RARA AVIS Fashion in flight at the Farnese birdhouses

Rome, Colosseum Archaeological Park
Farnese birdhouses
April 24, 2024 – July 21, 2024

Spring 2024 at the Colosseum Archaeological Park will be embellished by a unique exhibition: it is titled RARA AVIS Fashion in Flight at the Farnese Birdcages and will be held from April 24 to July 21 in the Farnese Birdcages on the Palatine Hill with the curatorship of Sofia Gnoli and the organization and promotion of the Colosseum Archaeological Park.

Dresses and accessories, unique examples of haute couture from the archives of the world’s most famous fashion houses, will be on display in the Uccelliere Farnesiane, one of the most symbolic places of Renaissance and Baroque Rome, set in the Orti Farnesiani del Palatino, the world’s first botanical garden, commissioned in the 16th century by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. The exhibition itinerary winds its way through the two pavilions and is divided into three sections: Il Mito, Caleidoscopiche Visioni e Le ALI, irreALI, reALI. La alata fantasia della ‘mitica’ Anna Piaggi (The Myth, Kaleidoscopic Visions and The WINGS, unreal, real. The winged imagination of the ‘mythical’ Anna Piaggi)

Thierry Mugler, Haute Couture primavera/estate 1997, Les Insectes. Abito-guaina in velluto con ali di piume multicolori Modella: Simonetta Gianfelici (da specificare in didascalia) Credito fotografico: Photo by Patrice Stable. Courtesy of Mugler

“The newly scheduled exhibition, even more than in other cases, confirms the Colosseum Archaeological Park’s desire to enliven its important architectural complexes with cultural events that draw their inspiration from the genius loci, in dialogue with the creative energies that gradually emerge from civil society. A succession of extraordinary bird-dresses and feathered accessories enlivens, in fact, on the Palatine, the Farnese Birds,” explains Alfonsina Russo, Director of the Colosseum Archaeological Park. “Great attention has been paid not only to the choice of objects, but also to the layout of the exhibition, which will be immersive with projections of an idyllic landscape, the sounds and noises of nature for the aviary housing the Kaleidoscopic Visions section and the simulation of thunder and lightning in the other for the Myth section.”

Givenchy by Alexander McQueen, Haute Couture autunno/inverno 1997, Look 40. Abito bustier rivestito di piume e gonna drappeggiata in pizzo Modella: Shalom Harlow (da specificare in didascalia) Credito fotografico: © GIVENCHY. Photo by Bruno Pellerin

These are some of the wonders that will be on view: the majestic white swan dress, a froth of tulle complemented by snow-white wings by Maria Grazia Chiuri for Christian Dior (Cruise, 2022); the black swan dress, bringing to mind Odile from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, by Alexander McQueen for Givenchy (haute couture fall-winter 1997); the organza gown-corset, entirely embroidered with rooster and pheasant feathers, from Dolce&Gabbana Alta Moda’s Florence 2020 Collection; the long black gown, garnished at the back with a cascade of kaleidoscopic feathers by Thierry Mugler (haute couture fall-winter 1997); the gold micro-dress, in metal mesh and huge ostrich feather wings designed by Donatella Versace especially for Katy Perry and sported by her on the MET Gala red carpet in 2018; the exclusive look made by Alessandro Michele for Gucci with 3D crystal embroidery and worn by Florence Welch, at the MET Gala in 2019, as well as the outfit, with parrot bolero, from Jean-Paul Gaultier’s first haute couture show (fall-winter 1997). The “Victory of the Hummingbird” dress, designed especially for “Rara Avis” by Tiziano Guardini, made of nonviolent silk and dedicated to the theme of sustainability, also deserves a special place.
A section is then dedicated to Anna Piaggi’s “avian” accessories and from her personal collection, including a cage bag with canaries and hats by Schiaparelli and Philip Treacy.

Roberto Capucci, 1982 Abito con ricami in georgette e taffetas. Donazione fatta alla Fondazione da parte della Duchessa Nicoletta Maresca di Serracapriola. Credito fotografico: Courtesy of Fondazione Roberto Capucci. © Claudia Primangeli

“Just like two Wunderkammers, the rooms of wonders, which between the 16th and 17th centuries housed natural and man-made rarities,” adds Sofia Gnoli, curator of the exhibition, “the Uccelliere will host visionary clothes and accessories born from the ideas of international designers. We would like to give visitors an experience of wonder, as if they were immersing themselves in a small, mind-blowing cosmos, where there is a correspondence between man and animal, to look further into the very relationship with nature.”

Dolce&Gabbana Alta Moda Firenze 2020 – Look 23, Clarice Abito corsetto in organza interamente ricamato con piume di gallo e fagiano. Organza corset dress entirely embroidered with rooster and pheasant feathers. Credit: Courtesy of Dolce&Gabbana

Feathered robes and bird accessories are part of an allegorical lexicon with multiple meanings, symbolizing contrasting allusions-fear, beauty, prison and freedom-that has enchanted artists and writers, sculptors and fashion designers over the centuries.
Disturbing or benevolent, however metaphorical, birds have been part of the lexicon of appearances since antiquity. Such is the case with Maat, Ancient Egyptian goddess of justice, often depicted with feathered wings, as well as the Harpies of Greek mythology, monstrous creatures with a woman’s face and a bird’s body.

Tiziano Guardini, 2024 “La Vittoria del Colibrì”, abito metallizzato interamente ricoperto da piume plissettate di seta non violenta Credito: Courtesy of Tiziano Guardini
Tiziano Guardini per Rara Avis, 2024 La Vittoria del Colibrì. Abito metallizzato interamente ricoperto da piume plissettate di seta non violenta Credit: ph Davide Gallizio, model Korlan Madi

Parrots, eagles, ostriches and peacocks have periodically enchanted knights and queens, princesses and muses of taste. Think of the last quarter of the eighteenth century when Queen Marie Antoinette, playfully nicknamed “Head of Feathers” by her brother Joseph, furore with her lofty hairstyles teeming with stuffed birds and small cages, created by Léonard, her personal hairdresser. Later, as evident from certain descriptions by Proust who, in a passage in the Recherche, sees the Duchess of Guermantes transfigured into a bird of paradise, women began to undergo true metamorphoses.

Esprit- Antoine Gibelin, Figura allegorica della moda, 1780, Parigi, musée des Arts décoratifs. Credito: ©Les Arts décoratifs
P.231 - Cartoon - A Bird of Prey; from Punch Magazine, 14th May, 1892; English; 1892.

Something similar seems to be happening with the clothes and accessories in the exhibition that, through an astonishing path, make the human world converse with the animal world.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalog published by Marsilio Arte where, alongside the text by Sofia Gnoli, there will be essays by Emanuele Coccia, Karen Van Godtsenhoven, Peter McNeil, Natsumi Nonaka and Simona Segre Reinach.

Christian Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri Ready-to-Wear Cruise 2022 Abito in tulle a più strati Dior Héritage collection, Parigi – Inv. 2022.349 Credito: © Frédérique Dumoulin-Bonnet / JAVA. Courtesy of Dior Héritage collection