Italian Art Deco
Before the statue of David, before the Medici, Firenze was Florentia, home to the colossal statue of Mars and to Sulla’s hard, victorious veterans. Today, Firenze (Florence) is home to fashion, style, grace, and much of our world’s great treasures in art, architecture, and literature. Here, the excellence of Dante, Petrarch, and Bocaccio; Bruni, Pico, Galileo, and Machiavelli; Alberti and Brunelleschi; Cellini and Donatello, and Michelangelo and Leonardo, Botticelli, and dozens of exemplary persons whose names and deeds you know. A stroll along the turning streets of Florence is alike a stroll through a familiar book, a turning of pages, each page the welcoming story of some accomplished person, a model of what, of who you might become.
The stones of Florence are aged, each unique in character, each stone telling something of wheel, hoof, foot and hand, each telling the craftsman’s chisel and hammer, the designer’s knowledge of Greece, of Rome, of the Romanesque and of the Gothic, each stone telling the purpose of the house in defense, in convenience, and in the uses of prestige, patronage, and power. Notice in Florence the challenge to all that came before, the family crests carved into houses, the portraits of princes atop keystones. The old Florence was ever made fresh by the energy and hope of youth. See youthful Florence in leather fashion, silks and fine linen, little changed this past millennia, rebirth after each rebirth.
New Florence (the Florence outside the old defensive walls) is mostly of a time alike the time of the general and dictator Sulla, the time of Mussolini, Il Duce (The Leader) who machined modern Italy. You will notice when crossing over the six lanes of the Fiat-crowded, Maserati-fast Viale della Giovine Italia (from the turning, stone-hard streets of old Florence to the straight streets of new Florence) a constancy open and methodical, regular and logical almost like military order. Here in new Florence (Quartiere Mazzini–Oberdan) you will not find the twining of streets of the natural path, but streets of modernistic scientism, mechanically stamped, archaeological and anthropological.
As you know, Art Deco is mechanical, the archaeological cataloguing of all that came before, simplified, streamlined, packaged to appeal to the consumer. And the Art Deco streets of new Florence are appealing, offering house-after-house of fine design, alike a shorthand that says, “I am early Renaissance”, “I am a duke’s palazzo”, “I am myself, bold, best of all that came before”. And the Florentine Deco style is clean, smart, and communitarian in a way foreign to the competing families who during the Renaissance fought one another and struggled together to create a city greatest in all the world. Art Deco has always been a style of the commercial class, cooperative and safe, and nice. I enjoy the quiet streets of Deco Florence, a place where I can breathe, pause and consider the rise and fall of persons, families, civilizations.
When young, old Florence was the place for me, crowded with what will always be new. Now older (at 66, some would say “old”), I am comfortable in the modern, that style which will always be old because it is tired, merely a silent mouthing, a whisper of youth … as is everything which is modern, Deco to International, an increasing emptiness, a removal from nature, stale in its reduction to dust and emptiness, despite the occasional Crayola color and shiny plating of some new, new building.
One-hundred seventy miles south, Rome’s Art Deco is, well, grandiose, alike Rome’s multitudinous Renaissance and Baroque palaces, is rather proud alike the ambition of Il Duce who hoped to reestablish a Roman empire. The best of Rome’s Deco is found in Quartiere Coppedè, not far from the Foro Mussolini (Mussolini’s Forum), now renamed the “Foro Italico”. Alike the handsome statues of the Foro, the Art Deco houses of the quartiere are a high style Deco, bold and strong, “handsome” you might say, proud sons of Rome. Especially fine in Deco Roman boldness are the buildings of Piazza Mincio that spread themselves into the encircling streets.
Here I must mention Gino Coppedè, sculptor, architect, designer, bon vivant, creator of many buildings in what would be named the Coppedè Quarter. Some say Coppedè was of the Nouveau … perhaps in some little bit, yet his archaeology and anthropology are definitely Deco (note the Assyrian–Babylonian influences), notice his confident borrowings and abstractions. If you visit the Coppedè Quarter, see his Fontana delle Rane (Fountain of the Frogs), among the prettiest in Rome, similar to the Fontana delle Tartarughe (Fountain of the Turtles) which a friend of mine owns in silver (by the turtle fountain’s sculptor, I expect). And too, I will like to surprise you by saying, “You know Coppedè.” Yes, likely you do … his is the villa at Lake Cuomo in the 2006 James Bond Film, Casino Royale.
Before closing, this too of Italian Deco: Italian Art Deco is rather more aesthetically wise than American Deco, rather more comfortable in its skin; you will not find in Italian Art Deco the vacuousness of the American moderns, architects whose boorish historicism reduces all to political slogans, banal and boring; Italian Art Deco is a high art, an architecture of force and subtlety, quite unlike recent American attempts of Deco that reduce the high art of architecture to Froebel blocks of childish abstractions, an immaturity now universal among the mods.
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Featured image: Coppedè Quarter, fountain of frogs, Rome, Italy, Vlas Telino studio
For more on the Art Deco house, see the Deco Edition of The Beautiful Home.
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