When you enter the large hall on the piano nobile, the gaze immediately rises to the beautiful bas-reliefs, lit up by red, that present the busts of Roman emperors only to be abruptly interrupted by a face with a moustache (a fashion banned in ancient Rome). It is the visage of the owner of the house, the nobleman from Vicenza Montano Barbarano, a cultured, refined man, an enlightened and demanding client, who in 1570 asked a starchitect of the time – Andrea Palladio – to design his sumptuous estate.
Here, in this incredible building, the only one the architect from Padua managed to see completed even in its decoration, Alessandro Scandurra has come to grips with the “folly” – as he puts it – of making a museum about the great master.
YOU ARE THE CURATOR AND EXHIBIT DESIGNER OF THE ‘PALLADIO MUSEUM.’ HOW HAVE YOU DECIDED TO NARRATE THE STORY OF THE GREAT ARCHITECT FROM THE VENETO?
By creating a museum-workshop always in a state of becoming. To explain, let’s start with Vicenza, an incredible city-museum where most of Palladio’s works are found. I would call it a sort of ‘16th-century Cupertino’: wealthy merchants lived here, who traveled all over the world, and when they returned home they wanted to have the most beautiful palace, to rival those of their neighbors. Palladio became their architect, because his buildings were extraordinary, revolutionary at the time, and aptly interpreted that courageous and simultaneously refined spirit of the Vicenza merchants. So Palladio built amazing white ‘spaceships’ that landed in the disorder of the medieval city, granting a symmetrical image to an urban fabric penalized by the ‘skewed’ arrangement of the existing buildings. In short, he thought in a new way but above all of a new world, just like his clients… one of whom was Montano Barbarano, who commissioned this residence for his family…
…WHICH IS NOW THE PALLADIO MUSEUM.
Precisely. Since the postwar era the building already contained the Andrea Palladio International Center of Architectural Studies. But the idea was to go beyond, to transform the story of the great architect into living matter; to recover his extraordinary personality from the past, not just as an object of study; to visit not the tomb of a dead hero but a living place where architectural culture can grow. That, in short, was my idea.
HOW DID YOU ACCOMPLISH THIS?
By presenting content (from drawings to models) as a sort of theatrical behind-the-scenes, a mutable, adaptable situation. But also by looking for new modes of communication, to engage the public, including a young audience.
Thus the wooden models, for example, simply resting on tables with painting easels, are joined by digital models, videos, photographs projected on the walls. Almost a sort of report on the Palladian buildings, where a contemporary, anti-heroic gaze takes over, not concealing the life of men behind the walls of the house.
Along the itinerary, visitors can listen to great experts explaining the themes of each room, as they almost miraculously appear on the walls, like ‘little genies’ of a modern lamp. There are also historical documents, like the original drawings of Palladio, shown in rotation for better conservation. Then there will be temporary exhibitions as well…
ON WHAT THEMES?
Things that are complementary to the permanent exhibits of the museum, or contaminations, in a certain sense. For example, there is now an exhibition (from 19 September 2015 to 28 March 2016, ed.) that reveals an unexpected connection between Palladio and the president of the United States Thomas Jefferson, a learned man and a great lover of architecture, who took part in the competition for the design of the White House, without winning, and then applied his efforts to his own home, which is very ‘Palladian’: there is a strange migration of the architecture of Palladio overseas. We might say that he is the most widely copied architect in the world.
WHY IS THAT?
Because Palladio worked with systems. He never designed one-offs, but used elements that could be reconfigured, reproduced. He explains it very well himself, in the last years of his life, in his very famous ‘Four Books’: the first great work of architectural exegesis.
IS THIS THE LEGACY TAKEN UP BY THE MUSEUM?
Yes. Let’s say we have made an effort to do it, for the architecture of today and tomorrow.
photos by Filippo Romano – text by Laura Ragazzola