Boni, Cirilli, Scarpa, Brandi and Venturi

Before the well-known intervention of Carlo Scarpa in Castelvecchio (Verona), a historicist restoration had been carried out in medieval style in 1924, ‘enhancing’ the towers, rebuilding the walls and decorating the interiors in medieval and Renaissance style to convert the building into a Museum. In 1945, during the Second World War, Castelvecchio was bombed, and in 1954 Scarpa was commissioned to conserve the building and design a new museum within it, with the help of architect Arrigo Rudi and engineer Carlo Maschietto, all under the supervision of the sovrintendente Pietro Gazzola, who, as we shall see, wrote during the middle of this work, together with Roberto Pane, the Venice Charter. Museum employees, the technical office of the city council with engineer Rocco Nicolo in front and craftsmen who worked in the conservation works contributed largely to the success of the project. The ongoing dialogue on conservation issues between Scarpa and the museum’s director, Licisco Magagnato, was also very important.

Carlo Scarpa’s project unites conservation and musealization; it is an integrated and creative architectural project, which includes extensions, redistributions of spaces and new itineraries. His masterly treatment of old and new materials has made him and this project a reference for architectural conservation. This intervention has been linked to modern painting, such as the De Stijl movement and its greatest exponent Piet Mondrian. But there is a clearer and more direct reference: Guido Cirilli and his work as a conservation architect in Santa Francesca Romana. We recognize in the cloister of S, Maria Nova a clear intention to distinguish the new from the old, but also to integrate it, through the manipulation of forms and materials (Figure 3.12).

In our opinion, this way of acting, and, perhaps, aesthetic, came to influence Carlo Scarpa through what would be his teacher and employer in Venice, Guido Cirilli, despite the fact that his work was loaded with

Cross-section N-S through cloister and old refectory looking towards the Colosseum (A.)

Figure 6.4 Cross-section N-S through cloister and old refectory looking towards the Colosseum (A.)

a strong eclecticism. Scarpa’s work of superimposed layers creating an authentic contemporary stratigraphy, always appears as it was the result of conservation works and precedes the thought of Vittorio Gregotti and Franco Purini in their consideration that each construction is actually conceived as a reconstruction, and in this way a language of the modification of the existing architecture must be developed (Carbonara, 2011).

In addition to this characteristic stratification of materials, we also find other precedents in the project of the cloister of S. Maria Nova to the work of Scarpa, such as the composition and the play of textures and lights. The roughly dressed masonry walls that Boni and Cirilli use for the new construction obtain an effect very similar to the textured concrete used by Scarpa, and both exhibit the archaeological artefacts through a set of lights and textures, creating a real scenery. However, in the case of the cloister, old photographs seem to indicate that the carved wall was intended to be covered by ivy, most likely considering Boni’s interest in combining flora and monuments (Gonzalez-Longo, 2015).

Scarpa recognizes its roots but also the constraints:

I descend, by cultural tradition, from the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome [where Cirilli was working before Santa Maria Nova]. I was, in fact, the best pupil of my professor [Cirilli] at the Accademia, who in turn had been the best pupil of the author of that monument. ... The spiritual poverty of that time was due to the fact that the teachers of the academies of fine arts shared the eclectic taste of the nineteenth-century. This is why we had to make some effort to free ourselves from our school education.

Perhaps inspired by rhe Castelvecchio project, Bruno Zevi felt that architectural conservation should be controlled more. He proposed that the projects were reviewed by a panel of scholars and the Sovrintendente of monuments, and that the best ‘modern’ architects be commissioned (Cristallini, 2006). Zevi’s proposal to form a panel goes ahead and a commission is formed in which he himself participates. A debate on the safeguarding of works of art and natural beauty is also opened in its magazine ‘L’Architettura-cronache e storia' in 1957. In opposition to Brandi, Zevi held the thesis of the possibility of including new quality modern architecture in historic centres, creating language dissonances. This created a great controversy with Brandi, who in 1956 gave a lecture at the Italian Cultural Association called: “The old and the new in the historic Italian cities” declaring against new constructions in historic centres.

Brandi tells us about a code present in architecture (as in music), which appears clearly if we look at Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic architecture (Brandi, 1967). He invents the term astanza, which constitutes the current presence of the art object. In the case of architecture, Brandi believes that when there is no fundamental articulation of the interior with the exterior, this astanza of the work of art will not occur. This is a critical point, considering the disarticulation that exists in so many buildings between the interior and the exterior. Brandi notes in his Theory of Conservation, written in 1963, this interior-exterior articulation of the architecture. Interestingly, in 1966, Robert Venturi in his book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture includes two final chapters: ‘Inside and Outside’ and ‘The Obligation Toward the Difficult Whole’ (Venturi, 1966). Remarkably, he deals here with issues discussed by Brandi in his theory: the interior-exterior aspects and the unity of the work of art. This similarity is not accidental: Venturi was between 1954 and 1956 at the American Academy in Rome, years in which Brandi was the director of the ICR in Rome, and when was very active. Although Brandi extensively uses Italian examples and Venturi’s bibliographical references do not include Brandi or any other Italian author, a clear reference to contemporary Italian thought cannot be denied. A further clue is the presence in the book of a photograph of Piero della Francesca’s ‘Flagellation of Christ’ from the ICR; Brandi published in the years in which Venturi was in Rome an article about the conservation of this painting. These similarities between Venturi and Brandi discussions about architecture as a meeting place between interior and exterior, space and function, as well as their concept of artistic unity should be further researched.

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