Scenography drawings from the Donghi Collection  

The result of a collectionism linked to the transmission of models within workshop practices, the collection of three hundred and twenty-seven scenographic drawings, from the largest sylloge belonging to Daniele Donghi (Milan, 1861 – Padua, 1938), represents an important testimony to the scenographic culture in Milan in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The drawings were acquired by Vittorio Cini in 1962, at the same time as the purchase of the graphic collections of Giuseppe Fiocco and the antiquarian sylloge named Fissore Pozzi, from the Milanese bookseller Elfo Pozzi, promptly pointed out by Tammaro De Marinis to the patron, who immediately donated them to the Cini Foundation for the Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe.

The genesis of the collection is to be linked to the process of scenographies drawings hoarding, and the related practical purposes of constituting sample collections of models and design ideas, by Felice Donghi (Milan, 1828 – Turin, 1887), perspective painter, landscape architect and set designer, among the protagonists of the Milanese theatrical culture in the second half of the nineteenth century in tandem with his older brother Giovanni Battista Donghi, to whom the role of probable initiator of the collection is attributed. It is due to Giovanni Battista, whose fifty-six scenographic sketches are present in the collection, that the oldest nucleus of drawings by Giulio Traballesi, Giovanni Perego and Bernardino, Fabrizio and Giovanni Antonio Galliari, brothers and members of the famous Piedmontese family of quadraturists, decorators and set designers active throughout Europe, should be found. The same nucleus of sketches by Pietro Gonzaga could be traced back to the collecting of Giovanni Battista Donghi, through Gaspare Galliari, a pupil of Gonzaga, who was active for the main Italian theaters, from La Scala to La Fenice, then he was called to Russia, with the support of Prince Nikolai Borisovič Jusupov, to work for the imperial theaters of Petersburg and Moscow. Felice Donghi’s fruitful insertion into the Milanese theatrical milieu and his close relationship with Alessandro Sanquirico, among the most important and celebrated set designers of his time, who recognized Felice Donghi as one of his most gifted pupils, might explain the presence in the collection of Sanquirico’s ninety-five drawings. It should probably be attributed to Felice Donghi, whose fifty-one drawings are counted in the sylloge, the role of systematic collector of stage designs related to the family’s educational and professional coté, to which his brother Alessandro Luigi is also added; to the materials he collected (sketches and drafts by Francesco Cocchi, Lorenzo Sacchetti and Paolo Donati are also counted), those belonging to Giovanni Battista had to be added, who in 1865 named his brother Felice heir to his estate. Upon Felice’s death, the collection passed to his son Daniele Donghi, among the protagonists of architectural and engineering culture at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a builder of avant-garde theaters, a revolutionary introducer and experimenter of reinforced concrete, founder of architectural journals and from 1904 chief engineer of Public Works for the City of Padua, where he was a full professor in the Faculty of Engineering and where he died in 1938. Upon his death, the collection, kept in the Paduan home of Daniele Donghi, passed to his daughters Costanza, Emma and Guglielmina, then split into two parts upon the latter’s death in 1945. The section that fell to Emma Donghi was screened by Professor Giuseppe Fiocco in 1942, later becoming the object of study by the student Elena Povoledo, who in 1948 consulted the collection at Emma’s villa in Romagnano, where it had been taken to remove it from the risks of war; in 1950 two hundred sets from this nucleus were exhibited at the Teatro Eliseo in Rome. In the following years Emma sold, on several occasions, her drawings to Fiocco himself, who partly aggregated them to his collection of drawings from Veneto, which was later alienated, together with the Donghi collection, to the bookseller Pozzi.


The collection was published in its entirety in the catalogue Le carte riscoperte. I disegni delle collezioni Donghi, Fissore, Pozzi alla Fondazione Giorgio Cini, edited by G. Pavanello, Venice 2008.