Pinacoteca Giovanni and Marella Agnelli Quilling


April 5, 2012 – September 2, 2012
curated by Elena Geuna

This new exhibition continues the series of temporary shows at the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli devoted to the theme of collecting, presenting a selection of the most significant examples of paper scrollwork or quilling from private collections.

The show gathers together around 120-150 incredibly intricate compositions for the first time, including works from the private collection of the American photographer Nan Goldin, who will be presenting photographs taken especially for the event.

Made between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries for use in homes and convents, quilling reliquaries were traditionally created by cloistered nuns. The reliquaries were embellished with ornate, minutely detailed compositions in paper and other materials, such as wax, ivory, glass and crystals, designed to adorn the relics within. Inspired by the goldsmithing technique of filigree, paper scrollwork was “constructed” by rolling up thin strips of gold or coloured paper to form mostly floral motifs, which were then adorned with beads, shells, coral, tiny parchments, scraps of fabric, shards of glass and fragments of bone attributed to the saints. These richly ornate decorations were highly symbolic, evoking images of fertility and life, while the imagery and layout bore precise theological and hagiographic references.
Scrollwork developed during the seventeenth century in almost all Catholic countries – France, Italy, Spain and Austria in particular – and as the worship of saints and relics spread, it also became popular in domestic settings. These religious creations, expertly crafted by nuns, were also given to convent benefactors or offered to adorn chapels and altars.
Quilling reflected the spiritual climate of the Catholic Church following the Council of Trent, channelling the Baroque tastes of that period and providing a historical record of a form of craftsmanship that was little known but widespread among the various female religious orders. The distinctive features of these artefacts – the time-consuming, labour-intensive craftsmanship involved, the idea of devotion to work as an act of prayer and the use of simple, “poor” materials – fittingly encapsulate the rules of these orders. Aesthetically speaking, the end result is comparable to the artistic value of these small masterpieces.

The Turin exhibition presents reliquaries of different kinds and from different periods, many of which come from France: from the Agnus Dei sacramentals, made by melting consecrated paschal candles, to the altar-shaped reliquaries of the late eighteenth century; from colourful festive paper garlands to medallions made of “pasta di tutti i santi”, a mixture of cardboard and earth from the catacombs where martyrs were believed to be buried. The exhibition will also stage a selection of miniature nineteenth century reconstructions of nuns’ cells, showing nuns going about their daily manual duties in the convent.

The exhibition also boasts a full colour catalogue (Corraini Edizioni), in Italian and English, featuring an essay by Bernard Berthod, Consultor to the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, and interviews by Elena Geuna with anonymous collectors and among them Nan Goldin.