museum collecting
Guido Canella

On Certain Deviations from the Museum Archetype

1   b   c   d

Quite a few members of the current generation of museologists and architects have had the opportunity to put their theoretical and/or design skills to test in art museums. As a result today's new museum, the preservation of which has come under discussion (because of its contents but also because of the "container" itself), could be seen as the absolute opposite of the new theatre, to which the presentation in no. 2 of Zodiac attributed the capacity of "giving the landscape any hopes of renewal".

Indeed of all the various typologies, the art museum is--in theory at least--the one most subject to specific rules, despite the dissimilarities in today's designs given the variety of locations and special uses.

This is largely because scholars and critics, without denying the architect's right to creative freedom, put forth their concems both before the museum has been built (assessing the intentions of the design) and afterwards (face to face with the finished building) basing themselves on the model of Schinkel's Altes Museum: exterior stairs, portico, spacious hall providing access and a sense of identification, sequences of appropriately-sized rooms, daylight coming in from the sides or above as in the case of one-floor museums, and the neutral arrangement of the works on display.

Karl Friedrich Schinkel   Altes Museum   Berlin   1823-1830   second floor pian and interior view of the Rotonda

1. Heinrich Wagner, "Museen" in Handbuch der Architektur, 1893.
2. Nikolaus Pevsner (with H. Seling), "Museums" in A History of Building Types, 1976.
3. James S. Ackerman, "The Cortile del Belvedere" in Studies and Documents for the History of the Apostolic Vatican Palace, 1954.

Villa Adriana   Tivoli   125   site pian

This is evident in the long analytical examination which started in the chapter on museums in Heinrich Wagner's Handbuch der Architektur1 and continued through the essays by Helmut Seling and Nikolaus Pevsner in The Architectural Review in the Sixties, which later appeared in the fascinating A History of Building Types.2 To think that the analysis in these fundamental studies goes far back in time, including references to the legendary Museion of Alexandria which was connected to the great Library in that urban centre of Hellenism to which all scholars had access and presumably served in those times (4th to 3rd centuries B.C.) as a public, operational institution.

Even though there is no mention of the Villa which Emperor Hadrian had built at Tivoli in the 2nd century, as a self-contemplative memorial museum, both the above mentioned studies refer to a work which--according to James S. Ackerman3--takes its inspiration directly from it, namely the Cortile del Belvedere in the Vatican, designed by Julius II and Bramante at the beginning of the sixteenth century not only as an antiquario and true collection apparatus, but also as a cult of the evocation transpiring from the whole monumentai complex.

Donato Bramante   Belvedere Complex   known today as the Vatican Museum   1503-1512   plan

In the views of the scholars and critics all this and everything that followed (up to Boullée's grandiose project in 1783), should be considered museum prehistory because, interesting as it may be from an archaeological point of view, it no longer works as a model, since the archetype of the truly public and functional modem art museum carne about only with the establishment of bourgeois culture, in Schinkel's Altes Museum.

Etienne-Louis Boullée   Design for a grand museum   1783   section



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