Showing posts with label Gio Ponti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gio Ponti. Show all posts

18 November 2023

Gianni Mazzocchi - publisher

Business success marred by personal heartache

Gianni Mazzocchi working on an edition of Domus, his first magazine venture
Gianni Mazzocchi working on an edition
of Domus, his first magazine venture
The publisher Gianni Mazzocchi, a magazine editor-proprietor who founded more than 15 national magazines, of which several titles, including Il Mondo, L'Europeo and Quattroruote, continued to be published long after his death, was born on this day in 1906 in Ascoli Piceno in Marche.

Mazzocchi became a publisher by accident after quitting university to support his family. But through a combination of boundless energy and a chance meeting with the architect and designer Gio Ponti, he launched himself as a magazine proprietor with enormous success.

His life was bookended by personal heartache. His early years were marred when illness and misfortune struck his family. Towards the end of his life he suffered the ordeal of having his eldest daughter kidnapped and was then left a widower, the stress of the episode being blamed for the sudden death of his wife. 

Mazzocchi, whose father was a breeder of silkworms at a time when such skills could yield a good living, seemed destined for a career in the law after winning a scholarship to study jurisprudence in Rome.

But the family’s prosperity abruptly collapsed when Mazzocchi’s father lost his business to a confidence trickster. With both his mother and sister in poor health and his father struggling with mountainous debts, Gianni abandoned his studies in order to find work. He moved to Milan, believing that opportunities were likely to be more plentiful in the northern city.

Gio Ponti, the architect and designer, put his trust in Mazzocchi's talents
Gio Ponti, the architect and designer,
put his trust in Mazzocchi's talents
His first offer of work came from Father Giovanni Semeria, a prominent Catholic priest concerned with fund-raising projects aimed at improving the lives of victims of poverty in southern Italy.  Mazzocchi was charged with typing up manuscripts of books Father Semeria produced and sold to raise money.

This gave him an introduction to publishers and book traders in Milan and it was not long before he found a permanent position paying enough for him to send money home as well as keep himself.

It was through Father Semeria that Mazzocchi met Ponti - with whom he shares a birthday - who was impressed enough by the young man’s talents to invite him to take over the running of his own architecture and design magazine, Domus, which was facing closure.

Mazzocchi and Ponti assembled a group of backers and Mazzocchi launched a new publishing company, taking over all aspects of administration and marketing while Ponti concentrated on the content. Over time, Mazzocchi increased his stake in the company, becoming sole proprietary by 1940, and began to publish other titles, using Domus as the template.  Able to anticipate public appetites, he turned a magazine about needlework into an early fashion title and acquired another that foresaw the growing interest in homes and interior design.

His first venture into news magazines came with Panorama, which appeared in 1939 as a fortnightly chronicle of public events. It was closed down after a year by the Fascist authorities, which was enough to persuade Mazzocchi to steer clear of news for the remainder of World War Two.

Panorama, which is still published today, was revived by the Mondadori publishing house and could be seen as an opportunity that slipped through Mazzocchi’s hands, but he had his own successes in the news market. 

L'Europeo became Italy's leading news magazine under Mazzocchi
L'Europeo became Italy's leading
news magazine under Mazzocchi
After the war, he launched L’Italia libera, a centre-left daily newspaper, and then, in partnership with Arrigo Benedetti, L’Europeo, for which a team of leading journalists was assembled. Finding a market along Italy’s growing intellectual class, the magazine prospered sufficiently for Mazzocchi to expand still further.

A second major news magazine, Il Mondo, launched in 1949, became Italy’s leading political title, before Mazzocchi expanded his interests to include car magazines such as Quattroruote and L’Auto Italiana. He had a car collection of his own that included Ferraris and Alfa Romeos.

Mazzocchi married one of his editors, Emma Robbutti, and they had two daughters, Maria Grazia and Giovanna. But their world was shattered in May 1978 when Maria Grazia, by then a journalist aged 33 and the mother of her own two sons, disappeared after leaving her father’s editorial offices to meet a friend for dinner.

It eventually transpired she had been kidnapped, a not uncommon occurrence in Italy in the 1970s as gangs snatched individuals, usually prominent or wealthy members of Italian society or their relatives, for political or criminal purposes.

The motive in this instance was simply to extract money. The original demand was for three billion lire but Mazzocchi secured his daughter’s release for one and a half billion after she had been held for two months. Maria Grazia was physically unharmed but the psychological strain was too much for her mother, Emma, who died within days of her release.

Gianni Mazzocchi was himself never the same man, losing much of the energy that had seen him work into his 70s. He died in 1984 at the age of 77, being laid to rest in a family mausoleum he had built at Gignese on Lake Maggiore.

His younger daughter, Giovanna, took over the running of the business, while Maria Grazia became president of the Domus Academy, a private school of design founded by her father two years before his death.

The elegant Piazza del Popolo at the centre of  the town is Ascoli Piceno's focal point
The elegant Piazza del Popolo at the centre of 
the town is Ascoli Piceno's focal point
Travel tip: 

Ascoli Piceno, where Gianni Mazzocchi was born, is a beautiful small city located in the Marche region of Italy, about 30km (19 miles) inland from the Adriatic coast. It is known for its picturesque mediaeval architecture and rich cultural heritage. Main attractions include the Piazza del Popolo, noted for the honey-coloured travertine stone of its paving and the historic buildings around it. Lined with cafes and restaurants, the square is a lively meeting place. Other places worth visiting include the Palazzo dell’Arengo, which houses a museum showcasing the history of the city, the Ventidio Basso Theatre and the Cathedral of Sant’Emidio, which dates back to the fifth century and houses an altarpiece by Carlo Crivelli. According to traditional accounts, Ascoli Piceno had some 200 towers in the Middle Ages, of which around 50 can still be seen today.

The Giardino Alpinia above Gignese offers stunning views across Lake Maggiore
The Giardino Alpinia above Gignese offers
stunning views across Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

Located in a scenic position on the slopes of Mount Mottarone, overlooking Lago Maggiore, Gignese, where Mazzocchi was laid to rest in the family tomb, is said to have been founded by Genesio Dotti, from Genoa, in the 12th century.  It has strong connections with both the Visconti and Borromeo families.  Gignese became well known for the manufacture of umbrellas and today boasts the Museo dell’Ombrello e del Parasole (Museum of the Umbrella and Parasol), which houses an interesting and unique collection of umbrellas and parasols from the period between 1840-1940.  A nearby attraction is the Giardino Alpinia in the hamlet of Alpino, a botanical garden dedicated to the flowers and grasses of the Alps. The panoramic views from the garden’s natural balcony include Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta, the Lombardy plain and the Alps.

Also on this day:

1626: The consecration of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome

1630: The birth of Eleonora Gonzaga – Holy Roman Empress

1804: The birth of military leader Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora

1849: The birth of builder and architect Stefano Cardu

1891: The birth of architect and designer Gio Ponti

1911: The birth of poet Attilio Bertolucci


18 November 2018

Gio Ponti - architect and designer

Visionary who shaped more than 100 buildings

The 1956 Pirelli Tower in Milan is one of Ponti's most famous buildings
The 1956 Pirelli Tower in Milan is one of
Ponti's most famous buildings
Giovanni ‘Gio’ Ponti, one of the most influential architects and designers of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1891 in Milan.

During a career that spanned six decades, Ponti completed more than 100 architectural projects in Italy and abroad and also designed hundreds of pieces of furniture, decorative objects and household items.

As an architect, he made a significant impact on the appearance of his home city. The Pirelli Tower, which for 35 years was Italy’s tallest skyscraper, is the building for which Ponti is most famous, but it is only one of 46 in Milan.

He also designed the Montecatini buildings, the Torre Littoria (now known as the Torre Branca) in Parco Sempione, the San Luca Evangelista church in Via Andrea Maria Ampère, and Monument to the Fallen in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio.

Ponti’s work was by no means confined to Milan, however.  Elsewhere in Italy, he designed the Mathematics Institute at the University of Rome, the Carmelo Monastery in Sanremo, the Villa Donegani in Bordighera, the Gran Madre di Dio Concattedrale in Taranto and the Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento.

Ponti designed 46 buildings in his home city alone and many more around the world
Ponti designed 46 buildings in his home city alone
and many more around the world
Outside Italy, he worked on projects in 12 countries. Notable Ponti buildings around the world include the Denver Art Museum in the United States, the Ministries Building in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the the Villa Planchart in Caracas, Venezuela.

Ponti also worked for 120 different companies as a designer, creating designs for furniture and household objects that included the Superleggera chair for the furniture maker Cassina, which combined strength with ‘super light weight’.  Made from ash wood, it weighed only 1.7kg (3.75lb).

After a classical schooling in Milan, Ponti enrolled in at the Faculty of Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano but his studies were interrupted by the First World War, in which he served with some distinction. Reaching the rank of captain, he received the Bronze Medal and the Italian Military Cross. He also painted watercolours of his companions in arms, and while based in the Veneto was able to observe the architecture of Palladio.

Once he finally did graduate, he married his girlfriend, Giulia Vimercati, with whom he had four children - Lisa, Giovanna, Giulio and Letizia.

Ponti's North Building at the Denver Art Museum in Colorado had a castle-like appearance
Ponti's North Building at the Denver Art Museum
in Colorado had a castle-like appearance
Ponti began his architectural career in partnership with Mino Fiocchi and Emilio Lancia, at which time he was influenced by the Milanese neoclassical Novecento Italiano movement.  The first building he designed in his own right was the house in Via Giovanni Randaccio in the Sempione district of central Milan, where he also lived.

He co-founded in 1928 the magazine Domus, of which as editor he would oversee some 560 issues, in all of which he wrote at least one article.  As an academic, he delivered lectures in 24 countries.

The 1930s were years of intense activity for Ponti.  During this time, he shifted towards Modernism with the Borletti funeral chapel and houses in Via de Togni, via Letizia and via del Caravaggio that were designed for the Milanese bourgeoisie, the Torre Littoria and the Rasini Building. He designed the San Michele hotel on Capri and a building for the Faculty of Arts at the University of Pavia.

In the 1950s he was involved in projects as diverse as urban planning in Milan, as the city began a period of intense redevelopment of areas bombed during the Second World War, and designing the interiors of ocean liners.

The Concattedrale Gran Madre di Dio in Taranto in the south of Italy, built in 1970
The Concattedrale Gran Madre di Dio in Taranto in the
south of Italy, built in 1970
After a period working in Brazil and Venezuela, he began his acknowledged masterpiece, the Pirelli Tower in Milan, in 1956, working with another great Italian architect, Pier Luigi Nervi.  Rising to a height of 127m (417ft), it was among the first skyscrapers to abandon the customary block form, Ponti designing a futuristic slender shape with tapered sides drawing to a point at each end, which viewed from above would resemble the outline of a ship. It was hailed as a symbol of corporate success and an optimistic catalyst for economic prosperity.

In the 1960s he built the Milan churches of San Francesco and of San Carlo Borromeo, before turning his attention away from Latin America to the East he built his ministerial buildings in lslamabad and a villa for the businessman Daniel Koo in Hong Kong.

Even as he approached the age of 80, Ponti was still making his mark. He designed his Cathedral in Taranto when he was 79 and had turned 80 when he produced his iconic design for the seven-storey castle-like North Building of the the Denver Art Museum in Colorado.

Ponti died in 1979 at the age of 87 in his eighth-floor apartment in the Via Giuseppe Dezza, where he and his family had lived since 1957 and which reflected all of the ideas with regard to layout, walls, furniture and objects that he had developed during the 1950s.

The Castello Aragonese in Taranto stands guard over the entrance to the port's harbour
The Castello Aragonese in Taranto stands guard
over the entrance to the port's harbour
Travel tip:

The city of Taranto, where Ponti’s modern cathedral is considered one of his major works, sits on the inside of the heel of southern Italy. A major naval base, it has a spectacular setting between a sweeping bay and the Mare Piccolo, an inland sea. One of the biggest cities in pre-Roman Europe, contemporary Taranto is a city of two distinct parts – a somewhat crumbling centro storico on a small island protecting the lagoon, and new city of wide avenues laid out in a formal grid. In the 1930s Mussolini had a quarter of the ancient centre demolished to build apartment blocks, and it was badly bombed in the Second World War. The old city - the Città Vecchia - contains a castle built by Ferdinand of Aragon in 1492, behind which are the ruins of an ancient sixth century BC Doric temple. The city’s original cathedral, which dates from 1070, has been remodelled with a Baroque façade.

The beautiful green space of the Parco Sempione in  Milan, looking towards the Arch of Peace
The beautiful green space of the Parco Sempione in
Milan, looking towards the Arch of Peace
Travel tip:

Parco Sempione is a large park in Milan, with an overall area of 38.6 hectares (95 acres), located in the historic centre of the city. The adjacent to the gardens of the Sforza Castle and to the Arch of Peace, two of the main landmarks of Milan. A third prominent monument of Parco Sempione is the Palazzo dell'Arte, built in 1933 and designed by Giovanni Muzio. Also in the park are the Arena Civica, the public aquarium, and the Torre Branca tower, which used to be known as the Torre Littoria, a 108.6m (356ft) metal structure with a viewing platform at the top.

More reading:

From football stadiums to churches: The work of Pier Luigi Nervi

How Marco Zanuso put Italy at the forefront of contemporary style

The brilliance of Renzo Piano, designer of the Pompidou Centre and the Shard

Also on this day:

1626: The consecration of St Peter's Basilica in Rome

1630: The birth of Holy Roman Empress Eleonora Gonzaga

1804: The birth of soldier and former Italian PM Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora