The eighteenth century was an essential period for the study and development of architecture and plastic arts thanks to the rediscovery of antiquity. Rome was the favorite haunt of the Grand Tour of aristocrats, intellectuals and artists from all over Europe. Due to these particular conditions, antiquarians and collectors enabled the birth of archeology and restoration. These disciplines were carried out by individuals who were trying to weld artistic and archaeological studies to the historical ones. The antiquarian was therefore an artist, a scientist, a collector, but, first and foremost, a scholar and man of letters. The study of antiquities influenced the development of topography, thanks to the thorough research made on Rome: the city is, indeed, extremely complex in terms of topography and stratigraphy. As Pierluigi Pansa said: “In the face of the widespread passion for the past, collecting, restoring and interpreting the findings become the vehicle for the manifestation of a taste for antiques, an accumulators’ taste”. Before the eighteenth century, the whole Greco-Roman antiquity had been seen en bloc, as a unit. The expansion of the repertoire of classic, because of the rediscovery of Agrigento and Paestum, Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the sites of the eastern Mediterranean, led to strong changes in the cultural perspectives of the time. The important role of arts in eighteenth century society is not enough to explain the intensity of the dispute which took place between “Greek” and “Roman”. While the search for new ethical and pedagogical sources of inspiration was on developing, a clash between “Roman” and “Greeks” ideals of morality supported by scholars and philosophers, among the academia and courts took over. The so-called greek-roman controversy broke out as a true international cultural debate, involving personalities as Bottari, Mariette, Piranesi and Winckelmann, who supported the superiority of Greek or Roman art. The arguments supported by the romans antiquarians were quickly forgotten because of the spread of the new Enlightnment theories, and Roman art had only a revaluation since 1900 thanks to the studies of Wickhoff and Riegl. The entire antiquarian culture was defeated, and with it a political and cultural project claimed by numerous ecclesiastics and intellectuals about the “specificity” of Italian civilization and values derived from the Etruscan-Roman culture. An idea of philosophy of history supported by Piranesi, and designed by Giambattista Vico in his Scienza Nuova, lost relevance because of the enormous influence the writings of theorists as Winckelmann took.
The work started from the scenario of the defeat of the great antiquarian utopia and of the forgotten eighteenth century. I studied how Roman intellectuals, headed by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, contributed to the development of architecture, restoration and archeology, topography and history of art, in the fever of the rediscovery of ancient Rome in the mid-eighteenth century. Beetween the second and third mile of the Via Appia, among the Imperial Villa of Maxentius and the Castrum Caetani with the mausoleum of Cecilia Metella, an ephemeral exhibition takes form consisting of a sequence of scattered pavilions along the remains of the Via Appia, dialoguing with orography and ruins on site. The intent was to show the product of the roman culture of the eighteenth century, reassembling the collections of the time, presenting the work of the first famous restorers (the case of Bartolomeo Cavaceppi) and what had been documented by new archaeological and topographical discoveries. Piranesi’s furniture design anticipated the nineteenth-century eclecticism and Egyptology, as well as “vases, candlesticks, stones, sarcophagi, tripods, lamps, and antique ornaments”. The pavilions were designed starting from the Ichnographia Campi Martii Antiquae Urbis drawn by Piranesi in 1762. The elevation were developed in order they could represent the petrification of the Roman thesis during the querelle. The general plant of the exhibition derives from the parataxis, the bricolage, from misrepresented quotes, the fragmentation and the cannibalization of form. The composition is given by overlapping ontologically different artistic worlds, with a plurality of eclectic iconographic forms in favor of hallucinatory syncretisms. This recollection, calls into play the basics of the syntax and semantics through the misrepresentation of architectural history, the game of scraps or, as in the case of Piranesi, through the creative re-composition of fragments of antiquity. The primacy of rhetoric on logic, the game, the “aesthetic difference”, the implementation of the architectural spectacle and the accumulation create an ephemeral universe of references. This antiquarian erudition was swept away by the need of objectivity, taking the place of a dialogic reading of the past (the fascinating collection of Sir John Soane in London is an example), as well as the interpretations of art history as history of civilization (example of which is the Magnificenza) and as well as the creative reinvention of the old.
Master thesis, Politecnico di Milano.
Shortlisted for “ANCSA Premio Gubbio 2015”.
Exhibited at “Polimi for ICOM. Progettare Musei”.
Exhibited at “02 | 06”. Galleria Tulpenmanie, Milan.