A TWOFOLD SKY Botticelli tells a story. Paintings of Renaissance masters from the collection of Accademia Carrara, Royal Castle in Warsaw, 21.06 – 18.09.2022
The design for the exhibition entitled Botticelli tells a story. Paintings of Renaissance masters from the collection of Accademia Carrara is an attempt to create a contemporary architecture rooted in three equally important themes: the unique interiors of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, the specific nature of the nine paintings exhibited and Renaissance art in its broader context. The exhibition’s location – the former Chamber of Deputies – is a richly decorated hall divided by three free-standing pillars. The chamber’s most spectacular element are its cross vaults featuring the coats of arms of 32 former Polish provinces and lands arranged on an irregular background resembling a blue sky with clouds. It was precisely this most characteristic element of the interior’s design that became one of the main inspirations behind the exhibition’s design. The new monumental form located in the centre of the chamber constitutes a (both literal and indirect) reflection of the existing ceiling. The concave arch in the centre of the exhibition area forms a negative of the vault above and, in transverse views, creates a kind of illusory sinusoid combining these two elements – the contemporary and historical. The navy blue colour (originally inspired by that used for the crown of the apse visible in the Botticelli painting displayed in the exhibition and a shade of the famous lapis lazuli pigment) is in fact the deeply darkened colour of the existing vault. While the historic ceiling is intended to illustrate a daytime view of the sky, the newly-designed facility is intended to suggest the same view, but at night. Reflective, bent surfaces reflect, darken and distort the image of the existing chamber, which may bring to mind Renaissance era optical effects used both in art and architecture. The symmetrical, harmonious geometry of the new structure also hints at the ideals of the Renaissance. The reflective effect used here is intended to dematerialize and defragment the architecture of the Former Chamber of Deputies, complementing and lending it a new quality, while blurring the boundaries between what is old and what is new. Particularly in two views facing in the direction of the central longitudinal axis, one may get the impression of an illusory sinking of the three existing pillars in a fluid surface resembling the trough between towering waves. This is surely one of the exhibition’s most spectacular architectural motifs. Individual works of art, not visible from these two axial perspectives, are displayed in recesses with a more neutral matte background. Each lateral edge of the navy blue monolith is slightly concave, thus drawing viewers in and inviting them to approach closer to the paintings. These masterpieces of Renaissance art are displayed on opposite sides of the chamber – eight thematically arranged works on one side (by Giovanni Bellini, Cosmè Tura, Vittore Carpaccio, Lorenzo Lotto, Giovanni Battista Moroni, Paolo Veronese, Defendente Ferrari and Jacopo Bassano), and on the other – Sandro Botticelli’s The Story of Virginia. This chef-d’oeuvre picture is accompanied by an illustrated information board with a detailed description of the individual scenes. Nota bene, indirect inspiration for the form of the display came from other works by Botticelli – associated with the illustration of Dante’s works, but also from his famous masterpieces: The Birth of Venus and Spring [Primavera]. The arrangement of all the artefacts along the chamber’s longer walls also allows viewers to be provided benches in the existing window recesses – for calm, undivided and unhurried contemplation of the works. The exhibition is complemented by discreet indirect lighting, subdued instrumental music and carefully selected elements of small architecture, graphics and typography. Together this creates a holistic vision of the exhibition, based on specific multi-threaded inspiration, but open to various ways of perception and interpretation. This temporary arrangement of the exhibition in one of the more important rooms of the Royal Castle in Warsaw constitutes a space where the present and history, reality and illusion, architecture and art confront each other.