The "Invention of many works": the Archivio del Moderno's research on Domenico Fontana on display


Institutional Communication Service

14 November 2022

The exhibition "Invention of many works" will open on 26 November at the Pinacoteca Cantonale Giovanni Züst in Rancate (Mendrisio). Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) and his worksites curated by Nicola Navone, Letizia Tedeschi and Patrizia Tosini.
Domenico Fontana is dubbed as the forefather of Ticino architects. With Carlo Maderno and Francesco Borromini, he gave artisans and companies from Ticino a leading role in the construction of Baroque Rome that lasted for two centuries. During the five years of Sixtus V's papacy, Fontana redefined Roman town planning by managing all the construction sites, centralising for himself and his company the roles of architect, contractor-engineer and superintendent of works.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Archivio del Moderno of Università della Svizzera italiana and the Pinacoteca Züst with the partnership of the Vatican Museums and the patronage of the Vatican Apostolic Library and the Foundation of the Pontifical Swiss Guard of the Vatican, is part of a broad research project carried out by the Archivio del Moderno and supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). In addition to benefiting from the support of the Ernst Göhner Stiftung, the Ing. Pasquale Lucchini Foundation and the Ferdinando and Laura Pica Alfieri Foundation, the exhibition also benefits from the collaboration of the Foundation for Research and Development of Università della Svizzera italiana and the Archivio del Moderno Foundation.


Research projects

The research activity on Domenico Fontana carried out by the Archivio del Moderno began with the organisation in 2007 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the death of the architect and engineer of the International Study Conference "What is an Architect. Domenico Fontana between Melide, Rome and Naples, edited by Giovanna Curcio, Nicola Navone and Sergio Villari. Promoted by the Archivio del Moderno-Academy of Architecture, USI and the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Naples "Federico II," the conference led to the publication of the volume, edited by the same authors, "Studi su Domenico Fontana, 1543-1607" (Mendrisio Academy Press-Silvana Editoriale, Mendrisio-Cinisello Balsamo 2011, available in Open Access).

This experience led to the SNSF research project "The Fontana enterprise between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: modes of operation, techniques and the role of the workers" (FNS 100016_150268/1), promoted by the Archivio del Moderno and followed by the FNS-Agorà project The "invention of many works." Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) and his buildings works (CRAGP1_199500) aimed at fostering dialogue between the scientific community and civil society and of which the exhibition opening on 27 November at the Pinacoteca Züst is part.

These researches dedicated to the Fontana enterprise, directed by Nicola Navone and Letizia Tedeschi, have made it possible to shed light on the organisation of the construction sites coordinated by Domenico Fontana, clarifying his modes of operation, both in Rome (where, as mentioned, he established himself thoroughly during the pontificate of Sixtus V, 1585-1590) and in Naples (where Fontana moved to in 1592 to play a crucial role in the construction initiatives that characterised the Viceroyalty at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries). An investigation, then, that moves from within the building site, and that has had an important moment of confrontation in the volume, promoted by the Archivio del Moderno and edited by Maria Felicia Nicoletti and Paola Carla Verde, Comparing Architectural Practices in Italian Building Sites of the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century, Officina Libraria, Milan 2019 (available in Open Access).


From research to the exhibition

Based on these experiences, the exhibition's particular angle has been defined, highlighting the dialogue with the many artists active in the great construction sites designed and directed between Rome, Naples, Amalfi and Salerno by Domenico Fontana. In his most prestigious factories, of papal or royal patronage, the work of masons, glaziers, tinsmiths and blacksmiths is superimposed on the work of the artistic workshops of painters, sculptors, bronze workers, plasterers, gilders and engravers, the subject of the exhibition.

Therefore, the exhibition aims to present this extraordinary choral ensemble that unites the most diverse artistic skills and gives the general public access, in the spirit of USI's so-called "third mandate," to a topic that is in itself articulated and complex. To do this, alongside the works from more than 30 lenders scattered among Italy, Switzerland, Spain, England, and the Netherlands (among which we point out the Louvre, the Uffizi, The Gallery of Ancient Art of Palazzo Barberini, the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Rijksmuseum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum), an array of multimedia reconstructions and immersive photographs has been planned that complement and enrich the exhibition itinerary and allow the visitor to interact with the proposed narrative through the original works and virtual images. Apparatus that it was possible to design and implement, thanks to the FNS-Agorà project The "invention of many works." Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) and his buildings works. This project will have further development in a participatory web platform dedicated to the building masters of Italian culture in the western Alpine region, working between the 16th and the first half of the 20th century.