Vincenzo Vela Museum
The Vincenzo Vela Museum, that exposes the works of the Ticino sculptor, belongs to the group of the most important artist's houses of the European 1800s. Designed by the great realist sculptor Vincenzo Vela (1820-1891) at the peak of his career, the villa was transformed into a public museum after being donated to the Swiss Confederation. From 1997 to 2001 the building was entirely restructured by the renowned Ticino architect Mario Botta. A few elements that remind us of the residence's dwelling places and the panoramic park confer a "work of art character" to the site.
The Vincenzo Vela Museum collections reflect the specificity of the home-museum of a man, Vincenzo Vela, who was actively engaged in his time, both as an artist and as a patriot. In the midst of approximately 5'000 works what stands out is his plaster casts gallery, that surprises for its quality and monumental nature and which gathers original plaster models of most of his sculptures. Next to it you can admire terracotta and plaster drafts, that amaze for their fineness and completeness.
The inheritance also includes over a thousand prints and drawings of which many by Vela himself, and a surprising collection of old photographs. These (about a thousand) represent one of the oldest collections of Swiss photography.
By Lorenzo Vela, Vincenzo's brother, renowned ornamentalist and animal sculptor, are preserved: a small collection of works in plaster and terracotta, especially animals, and some allegoric and genre figures.
By painter Spartaco Vela, son of Vincenzo and donor of the Villa to the Swiss Confederation, many oil paintings in addition to preparatory and academic sketches are present.
The three artists of the Vela family were also collectors of contemporary art of that era, each following their personal taste and taking advantage of their respective friendships with colleagues and friends from the Academy. The three units, converging in the patrimony of the museum, hence form the largest collection of 19th century Lombardy and Piedmont paintings owned by the Swiss Confederation.
The family library consists of over 1'500 volumes and can be an interesting departure point for the study of the creative process of many of Vincenzo Vela's monuments.
Rightly considered benefactors of their community of origin, Ligornetto, the two most outstanding members of the Vela family, the artists Lorenzo and Vincenzo, came from humble origins. The father Giuseppe Vela (1780-1849) was a peasant, the mother Teresa Casanova (1782-1866) ran a tavern. Like many youth from the Mendrisio region, the two Vela brothers started working stone in the caves of Bisazio, Viaggiù and Saltrio. Blessed with a unique talent, they achieved fame in nearby Milan, that welcomed Ticino's youth on the construction site of the Duomo or in the classrooms of the Brera Academy.
The two sculptors never broke contact with their native town, demonstrating their attachment through generous gifts to the Ligornetto Commune. Lorenzo was one of the founders of the Società di Mutuo Soccorso (1889) (Mutual Rescue Society) while Spartaco, the only son of Vincenzo and last direct descendant of the family who died at a young age, followed his father's wishes donating his villa and the collections preserved within to the Swiss Confederation, determining it as the perfect asset to become a museum and fine arts academy. If on the one hand the three artists' faith in liberal politics guaranteed commissions from and favoured attendance of the Italian Risorgimento and progressive environments, both in Lombardy as well as in Ticino, on the other hand their beliefs caused sour hostilities from Ticino conservatives who considered them anticlerical.
Numerous are the testimonials of the Vela's presence in the small village of Ligornetto, from the commemorative tombstones to the fountains financed and decorated by the artists themselves. Important for its uniqueness is the grave of Vincenzo Vela in Ligornetto's cemetery, an extraordinary example of a tomb storied by a sculptor. It represents the deceased artist laying down. At his feet a trophy, with Masonic references and the distinctive features of the sculptor, that stands out for refinement in composition and iconographic complexity.