City Picks: Verona

Verona is a lovely city. It is just the right size for exploration on foot, and there lots to see. Many of its restaurants are justly famous. It is amply stocked with comfortable places to stay. Its Roman theatre, whose tiers of seats rise high above the river Adige, must have commanded one of the finest views of any ancient theatre in Italy. Its churches are magnificent. And then there is the Museo del Castelvecchio.

This fortress of art displays an astonishingly rich collection of sculpture and painting in the rooms of the old brick-built, Ghibelline-battlemented stronghold of the Scaligeri, or della Scala, who were overlords of Verona in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, until overthrown by the Visconti of Milan. At dead of night, the last of the Scaligeri fled this castle, across the bridge over the boiling river, and melted away, fading out of history.

Castelvecchio has one of the finest collections of paintings in Italy. Architecturally the building is interesting too, because its museum space was remodelled by Carlo Scarpa in 1959–73. Concrete now vies with brick. Once so cutting-edge, Scarpa's arrangements now seem a bit quaint. The equestrian statue of Cangrande I (ruled from 1311) stands on an elevated concrete platform which has all the stateliness of a lift-shaft in a multi-storey carpark. But this means the paintings really have to speak for themselves--and many of them eloquently do. The Pisanello and Stefano da Zevio are of course outstanding. There are some interesting paintings by Francesco Morone. Giovanni Francesco Caroto, the teacher of Veronese, is well represented. His Boy with a Drawing (c. 1515) is wonderfully modern: a grinning, red-headed lad holding up a scribble of a stick man. Any parent who has been called upon to admire a proud child’s not terribly brilliant masterpiece will warm to it.

And what about where to eat? Well, it was pouring with rain when I was last in Verona, so I didn’t spend a long time searching. Sometimes the tried and tested are just what one needs. An Aperol in one of the Listòn cafés overlooking the Arena and then lunch in Antica Bottega del Vino. The lamb with rosemary was excellent. The Amarone even better.

Find Verona in Blue Guide Venice & The Veneto and Blue Guide Concise Italy.

  • 2 Comment(s)
Gravatar: John McKeanJohn McKean
oh dear oh dear

I used to value Blue Guides because I enjoyed the writers actually having opinions and encouraging careful looking, but really oh dear, the throw-away childish comments about 20th Century architecture are disgraceful... I've this evening read three of your blogs so, sadly, see it rather concentrated I guess. Can you honestly imagine yourself respected by intelligent readers for making similar comments about 15th (or even, these days 19th) century buildings and their artists? First I saw Gino Valle referred to as "a Brutalist architect"; that's intellectually/art-historically quite inaccurate, but it is basically used as an English slur. Second, Scarpa's careful promenade at Castelvecchio which introduces the Cangrande statue in very differing views - directions, distances and lights - is absurdly dismissed by a reviewer who sounds blind. While, third, one of Scarpa's most original painting displays - where the daylight hits 20th C paintings gently from below - in the Revoltella museum in Trieste, is discussed without the critic seeming to notice the space or the effect, and certainly without naming the architect. Oh dear.

Gravatar: EditorEditor

In the Blue Guide to Venice and the Veneto we describe the 20th-century interventions at Castelvecchio in Verona in the following way: “It was opened as a museum in 1925 and after War damage was imaginatively recreated by Carlo Scarpa. The details of his work throughout the museum bear close study and this is perhaps the place where you can best appreciate his style and skill in inventing (simple) ways of displaying works of art in order that they can be viewed to best advantage…The equestrian statue of Cangrande I, both horse and rider fully armed, [is] strikingly displayed by Scarpa on an elevated concrete stand.” The facts are stated and the reader is allowed to make up their own mind as to the success of the result. Our blog pages are ancillary to the Blue Guides. They are not the same thing nor are they a substitute. In them we allow contributors to express opinions in a way that might not be appropriate in the books but which could spark debate: is Cangrande on Scarpa’s stand a master stroke or a failure? Like any original and daring work of art, it will have its avid admirers and its curmudgeonly detractors. There is no law laid down as to who is right, but it ought to be possible to get a measured and mannerly discussion going. In response to your query as to whether we would ever express a negative view of works from earlier centuries, I can only say that Henry James dared to call Michelangelo’s Campidoglio “meagre”, Shelley abused the same artist as having “no sense of beauty”, and Ruskin called Milan cathedral “an awful failure”. On our blog pages, if we felt the urge to attempt similar controversy, we would be in good company. I am unfamiliar with the use of the term Brutalist as a slur. I have always believed it to be descriptive of a style of architecture which makes plentiful use of béton brut. Perhaps Gino Valle is not a Brutalist nor ever had a Brutalist phase. We live and learn. But the Zanussi building (which is the one referred to in the blog post) does make copious use of exposed concrete. The post about Palazzo Revoltella in Trieste is mine. I didn’t mention Carlo Scarpa because I wanted to use the space to talk about other artists. The Blue Guide to Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which is more exhaustive than a single blog post, does mention him.

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