On November 21st, The New York Times reported a robbery at the Castelveccchio, museum in Verona Italy. Seventeen masterpieces by Tintoretto, Mantegna and Peter Paul Rubens were taken. The incredibly amateurish robbers, after demanding the keys to the car of the single museum guard on duty, used it to make their getaway. Italy has long suffered from inadequate funds to protect it’s treasures. Often I’ve found myself alone in rooms full of priceless masterpieces wondering, “where’s the security?” The museum, itself a masterpiece, designed by Carlo Scarpa,(1906 Venice-1978), is quite frankly exquisite. Everything there, including the architecture and display are pure Scarpa.
The castle was constructed between 1354 and 1376, by Cangrande ll della Scala to defend the city of Verona against it’s enemies, the Gonzaga and Sforza families of nearby Venice. It is considered one of the most important examples of gothic architecture from it’s period. The structure was initially restored during the Fascist period 1922-1945. The first director of the Verona municipal collections, Antonio Avena, had the inspired idea to use the old castle as the site of a new museum. In 1956, after the second world war, the Verona museums had a new manager, Licisco Magagnato, who began a general re-organization of the Verona museum collections. He chose Carlo Scarpa to renew the Castelvecchio.
This came at a critical moment in the architect’s career. By 1957, age 51, he had already restored some of Italy’s most prestigious museums: the Accademia Gallery and the Museo Correr in Venice, the Palermo Regional Gallery of Sicily, the Uffizi in Florence, and the Gipsoteca Canova Possagno, as well as many exhibitions for the Venice Biennale. Scarpa’s work on the Castelvecchio began in 1958 and continued intermittently until 1975.
He was given the mandate to rebuild the museum while preserving and integrating the beautiful old castle as well as designing all of the museum displays. Effectively he had complete artistic control. The results are nothing less than spectacular. Working on this project over so many years resulted in a uniquely satisfying integrated design by one of the twentieth century’s most important and beloved masters.