Museo dell'Aeronautica Gianni Caproni
Location within Italy
|Location||Via Lidorno, 3|
|Collection size||26 aircraft on display|
several hundred historically significant artifacts
|Nearest car park||On site (no charge)|
|Area||1,400 m² (15,000 sq ft) (main hangar only)|
The Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics (Italian: Museo dell'Aeronautica Gianni Caproni) is Italy's oldest aviation museum, as well as the country's oldest corporate museum. It was established in 1927 as the Caproni Museum (Museo Caproni) by Italian aviation pioneer and aeronautical engineer, Giovanni Battista "Gianni" Caproni and his wife, Timina Guasti Caproni.
The museum was originally located in Taliedo, in the suburbs of Milan. The aircraft in the collection were moved to Venegono Superiore during World War II, and the exhibition was reopened in Vizzola Ticino (in the province of Varese) in the 1960s. At the end of the 1980s, the museum moved to its present location. The current museum building, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) south of Trento and adjacent to the Trento Airport (itself dedicated to the memory of Gianni Caproni), was opened on 3 October 1992.
Giovanni Battista Caproni, better known as Gianni Caproni was a civil and electrical engineer from Trentino, a region of northern Italy, who was renowned for his designing and flying several pioneering aircraft between 1910 and 1913. Small, single-engine aircraft, like the Caproni Ca.1, Ca.6 and Ca.12 were important milestones in the early development of Italian aviation. During World War I, Caproni became one of the most important Allied aircraft manufacturers, responsible for the design and manufacture of large, multi-engine long-range bombers like the three-engined Caproni Ca.32, Ca.33, Ca.36 and Ca.40. These bombers were some of the most significant examples of the time, in the field of heavy aircraft. During the interwar period, with the strategic bombing theories of Giulio Douhet being debated, the operational use of Caproni bombers was seen as an important landmark in the history of aviation.
By the end of the war the Caproni company was well established, but the decrease in military orders that followed the end of the conflict compelled the firm to start producing civil aircraft to keep its business running. Some of the wartime bombers were converted to the airliner or cargo role. New models were developed as well, being specifically designed as airliners – among them the Caproni Ca.48, Ca.59 and the Ca. 60 Transaereo (the latter being tested unsuccessfully).
Besides his talent for engineering, Gianni Caproni was convinced of the importance of preserving and honouring the historical heritage related to the birth and early development of Italian aviation in general, and to the Caproni firm in particular. He began to gather an expansive collection not only of aircraft and aviation-related technologies, but also collecting related documents and memorabilia. From an early period, Caproni also collaborated and supported artists, as well as assembling a collection of paintings and other pieces of art. His wife, Timina Guasti Caproni, was of like mind and both had a strong artistic sensibility. Their collections reflected not only a love for aviation history but also art history. In the second half of the 1920s, the Capronis decided to open a museum meant to house a display of all the material they had collected. Recounting the origins of the institution, Michele Lanzinger, the director of the Tridentine Museum of Natural Sciences (Museo Tridentino di Scienze Naturali), to whose network of scientific museums the Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics has belonged since 1999, said:
While the aircraft designer and manufacturer collected the most notable flying machines he had created, among whom we today count several unique specimens – that were thereby saved from assured destruction – his wife gathered documents, relics and, most importantly, artwork related to flight.
In 1927, the Caproni Museum was established in Taliedo, not far from Milan, by provisions of the joint will of Gianni and Timina Guasti Caproni. It was Italy's first museum to be entirely dedicated to the topic of aviation, as well as the nation's first corporate museum. The museum's original goal was to preserve the items of historical interest about the development of the Caproni aircraft manufacturing company, but its scope soon came to include every aspect of the history of human flight as well as those facets of art and other disciplines that had an aviation connection.
Between June and October 1934, the Italian Aeronautics Exhibition (Esposizione dell'Aeronautica Italiana) was held in Milan. It was organized by a committee (Direttorio ordinatore) with whom Gianni Caproni collaborated by sending four aircraft, displayed at the exhibition's pavilion at the Art Palace (Palazzo dell'Arte); they were the experimental biplanes: Caproni Ca.1 (the first aircraft flown by Caproni) and Ca.6 (exhibited without the fabric covering of its unusual double-cambered wing), the monoplane, Ca.18 military reconnaissance aircraft and the three-engine biplane Ca.36M bomber.
The exposition, also featuring an innovative and eye-catching exhibition design, devised by some of the most prominent Italian artists of the time, (among them, the architect Giuseppe Pagano) was a great success. At its closing, Benito Mussolini ordered that the official Regia Aeronautica museum (Museo storico dell'Accademia Aeronautica), which at the time was located in the Palace of Caserta in southern Italy, was to be moved to Milan and merge with the Caproni Museum, becoming the National Aeronautical Museum (Museo Nazionale Aeronautico).
The prospect of a unified Italian aviation museum was farsighted, however, it did not materialize. Since the Caproni Museum retained its status as the most important institution of its kind in Italy, it started to evolve towards becoming a general aviation museum in which all types of materials of general aeronautical interest[N 1] were to be collected. The museum also undertook the responsibility to preserve and properly display such materials. Additionally, the Caproni Museum started its publishing activity in this period; among the volumes published in the 1930s were: Gli aeroplani Caproni, Studi, progetti, realizzazioni 1908–1935 (Caproni aircraft, projects, studies and achievements 1908–1935), Francesco Zambeccari aeronauta (Francesco Zambeccari, aeronaut) and L'aeronautica italiana nell'immagine 1487–1875 (Italian aeronautics in pictures 1487–1875).
The Caproni Museum retained its original location just outside Milan, near the company's plants in Taliedo, until after the outbreak of World War II. However, during the first half of the 1930s, the collection had been kept stored in the plants themselves, in locations not environmentally suitable for their preservation and display of the artifacts. After 1935, the necessity of building a permanent, purpose-made exhibition hall became evident; subsequently, one of the large hangars of the Taliedo Airport, close to the factory, was converted to this purpose so that the now rich and important collection of the Caproni Museum could be properly housed. When this new exhibition hall was opened in 1940, the following aircraft were on display:
In addition to the cited aircraft, a massive, but unquantifiable number of model aircraft, aircraft engines, propellers, aviation-related artwork and other items was also part of the collection.
Starting from 1942, it became necessary to move some of the Caproni Museum's aircraft away from Milan to prevent them from being damaged or destroyed by Allied bombing. In spite of the precautions that were taken, however, some aircraft were destroyed (this was the case with the only existing Ca.42, which was destroyed in a fire) or lost (as it happened to the C.N.A. Eta and to the parts of the Macchi-Nieuport 29 and Roland VIb). Nonetheless, most of the museum's holdings, including not only the aircraft but also the library and the archives, survived the war.
At the end of the war, the Caproni Museum's aircraft were gathered in Venegono Superiore, a little town in the province of Varese; the institution's documentary collection, instead, was kept in Rome. Even though lacking a museum building suitable for housing the exhibition and allowing to keep the collection visible to the public, the Caproni Museum remained an important institution in the field of preserving aviation-related historical heritage. The museum continued to participate in aviation events and in acquiring or being gifted new items for the collection. Between the 1940s and the 1950s, the museum's operations were furthered due to the work of the co-founder, Timina Caproni.
In the 1960s, finally, a new exhibition pavilion was opened in the old Caproni factory in Vizzola Ticino, still in the province of Varese and close to the location in which the Malpensa Airport would later be built. The Caproni Museum was once again open to the public and kept on increasing its collection. The presence of a 600 metres (1,969 ft) grass runway, very close to the museum's buildings, allowed some of the new acquisitions to get to the museum by air, thus ideally ending their operational career and also guaranteeing the best possible state of conservation at the time of their accession. This was the case with the Avia FL.3 and the Macchi MB.308 aircraft that flew to the museum, and are still on display at the museum in Trento.
Some of the aircraft in the Caproni Museum underwent important restoration and conservation at this time. Those aircraft that were in good condition were on display in the representative hangars, dating from World War I. The others were stored in the Caproni family villa at Venegono Superiore. When the founders died,[N 2] their children, Giovanni and Contessa Maria Fede Caproni, took their place in managing the institution. The work of the founders' offspring allowed the museum to maintain its level of importance on a national and international scale, with the collection being constantly enriched by new acquisitions.
In the 1980s, the financial decline of the aeronautical works company which Gianni Caproni had started long before, forced the museum in Vizzola Ticino to close. However, due to the generous intervention of Martino Aichner,[N 3] an agreement was signed in August 1988 between the Caproni family and the Trentino; in such agreement, the latter, the autonomous province of Trento, agreed to restore the collection and to provide an exhibition building to be constructed in a location close to the Trento Airport; the museum was to be named Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics (in Italian, Museo dell'Aeronautica Gianni Caproni).
In April 1989, aircraft restoration began under the supervision of the Masterfly company of Rovereto. On 2 December of the same year, the construction of the museum's central exhibition building was started. The new exhibition pavilion featured a 1,400 square metres (15,069 sq ft) hall that initially housed 17 aircraft in controlled environmental humidity and temperature conditions. The main building of the new facility was opened on 3 October 1992.
In spring 1999, the Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics became a territorial section (sezione territoriale)[N 4] of the Tridentine Museum of Natural Sciences (Museo Tridentino di Scienze Naturali), thereby becoming a part of a network of 18 scientific and historical museums which are ultimately overseen by the province of Trento. Among others, the museums in the Tridentine Museum of Natural Sciences group include the Alpine Botanical Garden at Viote on Mount Bondone, Lake Dwelling Museum at Molina di Ledro, Arboretum of Arco Climatology Observatory at Roncafort and "Julius Payer" Glaciology Centre at Mandron (Adamello).
In April 2011, a new hangar, adjacent to the northern wall of the main exhibition hall, was opened. The display of the aircraft that were already housed in the museum was reorganized and some additional aircraft, previously stored in the museum's warehouse, could be put on display.
The opening of the new northern hangar occurred during an event called "The Challenge of Flight" (La sfida del volo). An Ansaldo A.1 Balilla, the Caproni Ca.53 and the surviving components of the Caproni Ca.60 were moved from the warehouse north of Trento to the main hall of the museum, thus becoming a part of the permanent exhibition. An Agusta Bell AB 47G, Minzolini Libellula II and North American T-6 Texan were added to the collection and located in the new hangar, along with a Bücker Bü 131, Caproni Ca.193, Macchi MB.308 and Saiman 202M that had previously been on display in the museum's main hangar. The new hangar, the opening of which was the first expansion of the museum since 1992, was a temporary solution – as a sort of preview of a further, permanent and more consistent enlarging of the exhibits, due to the construction of a larger hangar with more suitable accommodation for the preservation of aircraft. In autumn 2011, the northern hangar was closed to allow the start of the new revitalization project.
In summer 2011, the following aircraft were on display in the museum's main hall and secondary hangar:
Just outside the museum and airport, a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter is pointed to the sky, and stands as a gate guardian. Its presence is dedicated to the memory of Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) general Licio Giorgieri.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, when the museum moved to its ultimate location, more attention has been placed at identifying the cultural heritage and importance of artifacts on display. The most recent phases of the restoration programme and the enrichment of the exhibition by means of recovering some aircraft from the warehouse and moving them to the new hangar, involved the collaboration and supervision by several cultural institutions of the province of Trento, including the Assessorato alla cultura, the Soprintendenza per i beni storico-artistici and the Soprintendenza per i beni librari, archivistici ed archeologici. Great importance was given to the philologic and authentic restoration of the aircraft's original appearance and internal mechanical structure, to the reconstruction of their history and to their conservation, according to the most advanced theories of cultural heritage preservation and management.
Besides the aircraft in the Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics collection (some of which have survived with no damage or have been restored while others have only survived as components), the museum houses and displays many other artifacts of historical importance: engines, propellers, instruments and components of aircraft, airships and other flying machines as well as documents, medals, models, photographs and personal memorabilia.[N 5] Among the most noteworthy, however, the following can be cited: the Piaggio P.XIbis R.C.40D engine that equipped the Caproni Ca.161bis which, in 1938, established an altitude world record for piston-engine aircraft which stands to the present day; a fragment of the Blériot XI that Jorge Chávez successfully completed the first air crossing of the Alps in 1910; the wing rib of a Wright brothers biplane; Guglielmo Marconi's radio which he used for the first communication by air balloons and airships, and the fuel tank of a Supermarine Spitfire which crashed in Italy during World War II.
The Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics also houses the reconstruction of Gianni Caproni's design study. It also features a reconstruction of a 1920s propeller manufacturing workshop, built by Caproni.
At the time of his studies in Munich, Liège and Paris, Gianni Caproni developed a great interest in the fine arts. For some time before 1910, although his interest in painting and sculpture was intense, he decided that aviation would become the focus of his professional activity. Caproni, however, didn't lose the artistic sensibility he had acquired thanks to the influences of mitteleuropean secessions and avant-garde movements.
In the 1910s, Caproni came in contact with a number of artists, with whom he often had close personal relations. When his financial situation improved as his aeronautical company became more established and recognized as both a commercial and technological success, he started supporting them and commissioning artwork – acting as an actual patron of the arts. This was the case, for example, with Italian artist Luigi Bonazza; he was employed in Caproni's technical drawing office in 1915, and was later able to produce notable artwork in which the Jugendstil decorativism was combined with themes and subjects typical of technical drawing.
Influenced by her own sensibility and knowledge of the arts, his wife, Timina Caproni, also started to contribute as a patron and added to the family's art collection. Their interest moved from simple, traditional naturalism to the new expressive forms of the futurist movement; the latter featured an affinity for action and speed that was manifest in celebrating flight. The Caproni collection then kept expanding; later futurist paintings, along with works of art belonging to the movement of the so-called aeropittura, or aeropainting, were bought by Gianni and Timina and thus became a part of their growing legacy. The Capronis directly collaborated with artists like Fortunato Depero, Alfredo Ambrosi and Emilio Monti. Among others, they acquired artwork by Giacomo Balla, Tato, Fillia, Corrado Cagli, Benedetta Cappa, Amerigo Contini, Tullio Crali, Gerardo Dottori and Mario Sironi.
When the Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics was established in its current site, supported by provisions in the will of Maria Fede Caproni, the daughter of Gianni and Timina, many of the most notable artwork in the Caproni collection were moved to Trento. Some of them are on display in the same museum premises that house the aircraft («thus re-establishing the unity of the cultural project envisioned by Gianni and Timina Caproni»); moreover, all the most noteworthy artwork of the collection was gathered and exhibited in 2007–2008 on the occasion of the temporary exhibition, La collezione Caproni, held at the G. Segantini civic art gallery of Arco.
The Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics periodically hosts temporary exhibitions dealing with various aspects of aviation history. Those that were held in the past were about topics such as art, flight simulation, aerial photography, general aviation or the history and elements of design of an aircraft in particular (as exemplified with the Caproni Ca.1 and the Caproni Ca.100 exhibitions).
The Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics in the main headquarters of the Museo Tridentino di Scienze Naturali in Via Calepina, 10 in Trento, also has an extensive, specialized library. It features a large collection of documents about aviation history that are made available to the public for research purposes.