Stepping into the exhibition Nella mente di Vincenzo Scamozzi, the visitor immediately encountered a billowing cloud of stylized books floating on the opposite wall, which illustrated the nearly 250 titles quoted in Vincenzo Scamozzi's magisterial treatise of 1615, L'idea della Architettura Universale.1 This textual nebula emblematized the theme of the refined little show, hosted by the Palladio Museum in a single room on the piano nobile of the Palazzo Barbarano in Vicenza. Jointly organized by the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, in collaboration with the Stiftung Bibliothek Werner Oechslin, the exhibition was all about Scamozzi's books. It presented the lifelong process by which the first Palladian architect read, annotated, and illustrated the volumes he collected, as well as showing how he composed and edited his own publications—in short, how he used books as tools to shape his mind and his oeuvre as both a builder and a theoretician.
The exhibition largely depended on the research of Katherine Isard, one of the curators, who recently reconstructed the architect's book collection and the role it played in a professional practice based on a relentless pursuit of learning.2 Such an object-based approach offered an innovative view of Scamozzi's work for an event occasioned by the four hundredth anniversary of his death, with the exhaustive 2003 show—also at Palazzo Barbarano—still fresh in the memory of the academic community, thanks in no small part to its imposing reference catalogue.3 Cocurator and instigator of the latter was Franco Barbieri, who had devoted much of his scholarly production to rescuing Scamozzi from his reputation as a dry imitator. Barbieri was also involved in the organization of the 2016 exhibition, but he passed away a few weeks after the opening, at the age of ninety-four. A series of lectures was delivered during the show in homage to his scholarship.
Especially when compared with its antecedent, the selective anniversary exhibition attested to the significant shift in curatorial strategies undertaken by the Palladio Museum since its renovation in 2012, guided by the work of director Guido Beltramini. Sweeping, comprehensive monographic projects have given way to a more intimate investigation of the objects of architectural production—whether drawings, annotated books, or models—regarded as material evidence of design processes and broader cultural practices. If such an approach renounced a comprehensive critical survey of Scamozzi's oeuvre, it nonetheless revealed the power of close attention to artifacts whose multilayered materiality bore witness to their realization, collection, and use.
Accordingly, the number of objects shown in the exhibition was thoughtfully limited: seven printed books, a sketchbook, a manuscript, and seven autograph drawings, in addition to a nineteenth-century portrait bust of Scamozzi from the civic collections of Vicenza. Though the objects were gathered in a single room, the machinelike, black-and-white design by Scandurra Studio presented them in a crystalline sequence that adhered closely to the curators’ thoughts (Figure 1). The first vitrine, built as a wooden workbench, displayed four of the eighteen volumes currently known to have belonged to Scamozzi's private library: a mathematical treatise; two books on geometry by Giovanni Sacrobosco, hectically annotated and bound together with a later commentary; and two guides on the antiquities of Rome, revised by the architect on the basis of his own inspections. This was followed by another bench devoted to the strategies Scamozzi adopted to organize such extensive knowledge and to produce his own books. It exhibited a manuscript index to Daniele Barbaro's Italian edition of Vitruvius alongside the edition of the Opere d'Architettura by Sebastiano Serlio that Scamozzi himself edited in 1584, adding a printed index that could serve both to summarize and to comment on the text. In addition to a copy of Idea, this vitrine showed the stunning Taccuino di viaggio, a pocket sketchbook compiled by the artist in the spring of 1600, when he traveled from Venice to Paris and discovered an architecture of light in Gothic cathedrals, which he reproduced in chiaroscuro pen drawings. Light was also the subject of one of the exhibition's two videos. While the first recapitulated the artist's education as informed by his perpetual acquaintance with books, the second referred to a study by Charles Davis—who, however, was not cited—by extrapolating from the pages in Idea on Villa Bardellini in Monfumo to illustrate Scamozzi's theoretical classification of light and its application to design practice.4
This video thus introduced the last section of the exhibition, where a series of sheets mounted on a wall in chronological order documented Scamozzi's preferences as a draftsman and a designer. The selection included a working drawing, showing the different phases of a project's elaboration; a rare example of “conversation drawing,” that is, an illustrated letter sent to a patron to explain a problem on the building site; two presentation drawings, one for a funerary monument and one for a kneeler, both lavishly executed with pictorial effects; two preparatory drawings for the engravings of an unpublished volume of Idea; and a unique “territorial drawing,” a site survey illustrating the taxonomy of public spaces as formulated by Scamozzi in his architectural theory. Even though the relationship of these sheets to the theories expounded in Idea could have been underlined more clearly, the captions were commendably effective in explaining their manufacture, function, and destination. Thanks to the interaction with three-dimensional models and photographs by Vaclav Sedy, these explanatory texts also succeeded in communicating technical material to an audience unfamiliar with the peculiar vocabulary and representational conventions of early modern architecture.
Before leaving the room, every visitor was able to pick a sheet from a block of stacked colored paper featuring excerpts from Scamozzi's theoretical writings, thus enacting a playful allusion to a major subject of the exhibition: the combinatorial technique of “commonplacing” used by the architect, born out of a reading practice conditioned by the inherent mobility of such portable objects as modern printed books.