Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna: The Building

La Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna

The following article is concerned with the architecture and history of the building the "Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna" is situated in. The article refers in its argumentation to other articles, which discuss the context, the arthistoric interpretation and the collection of the Galleria separately.This article serves the purpose of discussing aspects of the building and how they relate to our interpretation of the building, which can be found under the link below. For an in-depth discussion of the collection displayed in the Gallery and the cultural context follow the alternative links presented here:

Main Page: An Art historic interpretation The Collection The Context

1. Why was it build?
2. Location
3. The Architect
4. Bazzani and the Galleria
5. Archtitectural Context

Why was it build?

The institution of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna was established in 1883 per Royal Decree (13.8.1883) to meet the demands of the International Exhibition of Fine Arts which ought to be held in Rome. It was the first exhibition of works of modern art that were in national possession in all of Europe; thereby, Italy attempted to take over the lead in defining modernity and regaining a leading position in the world of art. The exhibition was housed in Pio Piacentini's Palazzo delle Esposizione that was situated on the Via Nazionale right in the middle of Rome's cultural city center.

Museum Map

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Italian Nation State in 1911 another International Exhibition was organized by the institution of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, only this time it was decided to house the exhibition in a building exclusively designed to fit the general purpose of exhibiting modern art, not just a temporary exhibition. Therefore, in 1908, a race for the building's design was held and won by Cesare Bazzani whose concept was realized in time to host the exhibition in 1911.

In its original form the estate encompassed a garden that served as an exhibition area for sculptures and the likes, a large terrace on which banquets and galas could be held and the main building itself; all parts occupied space roughly equal size. This changed with the first extension in 1933 for which Bazzani was hired again. He sacrificed large parts of the garden to double the exhibition space of the Galleria and thereby created the rearmost wings of today's building. Sculptures were moved to the inside of the building to evade erosion.

In 1973 Luigi Cosenza was charged with the second extension of the building that largely served the purpose of creating practical facilities in the building such as bathrooms, a bookshop and the cafeteria-extension of the west wing.

Today the building consists of two major buildings that are interconnected. The front building that showcases the neo-classicistic facade, stairs and entrance of the building contains the entrance hall, two small courtyards, the hallway with Alfredo Pirri's mirror floor and sculptures and two wings (western and eastern) that contain parts of the exhibition and the cafeteria. The rear building contains a larger courtyard, two wings dedicated to exhibition, the bookshop, maintenance facilities and also second story exhibition halls plus a small basement for bathrooms.


The new building is located at the Valle Giulia in the Villa Borghese, a green park in the north of Rome's city center right next to the Piazza del Popolo. The Gallery was placed on the same road (Via Delle Belle Arti, 131) as the famous Museo Nazionale Etrusco that was built only a few decades before (1889).

The Architect

Cesare Bazzani, the Architect

Cesare Bazzani was born in 1873 in Rome and also pursued his career in this city: In 1896 he finished his architectural studies at the University of Rome and soon became a member of the Associazione Artistica where he came into contact with other prominent architects like R. Ojetti and G. Podesti. In 1899 he won an art fair with his conception of a neo-gothic cathedral and later in 1906 he was also accredited with the price for architectural work for his (and his colleagues) design of the Esposizione de Sempione in Milan. When he won the competition for the design of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in 1908 he was, although still rather young, already well known. Bazzani was famous for his eclectic style (as seen in the the neo-classicistic style of the Galleria), but also monumental style that was particularly popular with the fascist government under Mussolini's reign. Today Bazzani is mostly remembered for the buildings he designed between 1920 and 1940 (among them the facade of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi), which are thought to be most characteristic of fascist architecture.

Bazzani and the Galleria

"Above all other types of plan I favored a simple one, square, organic, of the classical type, yet without sacrificing practical amenities. These were the principles that inspired the building which still houses the Galleria today..."

-- Cesare Bazzani

Bazzani designed the Galleria in a neo-classicistic style that is plainly visible in the monumental design of the entrance with its classical Roman ceiling that is carried by huge columns and in the emphasis of the planar qualities of the facade. Furthermore, organic ornaments are flattened and enframed in friezes and panels, which sets a clear counterpoint against the pre-risorgimento typical Rococo and Baroque style. It is important to note that the inscription "Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna" was already part of the earliest conceptions and placed directly under the names of well-known Italian artists like and Michelangelo and Raphael alongside much more modern artists like Canova; a hint towards the ambition of the founders to integrate old and new elements of Italian identity.

Fresco above the Entrance

With regard to the interior of the building Bazzani emphasized the functional aspect of the building:

"[The interiors were to be] without decoration, since this must be furnished by the works to be housed there. The very nature of the museum, and organism in continual evolution determined a series of modifications over the years, but these did not alter the original plan."

--Cesare Bazzani

The quote underlines Bazzani's attempt to combine the "temple of memory" theory with the goal of presenting contemporary art. Bazzani copied aspects of the temple of memory theory that served the purpose of emphasizing and securely preserving the exhibited objects. The plain white, high walls of the wings are entirely free of ornaments and emphasize the sole purpose of the rooms to present art; the same is true for the bare ceilings. Apart from surface area each room resembles the other in being a tall, white rectangular box and only the courtyards - the "outside" of the building - offer alternation from the simplistic interior. This particular design leaves little room for distraction from the exhibits and offers maximum utility of the rooms.

Although these aspects are derived from theories of museum-design, Bazzani also incorporated aspects that clearly hinted towards the building's purpose of becoming an art gallery. The originally large terrace and garden offered room for art fairs and galas, which were regularly accompanied by music and speeches, while the interior offered rooms for temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists. Thereby, the focus of function was diverted from simply presenting history towards being a place of re-invention that constantly steers attention to the contemporary culture.

Architectural Context

When Cesare Bazzani designed the first drafts of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna he saw a Rome that was strongly embossed by Renaissance and Baroque and with a number of neo-classicistic buildings and plazas. Bazzini saw the Rome that was once one of the Renaissance capitals of Italy (on par with Florence), with prime examples such as the Saint Peter's Basilica or the Palazzo del Quirinale that were erected in the 16th and 17th century. In these buildings Bazzani encountered the second spring of classical elements in architecture. Grand entrances, open-sided galleries and a strong emphasis of symmetry and order in columns, windows or arches, dominated the picture of Renaissance Rome.

Bazzini also saw the continuous development of architecture over the centuries, as Rome became the center of the new style that replaced the Renaissance, that is, he lived in the city that gave birth to Baroque in the 17th century. Driven by a strong emphasis of opulence and richness that was combined with the orderly structure of the Renaissance, the Baroque buildings of Rome were covered in ornaments and frescos and had dramatic facades and colorful interior. Bazzani walked among other Romans across the grandiose plazas, such as the Piazza Navona, the Campo di Fiori or the Piazza di Spagna; he saw the Fontana di Trevi and the Palazzo Madama. Bazzini was indeed a witness of Rome that shone in the light of grandeur.

Il Vittoriano

However, Bazzani must have been aware that these buildings were remnants of an era when wide parts of Italy were under first Spanish and then Austrian control that was only wrested away from them by the hands of Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars of late 18th century. The turmoils that accompanied the period of the Risorgimento and the eventual unification of Italy, were characterized by only very few monuments, such as the Il Vittoriano (which was still under construction during the time a design for the Gallery was chosen) or the Piazza del Popolo, which included first neoclassic elements, but also neogothic monuments such as the All Saint's Church or the Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

In his own, early style Bazzani included aspects of both trends, as for example in his prize-winning design of a gothic chapel or the neoclassic Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. His interpretation of the neoclassic style included the classical symmetry and order that could also be seen in buildings of the renaissance, but also organic ornaments that in contrast to the baroque movement were enframed by architectonic elements, which redirected the emphasis back to planar qualities of the buildings in order to give them a monumental character.

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze