Fear and desire in the roman empire

April 22 > August 27, 2023
Curated by Francesco Vezzoli and Stéphane Verger
Conceived by Azienda Speciale Palaexpo, Museo Nazionale Romano e Studio Vezzoli
Promoted by Assessorato alla Cultura di Roma Capitale, Azienda Speciale Palaexpo
Produced and organized by Azienda Speciale Palaexpo
VITA DULCIS Fear and desire in the roman empire22 April__27 August 2023
Satyricon (Portrait of a priest), 2023. Courtesy Francesco Vezzoli, Almine Rech Gallery, Galleria Franco Noero, Apalazzogallery

In recent years Francesco Vezzoli has developed his artistic practice by building a bridge between the contemporary imagination and art history, a practice that has prompted him to train his gaze on the art of the past and its icons, and to explore a variety of different artistic styles in an interplay of references and combinations involving solemn, eternal Classical culture and pop culture.

Various different levels intersect in the exhibition devised for the Palazzo delle Esposizioni: contemporary art, Roman history through artworks from the various branches of the Museo Nazionale Roman, and the depiction of Roman history in the cinema in the 20th century.

VITA DULCIS is a project that sets out to forge a new narrative, showcasing Classical Roman artworks and finds in an exhibition devoid of the "chilly" and "distant" feel typical of so many museum displays, offering visitors instead the vibrant intensity and genuine passion that the finds are capable of triggering by immersing them in an atmospheric and unexpected scenographical and conceptual layout in which they interact with some of Vezzoli's more recent creations incorporating elements from ancient times or inspired by the ancient world.

The cinema ideally complements the tale narrated in VITA DULCIS because of all the visual arts, it is the medium that has used and celebrated the historical period of ancient Rome more than any other, invariably endeavouring to convey its truth, its passion, its stories, its psychology, its atmosphere and its colour.

From the very start of his career as an artist, Vezzoli has always celebrated the Seventh Art as a priority "medium" for interpreting reality and as a more powerful emotional and narrative focal point in the contemporary debate. Indeed it is no mere coincidence that one of his best-known works, Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula, shown at the Venice Biennale in 2005, brings the cinema and the ancient world together in an irreverent citation of "sword and sandal" movies to offer his audience a depiction of the contemporary decline of power.  

Thus it came naturally to him to link Roman era finds with clips from movies set in ancient Rome to create a parallel journey into the history of the cinema, starting with Cabiria filmed in 1914 (the first major Italian epic with a screenplay by Gabriele D'Annunzio), via Federico Fellini's Satyricon, and on up to the most recent Italian and international inroads into the period. 

The result is an intense mosaic of iconic Classical works, astonishing and hitherto unseen finds, masterpieces of world cinema and a touch of the contemporary. This simultaneous presence of different semantic levels jumps out at visitors the moment they enter the exhibition, in the grandiose rotunda in which they are greeted by a series of works from the 24Hours Museum project which Francesco Vezzoli produced in partnership with Prada in 2012 for display – for only a day – in the historic Palais d'Iéna in Paris.  

Ten years on from that event, we are showcasing for the very first time six large luminous works from the 24Hours Museum, in which Vezzoli revisits a number of iconic Roman sculptures, transforming them into mysterious deities who allude to celebrated contemporary primadonnas. This “preface” to the exhibition sets out to plunger visitors into an immersive journey through the imagination and image of the Roman Empire experienced through the beauty and vibrancy of treasures from the Museo Nazionale Romano, many of which will be on public display for the first time.

Immersed in an atmospheric and theatrical installation-like layout designed by Filippo Bisagni and enhanced by a play of light and shade, of black and white, devised by Luca Bigazzi (Italy’s most celebrated living DoP, responsible for the photography in Così ridevano, Il Divo and La Grande Bellezza among other films), the finds and contemporary artworks selected by Francesco Vezzoli and Stéphane Verger dialogue within a complex and fascinating pathway made up of the stratification and juxtaposition of distant aesthetic levels, different eras, learned art and popular art, the story of power and photography of "real life".

 Download the Booklet of the exhibition with the map of the rooms, the list of works and texts by Cristiana Perrella