9 June 2021

Luigi Cagnola - architect

Designer of Milan’s neoclassical Arch of Peace

Luigi Cagnola's Arch of Peace marks the historic entrance to Milan at Porta Sempione
Luigi Cagnola's Arch of Peace marks the historic
entrance to Milan at Porta Sempione
The architect Luigi Cagnola, among whose most notable work the monumental Arco della Pace - Arch of Peace - in Milan stands out, was born in Milan on this day in 1762.

The Arco della Pace, commissioned when Milan was under Napoleonic rule in 1807, can be found at Porta Sempione, the point at which the historic Strada del Sempione enters the city, about 2km (1.2 miles) northwest of the Duomo. 

Cagnola’s original commission a year earlier was for a triumphal arch for the marriage of Eugenio de Beauharnais, viceroy of the Kingdom of Italy, with Princess Amalia of Bavaria. The arch was made of wood, and not intended as a permanent structure, but Cagnola’s design was of such beauty that the Milan authorities asked him to reconstruct it in marble.

His other major works include the Porta Ticinese, another of the main gates into Milan, the campanile - bell tower - of the church of Santi Nazario e Celso in Urgnano, a small town just outside Bergamo in Lombardy, the chapel of Santa Marcellina in Milan, the staircase of the Villa Saporiti in Como, and his own villa just outside Inverigo, the town to the southwest of Lake Como where Cagnola spent his final days.

Cagnola's campanile at the town of Urgnano, near Bergamo
Cagnola's campanile at the town
of Urgnano, near Bergamo
As a teenager, Cagnola was educated at a college in Rome before going on to the University of Pavia, where he studied law. He secured a post in the Austrian administration in Milan and married Francesca D'Adda, a musician.

However, the law did not interest him in any degree close to his real passion, which was for architecture. He submitted designs for a new gate at Porta Orientale - now Porta Venezia - to the east of Milan’s city centre. They were commended, but not selected on the grounds of being too expensive. 

His position within the Austrian administration left him vulnerable when the French invaded Milan in 1796 and he took refuge in Venice, where he used the opportunity to study the work of Andrea Palladio, which would have a great influence on his own designs.

The Arco della Pace was one of Cagnola’s first commissions when he returned to Milan. After the completion of the wooden arch, the first stone of the marble version was laid in 1807.

Built in Cagnola's favoured neoclassical style, it was decorated with a number of bas-reliefs, statues, and corinthian columns, with many contributions by other artists, including Pompeo and Luigi Marchesi, Giovanni Battista Comolli and Grazioso Rusca.

The bas-reliefs are dedicated to major events in the history of Italy and Europe, such as the Battle of Leipzig, the foundation of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia and the Congress of Vienna. Other decorations have classical mythology subjects and there is a group of statues that are allegories of major rivers in North Italy such as the Po, the Adige and the Ticino. 

The statue of Cagnola at the Palazzo di Brera in Milan
The statue of Cagnola at the
Palazzo di Brera in Milan
Cagnola did not live to see its construction finished, mainly because when Napoleon’s Kingdom of Italy fell and Milan was conquered again by the Austrian Empire, construction was halted for a while. It resumed again in 1826 but Cagnola died in 1833, five years before it was finished.

The project was taken over by Francesco Londonio and Francesco Peverelli, yet they followed Cagnola’s designs faithfully. It was completed in 1838. 

In the meantime, Cagnola built the Porta Ticinese to the south of Milan and parish church of Vaprio d'Adda, the bell tower at Urgnano, reconstructed the parish church of Ghisalba, near Bergamo, and built the church of Santi Cosma e Damiano in Concorezzo, outside Monza. 

His villa outside Inverigo, built on a hill, was heavily influenced by what he had learned about Palladio. He even named it Villa La Rotonda, after Palladio’s famous four-faced symmetrical mansion outside Vicenza. 

Along with Luigi Canonica, Giocondo Albertolli and Giuseppe Zanoia, Cagnola also became involved in Milan’s urban planning initiatives at a time when early industrialisation meant the city was expanding.

After his death, Cagnola was initially buried at the cemetery in Ozzero, a small town on the outskirts of Milan, where the family had a palazzo. When the cemetery was closed, his body was transferred to its present resting place at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan.

The Arco della Pace seen from within the green space of the Parco Sempione in Milan
The Arco della Pace seen from within the
green space of the Parco Sempione in Milan
Travel tip:

The Arco della Pace is situated at the northwestern end of the Parco Sempione, the large park that stretches out behind the Castella Sforzesco. The gate marked the place where the then newly-constructed Strada del Sempione entered Milan. This road, which is still in use today, connects Milan to Paris through the Simplon Pass crossing the Alps. Previously, the gate was known as Porta Giovia - "Jupiter's Gate".  The gate has been associated with a number of important moments in Milanese history.  In March 1848, Austrian army led by marshal Josef Radetzky retreated through Porta Giovia after being defeated in the Five Days of Milan rebellion, while in June 1859, four days after the Battle of Magenta, Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II of Italy entered Milan through the gate.

Cagnola's Villa La Rotonda outside the town of Inverigo, captured on canvas
Cagnola's Villa La Rotonda outside the
town of Inverigo, captured on canvas
Travel tip:

The town of Inverigo is at the heart of the Brianza, an area between Milan Como that has a large number of historical residences, once owned by rich families from Milan who would escape to Inverigo in the summer, seeking peace and quiet in the cool countryside.  Through history, it belonged to the Mariano fief, later becoming the property of the Viscontis and the Sforza families. Served by train from Milan, it is sometimes known as the “pearl of Brianza”.

Also on this day:

68: The death of the emperor Nero

1311: Duccio di Buoninsegna’s masterpiece Maestà is unveiled

1898: The birth of racing driver Luigi Fagioli


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