Internship in the Curatorial Department of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan, Italy
February 12th, 2023
Alice Spadini S4865774
Master of Arts in Art History and Curatorial Studies
Dr. Lavinia Galli; Dr. Federica Manoli
Prof. Dr. Ann-Sophie Lehmann
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Major Projects and Assignments……….4
Loans (and relative paperwork)………..7
Guided tours and workshops with children………8
Events and project proposals………..9
My curricular internship took place at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, a private art museum located in the center of Milan, Italy. Originally the private apartment of the 19th century collector Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, the museum opened to the public in 1881 thanks to Poldi Pezzoli’s will and testament, in which he donated his house and the art collections held within it to the city of Milan. The collections are varied and heterogeneous, ranging from Renaissance paintings to archaeological objects, from 15th century Murano glassware to a vast collection of solar and mechanical clocks. The collections of both fine and applied arts reflect the taste of 19th century European collectors and offer an immersive visit into the private apartment of a Milanese nobleman of the 1800s.
As an intern, I worked in the Curatorial Department alongside the Head of Collections and Registrar Dr. Federica Manoli and the Museum’s Curator, Dr. Lavinia Galli. While the supervisor officially written in my placement contract was Dr. Lavinia Galli, I spent the majority of my time with Dr. Federica Manoli. This was mostly a personal choice but also influenced by the Curatorial Department’s necessities at the beginning of my placement. As soon as I arrived, the preparations for an exhibition inaugurating in mid November were well underway, and I was immediately involved in assisting with all the preliminary stages of planning. This resulted in spending most of my time in support of Dr. Manoli, who introduced me to the more managerial side of museum work and exhibition planning. After the exhibition inaugurated, I found that the work I was doing in assistance to Dr. Manoli - loans, cataloguing artworks in the deposits etc. - was quite stimulating for me, so I remained focused on this aspect of the job. Luckily, the Poldi Pezzoli Museum allows their interns a fair amount of flexibility in choosing the direction their placement will take. If one intern is particularly predisposed for one sort of job rather than another, the Museum staff facilitates and allows for that intern to choose the path they prefer. The only exception is in particularly busy periods, such as the months preceding an exhibition, during which interns are asked to assist with whatever task is most urgent. Thanks to this flexibility, I chose to focus my placement on shadowing Dr. Manoli, who showed me the responsibilities of a Museum Registrar and the common practices of collection management.
Interning in a relatively small museum gave me the opportunity to work in many different areas, covering a wide range of roles and responsibilities. To begin with, I handled a series of administrative tasks, such as general office administration and responding to email requests, but also dusting frames and display cases before opening hours, as well as receiving guests, scholars and special visitors. The most common email requests I managed were related to purchases of image rights and reproductions, questions about the Museum’s collections and bibliographical information, and setting appointments for visits to the Museum’s library and archive. While these tasks were mostly in the background throughout the entirety of my internship, I was also given several other larger projects and assignments, often in relation to the Museum’s activities and priorities at a given time.
MAJOR PROJECTS and ASSIGNMENTS
The first major project I was involved in was the planning and organization of a temporary exhibition within the Museum, titled “The Art of Donation. From Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli until today”, which opened to the public on November 16th, 2022. I assisted with all the preparatory stages of the exhibition planning, from meeting with architects and exhibition designers when planning the display, to writing and editing for the catalogue and wall texts.
One of my responsibilities in preparation for the exhibition was to edit captions for artworks on display, translating them into English and correcting certain graphic elements, then liaising with the exhibition and graphic designers. I also edited and corrected catalogue texts and drafts that the publishing house sent us, to then send back the corrections. The images below demonstrate this editing process.
It was a very intense start to my placement, which immediately plunged me into a working rhythm that stayed more or less unchanged throughout the rest of my internship. It was fairly tiring and overwhelming at first, but it forced me to adapt and readjust to a very fast-paced and dynamic environment.
One of the first things I was taught when my internship began was how to use the Museum’s collection management software, CoMwork. Throughout my internship I have spent a large portion of my time working with this software, updating inventory information and carrying out general data cleaning in the database. An ongoing project that a few previous interns had begun was taking photographs of objects in the Museum’s deposits and inserting them into CoMwork; a slow, lengthy process with the objective of ensuring every object in the Museum’s collection is properly catalogued online. After the opening of the exhibition, I began working on this project alongside one of the Art Handlers, slowly going through the various sections of the Museum’s deposits, photographing each object and cataloguing it. In the span of about four months, we photographed over 2000 objects and artworks of all kinds, from 19th century armor to Tintoretto sketches. The Art Handler helped me in moving and manipulating these objects and photographing them, while the cataloguing portion of the project was carried out independently. Going through the Museum’s deposits also presented the opportunity to reorganize and rearrange certain cabinets, shelves and rooms for storage. This meant that my job also consisted in making lists of the artworks in a given section of the deposit, and updating this information in CoMwork, so that the location of each artefact was up to date and accountable.
Screenshots from the collection management s o f t w a r e C o M w o r k , w h e r e I e d i t e d a n d inserted various kinds of inventorial information for a variety of different categories of objects, from paintings, to armour, archeological objects and so on.
Loans (and relative paperwork)
Working alongside Dr. Manoli, I was introduced to all the paperwork and processes involved in loaning artworks to other museums for exhibitions, from sending the official authorization request to the Ministry of Culture and Superintendence to writing condition reports and making transport arrangements.
Top left: Official authorisation request I wrote and submitted to the Director, who then sent it to the Superintendent.
Top right: First page of a condition report I filled out for the loan of a 16th century armour.
Bottom: One of the loan forms I filled out and had signed by the Museum’s Director, in this case for the loan of a 16th century armour to the Uffizi Galleries.
Guided tours and workshops with children
I also collaborated with the Museum’s Educational Services and Ambarabart, the external organisation that carries out guided tours and workshops within the Museum. After the opening of the exhibition “The Art of Donating”, the Educational Services created a guided tour (with adjoined workshop) around the theme of donating and the generosity of the Museum’s founder, who donated all his collections and house to the Milanese population. This tour and workshop was catered to students from ages 6 to 18, with varying workshop activities for elementary, middle and high school classes. I was asked to carry out several tours with elementary school children, and also supervised the workshop activity, during which the children were asked to create a collage of an artwork they would like to donate to the Museum, to carry forward the legacy of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli.
Throughout my internship I carried out a number of guided tours of the temporary exhibition and of the entire museum, sometimes on the occasion of a private event with a small group of special guests, other times simply with Museum visitors. The photographs above are from my guided tours with children and with a group of adults.
Planning a small exhibition (children’s collages) and the carpet display/conference
Towards the end of my internship, I had gained enough experience that my supervisor Dr. Manoli assigned me the task of planning the exhibition display and arrangement of two small events within the museum in which artworks would be displayed.
One was a single-day event, in which a number of Safavid carpets were brought to the Museum and displayed in one of the event rooms, while in the next room a conference was held with a presentation by Dr.
Michael Franses. For this event, I coordinated the display of the carpets within a limited space, presented my project to the Director and had it approved, and assisted with the installation of the artworks on the morning of the event. The project is pictured below, with a schedule for the installation day and for the day of the event, a list of necessary materials for the installation, and a floor plan of the proposed display.
Allestimento tappeti e presentazione Michael Franses
LUNEDÌ 6 FEBBRAIO
MARTEDÌ 7 FEBBRAIO
ALLESTIMENTO SALA COLLEZIONISTA
1 tavolino per proiettore di Michael Franses (30x40cm, altezza 80cm) 1 tavolino per il computer
Posti da sedere per 50 persone
ALLESTIMENTO TERRAZZA POLLAIOLO 4 tavoli Unifor 80x210cm
3 tavoli tondi Terrazza 1 tavolino tondo Terrazza
1 cavalletto per tappeto n.5, montato in cornice/teca plexiglas
Montaggio tappeto delle tigri (AG)
Spostare le vetrine dei cimeli di GGPP e il doppio ritratto della Sala del Collezionista (vetrine sul tavolo nella Sala Trivulzio?) (AG)
Preparare Sala del Collezionista Portare cavalletto in Terrazza
09.00 OpenCare consegna tappeti Bruschettini
09.30 Ziya Bozoglu e Ben Evans consegnano tappeti di collezioni private, consegna frammenti da Moshe Tabibnia
10.00 - 10.30 Arriva Michael Franses
11.00 - 11.15 Accoglienza ospiti a cura di personale di HALI
11.15 - 12.00 Presentazione powerpoint di Michael Franses nella Sala del Collezionista
12.00 - 13.00
Visita dei tappeti in Terrazza Pollaiolo e Salone Dorato (ospiti divisi in due gruppi).
Salone Dorato - Michael Franses con tappeto delle tigri; Terrazza - Ben Evans e HALI con frammenti di coll. private
I presented a similar event proposal for the last week of the temporary exhibition, during which we decided to display the collages created by the children in the workshops (explained earlier). I was in charge of planning the display of these collages in one of the Museum’s event rooms, where this mini-exhibition was to be held. The photos below are the project plan I presented to my supervisor and to the Director, which was approved and implemented for the exhibition, which took place from February 9th to 19th.
Given that both these events took place in the later stages of my internship, I was given a considerable amount of responsibility in planning and putting together the events and running them on the day of. The mini-exhibition of children’s collages was planned, organised and executed almost exclusively by me.
Throughout my internship it happened a few times that a new artwork was acquired by the Museum through a private donation. On these occasions, I was in charge of writing up a formal letter of temporary deposit - until the artwork was officially given an inventory number and inserted into the collection - and creating the artwork’s information sheet in the CoMwork database. In some cases, enough information was provided by the donor in terms of provenance, art-historical significance and state of conservation. Other times, this research was left to me and the Museum’s Curator, Dr. Galli. This was the case when the Museum received an embroidered
p a n e l m a d e o f s i l k , attributed to the Qing Dynasty towards the end of the 19th century. I was g i v e n t h e t a s k o f researching the symbolism of the animals and images embroidered onto the panel, in the hopes of gathering clues as to the
I then filled out the information sheet which was inserted into CoMwork, in which I included the findings of my research (originally in Italian):
“The fabric features a rich decoration with various species of animals and plants, framed by a black background stripe filled with floral motifs. The upper edge of this frame does not coincide with the end of the fabric but outlines a frieze, also decorated with a naturalistic texture, among which two yellow fruits stand out (perhaps Buddha's Hand), a small spotted deer, symbol of longevity, and two bats, representing happiness. In the center there are some ideograms in traditional Chinese, gilded and bordered in black.
The central part of the fabric houses a very rich scene that seems to be set in a lush garden: in the center a large phoenix with blue wings spread is represented as it turns its gaze towards a golden sun with blue rays. This mythological creature, typically reserved for the empress, could also be associated with a bride, who was honored as a ruler on her wedding day.
At the foot of the phoenix, a pool of azure and blue water. Along the edges there are various birds:
two ducks (symbol of conjugal happiness), perhaps a flying crane and four other small birds in pairs and colored in blue, green and gold. The remaining empty spaces are filled with peonies (wealth and honour), lotus flowers (purity), fluttering butterflies (longevity and wedded bliss) and dragonflies, as well as small gold sequins. Based on all these factors and the symbolism of the flora and fauna represented, it can be deduced that it might have been a wedding gift.”
I hope this report has managed to communicate the wide variety of activities and responsibilities I was given throughout my placement. The advantage of working in a relatively small museum is that every member of the staff covers a number of different roles, and that includes the interns like me. I feel very lucky to have carried out my placement in an institution that entrusted me with large amounts of responsibility and tasks to complete, as this undoubtedly taught me more than I expected to learn. It has been a wonderfully productive and incredibly formative period of my life that I am very thankful to have experienced, as I am positive it will help shape my future professional path.
When looking for a museum for my placement, I was searching for a collection of Italian Renaissance art, given that this was the primary focus of my studies throughout the Master’s course. I was also hoping for a Museum that wasn’t too large, both in terms of dimensions and in terms of staff, so that I would have a higher chance of getting to know the inner workings of the Museum and be assigned a substantial degree of responsibility. The Poldi Pezzoli turned out to be the ideal destination. Not only did it fulfil my request for relatively small dimensions and a Renaissance art collection, it also possessed an artwork by Sofonisba Anguissola, the artist on which I wrote my thesis, which seemed like an added bonus.
In order to obtain it, I initally sent an email application with my curriculum and reference letters, and then underwent two interviews over video-call, the first with Dr. Lavinia Galli, internship supervisor and Curator, and the second with the then-director Dr. Annalisa Zanni, who gave the final approval.
The learning outcomes of this placement are both in terms of practical, work-related skills as well as soft skills. I learned how to use a collection management software, how to plan an exhibition from beginning to end, how to give a guided tour with both adults and children, how to organise archives and find historical documents within them, how to process and approve a loan, how to organise a private event within the museum, and so on. It would be impossible to list all the skills I’ve acquired, but in a broader sense I’ve
gained a fairly profound understanding of how a small, private museum works, but also how to manoeuvre within a workplace. This was my first experience working full-time in an office environment and, as such, it introduced me to a completely different way of relating to those around me, unlike any relationship with university friends, family or otherwise. It has been incredibly useful in helping me transition into what I hope will be the next phase of my life: working in an office space within a museum or institution, surrounded by all sorts of artworks and cultural heritage.
One of the most important outcomes of this placement has been, in my opinion, discovering the museum career path for me. Before this internship, I had almost no idea of the kind of profession I would have wanted to pursue, all I knew was that I wanted to work in a museum. This internship has helped me discover that the job I feel most confident in and am the most enthusiastic about is actually that of my supervisor, Dr. Manoli, in the role of Registrar and in the field of collection management. It is quite exciting to feel I have a set goal in my mind about the career I want to pursue, and this placement has been incredibly helpful in finding out what that is. I also believe that this experience will be a great asset in my curriculum, and I hope that the connections made with Dr. Manoli and the Poldi Pezzoli Museum could someday help me with my professional endeavors.
Overall, I am entirely satisfied with my placement experience, and sincerely feel so much gratitude for the opportunity I was given. I feel as though I have grown in so many ways, professionally and personally, and I hold much excitement for whatever awaits in the future of my professional path.