Bastia, the capital of Genoese Corsica, was one of the main centres of artistic creation in the island. Governors, prelates and the rich bourgeoisie vied with each other to endow churches and convents, thus initiating Bastia's tradition as the artistic and intellectual centre of the island.
The artistic effervescence of the 17th and 18th centuries in Bastia allowed the distribution of baroque art, albeit as copies. From the 17th century, local painters such as Nicolao Castiglioni and Saverio Farinole produced work for the whole island, taking inspiration from the work of the great masters, whether Genoese - Domenico Piola and Giuseppe Badaracco, or Florentine - Giovanni Billivert – whose works were imported at great cost for the churches of Bastia. The same thing was occurring in the world of silversmiths, although in this case the works produced for the churches of Bastia were of considerably better quality than the copies made for less rich, rural parishes.
This artistic profusion had a revival in the 19th century thanks to the conjunction of several factors, the most striking of which was the Sisco legacy.
A native of Bastia, Giuseppe Sisco was principal surgeon to Pope Pius VII and at his death he bequeathed his whole inheritance to the town of Bastia. The town was charged with allocating grants to young men from Bastia to study law, medicine or fine art in Rome. His will was enacted in 1841. From 1871, only young artists continued to apply for these grants. From 1841 to 1933, 35 of them had received a grant, including the sculptors Louis Patriarche and Jean Mathieu Pekle, and the painters Charles Fortuné Guasco, Louis Alessi and Joseph de Gislain.
Another inheritance strengthened the Italian tradition of artistic production in Bastia in the 19th century. This was the Survilliers donation, better known as the “Fesch legacy”. Cardinal Fesch decided to bequeath part of his collection to the town of Ajaccio in order to establish a seminary. Joseph Bonaparte, the Comte de Survilliers, nephew and sole legatee of the Cardinal extended the donation to other towns of the island. In 1844 he gave 100 works to Bastia, essentially Italian paintings of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Awaiting the construction of a museum, the works were installed in the various public buildings such as churches and the school where they were used in drawing classes. The young artists of Bastia could begin their training in the town, taking inspiration from these Italian works of very high quality.
Painting and sculpture are not the only artistic domains to have been marked by the Italian tradition. In the early 19th century, the elites openly claimed their Italian connections, in resistance to the French political power. So, through this century, plays of the Italian theatre and Bel Canto were popular in Bastia, with a modest appearance of the French repertory from the 1870s. Many Corsican writers in the tradition of Salvatore Viale, published their works in Italian and took an interest in the Corsican language. For example, Petru Lucciana, known as Vattalapesca, regularly published in the local press his “cummedie”, colourful comedies in the language of Bastia.
In the 19th century Bastia was thus the principal intellectual and artistic centre of the island, where the main artists, in all domains, of the period would meet. From the 1850s, Bastia also attracted a new kind of artist: photographers. The great names of island photography, such as Barthélemy Graziani, Joseph Moretti and Ange Tomasi, settled for short periods, or permanently, in the town, thus affirming its role as cultural centre.