Niccolò da Poggibonsi
Viagio da Venetia al Sancto Sepulchro & al monte Synai piu copiosamente descritto de li altri con disegni de paesi, citade, porti, & chiese & li sancti loghi con molte altre sanctimonie che qui si trouano designate & descritte come sono nelli luoghi lor proprij, Venice, Giovanni Tacuino, 1523
© Fondazione Giorgio Cini
Niccolò da Poggibonsi
Viaggio da Venetia al sancto sepulchro & al monte Synai piu copiosamente descritto de li altri con disegni de paesi, citade, porti, & chiesie & li santi loghi con molte altre santimonie che qui si trouano designate & descrite come sono ne li luoghi lor proprij &c., Venice, Niccolò Zoppino & Vincenzo di Paolo, 1518
© Fondazione Giorgio Cini
Scene sketches with “oriental” architecture and exotic settings, seventh and eighth decades of the 19th century. Pencil, pen, brush, watercolor, paper; 178 × 223 mm (inv. 34185); Antonio Certani Collection
© Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe
Secretary General of Fondazione Giorgio Cini
Marking its 70th anniversary, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini is presenting the exhibition EST. Italian Stories of Travels, Cities, and Architectures curated by Luca Molinari Studio. The exhibition uses the occasion to explore the roots and cultural networks that Venice, and Italy at large, has
had throughout its history with the East, offering a contemporary perspective on architectural design as both a way of interpreting, and the cultural, social, and creative outcome of intercontinental exchanges that have never ceased.
The travels and experiences of RPBW – Renzo Piano Building Workshop, AMDL CIRCLE, Studio Fuksas, Archea Associati, Piuarch, and MC A – Mario Cucinella Architects are presenting
here the stories of people, cities, and architecture that have been a source of inspiration for almost two thousand years on questions of boundaries, ordered space, time, and the building functions that are representative of a society and its values.
Alongside the more recent works of the invited architectural firms, other documents in the Fondazione Giorgio Cini collections are presented in one trajectory, inscribing the history of this important place for collecting and safeguarding the knowledge and vitality of many cultures. From the Tiziano Terzani archive collection, donated by Ms. Angela Staude Terzani in 2012,
we are showing forty of the more than ten thousand photographs taken by Terzani during his travels in China. They are presented with the support of written accounts, notes, and thoughts that Terzani, a famous Italian author and journalist, liked to write to anchor his memory of
the experiences and insights that those places had given him, both for himself and posterity. The island of San Giorgio Maggiore, where his works are now kept, has become like a refuge
for that spirit that Terzani himself would have considered a powerful symbol of departure
for every journey: surrounded by a sea, the Mediterranean, making its way, opening towards those longed-for Eastern horizons. The island in the Venetian lagoon makes this magical place come back alive, as it was recounted by James Hilton in Lost Horizon in 1935, which may have also been one of Terzani’s favorite books. In 2012, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini established
the Centro Studi per le Civiltà e le Spiritualità Comparate (Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations and Spiritualities), headed by Francesco Piraino, whose archives and library include the Terzani archive collection and bolsters the great cultural potential unleashed by the work of scholars and researchers.
And when Terzani described Kashgar alongside his photo, he invited us to think further: “[I was]
in the westernmost corner of the westernmost province of China, Xinjiang. Towering over the medieval labyrinth of this ocher city teeming with ancient-looking people.” Even as a metaphor,
it brings to mind the landscape architecture that the island of San Giorgio presents to its visitors since 2011 when the Borges Labyrinth was built here based on the design of the English architect Randoll Coate, a third “green cloister” on the perspective line of the Palladian and Buora cloisters. Further on, towards the lagoon, there are the woods where the Vatican Chapels are today (also an icon of the fruitfulness of architectural work joining different worlds and spiritualities.)
The selection of material from the Fondazione Giorgio Cini’s collection is organized in drawings, prints, books, and other documents at the Istituto di Storia dell’Arte (Art History Institute), which was founded in 1954, is now headed by Luca Massimo Barbero, and is among the places that evinces the passion of the great art collector, Vittorio Cini. These works take visitors on a journey shaped by the counterpoint between old and contemporary through a conceptual and actual map. For example, China and Vietnam are depicted in Geografia by Claudio Tolomeo in the Liber geographiae cum tabulis et vniuersali figura, printed in Venice in 1511, bin the writings of the Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci in the two volumes of the Opere Storiche printed in Macerata in 1911-1913 and Marco Polo’s Il Milione (The Travels of Marco Polo) in an edition published in Venice in 1829, and in one of the preparatory drawing for the frescoes of the church of San Paolo in Bologna by Giuseppe Antonio Caccioli Allegoria dell’Asia in 1716–1717. Russia, and especially its capital cities of Moscow and St Petersburg are represented in the architectural drawings by Giacomo and Giulio Quarenghi from the time of Catherine II, and Tirana and Tbilisi are depicted historically in the Adriatic maps including Albania and Macedonia.
Today’s EST. Italian Stories of Travels, Cities, and Architectures is a point of research in which the language of design and the transformation of places becomes like a traveling encyclopedia of cultures brought together to give life to projects by some of the best-known Italian architectural studios, whose work is exhibited here.
Manar Hammad, an architect and semiologist interested in the design dynamics in the East, defined architects of all eras as those who occupy the space to be shaped by giving form to positions of materials: “The space we are talking about is not that of stars and rockets, but more modestly the space where we live our daily lives: that void in which we move to meet each other, to change places, to reach what we want. [...] the property of this space is that it is immaterial: it is the void in which the solid moves. Architecture fits into the space, it divides it, it defines it. In architecture [the protagonists] are human subjects involved in various dynamic procedures that can be described in terms of actions, operations, and relationships.”
For this reason too, the relationship between history and the present, between people and designers of distant eras and cultures can generate relationships between the old and the contemporary, powering a critical perspective striving for the authenticity of the work.
And perhaps we could say that this is also the major theme running through Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities? “Every time I describe a city I say something about Venice,” was Marco Polo’s response to the Great Khan’s famous question. And so it is in Venice, in the Napoleonic wing
of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, that we have the exhibition EST. Italian Stories of Travels, Cities, and Architectures, a journey of departures and returns from and to the East, seen through the eyes of history and the present by means of built architecture, projects, images, and writings by those who have worked to build relationships and forge dialogue.
We’d like to give a heartfelt thanks to Luca Molinari Studio for his expertly conducted research alongside the Fondazione Giorgio Cini.