Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Castelvecchio Stone

After Brion I visited Castelvecchio Museum, one of Carlo Scarpa’s other masterpieces, a beautiful restoration of a 14th century castle. Scarpa did a masterful job of revealing the historic architecture while adapting it to its new use as a museum. Like Brion, it’s been written about a great deal; Carlo Scarpa/Museum of Castelvecchio is one example that can be read online. I loved the building, but I was also fascinated by how he displayed the stone sculptures in the museum. I don’t usually pay a great deal of attention to this kind of figurative and religious statuary, but some of the ones at Castelvecchio are particularly expressive and Scarpa did a terrific job of displaying them. Almost every one has some touch from Scarpa to make the piece better. This statue of Jesus is a brilliant composition, immeasurably better because of the window. It’s lit like a Vermeer.

It might be the most anguished single stone I’ve ever seen. Apparently it was originally placed at the entrance to a leprosy hospital, the idea being to remind everyone that no matter how much the people with leprosy might suffer, Jesus suffered more.

Displayed across from the Jesus statue, Scarpa placed a statue of Mary collapsing as she witnesses her son’s suffering. The chiaroscuro lighting, emphasizing her face dropping into shadow and the crumpling S curve of her body, is straight from a Renaissance painting.

This wall panel doubles as a screen for the bathroom, but it’s a wonderful display.

The red and the blue are perfect, picking up the warmth in the stone. It’s a little thing, but the cool blue shadow makes the stone feel warm.

This one is perhaps a little less about Scarpa’s display but more the quality of the piece, a sarcophagus telling the story of Sergius and Bacchus. It’s not something I would normally give a great deal of attention, I saw dozens of them in Italy, but the carver of this one had a talent for graphic storytelling. It makes a great six panel comic strip in stone.

The story starts with the saints worshiping their Christian god instead of the winged pagan figure.

A king asks them to go pagan but they refuse. I like the dismissive hands on the saints.

The king’s horsemen seize them.

An official admonishes them for their lack of paganism.

The king’s men then kill the saints with a club and a short sword. The slash into the saint’s neck is one of the more graphic things I’ve seen in stone. It looks like it was done with a stone saw rather than the chisel used for the rest of the work.

The story ends in heaven with the saints acting as advocates for other saintly folks. I think the kneeling figure represents the person whose remains were housed in the sarcophagus.

The fifteen-foot-high pedestal for the horseman statue is one of the most famous pedestals in the world. It’s pretty crazy that he raised the statue up like this, but it really ties the whole museum together. I imagine Scarpa shrugging and saying it needed something there.

The courtyard has my favorite hedge in Italy, a double hedge that deflects people towards the entrance door to the museum. It’s a force multiplier; the double hedge is more than twice as good as a single hedge would have been.

This last one is possibly my favorite, even though I’m usually not all that interested in Canova. I love it because of the bars, they remind me of dimension lines on a construction drawing or even a pointing machine, and give it a modern feel or a feel of something in-process. For all I know, they were originally meant to hang a banner, but I love their effect. They make a six foot statue have a ten foot impact. Which is pretty much what Scarpa did with everything in the museum. Maestro.

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