Widely recognized as one of the most relevant projects by the Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa, the wing was erected between 1955 and 1957 to complete the invaluable Canovian heritage and include some monumental plaster casts that had arrived from Venice as a loan and can still be admired inside the Museum today (such as Hercules and Lichas and Theseus defeats the Centaur). Scarpa gave life to a structure that was in harmony with the pre-existent 19th-century basilica and the surrounding landscape. He also designed a square-plan hall originally intended for the sole great model of Theseus. He then added a lower, trapezoidal body with one of the sides running parallel to the side of the basilica, creating a proper optical telescope that aims at the Graces’ group positioned at the end of the room.
But the key point of his project was focusing on the surrounding natural landscape. The natural light flowing from above and the clever positioning of angular glass windows reconcile the choreographic bodies inside with the green hills outside, evoking in the observer a sense of perfection.
One more peculiar aspect of the structure designed by Carlo Scarpa is the presence of a stretch of water at the foot of the Graces. The reflection of sunlight on water creates endless variations of the shape and the three bodies seem to move all day long, playing with lights and creating shadows in the open space around them.
The formal inauguration of the new wing took place on the 15th of September 1957, in the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the artist’s birth. However, construction works kept going and, in the following two years, many interventions and improvements were made.
The Graces, in Scarpa Wing
Light for Carlo Scarpa
Light takes center stage in the so-called Scarpa Wing, giving life to a comprehensive interpretation of the Canovian plaster casts. The model for “The Graces”, “Cupid and Psyche standing”, “The Dancers”, and all those terracotta sketches, displayed in newly-designed cases and finally valued and extensively studied by the critics, are perfectly lit by the architecture itself. The museum is a “living” being in which light is clearly the protagonist: it permeates the visitor who can move freely on a stage that is made of different floors, surfaces, materials, and especially filled with light expanding and modifying the scene every single moment of day and night. As Carlo Scarpa said: “The problem I faced when rearranging the Gypsotheca was the light: it was not about paintings, but sculptures, and sculptures were not marble or wood, but plaster cast […]. And the sun, moving on a sculpture, never has a negative effect as it happens inside a room when it reaches certain points only and some paintings are left in the shade, yet there is nothing making works of art wonderful like powerful sunlight”.
Pieces of art and visitors enlightened by the natural light in Scarpa wing | ph credits Otium/Favotto
Light filters through Scarpa’s prisms, detail