Giovanni Carandente was born in Naples on 30 August 1920 to Luigi (1861-1921) and Teresa Dell’Aversano (1880-1944). His father died a few months after Giovanni’s birth. He had two sisters, Bianca, who died at the age of just five, and his beloved Laura (1908-1984), a constant presence in Carandente’s personal and professional life. He graduated from the “Giuseppe Garibaldi” State High School, then enrolled in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy at the Federico II University, where on January 12, 1944 he graduated with a thesis on Mattia Preti at San Pietro a Maiella. In 1942 he obtained a diploma in palaeography, diplomacy and archival doctrines at the State Archives in Naples. Between 1943 and 1944 he attended the Royal Naval Academy in Leghorn, where he was discharged with the rank of Reserve Ensign.
In 1945 he moved to Rome to follow a course in art history under the guidance of Pietro Toesca and Lionello Venturi. The following year he joined the administration of Fine Arts. He was nominated inspector by the then Director General of Antiquities and Fine Arts, archaeologist Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, and assigned to the Superintendency of Calabria, based in Cosenza. He began the study of XIV-century sculpture in the region, started restoration campaigns and the organization of exhibitions, the first of which, in 1947, on sacred art in Calabria from the VI to the XVIII century. In 1948 he is moved to the Central Institute of Restoration in Rome, established just under a decade before under the masterly direction of Cesare Brandi, and attends Brandi’s courses. In 1950 he moved to the Superintendency for monuments and galleries of Abruzzo e Molise, based in L’Aquila. Together with the Superintendent Umberto Chierici, he looked after the establishment of the new National Museum of Abruzzo in the castle of L’Aquila, inaugurated on 7 September 1951, and set up a restoration workshop at the Museum itself. This was followed, in February 1952, by the assignment to the Superintendency for galleries of Sicily. For three years he was in Palermo where he took part in the works for the opening of the National Gallery of Palazzo Abatellis, whose design was carried out by Carlo Scarpa. With the superintendent Giorgio Vigni, he curated the great exhibition Antonello da Messina and the XV-century painting in Sicily (1953). On the occasion of this exhibition he organized restoration workshops in Catania, Messina and Palermo, in collaboration with the Central Institute of Restoration.
In 1954, thanks to a scholarship from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he participated in the Brussels Art Seminar organized by the Belgian American Educational Foundation and the Belgian Ministère de l’instruction publique. In the same year he was transferred to Rome to the Superintendency for monuments of Lazio and since October 1955 he has been exhibition inspector for the National Gallery of Modern Art where he remained until 1960, taking care of the organization, the layout and the catalogue of the most important exhibitions of the period, including Gino Rossi, I Macchiaioli, Mondrian (1956); English watercolors of the XIX century, Modern Painters of the Cavellini Collection, Masterpieces of the Guggenheim Museum in New York (1957); Kandinskij. 45 paintings from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Museum in New York (1958), Jackson Pollock (1958) and Casimir Malevič (1959). He also deals with the rearrangement of the rooms of the XX century, in particular with works from Futurism to the Roman School. During the 1950s he analysed and studied in depth the theme of ballet and contemporary dance, and in particular the relationships and mutual influences between plastic arts and dance of the XX century, starting from the extraordinary early XX-century season of Sergei Djagilef’s Russian ballets and the large number of artists (painters, dancers, choreographers, writers, critics) forged in that field. On these themes Carandente held a radio program of 12 episodes on RAI’s second channel (from July to September 1957) and organized a series of conferences at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome (1958-1959), involving among others the great Hungarian dancer and choreographer Aurel Miholy Millos.
In those same years he collaborated with the daily newspaper “Il Tempo”, as theatre and dance critic. In 1957 he was appointed Secretary General of the VI Congress of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) and in August of the same year, on behalf of the City of Messina, he curated an exhibition on XX-century Italian sculpture that took place outdoors in the city’s public gardens, also presented in Rome in the spaces of the National Gallery of Modern Art and in Bologna at Palazzo Re Enzo. In 1958 he was invited by the Iranian government to participate, as a member of the international jury, in the 1st Tehran Art Biennial, accompanied by Irene Brin and Gasparo Dal Corso. In 1960 he participated, as an Italian member, in the great exhibition Les sources du XX siècle: les arts en Europe de 1884 a 1914, organized by the Council of Europe and held in Paris in the Musée National d’Art Moderne. In 1961 he left the National Gallery to move on to the Superintendence of Medieval and Modern Galleries and Works of Art of Lazio. He was director of the National Gallery of Ancient Art of Palazzo Barberini from January 1961 to January 1964, then director of the National Museum of Palazzo Venezia, for which he studied a transformation into a museum dedicated to the Middle Ages. He collaborated with Carlo Scarpa to design the new layout, but the intervention was not carried out because of controversies about the nature of the transformations to be. In these same years of intense work in the administration of Fine Arts, he also carries out an important professional activity in the critical, exhibition and scientific field on behalf of public and private institutions.
In 1961, on the occasion of the Fourth Festival of Two Worlds, he was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York to organize the exhibition Modern American Drawings in Spoleto. The following year, as director of the visual arts of the Festival, he organized two exhibitions: Modern Italian Drawings and Sculptures in the City, a grandiose open-air exhibition with 104 works by 53 of the most famous contemporary sculptors. This is one of the first exhibitions of modern sculpture set in an ancient urban layout, today considered one of the milestones in the history of XX-century art. Carandente also managed to involve Italsider in the production of 10 monumental sculptures, including the imposing Theodelapius by Alexander Calder, donated on that occasion to the city of Spoleto, and the only stabiles by the sculptor in Italy, or the 27 sculptures, placed in the cavea of the Roman theatre of the Umbrian city, created by David Smith in a month’s stay at the abandoned ILVA factory in Voltri, reusing scrap iron destined for demolition. He collaborated with the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds until 2008, when he organized the significant exhibition on Pino Pascali and Leoncillo. In 1963, for three months (September – December), he travels the United States, invited by the American government, and hosted by the State Department as part of the Leader Exchange Program. Thanks to the very rich itinerary organized by the Bureau of educational and cultural affairs, he has the opportunity to visit the main American cities, coming into contact with institutions, museums, art institutes, universities and private collections, among the most important in the world. In 1967 he stayed for a month (22 September – 23 October) in the United Kingdom, invited by the British Council, in recognition of the scholar’s contribution to the spread of knowledge of British art in Italy. He also held the position of official-agent of foreign heads of state for the Republic’s Diplomatic Ceremonial of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 1967 he qualified to teach medieval and modern art history, from the following year and continuously until 1975 he held the chair of history of architecture at the University Institute of Architecture of Reggio Calabria. In the mid-1970s he returned to the career of senior manager at the Ministry of Cultural Heritage. In 1974 he was appointed superintendent of Veneto, a position he held until 1977 when he returned to Rome as central inspector of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage. The link with Veneto continued, however, with the direction of the International University of Art in Venice, from 1978 to 1980, and again, from 1988 to 1992, with the direction of the visual arts sector of the Venice Biennale. He continued to organize numerous exhibitions over the years, among the most significant ones dedicated to foreign authors: Moore in Florence (Forte Belvedere, 1972), Picasso in Venice (Palazzo Grassi, 1981), Balthus in Spoleto (1982), Calder in Turin (Palazzo a Vela, 1983), Russian Art in Turin (Lingotto, 1989), Anthony Caro in Rome (Mercati di Traiano, 1992). His scientific activity is also significant and can be found in the many contributions published in the “Bollettino d’Arte” (1949, 1953, 1955), in the “Bollettino dell’Istituto Centrale del Restauro” (1953), in the catalogues of the activities of the Superintendence of the Galleries of Lazio (1965, 1969, 1972) and in the “Quaderni della Soprintendenza ai Beni Artistici e Storici di Venezia” (1982). He collaborates with important national newspapers such as “Il Giorno” (1973), “La Stampa” (1983), “Il Giornale” (1984-1988) and “Corriere della Sera” (2002). He was then president of the Ente Rocca di Spoleto (1982-2001). He was responsible for the arrangement and the setting up of the Spoleto Modern Art Gallery in Palazzo Collicola, to which he donated a large part of his personal collection of works of art between 2000 and 2001. Since 1980, he has also donated a bulky nucleus of texts on modern and contemporary art to the Umbrian city, which are now kept in the Library that bears his name, also housed in Palazzo Collicola. In 2001 he became honorary citizen of Spoleto. In 1970 he was awarded by the Norwegian Royal Order of St. Olav and by the Order of the Red Star in Yugoslavia. In 1989 he was honoured as Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for his important contribution to the artistic relations between Great Britain and Italy. In 2002 he received the Gold Medal for cultural and artistic merit from the President of the Italian Republic. Giovanni Carandente died in Rome on 7 June 2009.