Meanwhile, after 555 years

Friday 22nd March, 2024 - Bruce Sterling

International design and innovation firm CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati, together with Italo Rota, unveils the installation for the exhibition Il polittico agostiniano riunito, or, The Polyptych of St. Augustine Reunited, bringing together masterpieces by Piero della Francesca held in London, New York, Washington, and Lisbon. For the first time in 555 years, the great altarpiece by Piero della Francesca will be displayed whole under a light reproduction of the Tuscan sky at Milan’s Museo Poldi Pezzoli (until June 24, 2024).

Piero della Francesca (1412-1492) is one of the most important figures of the Italian Renaissance. His works are characterized by a fusion of art and geometry that profoundly influenced the evolution of Western art, placing Piero della Francesca among the greatest painters of all time. The Polyptych of St. Augustine occupies a crucial role in the evolution of fifteenth-century art. Its importance lies in its extraordinary fusion of perspective, light, and theological symbolism. Having gone missing in the late 17th century, the Polyptych was unseen as a whole for centuries; its component panels have since been found and preserved in galleries around the world, including London’s National Gallery, the Frick Collection in New York, the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC as well as the Museo Poldi Pezzoli.

CRA and Italo Rota’s installation immerses the viewer in an experience of seeing the reunited masterpiece through the eyes of Piero della Francesca, reproducing the ambiance and light conditions of della Francesca’s Tuscan atelier. Visitors take part in an emotional journey where they are invited into the atmosphere of the place where the Polyptych was created. A second room recounts the history of the work, and rebuilds the configuration of the Sant’Agostino church in Sansepolcro (Tuscany) using digital projections: the effect of the altarpiece in its original splendor.

The lighting experience has been brought to life with research with Artemide. Through their patented “Discovery Space Spot” technology, light filters through transparent rectangular structures that allow soft, unobtrusive lighting, recalling Tuscany’s sky while illuminating the rooms of the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, situated in Milan’s 16th-century Palazzo Moriggia Della Porta.

“Digital technologies cannot replace the enjoyment of a physical masterpiece such as Piero della Francesca’s Polyptych. However, they can help enhance our physical world. This was the idea, together with Artemide: 3D-scanning the sky of Tuscany to obtain an accurate rendition of Piero della Francesca’s atelier” says Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA, in a joint statement with Italo Rota.

The installation is the latest in a series of cultural spaces and art installations designed through collaboration between CRA and Italo Rota. Previous joint projects include the MEET Digital Culture Center in Turin and AGO Modena. Rota’s experience with museum spaces also includes the renovation of the Musée d’Orsay (with Gae Aulenti), the new rooms of the French School of the Cour Carré at the Louvre, and the Museo del Novecento in Milan. Carlo Ratti was chief curator of the eighth Shenzhen Urbanism/Architecture Biennial (UABB) in 2019, co-curator of the second Porto Design Biennial in 2021, and Creative Mediator in charge of the award-winning Urban Vision of the European Nomadic Biennial Manifesta 14 in Pristina in 2022..

Carlo Ratti will be the Curator of the 19th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (2025).