As we rev up the engines ready for the sprint, I’m sure you all will remember a hint I’ve dropped in previous posts: swathes of style also are indicators of bursts of personal and civic wealth, and here’s an excellent example, the Eclectic style building by Luigi Broggi for the bank Credito Italiano in 1901, a handful of years after recovery from a fierce nation-wide financial crisis (1880-1883; after changing hands, the building now houses UniCredit). What better way to boast of financial solidity and stability than to plant a sturdy elaborate building on one of the city’s central piazzas, surrounded by other banks and right across the piazza from the city’s first modern stock exchange (now hosting post office functions)?
Behind the façade, the building later was united by the architect Giovanni Muzio with the flanking one in via Tommaso Grossi, also by Luigi Broggi, which, besides being a delightful example of Milanese Art Nouveau (called “Liberty,” after the name of the London store from which goods in that style arrived in Milan), expresses an important development in modern architecture seen also in France. Constructed in 1901-03 to store the Contratti family's business goods (which included enameled objets d’art), it is an “in-your-face” use of what before had been considered low class materials suitable only as structural, not external and decorative, elements: cast iron and reinforced cement. (There are two other nearby examples on via Spadari and Corso Vittorio Emanuele.)
I ask you: how can architects and clients be so insensitive to the surrounding buildings to tack something so horrible onto such a delightful little building, even if considered “dated” at the time?! No news about it in my handy dandy “Milano” by TCI-Touring Club Italiano, the source for my info in this post. May the architect’s name come to light, so it can be covered in shame.
Onward and upward to a possible art historical scoop! The light finally was right to capture the façade of this delightful structure on via S. Margherita (…get ready for this, folks, it runs over the original “cardo massimo” of the ancient Roman version of Milan, no kidding!!!) probably from the 1930s built for the Banca di Sicilia. Couldn’t find any info about it in my usually resourceful TCI “Milano”. How disappointing. The pictures came out great, though, and luck was with me, my hand was steady enough for close-ups of the four principle relief sculptures. May I have a drum roll, please?
Under the second figure from the right, a female figure carrying a sheaf of wheat, the sculptor’s name is clearly visible: GIGI SUPINI F. (the “F.” is for “FECIT,” Latin for “did/made it”). Since it’s so late, libraries are closed, and I’m so
A hop down via S. Margherita, and we arrive at Piazza della Scala, with two more examples of post 1880-83 economic fiasco bravado: the Banca Commericale Italiana (1905-1911) by Luca Beltrami and …
… his façade (1886) on what was originally the unfinished back side of Palazzo Marino, a fascinating story in and of itself (this self-aggrandizing and literally bankrupting project for Marino, a transplanted banker from Genova, was begun by the top notch architect Alessi in 1553, and the original façade—Beltrami’s inspiration—on piazza S. Fedele was completed by 1572). It’s also a great shot of one of Milan’s 1920s trams, for you public transportation fans.
The bizarre public “art” currently sprinkled around town does include this illuminated swing in front of S. Fedele. What it has to do with Palazzo Marino, S. Fedele, or even Milan, is anyone’s guess, as is the case with lots of this Christmas’s equally surreal decoration. At least the swing is entertaining. I mentioned the church, begun for the Gesuits by Pellegrino Tibaldi in 1569, in an earlier post, when talking about the monument dedicated to Manzoni.
We’re on the home stretch, folks! Here is via S. Radegonda, not very inspiring, a bit narrow and claustrophobic, but the store “Rinascente” has constructed a fun neon bridge connecting their original structure to its adjunct, and the street is profoundly important for Milan’s history: Piermarini, the favorite architect in Milan of the Austrian Hapsburgs (a lot of northern Italy was part of their humongous empire), snapped his fingers in 1783, and down went an ancient Benedictine monastery and hospital dedicated to that saint, and up went a street. Less than twenty years later (1801) up went a theater. Almost exactly a century later (1882), Thomas Alva Edison snapped his fingers, and in the shell of the ex-theater up went Europe’s first thermal plant for the generation of electricity; business boomed with the upswing in industrial activity, and plants popped up like mushrooms all over northern Italy. In 1923, Edison bought and transferred its offices to an 1892 building on Foro Bonaparte.
Since the Odeon cinema was created by Giuseppe Laveni and Aldo Avati in the general area also in 1923, I’m halfway remembering that I read somewhere that the building is one and the same. Take it with a grain of salt.
What would a post be without taxis, lately? Here’s the taxi stand in Piazza Fontana, created by Piermarini in the late 18th century between two late 16th century witnesses of continuing Milanese importance: the Archbishop’s palace (at our backs in this photo) and the captain of justice’s building begun in 1578 by P.A. Barca (just barely visible in the back left), which figures in Manzoni’s “Promessi Sposi” for you Italian literature fans. Piermarini’s favorite sculptor, Giuseppe Franchi, translated his design into reality for the fountain (1782). Who was responsible for this year’s public “art” and the horrible Christmas lighting covering the fountain (thankfully, not very visible during the day) and…
…these horrible things, like multiple Daphne’s on acid? I need to remember to pass by, and look for a plaque with information about the ‘artist.’
Time to quit this rush, so I’ll close with the clock added in 1865 by Giuseppe Vandoni to the cornice of Pietro Pestagalli’s 1841 building in the area behind the Duomo, over the area known as the “campo santo,” or “holy ground,” which all over Italy served as a work yard for churches in construction and as a cemetery.
After these last photos, I headed a skip away to a delightful afternoon of tea (and, ahem, a couple of cookies) with two lovely ladies.
My hands were frozen stiff, despite the gloves, and I hope I haven’t worn you out!
I took these photos on December 29, 2010, from about 3 P.M. to 4 P.M.
For a great blog on taxi driving in New York City, see: http://www.nyctaxiphoto.com/