At the beginning of the twentieth century, Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera found itself in a state of total abandonment, with its frescoes marred by damage over time and full of cobwebs. And so in 1907 Elia Volpi bought it with the commitment of donating it to the Tiferno municipality to be the site of the new Municipal Art Gallery, at the time held in the former San Filippo Neri church.
Elia Volpi (1858-1938) was born in nearby Colle Plinio and trained as a painter alongside Annibale Gatti of Forlì, who encouraged him to move to Florence to enrol at the Academy. Despite his abilities as a painter, Volpi became known all over the world mainly for his restoration work. Director of the restoration workshops of the antique dealer Stefano Bardini, Volpi learnt from him the secrets of the trade and the tricks to camouflage any eventual additions during the restoration. Following the breakup with Bardini, Volpi himself dedicated himself to the antiques business and became one of the most important art dealers of his time.
The restoration works in Palazzo Vitelli, carried out by Volpi in the footsteps of what he was doing simultaneously in Florence at Palazzo Davanzati, finished in 1912. On the 29th June of that year in a solemn ceremony, the building was given to the city: as well as the art collection, the first floor also housed the public library, later moved to via dell Giulianelle and now housed in Palazzo Vitelli in San Giacomo.
In memory of this gift, a bust of Elia Volpi has been installed at the bottom of the staircase in the Pinacoteca, produced by Tiferno sculptor Elmo Palazzi. Commissioned by the Tiferno municipality, the piece reminds us still today as we are about to visit the Municipal art gallery, that without this significant act by Volpi, today we would have lost one of the symbolic monuments of the city.
Photos and documents preserved in the Archivio storico comunale of Città di Castello, take us back in time, to the opening in 1912.