Showing posts with label 1998. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1998. Show all posts

16 January 2019

Renzo Mongiardino - interior and set designer

Favourite of wealthy clients known as the ‘architect of illusion’

Renzo Mongiardino in his studio, where he created designs for some of Italy's finest houses
Renzo Mongiardino in his studio, where he created
designs for some of Italy's finest houses
Lorenzo ‘Renzo’ Mongiardino, who became Italy’s leading classic interior designer and a creator of magnificent theatre and film sets, died in Milan on this day in 1998.

He was 81 years old and had never fully recovered from an operation the previous November to install a pacemaker.

Mongiardino, who was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction during his career, worked on interior design for an international clientele that included the industrialist and art collector Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the business tycoons Aristotle Onassis and Gianni Agnelli, the former Russian prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł and his socialite wife Lee Radziwill, the fashion designer Gianni Versace, the Lebanese banker Edmond Safra, the Rothschild family and the Hearst family.

Nonetheless, he habitually rejected his reputation as the eminence grise of interior design. ''I'm a creator of ambiance, a scenic designer, an architect but not a decorator,'' he once said.

The only son of Giuseppe Mongiardino, a theatre impresario who introduced colour television to Italy, Mongiardino grew up in an 18th-century palazzo in Genoa and attributes his fascination with houses to the memory of standing with his mother in the palace’s vast entrance hall and hearing her lament how difficult it would be to furnish.

A detail from Gianni Versace's Rome residence, in Via Appia Antica, which Mongiardino decorated
A detail from Gianni Versace's Rome residence, in
Via Appia Antica, which Mongiardino decorated
It sparked his imagination and a desire to study design and architecture, although his parents insisted he enrolled at university to study law. Only after he failed numerous exams did they relent and allow him to abandon law in favour of architecture, in which his marks were outstanding.

As an architecture student in 1930s Milan he was exposed to the new orthodoxies of the Modern Movement, but, fortified by his belief in the classicism of the family home, he resisted their pull.

A man whose appearance prompted the New York Times to describe him as a “scholarly bohemian whose noble profile and fastidiously combed fan-like beard gave him an uncanny resemblance to Giuseppe Verdi”, Mongiardino's distinguished career in theatre and film set design included the 1964 Covent Garden production of Tosca, starring Maria Callas and La Traviata at La Fenice in 1972, directed by Giancarlo Menotti.

Later, Mongiardino moved into the cinema, collaborating especially with Franco Zeffirelli on films such as The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Romeo & Juliet (1968) - for both of which he was nominated for an Academy Award - and Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1971). He also decorated Zeffirelli’s house in Positano.

Mongiardino in a sauna he designed for a house in Turin known as the Fetta di Polenta for its unusual shape
Mongiardino in a sauna he designed for a house in Turin
known as the Fetta di Polenta for its unusual shape 
His first design project outside theatre sets was a house for his sister. In early 1950s, he accepted a friend's offer to decorate an apartment and felt he had found his vocation.

Though he was not against the use of rare fabrics and expensive antiques, ingenious fakery was a consistent element of Mongiardino's decors, hence the description once given to him of “the architect of illusion”.

Although money was not an object for many of his clients, he was more interested in the effects he could create than the materials he was using and maintained a loyal stable of painters, carpenters, gilders and model makers assembled in his theatrical work, who brought the tricks of the stage trade to their work on houses.

Consequently, intricate mosaics were often nothing more than paint and supposedly marble walls were actually layered with marble-pattern paper. One of his trusted artisans was expert at recreating the look and feel of materials such as Cordoba leather with the help of pressed cardboard and felt-tip pens.

At the time of his death, Mongiardino was working on two big projects. One was an ideal city in the tradition of Urbino or Pienza, for which he had the backing of a group of Italian businessmen. The other was the faithful reconstruction of La Fenice opera house in Venice, which had been gutted by fire in 1996 and was being restored by the architect Gae Aulenti

The Doge's Palace is one of many grand buildings in the wealthy Ligurian city of Genoa
The Doge's Palace is one of many grand buildings
in the wealthy Ligurian city of Genoa
Travel tip:

The port city of Genoa, the capital of the Liguria region, boasts many fine buildings thanks to the wealth generated by its history as a powerful trading centre and later by the growth of its shipyards and steelworks. Many of those buildings have been restored to their original splendour, of which the Doge's Palace, the 16th century Royal Palace and the Romanesque-Renaissance style San Lorenzo Cathedral are just three examples.  The area around the restored harbour area offers a maze of fascinating alleys and squares, enhanced recently by the work of Genoa architect Renzo Piano, and a landmark aquarium, the largest in Italy.

The rectorate of the Politecnico di Milano in Piazza Leonardo da Vinci
The rectorate of the Politecnico di Milano in Piazza
Leonardo da Vinci
Travel tip:

The Politecnico di Milano - the Polytechnic University of Milan - from which Mongiardino graduated, is the largest technical university in Italy, with about 42,000 students. Founded in 1863, it is the oldest university in Milan. It has two main campuses in Milan city, plus other satellite campuses in Como, Lecco, Cremona, Mantua and Piacenza. The central offices and headquarters are located in the historical campus of Città Studi in Piazza Leonardo da Vinci in Milan. According to the World University Rankings, it is in the top 10 in the world for both design and architecture.

More reading:

Gio Ponti, the visionary of design who helped shape modern Milan

How Gae Aulenti blazed a trial for women in Italian design

Renzo Piano - the Genoese architect behind the Shard and the Pompidou Centre

Also on this day:

1728: The birth of opera composer Niccolò Piccinni 

1749: The birth of playwright and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri

1957: The death of conductor Arturo Toscanini


5 May 2016

Mudslides in Campania

Towns and villages destroyed in natural disaster

Dramatic picture shows mud cascading down mountainside

Italy was in shock on this day in 1998 as a series of mudslides brought devastation in Campania, destroying or badly damaging more than 600 homes and killing 161 people. Almost 2,000 people were left with nowhere to live.

The mudslides were set off by several days of torrential rain and blamed on the increasingly unstable landscape caused by the deforestation and unregulated construction of roads and buildings.

Torrents of mud coursed down mountainsides in several areas between Avellino and Salerno to the east of Naples.  The town of Sarno bore the brunt of the damage but the villages of Quindici, Siano and Bracigliano were also badly hit.

The accumulation of large quantities of volcanic ash deposited by historic eruptions of the nearby Mount Vesuvius is thought to have made the mudslides particularly fast moving and the affected communities were quickly overwhelmed.

Scenes in the Sarno suburb of Episcopio was said to be reminiscent of nearby Pompeii, the city destroyed in the Vesuvius eruption of 79AD, with some streets completely buried in mud up to four metres deep.

Hospitals and schools were destroyed and volunteers joined rescue workers in digging for survivors over several days. It is believed that the bodies of some victims were never found, particularly among a significant number of illegal immigrants in the area.

Residents wade through mud in Sarno
Nearly 4,000 firefighters, troops, forest rangers and medical workers, including 80 United States marines based in Naples, helped with the rescue operation.

One factor thought to have contributed to the unstable mountainsides was the replacement of chestnut trees, which have large root systems that help hold the ground together, with hazelnut trees, which are more profitable but have much smaller root systems.

Environmentalists also pointed to the burning of trees and brush to plant commercial crops and the uncontrolled expansion of towns and villages, with parts of streams and river beds disappearing under concrete and asphalt and drainage channels often clogged with rubbish and building waste.

Many houses, apartment blocks and industrial buildings were said to be shoddily built with inadequate foundations, which meant they quickly collapsed when the mudslides hit.

The catastrophe prompted the Italian Ministry of the Environment to introduce legislative measures for environmental protection which have come to be known as Legge Sarno (Sarno Laws).

But the government was accused of responding too slowly as the disaster was unfolding, failing to issue evacuation instructions even after the Mayor of Sarno telephoned the Civil Protection Department to warn that a torrent of mud, rocks and broken trees was heading for the town.  Rescuers did not arrive until after nightfall, which meant valuable time was lost in which helicopters and other equipment could not be used.

Campania has been plagued by mudslides.  There have been almost 650 since 1918, the highest for any region in Italy.  In fact, it is the most dangerous part of Italy for natural disasters, with almost one-third of all the country's floods, landslides and earthquakes over the past 70 years taking place within its borders.

Travel tip:

Sarno is situated in an area of 500 square kilometres known as the Sarno basin, in which some 750,000 people live.  It is made up of largely industrial towns but also contains the ruins of Pompeii, some 20 kilometres to the west. Parts of the Roman city buried by the 79AD eruption of Vesuvius were unearthed in 1599 during work to alter the course of the River Sarno, although serious excavation did not begin until 1748.

Photo of Cava de' Tirreni
Porticoes line the historic main
street in Cava de' Tirreni
Travel tip:

A diocese of the Roman Catholic church from around 1,000AD, Sarno had religious ties for many years with Cava de' Terreni, a town a few kilometres from Salerno notable for a Benedictine abbey and a beautiful porticoed main street in the commercial district of what was once the most prosperous town in the area.