Art display : Castel Vechhio

Castelvecchio, now a museum, has a unique exhibition design where Carlo Scarpa subtly forces the visitor to make direct conversation with the displayed objects. It is a physical experience where the exhibit engages the visitor in a journey where he becomes a participant and not merely an observer. The exhibit is not only designed considering the viewer and the displayed art, but he has created a dynamic relation between each display and the interior space itself. Scarpa seems to have offered the exhibit to the viewer where they could have a private interaction.

The museum does not start from the entrance gallery but from much before that, it starts from the entry of the castle, where Scarpa guides the visitor on the route that is designed for them using paving and water channel besides it. Another inviting gesture that Scarpa makes is with the L-shaped wall of mosaic with two different limestones, that guides the viewer into the museum.

In the sculpture gallery, on the ground floor, the viewer is informed of the journey through the aligned arched doorways. The rooms are rather grand but the spring line of the arched opening is relative to the human scale which gives a feeling of security to the viewer to enter the next space. Apart from this, the H-shaped beam, that divides the space into two equal parts, guides the direction in which one has to proceed. The interior design elements of the space itself seem like the exhibit, for example, the floor has its own identity by pulling away from the surrounding walls which in a way highlights the geometry of the floor. The alternate use of concrete and stone in the floor defines the geometry. This geometric nature of the flooring is continued in the display stands of certain sculptures. The leg of the display stand, for example, ends at the line of the concrete and aligns to the floor geometry but they seem floating which adds a new layer, inviting the observer to participate, above the layer of flooring. The sculptures are displayed like in a play, facing different directions and not aligning with each other. According to Pamela Buxton, this was done to engage the viewer to move around the sculptures and view it from different angles. Scarpa is very meticulously trying to break the monotony of the layers, that he is adding, by exposing not only the contrasting materials he uses but also in the display of the sculptures. He breaks the clear view of the galleries, expected by the visitor, by bringing one of the sculptures forward.

He has very thoughtfully displayed a limited number of sculptures in each space. He seems to know the importance of the displayed sculpture, which is why he highlights each object with a unique and contrasting background. For example, in the entrance of the museum, the primary colored Venetian stucco backdrop highlights the lime stone sculptures that are displayed on it. Looking closely to one of the sculptures on the right of this wall, I was amazed to encounter the much-crafted details that Scarpa is famous for. His design for the stand for this particular sculpture started from the frame of the Venetian stucco wall with a horizontal wrought iron band which drops an inch perpendicular and ends into a plate on which the sculpture sits. The detail which I missed at first glance was that this stand resembled the base of the sculpture itself. This made me realize how considerate and sensitive Scarpa was about the display. His display was not neutral or inert, but it had a dialogue of its own.

Talking about the background of each display, the most striking was the one he designed for the crucifix. He displayed the crucifix on a solid T-shaped metal backdrop, which is quite brutal in my opinion, but his decision of removing the notch from the middle of the T exactly on the top of the crucifix changes the aura of the exhibit. The T-shaped backdrop suddenly becomes a cross itself. What highlights the cross, even more, is the placement of the two sculptures in the pockets created because of the cross.

The geometrical cut-out in one of the walls seems meaningless at first glance. When looked at it from the front, I realise it is resembling the shape of the display stand of the artwork in the next space. This is the quality that Scarpa injects into the minds of the viewer which is stimulating because of the curiosity it creates that keeps the viewer wanting to keep exploring.

Lastly, I could not ignore the much talked about strategic placement of the Cangrande statue. Cangrande, being an integral part of the Castle, makes sense to have a significant place in the exhibit in the museum. At first, Scarpa’s decision of placing the statue in a semi-open space seems quite random. But, it is not only in a semi-open space, it is in the central position of the whole exhibit on the border between the east and the west wing. It is one of those gestures that Scarpa uses to keep the viewer wanting to explore more. It is placed in a strategic location which guides the visitor to continue walking on the route chosen by Scarpa. The face of the statue comes in a direct relation with the viewer and this interaction happens repeatedly from various views from different parts of the museum. The plinth of the statue does not align with the concrete stand that is designed for it, but its position compliments the stand and has a subtle dialogue with the groove in the flooring, as if Scarpa does not want the statue to be moved a centimetre in any direction.

I would say Scarpa has not designed an interior space or an exhibition but he has choreographed a journey through the design. However, it was difficult to understand a specific system of hierarchy in the exhibit, which I think was intentionally done. Scarpa has not designed the display according to the interior/architecture of the museum but he has designed his architectural space around the display.


Entrance to Castel Vechhio
east wing
Rare Entrance
Detail of display
Detail of display
Can-grande Statue
Can-grande Statue

Due credits to anonymous photographers for the photographs used, collected via pinterest.

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