In 2007, he was commissioned an interactive installation for the Museum of Cappuccine in Bagnacavallo, based on the work by Tomaso Garzoni Il Palagio de gl’incanti. Garzoni is a writer whom he mirror, and on whose work he have been labouring for twenty years, personally and with the association Vaca: this work was a milestone in Giovannini’s artistic career. The text - the last written by the author - is still surrounded by mystery and was only published posthumously by his brother, under the title Il Serraglio degli Stupori del Mondo. It covers revolutionary topics for its time, witches, monsters, mysteries of nature with an extremely modern vision, so much so that some scholars argue that the premature death of the writer before publication came at the hands of the Inquisition. The challenge was to build a parallel between Garzoni’s vision - dark with the fears and anxieties of his times and all the same glittering with the gold in his pre-baroque writing - and the contemporary world. The viewer enters and is lost in an acoustic and visual space made of excessive perceptions where he is at the same time spectator and actor.


Umberto Giovannini

musical score
Vincenzo Vasi


La sala

This Palace of Spells is an exhibition on a theme, a neglected, troubling theme that makes us shudder. Everybody who hung around with Umberto during the months of its gestation knows just how much study, trial and rethinking went into it. In the 10 days (and nights) when, on his own, he built the machinery (the well, as it is properly called here, at the centre of the room, where the sound emerges) he was working with copper, chains and sound distribution, possessed, in the best renaissance tradition, and urged on to seek the arcane which for him is the very meaning of the Palace. His greatest aspiration – and we experience it today through our senses – was to give the spectator a perception of the monstrous in the widest meaning of the term. The result is no longer an exhibition by the artist but a donation: access to an enchanted place, a great magic well in which you can immerse yourself and flow; to a sound you can literally walk on and modulate; to the machinery in the centre of the room, stupefying propulsor. The wall of monoliths forms threshold and boundary, partially visible tableaux, oils inspired by that Palace-Menagerie to which Garzoni consigned the furore of his battles for a world free from the demons of ignorance, superstition and fanaticism. Partially obscured… Oils complete in every part, rich in nuances, in figures that seem to be born for viewing in full relief, are given in a fragmentary manner in order to remind us that nothing in the Palace is what it appears to be: neither in this one nor in Tomaso’s which inspired it. In the literary text sempiternal beliefs – certainties – are brought down, ridiculed and exposed as idle thoughts. Here a piece of machinery, primitive harbinger of certainties – the astrolabe – becomes a siren’s song, dispersion of knowledge. What “archaic accumulation of absurdities” would Garzoni’s Palace be if it didn’t from time to time shine suddenly with scenes that can amaze we Internet users? We need only mention one: the court of Ferrara enraptured by the tricks of the magician Abramo Colorni. We suddenly find that we are hanging on Garzoni’s every word: he tells of the apparition of diamonds and pearls and we’re disappointed when he can’t tell us the secrets the magician revealed to him: for all that it is incredible, it’s only a question of skill. And what awful and trite TV screen lights up when he talks about the torture of women accused of witchcraft, which he opposed with the same impotence as we do! But the Palace is also rich in problems that are absolutely incomprehensible to us, to such an extent that they appear obsolete or concern unacceptable anathemas. Yet they are voices of a world that is still ours, “in the stupor of the unheard of” and in the repetitiveness of a question about the meaning of events.
Voices – of the unprecedented, of meaning – on which Giovannini works his material and we watch, listen and walk through these reflected voices, ourselves reflecting in the duplicity of the shadow.
There’s enchantment all right.

Walter Pretolani
(from the catalogue of the exhibit)



Il Pozzo visto dall'alto


Texts and drawings from the project notes

You enter in twilight, almost darkness.
Walls lined with black velvet.
10 Monoliths rise from the floor, the same number as the apartments in Garzoni’s Palagio, set at 1 metre intervals and forming a 9 metre diameter circle.
At the centre of the circle, the Machina (the well).
The floor spatiality from the well is: circle, triangle, square, pentagon, circle.



Each monolith (b. 1 m. x h. 2.5 x l. 0.30)overlooks the Machinery with an oil painting faintly lit from below, presenting evocations received from reading the Palace.

The Machinery, set in a copper well (Ø 0.50 cm., h.1 m.)reprises the movements, clearly visible from above, of 16th century astrolabes.
It’s built of copper, zinc, brass, silver and gold and decorated with black lacquer.
A main pivot, by way of various levels of pulleys and chains, transmits movement to the respective gears on which the astrolabe parts are mounted. These, at different speeds and in different directions, move figures and symbols of the Palace on luminous eyes set at the bottom of the well, mirroring the Milky Way.

A heavy sound pulsates constantly through subwoofers
set outside the circle of Monoliths.
Contact microphones, mounted on the Machinery,
reproduce the sounds made by the movement of the mechanisms.
Other contact microphones attached to the zinc panels that cover the floor pick up the presence of visitors: all the sounds of the environment, mixed with brief 16th century pieces rendered crystalline by electronic processing,
turn in space through the Dervishi.
The entire soundtrack was created together with Vincenzo Vasi.

Designed by Sandro Grassia this is an analogue outboard that simulates the rotation of sound sources – direction and speed – through amplifiers and speakers, the latter set inside the Monoliths.


... l'anima humana, come imagine di Giove, & di Saturno,
non può per forza di sola imaginatione far trasmutatione di materia in forma sostantiale...

- oil on canvas, 2007, 2,5x1 m. -


... & par che l'istesso sentisse Empedocle ponendo nel medesimo principio
animali parte huomini, & parte Buoi da lui detti Bovigeni Viriproci...

- oil on canvas, 2007, 2,5x1 m. -


... i mostri son cosa buona, & non cattiva, havendo essi l'essere, & l'anima, che è cosa buona...
Ma discendendo poi alle cose, che son sotto la Luna, troveremo gli elementi essere differenti nella perfettione...

- oil on canvas, 2007, 2,5x1 m. -


... quando si narra, che gli huomini si convertono in lupi,
questa sia una spetie di Maninconia, chiamata da' Greci Lycantropia...

- oil on canvas, 2007, 2,5x1 m. -


Hor questa copia immensa d'homini potrebbe, & devrebbe esser bastante alla confutatione
ò irrisione almeno dell'Astrologica vanità...

- oil on canvas, 2007, 2,5x1 m. -


pare, che i Demonij mutino una specie di un'animale in un altra; & non è vero, che così sia:
Ma è ben vero, che così fa apparire,
overo imprimendo dette specie, & figure finte nell'imaginatione, & fantasia...

- oil on canvas, 2007, 2,5x1 m. -


...come possa stare, che nelle rovine di Sagonto
un putto già nato ritornasse nel corpo della madre...

- oil on canvas, 2007, 2,5x1 m. -


APPARTAMENTO IN SPETIE MARAVIGLIOSO. STANZA QUARTA DETTA PORTENTOSA specula se quello che piove talhora, con novità, e maraviglia, può salvarsi in natura...

- oil on canvas, 2007, 2,5x1 m. -


APPARTAMENTO PRODIGIOSO. STANZA SECONDA vidde una gran moltitudine di cani esser portata per l'aria [...]
di huomini à cavallo armati alla leggiera, & alla grave con suoi scuti,
& con le lancie in sembianza d'un bellissimo essercito...

- oil on canvas, 2007, 2,5x1 m. -


... i Demonij non hanno alcun uso nel Mondo, perche non fanno alla generatione,
nè alla conservatione delle cose, bastando a queste il moto del Sole...

- oil on canvas, 2007, 2,5x1 m. -