How has the idea of 'classical' and its representation in museum displays changed over the centuries? The point of view of the architect Giuseppe Zampieri, director and partner of David Chipperfield Architects Milan, who thus describes the design of the large exhibition of Marbles from the Torlonia Collection at Villa Caffarelli, Rome, space of the Capitoline Museums

“Each era, in order to find identity and strength, has invented a different idea of classical.

Thus the classical always concerns not only the past but also the present and a vision of the future. To shape the world of tomorrow it is necessary to rethink our many roots". Professor Salvatore Settis writes about it in his famous book Futuro del 'classico' (Einaudi, Turin 2004).

The architect Giuseppe Zampieri retraces these reading codes with us, bringing them back to the genesis of the museum layout for I Marmi Torlonia. Collecting Masterpieces, the grandiose exhibition hosted from October 2020 to February 2022 at Villa Caffarelli, Rome, headquarters of the Capitoline Museums, curated precisely with the scientific project of study and enhancement of the collection carried out by Salvatore Settis with Carlo Gasparri.

What is the classic for an architect today?

The classic, by extension, with a reference to the most important authors of architecture, including modern architecture, but not only, is that which is of exemplary value, which is such that it can serve as a model, but it is also what shapes and is linked to tradition, an important point of reference.

Are there any models inspired by the history of architecture that remain paradigms of reflection for a studio like David Chipperfield Architects?

The models are not established a priori, but vary according to the type, scale and reality in which the project is to be inserted, becoming precise sources of inspiration and interpretation.

The context, the overall situation in which a project occurs; the place, the spatial context where the project and the architecture are materially located; the structural, functional and aesthetic elements with which the project is confronted always suggest solutions and emblematic situations for each one.

I understand. In Rome you worked in dialogue with works of timeless beauty, a legacy that will go beyond us and our era into the future. What did it mean to exhibit and above all make one feel a Marble from the Torlonia Collection, also in relation to the growing virtualization of the world around us, a great seduction especially for the younger generations?

For decades the more than 600 marbles had lain hidden from the world, preserved in a place that gave the few who were able to visit it the sensation of making an archaeological discovery, leaving them surprised and enchanted by so much quantity and quality.

Their exhibition, through the set-up, expressed an attempt to make the public relive similar and analogous emotions with only 100 marbles put on display in another place.

Could the exhibition return a model to be re-proposed in other ways in other venues?

The installation project, at Villa Caffarelli in Rome, represented a unique solution, difficult to reproduce in other situations because it was conceived in dialogue with the place and the history of the place itself, inspired by the city and the site of Monte Capitolino, of which it longs to become a further stratification.

The first idea, not implemented, was to expose the marbles on the foundations in chapel blocks of the Aedes Iovis Optimi Maximi Capitolini, still visible under the floor of Villa Ioannes Petrus Cafarellius; while the second idea, later implemented, was to exhibit the marbles on floors in clay bricks, both in reference to Roman brick architecture and in reference to the stone foundations of the Capitoline building.

What other inputs did the narrative follow?

The printed catalog of the Torlonia Collection, drawn up by Prince Alessandro Torlonia in 1875, in which the sculptures are represented on a black background, suggested following an exhibition in which to abstract the works to enhance their character and details.

Choosing a representation organized not by typology but by acquisition, the neutral background, the denominator, was also combined with colored backgrounds, the numerators, five chapters that narrate the evolution of the marble collection over time.

How do you balance this declination in a search for dispositio and inventio within a space called to amplify the value of the contents displayed on the temporal plane of experience?

The search for ideas through the reference to codified themes – the inventio – can be found in the study of the historic catalog of the collection that inspired the display of the works against a neutral background.

The idea of organizing the story – the dispositio – is found in the narration through the arrangement of the works on colored backgrounds.

The stylistic expression of ideas - the elocutio - is found in the search for an appropriate lexicon through the plinths, real bases. The neutral background, the colored backgrounds, the plinths and the lighting have the intent, by exploiting their combination, to amplify the perception, calibrating its intensity, using materiality and physicality together with abstractness and immateriality.

So the display system manages to isolate a single work from the background noise, also proximity noise, giving the unicum a pure semantic value that heralds other constructions and dialogues?

The exhibition system is made up of plinths, architectural structures with a base function, rather than pedestals, sculptural structures with a support function, in an attempt to free themselves from decorative structures in favor of foundational structures, seeking and giving a sense of static and tectonic.

The plinths are imagined both as single extrusions emerging from the pavement and as parts of a structure which is divided into different areas, trying to limit the perturbations environmental aspects in the individual works on display and at the same time not to lose the overall meaning of all the works.

Reflecting in retrospect, what do you hope that this setup has left in the visitor?

It is hoped that, with this set-up, it has been possible to read the works through a support and an aid and it has been possible to avoid a position of supremacy of the set-up with respect to the works themselves, allowing the public to read them both one by one, individually and individually, both distinct from each other, jointly and jointly, but brought together in such a way as to form a story in the chorus of the collection.

Could the public success of the exhibition foreshadow the creation of a permanent museum of the entire Torlonia collection, as was announced during the presentation by Minister Franceschini?

In its entirety, the collection is such a significant heritage that it cannot remain hidden.

It is a collection that must be rediscovered by an even wider public, beyond the discretionary choices for temporary exhibitions; it is of such value as to impose the need to be reacquired in a permanent exhibition.

The Torlonia collection is perhaps such an extraordinary legacy precisely because it has remained hidden for so long as to seem to be a new discovery.

Photo by Alberto Parise / Collezione Torlonia copyright Fondazione Torlonia