As a frequent visitor of Venice, it’s impossible not to know, or at least to recognize, the work of the Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa. His architectural projects can be found all over the city, but you will also come across many references to his glass design. In this post, I will give you an overview of the delicate balance in his career between (glass) art and architecture and how this evolved over time.
Art and architecture blended in one career
Carlo Scarpa was born on June 2, 1906 in Venice. Ever since childhood, he wanted to become a painter. His father motivated him to pursue a career in design as he was good with the pencil and he could draw with both his right and left hand. He was also fascinated by architecture so he studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti (Fine Arts) in Venice. During his career, he designed houses, gardens, museums and even glass objects.
His career can be divided in 3 major phases:
– From 1925 until 1953, he balanced between art and architecture. He made glass works for Cappellin and Venini, he worked for La Biennale di Venezia and built a few houses near Udine.
– From 1954 until 1968, Carlo Scarpa focused entirely on architecture, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. His works include the Olivetti showroom on Piazza San Marco, Museo Correr and the Castelvecchio museum.
– During the last 10 years of his life, he made some of his most impressive and large works such as the Brion cemetery near Treviso or the Banca Popular in Verona. The design of his architecture is now considered art.
Carlo Scarpa died on November 28, 1978 in Sendai in Japan, after falling from concrete stairs. In 2 weeks from now, we will remember the 40th anniversary of his death. You can find more information about his career in my first post dedicated to Carlo Scarpa ‘Explore Venice in the steps of Carlo Scarpa’.
A glass artist in Murano
When Carlo Scarpa was 19, he met Giacomo Cappellin, one of the most important and very passionate glassmasters in Murano (more info in my post ‘Murano glassmasters: artisans or artists?’). Carlo Scarpa worked for him from 1925 until 1931. Although Scarpa often acted as interpreter of Cappellin himself, he gradually took on a certain independence in the design of the models. Together they created glass objects which had never been seen before: geometrical, bathed in gold, elegant, transparent, highly coloured and opaque.
At Stanze del Vetro on San Giorgio Maggiore, you can now visit the exhibition ‘The M.V.M. Cappellin Glassworks and the Young Carlo Scarpa 1925-1931’ which focuses on these first years of his career. The exhibition displays lots of stunning glass objects from this period. It is very informative and explains the evolution of glassmaking techniques and the use of new materials. It is however a pity that you cannot identify which works were designed by Carlo Scarpa and which were inspired by him. There are only 2 pieces which are clearly linked to him. The round glass vase at the beginning of the exhibition was shown at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1926. It is a timeless design and still fits in a contemporary interior. The glass window towards the end of the gallery is also marvelous. You can visit the exhibition until January 6, 2019.
DID YOU KNOW? The round Savoy-blue vase with the special ‘troncoconico’ foot, accompanied by a glass flower, is the symbol of the M.V.M Cappellin glassworks.
In 1932, Carlo Scarpa was hired by Paolo Venini, another important glassmaster in Murano, as an artistic consultant. Here, he redefined the parameters of glassblowing in terms of aesthetics and technical innovation. Until 1947, Carlo Scarpa worked closely with the Venini glassmasters. He created many new styles and thoroughly modernized the ancient tradition of glassblowing. These glass objects were exhibited internationally as well as in Italy, such as at the Milan Triennale and at the Venice Biennale during the 1930s and 1940s.
The exhibition ‘La Pelle del Vetro. Carlo Scarpa alla Venini 1936-1942’ at the Olivetti showroom on San Marco shows some of his glass designs for Venini. The 15 objects, vases and cups, all come from private collections. The exhibition illustrates how Carlo Scarpa worked, with a lot of attention to the surface of the objects and the final decoration. The setting of his glass designs in the showroom designed by himself perfectly integrates his passion for art and for architecture. You can visit the exhibition until January 6, 2019.
An architect for the Venetian universities
Carlo Scarpa realized several architectural projects for universities in Venice, even though he didn’t finish his professional exam and hence, he was officially not allowed to work as an architect. I will focus here on the entrances of IUAV at Campo Tolentini (Santa Croce 191) and of the Ca’Foscari faculty at Campiello Fond. San Sebastiano (Dorsoduro 1686). You can read more about the Aula Baratto which he (re)designed for the Ca’Foscari headquarters in my post ‘Why you will never forget your visit to Ca’Foscari’.
DID YOU KNOW? Venice has a strong tradition in education and universities. The IUAV was one of the first architecture schools in Italy. It was established in 1926 and Carlo Scarpa taught drawing and interior decoration there from the late 1940s. Ca’Foscari was the first Italian institution with an advanced education in Business and Economics. It was founded in 1868. And the Venetian Elena Lucrezia Corner Piscopia was the first woman in the world to receive a university degree in 1678.
The former convent of the Tolentini church has been the headquarters of the ‘Istituto universitario di architettura di Venezia’ (IUAV) since 1960. It was restored between 1960 and 1965 under the direction of the architects Daniele Calabi and Mario Bacci. Many original elements can still be seen, such as the cloister with its arcades and the cells on three sides of the first floor. In 1985, the entrance of the architecture school was transformed according to a design of Carlo Scarpa. He created a modern looking gate. Make sure to visit it during school days, so you can also admire the basin on the courtyard which is in fact the former arched doorway. You can also see that the lintel on the right of the new gate has no support. The school building itself is also worth a look. I was lucky to pass by when there was an open career day, so I could enter the school without threspassing.
Carlo Scarpa also created an entrance to the former convent of San Sebastiano, next to the San Sebastiano church in Dorsoduro. He designed it in 1978 for the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy of Ca’Foscari. It’s less impressive than the one at IUAV, but still worth a detour when you’re in Venice. It consists of an L-shaped Istria stone frame, with scaling and cut-out crown mouldings. On the left, you can see a circular shape with a 15th century statue of San Sebastiano.
A design legend even after his death
The architectural works of Carlo Scarpa are spread all over Venice. If you want to discover them at your own pace, you can follow the walk which I created for my post ‘Explore Venice in the steps of Carlo Scarpa’. It will take you for instance to the Querini Stampalia, Giardini and the Galleria dell’Accademia.
One of his works which I really want to visit in the near future is the Brion cemetery at San Vito d’Altivole, near Treviso. The pictures I have seen are really beautiful. On top of that, Carlo Scarpa is buried here, standing up and wrapped in linen sheets in the style of a medieval knight. His grave is located in an isolated exterior corner of this L-shaped Brion cemetery. In anticipation of my post on this cemetery, you can already read about it in this interesting article ‘Brion tomb and sanctuary by Carlo Scarpa‘ from Architectours.
If you want to know more about his 58 projects, I can recommend the book ‘Carlo Scarpa : Architecture and Design’. It has more than 250 amazing pictures and lots of information.
Do you have a favourite Carlo Scarpa work, in Venice or elsewhere ?
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