Tomba Brion in Altivole

Carlo Scarpa's masterpiece

by Lavinia Colonna Preti
Tomba Brion, Carlo Scarpa’s masterpiece — Veneto Secrets

Recently restored to its original beauty, the architectural complex is an absolute masterpiece of modernism, Venetian art and oriental philosophies inspired by the theme of true love.

When you reach the small cemetery of San Vito, a hamlet of Altivole in the province of Treviso, you immediately understand that you are faced with something unusual: young people armed with black and white film Rolleiflexes, creatives of all nationalities, university professors, and even Brad Pitt in incognito mode during a visit to the Venice Art Biennale, alternate from dawn to dusk to capture the thousand horizons of light of Carlo Scarpa’s masterpiece, the Tomba Brion.

The architectural complex, which has been brought back to its original beauty thanks to a restoration that ended in 2021 and today owned by FAI – Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano, represents a hymn to true love that is fulfilled first in the knowledge of the self and then in the symbiotic union with the other.

Tomba Brion, Carlo Scarpa’s masterpiece — Veneto Secrets
Tomba Brion, Carlo Scarpa’s masterpiece — Veneto Secrets

If you want to be happy all your life, make a garden

(Carlo Scarpa)

It is in this work that the immense Carlo Scarpa – artist, painter, creative, illusionist, craftsman, architect with an honorary degree – has condensed all his knowledge since he was a child fascinated by symmetries and classical buildings to the point that then he decided to enroll in the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice. A city that, as he himself said, will shape his soul and creativity, developing to the extreme his natural inclination for detail and the transformation of materials, as well as his love for glass, gold and Byzantine influences, water and colors.

An artistic DNA that over the years will combine with contemporary influences, such as the modernism of Wright and Le Corbusier, and his passions such as that for Japan. And it is the latter that is the most evident inspiration of the monumental project commissioned in 1969 by Onorina Tomasin to remember her husband Giuseppe Brion; a work that Scarpa accepted only after receiving word from the widow who would never remarry, therefore considering Giuseppe the only love of her life. With him, she founded the Brionvega brand, famous for having innovated in the design sector with cult objects such as the Radio Cube and the Doney portable television, now exhibited at MOMA in NY.

Tomba Brion, Carlo Scarpa’s masterpiece — Veneto Secrets

Designed right at the turn of his first trip to Japan, even if in reality Scarpa was already a great connoisseur of this country, Tomba Brion is perhaps the most loved project by the architect, so much so that he committed it to its construction from 1970 to 1978, the year in which he died following a fall down the stairs in Sendai in Japan. A destiny that makes the visit to the funerary complex that Scarpa had indicated in his will as his personal burial place even more intimate and intense.

The visit of the complex starts from the entrance to the Cemetery: a path leads to a weeping pine that surrounds the entrance where, following a game of symmetries and perspective research, the fil rouge of Scarpa architecture, our journey begins. Here we are welcomed by what has become the strongest icon of the Tomb: two intersecting circles, symbolizing Ying and Yang, the opposites that meet, the man and the woman who come together romantically, merging into a single soul.

From here you can choose whether to go right or left: the invitation to “get lost” and then find oneself is, in fact, another constant of the project.

Tomba Brion, Carlo Scarpa’s masterpiece — Veneto Secrets
Tomba Brion, Carlo Scarpa’s masterpiece — Veneto Secrets

On the right, the corridor leads to a crystal gate that rises and falls through a mechanism that makes it emerge from the water, symbolizing the beginning of a cathartic path of initiation. In fact, this side of the work rests on water, an emblem of rebirth that finds its apex in the Zen Garden, an island adorned with beautiful water lilies with a pavilion dedicated to meditation in the center.

Turning left from the two initial circles, at the entrance opens a path entirely resting on the ground that refers to the life spent together by the couple, symbolized by a large concrete arch. Decorated with colored mosaics of Byzantine inspiration, it houses the two tombs of the couple obtained from a single block of marble with inlay of their names in ebony and ivory personally designed by Scarpa.

Tomba Brion, Carlo Scarpa’s masterpiece — Veneto Secrets

Continuing the visit, you reach the pyramidal structure that houses the tombs of the relatives and, therefore, the wonderful chapel inspired by the Japanese tea rooms. Here, more than ever, the protagonist is light, studied in every detail thanks to cuts, inlays and slits that create optical illusions of continuity with the surrounding nature and wonderful scenic effects such as the reverberation of water on the ceiling.

Just look at any detail to understand how everything here has a meaning and was created by master craftsmen to measure. It is the shocking sensation of harmony that contrasts with the great architectural avant-garde of the complex that reveals all the genius of Scarpa: thanks to his immense culture and love for history, the architect in fact dialogues with the past, yet inventing piece after piece, by putting his great creativity at the service of the search for Truth and Beauty. A goal that he achieves here thanks to his studies of oriental philosophies combined with the great mastery of construction techniques and materials.

When leaving the marvelous monumental complex, it is impossible not to indulge in the desire to come back here to see how the architecture magically adapt with the changing of the light, from dawn to dusk, and to continue the inner journey to feed on the greatest revelation: love is the opposite of death, the only feeling capable of overcoming its fear.

Further Info

FAI – Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano
Tel. +39 349 8781601

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