francesco Arcangeli; my master, Eugenio Garin, who out of books of humanistic culture introduced me to the culture of hermeticism, which was one of the pillars strengthened by my studies on the Renaissance, and again that authentic genius of the avant-garde – perhaps still misunderstood – Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who shortly before he died (I was fourteen years old), introduced me to Futurism, and from thence, to the study of contemporary art, the cultivation of which I have always held to be essential in order to understand the art of the past. These are all tasks in which I have been lovingly assisted by my wife Augusta, who is also an art historian and animator, today, of the journal that I am editor of after having inherited it from Argan, Storia dell’Arte.

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