Guided itineraries in the old Scala family Castle. Together with a tourist guide, discover the famous restoration and display by Carlo Scarpa.
The outside of the niche hosting the Lombard treasure. It's clear the influence of Mondrian, of whom Scarpa was a great admirer. It is also an homage to the stones of Verona and their color shades, typical of Verona architectural tradition.
When Carlo Scarpa started his restoration work in Castelvecchio Museum, the old castle had already gone through more than 700 years of alterations. Having always been a military building, it had been cannonaded, rebuilt, modified, altered according to different ages and needs. In 1930, Antonio Avena, director of Verona museums, with his will to give Verona its original medieval look, restored Castelvecchio, although using a lot of "fantasy" in doing so. In particular he rebuilt the main facade using Venetian gothic mullioned windows, coming from buildings destroyed in the 1882 flood. "In Castelvecchio everything was fake" said Carlo Scarpa during a conference in which he explained his project. There wasn't much to bring back to its original aspect, and trying to do so, would have meant inventing, as Avena did before him. Carlo Scarpa then decided to state openly the falsity of Castelvecchio main facade making it into a kind of stage set.
He left the main facade in gray rough concrete, with the door and windows frames pulled back so that the gothic decorations look like the thin board of a theater stage set. The small platform protruding from the central doors, through which you cannot enter though, really looks like a stage. Scarpa placed the real entrance on the left side, half hidden by stone screens, almost like an actors entrance on one side of a theater. On the other side, the facade is detached from the opposite wall giving the impression of being just a screen placed in front of the real museum.
As you enter Castelvecchio Museum, you realize the revolutionary display approach of Carlo Scarpa. He never graduated from an architecture university, but instead spent many years as a designer and craftsman in Murano glass factories in Venice. Here his ability in shaping materials, light, spatial arrangements and colours like an old artisan is evident. Sculptures are placed on platforms slightly raised above ground by a central support, so that they seem floating in the space. The gothic sculptures in these rooms, come from churches which were destroyed by floods and earthquakes, and were now out of their original historical and architectural context. With this floating effect, Scarpa wanted to make them absolute objects, outside a real space and time, like ghosts in the no-space of a museum. The only tie to their original setting was light, coming from one side of the room as if inside an old gothic cathedral. Carlo Scarpa wanted no artificial lights, so that, as in an old church, shadows could change according to different hours of the day. Unfortunately, in the ground floor rooms, ugly light bulbs placed on tripods still impose their presence. In a wall, a niche hosting a Lombard treasure found few decades ago outside Verona, stretches out towards the outside. The natural light, filtering from above, seems to reproduce the atmosphere of the cave in which the treasure laid, hided and protected from the upheavals and devastations of the centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire, before being found.
The opening in the floor showing the older layers of Castelvecchio. The barrier is clearly inspired by an irori, the central fireplace, typical of traditional style Japanese houses.
Following rooms, joined by an iron bar on the ceiling, ends with an fence made with interlaced iron stripes, half way a medieval defensive gate and an homage to Japanese architecture of which Scarpa was a great admirer (he will die in an accident while in Sendai during one of his journeys of research in Japan). Inspired by Japanese architecture is also the opening on the floor showing various centuries construction layers of Castelvecchio.
The picture gallery
The picture gallery can be accessed from the keep, the main tower, through a narrow passage in a smaller inner courtyard. In the big hall are exhibited big gothic stational crosses together with some example of early Renaissance paintings and the statues coming from the iron fence of the Scala family mausoleums. Again, Scarpa wanted to decontextualize and put the work of arts in a neutral space. The floor is made of a particular kind of stone, with an opaque finis that absorbs shadows. The wall, with its particular raw finish also reduces reflections so that sculptures, paintings and the spectator too seem to float in a space out of time and reality.
Collections from XVI to XVIII century
The sudden death of Carlo Scarpa in 1973, left unfinished his project for Castelvecchio which was completed by his collaborator Arrigo Rudi. In particular Rudi finished the last section of Castelvecchio Museum, the one dedicated to the collections of Veronese paintings between 1500 and 1700. According to many, Rudi work diverged greatly from the ideas of the master. It's difficult to say what might have been Carlo Scarpa solutions for this section, but the differences between the darkness and the gloominess of these halls and the airy brightness of other sections is evident, as if they where two completely different museums.
The equestrian statue of Cangrande, coming from his famous mausoleum, where is substituted by a replica. Cangrande, the great Scala family lord is still one of the symbol and cultural heritage of Verona. The image of his statue can be found on the flag of one of Verona football teams, Chievo, on Valpolicella wine labels, symbols of various clubs and associations. Even if Cangrande never saw Castelvecchio which was built after his dead by his heirs, his statue was placed by Carlo Scarpa in a topic place. He decided not to close him into a room, but to leave him outside, visible by Verona citizens as he had been for centuries on the top of his tomb in city center. In Carlo Scarpa's restoration, Cangrande becomes a joint between Castelvecchio various parts since it is visible from the main courtyard, the residential area, the painting gallery and the battlements.
Here are only a few hints for a guided tour to understand the restoration work by Carlo Scarpa in Castelvecchiomuseum. For more information on guided tours in Castelvecchio, its museum, its battlements, or on Verona sightseeing tours: