At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Corrado Parnucci – architectural sculptor


Prolific artist whose work adorns cities of Michigan


Corrado Parnucci moved to New York with his father at the age of just four
Corrado Parnucci moved to New York
with his father at the age of just four 
The architectural sculptor Corrado Giuseppe Parnucci, who left his artistic mark on more than 600 buildings in Detroit and other cities in the US state of Michigan, was born on this day in 1900 in Buti, a Tuscan village about 15km (9 miles) east of Pisa.

Taken to live in America at the age of four, Parnucci – generally known as Joe – settled in Detroit after accepting some work there in 1924.

Among the Detroit landmarks with architectural embellishments by Parnucci are the Buhl Building, The Players, the Guardian Building, the David Stott Building, the Detroit Masonic Temple, the Detroit Historical Museum and the Wilson Theater.  Most of those buildings went up during the 1920s as the city’s skyline underwent huge change.

Parnucci also sculpted work for buildings in most other major Michigan cities, including Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Flint, and accepted numerous commissions from private individuals.

One of his masterpieces is the moulded plaster ceiling in the dining room of Meadowbrook Hall, the Tudor revival mansion built for Matilda Dodge, ex-wife of Dodge Motors co-founder John F Dodge. He also worked on the home of Edsel Ford, the son of Ford founder Henry.

The entrance to the Guardian Building in Detroit, flanked by Parnucci carvings either side
The entrance to the Guardian Building in Detroit,
flanked by Parnucci carvings either side
Although Parnucci worked in a wide range of styles, from Romanesque to Aztec, he was particularly known as a pioneer of Greco Deco, which combined Greek and Roman traditions with the then highly-fashionable Art Deco.

Born into a family of 13 children, he emigrated to New York with his father. For reasons not known, he was the only one of the family who accompanied his father, who found work as a grocer yet had to place his son in the care of a Catholic orphanage until the rest of the family were able to join them 18 months later, taking a house in MacDougall Street in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan, just south of Washington Square

Nonetheless, Corrado grew up a bright boy and showed an aptitude for art at school, which brought him to the attention of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a society heiress who went on to found the Whitney Museum of American Art, and who had a philanthropic interest in New York slum kids.

It was with her help that he attended sculpture classes and later obtained a scholarship to an arts institute in New York.

On leaving college, Parducci was apprenticed to architectural sculptor Ulysses Ricci.

The cathedral of St Peter in Marquette
The cathedral of St Peter in Marquette
In 1924 Parducci travelled to Detroit to work for Albert Kahn, the foremost American industrial architect of his time. Parducci planned to stay for only a few months before returning to New York.

However, Detroit was enjoying a boom time as the automotive industry blossomed and he soon realised the opportunity to make a good living was something he could not turn down. After a short time, having set up his own studio, he decided he would stay.

When the Depression brought commercial building projects to a standstill, Parducci diversified into sculpting for churches, which became a major focus of his work.  His projects included a basilica in Royal Oak, Michigan, cathedrals in Marquette and Detroit and the Shrine of the Holy Innocents at the Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Chicago.

Parducci died in Detroit in 1981, having worked at his studios until a few days before his death.

The main square in Parnucci's home town of Buti
The main square in Parnucci's home town of Buti
Travel tip:

Buti, a town of Roman origin on the eastern slopes of Monte Pisano, is home to about 5,500 people.  It is notable for the Villa Medicea, built by the Medici family in the 16th century, for the fortress of Castel Tonini that stands guard over the town, and the nearby fortified village, Castel di Nocco, which were among eight fortifications that once stood in the area, a throwback to the days when the town was a prize to be captured in the long-running battle for supremacy waged by Lucca, Pisa and Florence.

Palazzo Carovana in Pisa's Piazza dei Cavalieri
Palazzo Carovana in Pisa's Piazza dei Cavalieri
Travel tip:

Many visitors to Pisa do not venture beyond the Campo dei Miracoli, home of the Leaning Tower, the handsome Romanesque cathedral and the equally impressive baptistry. But there is much more to the city, where a large student population ensures a vibrant cafe and bar scene. There are also many Romanesque buildings, Gothic churches and Renaissance piazzas, among them Piazza dei Cavalieri, which is notable for the Palazzo della Carovana, built by Giorgio Vasari in 1564.




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