Showing posts with label Modernism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Modernism. Show all posts

18 April 2024

Giuseppe Terragni - architect

Major pioneer of Italian Rationalism

Terragni's Casa del Fascio in Como, completed in 1936, is considered a modernist masterpiece
Terragni's Casa del Fascio in Como, completed in
1936, is considered a modernist masterpiece
The influential architect Giuseppe Terragni, who was a pioneer of the modern movement in Italy and a leading Italian Rationalist, was born in Meda, a town in Lombardy between Milan and Como, on this day in 1904.

Terragni's work tends to be associated with the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, although some students of his work have questioned whether he should be considered a Fascist architect.

He was a founding member of the Gruppo 7, a collective of seven Italian architects whose aim was to move Italian architecture away from neo-classical and neo-baroque revivalism towards Rationalism. The group produced a manifesto spelling out their aims. 

Terragni’s most renowned work is the Casa del Fascio in Como, also known as the Palazzo Terragni, which was constructed between 1932 and 1936 and is considered a masterpiece. 

Other notable works include his war memorials at Como and Erba, the Posta Hotel in Como, a number of apartment buildings in Como and Milan, a Casa del Fascio in Brianza and another in Lissone, and the Antonio Sant'Elia nursery school in Como.

Terragni's career and life were cut short by World War Two
Terragni's career and life were
cut short by World War Two
With fellow architect Pietro Lingeri, he designed the Danteum, a proposed monument in Rome to the Italian poet Dante Alighieri structured to reflect his greatest work, the Divine Comedy. The monument, in the event, was never built.

Terragni’s father, Michele, was a builder and owner of a construction company. His mother, Emilia, arranged for him to live with members of her family in Como so that he could attend lessons at the Technical Institute of Como, where he enrolled on a mathematical physics course.

He graduated in 1921 and enrolled at the Royal Higher Technical Institute (later Polytechnic of Milan), where he graduated in 1926 before he and six fellow students - Luigi Figini, Adalberto Libera, Gino Pollini, Guido Frette, Sebastiano Larco Silva and Carlo Enrico Rava - signed the document that united them as the Gruppo 7, which the following year expanded into the Italian Rational Architecture Movement (MIAR).

In the same year, 1927, the magazine Rassegna Italiana published the four articles considered to be the manifesto of Italian Rationalism. Terragni was one of the seven signatories.

With his brother, Attilio, Terragni opened an office in Como in 1927. His first original building, a collaboration with Luigi Zuccoli, was the Novocomum apartment building in Como (1927-29), designed in European avant-garde style with elements of German expressionism and Soviet constructivism. 

Between 1928 and 1932 he created the War Memorial in Erba, a town east of Como, the first modern war memorial in Italy. He moved from there to start work on the Casa del Fascio in Como, which fronts on to Piazza del Popolo on Via Alessandro Manzoni, opposite Como’s majestic duomo, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, with its 15th century Gothic facade and a 18th century cupola by Filippo Juvara.

Terragni's Monumento ai Caduti in Erba was the first modern war memorial built in Italy
Terragni's Monumento ai Caduti in Erba was the
first modern war memorial built in Italy
The Casa del Fascio, which enthusiasts see as a milestone of modern European architecture, forms a perfect prism, its height corresponding to half the base. It owes it expanse of glass to Terragni himself, who followed the Fascist regime’s instruction to create a building that was accessible and without secrets, declaring that "the concept of visibility, of the instinctive control established between the public and Federation workers predominates in the study of this Casa del Fascio". 

In 1933, Terragni joined Lingeri in opening a studio in Milan, where they designed a series of apartment houses, including the Casa Rustici in Corso Sempione, the broad boulevard that links Piazza Firenze with the Arco della Pace, and the Casa Toninello in Via Perasto and Casa Ghiringhelli in Piazzale Lagosta, both in the Isola district, north of Porta Garibaldi railway station.

Back in Como, in 1936 he built the Antonio Sant'Elia nursery school, for which his design was characterised by large bright spaces that he hoped would create a sense of happy freedom. It formed part of a social programme aimed at helping working-class women escape from domestic drudgery and giving children a healthy, hygienic environment, open to greenery, play and education. 

He and Attilio retained their office in Como until Giuseppe's premature death at the age of just 39, the result of the physical and psychological consequences of being called up to serve with the Italian Army on the Eastern Front. 

Terragni was ahead of his time in giving children a large, airy play area in his Sant'Elia nursery
Terragni was ahead of his time in giving children
a large, airy play area in his Sant'Elia nursery
Attilio was the Fascist Podestà (mayor) of Como when the Casa del Fascio, built as the local party headquarters, was commissioned,

Until 1940 Terragni was fully active and had many works in progress, including the Danteum, the project for the development of the Cortesella district of Como, the Casa del Fascio and the complex Casa Giuliani Frigerio, which some consider to be his final masterpiece.

Everything changed, though, when Italy entered World War Two. Terragni received his call-up papers and was assigned to an Italian army unit destined for the Eastern Front. 

After the Italian advance disintegrated near Stalingrad, Terragni suffered a nervous breakdown.  He returned to Como but in July 1943 he collapsed and died at his girlfriend's house, having suffered a cerebral thrombosis.

His body was buried in the family tomb in Lentate sul Seveso, a neighbouring town to Meda. 

Terragni's architectural legacy, though brief, left a significant impact on modernist architecture in Italy, and his works continue to be studied and admired for their innovative approach and design excellence. 

Meda's Church of San Vittore is an important example of Lombard Renaissance architecture
Meda's Church of San Vittore is an important
example of Lombard Renaissance architecture
Travel tip:

Meda, where Terragni was born, is a town in the province of Monza and Brianza in Lombardy, around 26km (15 miles) north of Milan and a similar distance south of Como. Nowadays a centre for furniture production, it was originally established around a convent built on a mound (meta in Latin) from which it gets its name. The territory was held by the Visconti and Sforza families until coming under the control of Spain, France and the Habsburg empire before becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy. The town’s 16th century Church of San Vittore  has a series of frescoes by Bernardino Luini. 

The Casa Ghiringhelli in Isola
is one of Terragni's buildings
Travel tip:

Isola, the district of Milan where Terragini and Pietro Lingeri collaborated on a number of apartment buildings, is regarded as a somewhat trendy, up-and-coming neighbourhood, a former working-class area that has taken on a vibrant hipster feel. Easy to reach via Milan’s metro system, it is perfect for travellers who want to experience an alternative Milan. It has a lively art scene with plentiful street art, especially along the underground tunnel connecting the Isola and Garibaldi metro stations. As well as such public art installations, Isola has many art galleries that remain largely undiscovered by the tourist crowds who flood to Milan for its most famous art galleries. Isola is home to Ratanà, considered by some to be one of the best restaurants in all of Milan, where Milan-born head chef Cesare Battisti brings a signature twist to typical Milanese dishes. 

Also on this day:

1446: The birth of noblewoman Ippolita Maria Sforza

1480: The birth of notorious beauty Lucrezia Borgia

1902: The birth of politician Giuseppe Pella

1911: The birth of racing car maker Ilario Bandini


20 November 2017

Giorgio de Chirico – artist

Founder of the scuola metafisica movement

Giorgio de Chirico painted this self-portrait, confronting a bust of himself, in 1922
Giorgio de Chirico painted this self-portrait, confronting
a bust of himself, in 1922
The artist Giorgio de Chirico, who founded the scuola metafisica (metaphysical school) of Italian art that was a profound influence on the country’s Surrealist movement in the early 20th century, died on this day in 1978 in Rome.

Although De Chirico, who was 90 when he passed away, was active for almost 70 years, it is for the paintings of the first decade of his career, between about 1909 and 1919, that he is best remembered.

It was during this period, his metaphysical phase, that he sought to use his art to express what might be called philosophical musings on the nature of reality, taking familiar scenes, such as town squares, and creating images that might appear in a dream, in which pieces of classical architecture would perhaps be juxtaposed with everyday objects in exaggerated form, the scene moodily atmospheric, with areas of dark shadow and bright light, and maybe a solitary figure.

These works were much admired and enormously influential.  During military service in the First World War he met Carlo Carrà, who would become a leading light in the Futurist movement, and together they formed the pittura metafisica (metaphysical painting) movement.

De Chirico's The Song of Love (1914)
De Chirico's The Song of Love (1914)
De Chirico’s work in this period, in which he was inspired by the German symbolist painter Max Klinger and the Swiss painter Arnold Bocklin, whom he had met while studying at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, was extraordinary.

Such works as The Enigma of the Hour, The Disquieting Muses, The Song of Love, The Soothsayer’s Recompense and The Melancholy of Departure, greatly inspired the Surrealists of the 1920s, who were enormously fascinated with the subconscious mind and saw De Chirico as a figure to be revered.

De Chirico never saw himself as a Surrealist, although he had admired Pablo Picasso after meeting him in Paris, yet he was happy to collaborate with the movement for a while, willingly showing his work at their group exhibitions in the French capital.

Yet in the 1920s he moved away from his metaphysical phase and began to embrace the traditional, looking for inspiration towards the Old Masters of the Renaissance, such as Titian and Raphael. 

He became an advocate for the revival of classicism in art and architecture and began to be an outspoken critic of modern art. When his former admirers in the Surrealist movement disparaged his new work, he denounced them as “cretinous and hostile” and distanced himself from them.

The Red Tower, which De Chirico painted in 1913
The Red Tower, which De Chirico painted in 1913
Born in 1888 in Volos in Greece to Italian parents – his mother was a  noblewoman of Genoese origin and his father an engineer hired to work on Greece’s new railway network – De Chirico studied art at Athens polytechnic before moving to Munich with his mother following the death of his father in 1905.

Returning to Italy, he spent time in Milan and Turin before settling in Florence, where the Piazza Santa Croce inspired the first of his metaphysical town square works, entitled The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon (1910).

He stayed in Paris for much of 1911 and 1912, residing with his brother, Andrea, who was also a painter.  Works such as The Soothsayer's Recompense (1913) and The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914) were inspired by Paris.

It was his time in Paris that particularly influenced the Surrealists, largely because one of the movement’s leading figures, the writer André Breton, happened upon one of his pictures in a gallery owned by the art dealer, Paul Guillaume, and told all his friends.

Another of De Chirico's classics of the  scuola metafisica, The Disquieting Muse
Another of De Chirico's classics of the
scuola metafisica, The Disquieting Muse
The outbreak of war saw De Chirico called up to serve in the Italian army. Stationed in Ferrara, he suffered a nervous breakdown and it was while he was recuperating in military hospital that he met Carrà.

He returned to Paris after the war with his first wife, a Russian ballerina named Raissa Gurievich, but left again after his acrimonious fall-out with the Surrealists, moving to New York and then London.

De Chirico divorced Gurievich and married another Russian, Isabella Pakszwer Far, with whom he would spend the rest of his life.  After returning to Italy in the early 1930s they moved to America to escape Fascism and settled in Italy only after the fall of Mussolini’s regime, acquiring a house near the Spanish Steps which is now a museum dedicated to his work.

He wrote at times as well as painted, and his 1929 novel Hebderos, the Metaphysician, was described by John Ashbery, the American Pulitzer prize-winning poet, as “the finest major work of Surrealist fiction.”

De Chirico attracted controversy in his later years when, disappointed with the lukewarm response to his classically-inspired work, he secretly produced a number of paintings in the style of the scuola metafisica and falsely dated them as if they had been painting during his peak years, greatly inflating their value.

The bustling Piazza di Spagna in Rome
The bustling Piazza di Spagna in Rome, where De Chirico lived
Travel tip:

The Casa Museo di Giorgio de Chirico – the museum housed in De Chirico’s former home – can be found in the 16th century Palazzetto del Borgognoni in Piazza di Spagna in Rome. The house was left to the state by De Chirico’s widow and opened as a museum in 1998. It is opened only by appointment, but can be visited by prior arrangement on any day apart from Sunday and Monday.  There are many of his works on display there.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is housed
in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal
Travel tip:

Many of De Chirico’s finest works of his metaphysical phase are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City but his 1913 classic, The Red Tower, is owned by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and can be viewed in the gallery in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, the 18th century palace on the Grand Canal in Venice, where the American heiress lived for three decades.

Also on this day: 

1851 - The birth of Italy's 19th century Queen Margherita 

1914 - The birth of fashion designer Emilio Pucci.

30 March 2017

Ignazio Gardella – architect

Modernist who created Venetian classic

The architect Ignazio Gardella
The architect Ignazio Gardella
The engineer and architect Ignazio Gardella, considered one of the great talents of modern urban design in Italy, was born on this day in 1905 in Milan.

He represented the fourth generation in a family of architects and his destiny was determined at an early age. He graduated in civil engineering in Milan in 1931 and architecture in Venice in 1949.

Gardella designed numerous buildings during an active career that spanned almost six decades, including the Antituberculosis Dispensary in Alessandria, which is considered one of the purest examples of Italian Rationalism, and the Casa alle Zattere on the Giudecca Canal in Venice, in which he blended modernism with classical style in a way that has been heralded as genius.

During his university years, he made friends with many young architects from the Milan area and together they created the Modern Italian Movement.

He worked with his father, Arnaldo, on a number of projects while still studying.  On graduating, he set up an office in Milan, although he spent a good part of his early career travelling, sometimes with a commission but at other times to study.

Gardella's Casa delle Zattere in Venice
Gardella's Casa delle Zattere in Venice
He expanded his knowledge and ideas by visiting Germany, Finland, Sweden and Norway before the Second World War.  After the conflict he travelled to the USA, Greece, France and Spain.

During the 1930s, Gardella designed both the Antituberculosis Dispensary and the Provincial Laboratory of Hygiene in Alessandria. The first building is considered one of the purest examples of Italian Rationalism.

The bulk of his work came as Italy rebuilt in the 1940s and 1950s, although he was still working even into his 80s and 90s, when he designed a new Faculty of Architecture for the University of Genoa and collaborated with a number of architects in renovating the Teatro San Felice in the same city.

He also worked with his son, Iacopo, on building a new railway station, Milano Lambrate, with its distinctive rounded copper roof.

Gardella is best remembered, though, for the projects he undertook in the post-War years, including the Case Borsalino apartments in Alessandria, the PAC (Padiglione Arte Contemporanea) in the Villa Reale in Milan, which Gardella rebuilt, without payment, after it was badly damaged in an explosion in 1996, the Olivetti Dining Hall at their factory in Ivrea and, in particular for the Casa alle Zattere in the Dorsoduro district of Venice, built between 1953 and 1958.

The Olivetti Dining Hall at Ivrea
The Olivetti Dining Hall at Ivrea
The building, again built as apartments, is one of the finest examples of Italian post-war Modernism coming to terms with its historical surroundings, a triumph for Gardella given that few architects are given the chance to build in Venice and none wants to leave something detrimental to its appearance.

The linear components of Casa alle Zettere are unmistakably contemporary, yet Gardella’s careful selection and manipulation of architectural elements and their subsequent assembly in a well thought-out scheme allowed him to create something that perfectly complements the surrounding buildings, even down to the church of Santo Spirito next door, and would not look out of place among the palaces on the Grand Canal.

Away from architecture, Gardella was an influential figure in interior design, starting as early as 1947, when he founded the Azucena Agency with Luigi Caccia Dominioni, designing primarily decorative furniture.

Gardella, who won numerous prizes for his work, also had an important academic career as a professor at IUAV – the architectural university in Venice. He died in Oleggio, a town about 60km north-west of Milan adjoining the Ticino national park, in 1999.

The Casa alle Zattere has the appearance of a palace
The Casa alle Zattere has the appearance of a palace
Travel tip:

The Casa alle Zattere can be found on Fondamenta Zattere allo Santo Spirito between Calle Zucchero and Calle larga della Chiesa in the Dorsoduro quarter of Venice, looking out over the Giudecca Canal towards the Giudecca island, almost directly opposite Palladio’s striking white marble church, the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, built to commemorate the plague of 1575-76, which claimed more than a quarter of the population of the city.

Travel tip:

The town of Oleggio in Piedmont sits next to the Park of the Ticino, an area of just under 100,000 hectares situated largely in Lombardy but straddling the border of its neighbouring region.  A beautiful area of rivers and streams, moorlands, conifer forests and wetlands, it is home to almost 5,000 species of fauna, flora and mushrooms, as well as a variety of wildlife, from the purple herons, white storks and mallards that populate the waterways to sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons, tawny and long-eared owls, rabbits, foxes, squirrels and stone martens.

More reading:

Giovanni Michelucci - the man who created Florence's 'motorway church'

How Marco Zanuso put Italy at the forefront of contemporary style

What Milan owes to Ulisse Stacchini

Also on this day:

1282: Sicilians rise up against the French

(Picture credits: Top picture from WhipArt archive)