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The lesson of Corrado Maltese at the University of Rome "La Sapienza"  
Stefano Colonna
ISSN 1127-4883     BTA - Telematic Bulletin of Art, March 25th 2001, n. 256

Corrado Maltese has been known as the author of an "History of Contemporary Art" and as teacher of History of Modern Art at the University of Rome "La Sapienza", in the Institute (today Department) of History of Art.

He had a versatile and open talent, and combined Science, Humanism and Art to promote an unusual interdisciplinary research that has been appreciated internationally. He has been considered so innovative that only today everyone can fully understand the empiric outcomes of his research.

As a student I did follow Corrado Maltese's lectures at "La Sapienza" as well as those of Maurizio Calvesi. I did not have to take any exams with Maltese, and I did not understand perspective too well, nor mathematics and geometry, expecially the "not euclidean" one. In addition, at that time I wasn't particularly keen on attending his lectures at 8.00 o'clock in the morning: an appointment that, considering the particular urban infrastructure of Rome during that period, did mean weaking up at 6.30 am (after having gone to bed quite late ...).

Nevertheless, the fascination for pure research took me to such an extent that I was convinced that those lectures could reveal me some sort of hidden truth. As I followed the lectures and I had the opportunity to converse with Corrado Maltese, I now would like to recall some details that were very important for me.

The lecturers working with Maltese adopted an unmistakable democratic method that almost shocked me then, as they used to seat amongst the students to better mingle among them. I was so imbued of burgeoise morale then that I considered a professor's wisdom as a revealed truth. It was Maltese to "secularize" my ideal of wisdom.

During his lectures, Maltese always stimulated reasoned and consciuos conversations and he always purposefully answered to all sort of questions. His answers were not always very clear, but they were always appropriate and in the end satisfied our thirst for a full understanding through anti-dogmatic and rigorously scientific maieutics. The questions were numerous during every lecture and contributed to the lecture itself, as they became an integral part of it, in a ritual rich of unexpected investigations.

The main trait of Maltese's academic personality was his consistant and natural attention for a research conceived as the basis of academic life. He nurtured a mutual understanding with his students, and infused an almost revolutionary charge in them, as much as his smile, his sharp irony and his elegant behaviour were signs of an harmless, kind and affable character. His style of life matched with an integral revision of thinking that in some of his students had outstanding effects.

In spite of the deep difference with other methods of teaching at the Institute of History of Art, Corrado Maltese did not ever take a stance against his colleagues. He was always indifferent to academic quarrels and at the most he would have candidly declared that some topics weren't of his interest, as for instance with "iconology". Yet his "sematometria" derived from iconology, even though within a more scientific perspective.

Perhaps the acknowledgement promoted by Corrado Maltese, of a contradiction within the traditional humanistic methodologies could justify the deep respect he showed towards these disciplines. Infact, his aim to refund humanistic knowledge on scientific basis, and according to a renewed dialectic materialism allowed to nourish also a greater respect towards the "opponents". His effective impartiality derived from his innovative mission that required an absolutely objective measure. I had never heard Maltese speak against anybody. Even when he criticised certain methods sustained by Umberto Eco, he measured his criticism and accepted with humility the strongest points of his opponent. Nevertheless his criticism was very firm and based on precise facts.

Thus Maltese was a champion of scientific dialogue, of communication and research. It is difficult to fully estimate the importance of his academic teaching, but anybody will deny that his lectures at "La Sapienza" prepared a large number of students that have resumed his studies, and are today amongst the best experts in restoration of Cultural Heritage.

The application of objective criteria to measure light and colour, and to analyse the physio-chemical components of an artwork became a particular science that now embraces the foundations of a modern theory of multimediality as well as the large scale use of rephleptography and not destructive investigations of artwork, now adopted in more advanced restauration laboratories. These investigations were theoretically conceived within the research groups led by Corrado Maltese at the University of Rome "La Sapienza".

For his scientific legacy and for his great moral lesson, I wish to thank him here.


1 I'm dropping a few lines to remember the teaching of Corrado Maltese in occasion of his death, that I'have known through a too small paragraph of Corriere della Sera.

2 Corrado Maltese, Dalla Semiologia alla Sematometria. Studi sulla comunicazione visiva, Roma, Il Bagatto, 1983.

3 Amongst the outcomes of Corrado Maltese's studies at University "La Sapienza", all explained in his book Dalla Semiologia alla Sematometria, cit. in note 2, I would like to remember in particular:

  • application of the so-called "gradient of contrast" ("gradiente di contrasto") for luministic and chromatic measurements of work of art
  • mathematic-statistical measurements applied to iconology
  • parameterization of icnological semiotic (= sematometria)
  • study of eye-ball movements during vision of work of Art and related distinctions between cinetic and static work of Art.
  • widening of field of research of History of Art to fashion and to all visual objective-manifestations.



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