Saturday, September 11, 2010

Re-evaluating the 19th and early 20th centuries: the church of Corpus Domini in via Pagano

Re-evaluating the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was bound to happen, sooner or later, in my posts, so we might as well start with this one: the church of Corpus Domini in via Pagano, since I'm going to be a hop, skip and jump away from it for lunch, today, with a dear friend...More......

Why "bound to happen, sooner or later?" Because you need to know that Italians look at the things around them in a way that is very different from many of the travelers visiting the country. Though the Italian government is officially young, only about 150 years old, and local perception perhaps still too attached to local realities to the detriment of a sense of national identity, at the same time, local perception lives, breathes and eats consciously permeated by thousands of years of history. To be considered "old" in Italy, something has to be at least from the 18th century, that is, the 1700s, if not earlier. Anything from the 19th century, that is, the 1800s, or later, is yesterday.

For this reason, in my opinion, Italians have a great difficulty in accepting and appreciating anything from the 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly if it is traditional in style. "Oh what kitsch!," is the negative reaction (the light-hearted side of kitsch only fairly recently seems to be blooming, here). Not enough time has passed, yet, for many Italians to accept as legitimate of study, or aesthetic appreciation, the styles imbued with traditional historicism, with perhaps the exception of the simple Neo-classical of Napoleon's day (there's another can-o'-historic-Milanese-worms that I probably will explore in a future post). In brief, Italians have yet to experience their own version of Petrarch's Mount Ventoux.

I might have mentioned in an earlier post that I work at the (marvelous) Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in via Gesù (, bi-lingual site). So what does it have to do with the Corpus Domini church, begun in 1899 for the Carmelites following a project of Ippolito Marchetti?

Both are examples of the various kinds of 19th century and early 20th century taste gathered under the umbrella term, "historicism," that is, a taste that relishes and expresses past styles.

In the case of the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, of which I surely will speak in a future post, their taste for the Renaissance led the late 19th century Bagatti Valsecchi brothers to collect authentic Italian Renaissance paintings and furniture, repairing and adapting them, when necessary, to furnish their downtown Milan mansion in the Renaissance style.

In the case of Corpus Domini, the eclectic style of the interior mixes and matches elements from the Early Christian, Romanesque and Late Renaissance (itself sometimes expressing a fascination for the Early Christian period of period of terrestrial power and glory after Constantine's and Licinius' legalization of Christianity, 313 A.D., in Milan) to create an ambiance imbued with the terrestrial and spiritual power of the early church. The façade is of plain brick, and seems unfinished, which may have been a purposeful part of Marchetti's design, as Italian church façades often were left unfinished, as the money ran out for the church's construction and decoration. Furthermore, exposed red brick also is typical of Lombard architecture.

Expressing the glory of the early Constantinian church on the inside and leaving the red brick exposed on the outside are two ways that Marchetti may have been referring consciously to Lombardy and, in particular, to the pivotal role of Milan, ipso facto capital of the ancient Roman empire from around the 3rd quarter of the 3rd century A.D. to about 402 A.D., in Christian and Italian history.

I snapped this shot of the central nave without flash on the 21st of May, 2005, at noon, just before the services began. (Those are hints, folks. Be respectful. Look for, and observe, signs about whether or not photography, and whether with or without flash, is allowed inside the church, then circulate and snap photos--if allowed--only when services are not in session. That schedule, too, is posted just inside the church, and tends to follow a more or less regular rhythm from church to church, so you'll be able to organize your day. Don't embarrass me, by being an obnoxious tourist. Worse, yet, don't try to pull a fast one, thereby putting *my* ability to snap pictures inside Italian churches at risk.)

1 comment:

Fickle Cattle said...

That looks majestic. A bit blocky though.

Fickle Cattle

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