Impossible Gaze #9
Origin: Room L – The Carrand Room
Museo Nazionale del Bargello

This historic architecture with its opulent interiors appears incongruous with recent refurbishment and modern service demands. For example, the contemporary aesthetics of stainless steel and glass designs utilized in the museum cafés are now also part of the visitors' experience, a homogenising décor of current global styles that leaves the viewer in strangely familiar surroundings. This blended architecture provides the backdrop for the residing collections. Here historic artworks are continuously interwoven with the preceding and succeeding styles of furniture, furnishings and ornamentation, reaffirming that each period is not a break with the past nor a single entity, but part of a continuum that is embodied by its surroundings. The changes from one artist to another, and one period to the next mark the social and artistic continuity of inseparable pasts that reflect the discernment of successive generations of art collectors.

Presented amongst the Baroque decoration of the Palazzo Pitti, its Galleria Palantina and Royal Apartments, each artwork and object is afforded no separate space for contemplation, but is immersed in the interior decoration. Impossible Gaze depicts the palazzo's interiors that are richly layered with textures and patterns on every surface from the elaborate wall-coverings, carpets, and curtains, to the frescoed ceilings. This visually overwhelming environment is an extension of the medieval aesthetic horror vacui . Horror vacui , the “fear of empty spaces,” as Ernst Gombrich describes, is the “urge which drives the decorator to go on filling any resultant void.” A particular aesthetic style, horror vacui leaves no architectural space free of design, decoration or ornament. In Palazzo Pitti the painted grotesques of earlier periods are accompanied by Renaissance tapestries, Baroque silk wall coverings, and Mannerist paintings in Palazzo Pitti. In these rooms mirrors are skillfully placed to reflect endless repetitions of symbolic, religious, and allegorical motifs. Gombrich adds that with “this method of successive enrichment or elaboration…Maybe the term amor infiniti , the love of the infinite, would be a more fitting description.” 1 In discussing this desire for “richness and splendour” Gombrich remarks,

that inner worth should be acknowledged by an appropriate display of outward show. Not only the splendours of kings and princes, but also the power of the sacred has been universally proclaimed by pomp and circumstance…there can never be too much of love and sacrifice expended on respect and veneration…[here] decoration is seen as a form of celebration…2

1. E.H. Gombrich, The Sense of Order: A study in the Psychology of Decorative Art (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), 80.

2. Ibid., 17.

Impossible Gaze Jo-Anne Duggan Invisible Culture, Issue 11