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italian liberty style

Every era generates a style that represents what is “modern”. In the decade at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries this style could be seen in what came to be known in Italy as “lo Stile Liberty”, a style that was manifested not so much in the country’s architecture as in the decorative arts, a style whose luxuriance and remarkable imaginativeness graced furniture and furnishings, ceramic design, lettering, posters and other printed ephemera. The posters that were hung along the streets played an especially important role in the introduction of this new language to the urban landscape, as this meant it could more easily be absorbed by all the social classes. The word Liberty itself conjures up sinuous, undulating lines, a taste for asymmetry, and the female figure, flowers, plants and animals as decorative motifs. The use of the name “Liberty”, after the great London department store owned by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, was also successful because it sounded so much like

the Italian word for freedom, that is, “libertà”. Italian interior decorators, upholsterers and furniture makers purchased from Liberty & Co. the fabric and wallpaper designed by William Morris, pioneer of the aesthetic movement that spread like wildfire throughout Europe and the Americas under the guise of different physiognomies and labels: Modern Style, Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, Modernismo, Secession. What all these movements had in common was their rejection of the dominant eclecticism, and the yearning to free themselves from the muddled imitation of past styles that forced them to always look behind them. The need for a new style was felt universally, fostered by the inexorable market laws: the emerging, wealthy middle class had finally earned itself elevated purchasing power and demanded that it be represented in an original way. After its political unification in the late nineteenth century, Italy opened museums and schools for the decorative arts. It began to

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italian liberty style

Every era generates a style that represents what is “modern”. In the decade at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries this style could be seen in what came to be known in Italy as “lo Stile Liberty”, a style that was manifested not so much in the country’s architecture as in the decorative arts, a style whose luxuriance and remarkable imaginativeness graced furniture and furnishings, ceramic design, lettering, posters and other printed ephemera. The posters that were hung along the streets played an especially important role in the introduction of this new language to the urban landscape, as this meant it could more easily be absorbed by all the social classes. The word Liberty itself conjures up sinuous, undulating lines, a taste for asymmetry, and the female figure, flowers, plants and animals as decorative motifs. The use of the name “Liberty”, after the great London department store owned by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, was also successful because it sounded so much like

the Italian word for freedom, that is, “libertà”. Italian interior decorators, upholsterers and furniture makers purchased from Liberty & Co. the fabric and wallpaper designed by William Morris, pioneer of the aesthetic movement that spread like wildfire throughout Europe and the Americas under the guise of different physiognomies and labels: Modern Style, Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, Modernismo, Secession. What all these movements had in common was their rejection of the dominant eclecticism, and the yearning to free themselves from the muddled imitation of past styles that forced them to always look behind them. The need for a new style was felt universally, fostered by the inexorable market laws: the emerging, wealthy middle class had finally earned itself elevated purchasing power and demanded that it be represented in an original way. After its political unification in the late nineteenth century, Italy opened museums and schools for the decorative arts. It began to

9


Galileo Chini majolica vase typical of the artist’s early production, Arte della Ceramica factory, 18961898, private collection.

Giorgio Sterpini vase with gilt bronze setting produced by the Società Ceramica Italiana, 1903, Museo Internazionale Design Ceramico - Civica Raccolta di Terraglia, Laveno-Mombello.

Carlo Zen black-painted wooden sofa carved à jour with flowers, ca. 1902, Parma, Ranza Collection. The fabric for the upholstery is original.

cycle of decorative forms had somehow reached a conclusion, as if it were only possible to revisit pathways that had been ventured down before. The Liberty style was the joyful conquest of some of the individual avant-garde artists, each of whom, with great originality and their own very recognizable style, interpreted the winds of modernism. The critic Alfredo Melani, one of the greatest enthusiasts and supporters of renewal, was well aware of this, and, in December 1900, he wrote: “Art Nouveau has crossed seas and mountains and it has united a large number of souls in a single intent, which is a reaction to the past that should not be seen as irreverent, while at the same time honouring the present. The proof of this lies in the fact that Italy has seen the rise of this ‘sweet new style’ with neither

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apostles nor lucky priests, and those who lead the movement are unaware of what each of the others is up to”. Italian Liberty style was configured as an ensemble of diverse manifestations, not just influenced by the tendencies expressed in other European countries, which were all quite different from one another, but also by the local cultural fabric: for instance, the Liberty style of Palermo architect Ernesto Basile combined a message of French inspiration—the ties between his city in Sicily and Paris were very close at the time— with Sicily’s Arab-Norman popular tradition, whereas the Liberty style of Florentine ceramicist Galileo Chini was founded on the legacy of the Renaissance heritage pertaining to the Della Robbia, into which Chini’s efforts now breathed new life.

italian liberty style

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Galileo Chini majolica vase typical of the artist’s early production, Arte della Ceramica factory, 18961898, private collection.

Giorgio Sterpini vase with gilt bronze setting produced by the Società Ceramica Italiana, 1903, Museo Internazionale Design Ceramico - Civica Raccolta di Terraglia, Laveno-Mombello.

Carlo Zen black-painted wooden sofa carved à jour with flowers, ca. 1902, Parma, Ranza Collection. The fabric for the upholstery is original.

cycle of decorative forms had somehow reached a conclusion, as if it were only possible to revisit pathways that had been ventured down before. The Liberty style was the joyful conquest of some of the individual avant-garde artists, each of whom, with great originality and their own very recognizable style, interpreted the winds of modernism. The critic Alfredo Melani, one of the greatest enthusiasts and supporters of renewal, was well aware of this, and, in December 1900, he wrote: “Art Nouveau has crossed seas and mountains and it has united a large number of souls in a single intent, which is a reaction to the past that should not be seen as irreverent, while at the same time honouring the present. The proof of this lies in the fact that Italy has seen the rise of this ‘sweet new style’ with neither

12

apostles nor lucky priests, and those who lead the movement are unaware of what each of the others is up to”. Italian Liberty style was configured as an ensemble of diverse manifestations, not just influenced by the tendencies expressed in other European countries, which were all quite different from one another, but also by the local cultural fabric: for instance, the Liberty style of Palermo architect Ernesto Basile combined a message of French inspiration—the ties between his city in Sicily and Paris were very close at the time— with Sicily’s Arab-Norman popular tradition, whereas the Liberty style of Florentine ceramicist Galileo Chini was founded on the legacy of the Renaissance heritage pertaining to the Della Robbia, into which Chini’s efforts now breathed new life.

italian liberty style

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The Art Journals and the New Style

The year 1895 was marked by two important events: it was the year the first Venice Biennale was held, an institution that immediately came to the fore as the major international event for contemporary art: on display in Venice were works by Burne-Jones and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and the winner of the prize that year was Giovanni Segantini. The second event entailed the publication by the Istituto Italiano di Arti Grafiche in Bergamo of Emporium, “an illustrated monthly journal on art, literature the sciences and a miscellany of subjects”, modelled after the English publication The Studio. An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art, which had been founded two years earlier. Emporium dedicated long articles to the Pre-Raphaelites, to Dante Gabriele Rossetti, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and, from the very first issues, it introduced its readers to the theories and works of the leading figures of Anglo-Saxon Modernism, namely William Morris and Walter Crane. In its discussion of John Ruskin it said that the talks he delivered “emphasized the relationship between all the arts, coming to the conclusion that the new style could only be achieved through a collaborative effort and a common intent between the fine arts and the decorative applied arts”. Emporium did not just cast a glance in the direction of the British experience but actually offered examples of the modern decorative arts in France, from the posters designed by Grasset and Mucha to the furniture of Gaillard and Majorelle, and in 1896 it heralded the publication of the new journal Jugend in Munich. World-class critic Vittorio

Pica devoted an essay to Japanese art, another source of incalculable impact on the new art: the predilection for the continuous curved line and the use of colours applied à plat achieved a flattened perspective, and was, in fact, inspired by Japonisme. While Emporium aimed at a middle-to-high-class readership, a few years later, in 1902, Il giovane artista moderno, a popular and inexpensive fortnightly magazine dedicated to the decorative arts, began to be published in Turin. The magazine had very little in the way of text and was instead filled with photographic and graphic reproductions of exclusively Italian and modern decorative arts. The critics, who were kept up to date through their subscriptions to European trade magazines, lay claim on behalf of the artists to research that was original and expressed Italy’s own path to renewal. They contributed to the diffusion of new trends, and catalyzed a reappraisal of the decorative arts and the equal standing between the decorative arts and the fine arts, promoting the movement’s leitmotif: “art for everybody”. Included in the renewal were fine art painters and sculptors who also devoted time to the more decorative genres, which until then had been considered a minor form of art. The new style was fully present in the work of some of the self-made artisans as well: these included the cabinet-maker Eugenio Quarti, the ironwork designer Alessandro Mazzucotelli and the sculptor Duilio Cambellotti. All three of them had started out from a proletarian background but were soon to become internationally renowned masters racking up prizes at all the international events.

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The Art Journals and the New Style

The year 1895 was marked by two important events: it was the year the first Venice Biennale was held, an institution that immediately came to the fore as the major international event for contemporary art: on display in Venice were works by Burne-Jones and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and the winner of the prize that year was Giovanni Segantini. The second event entailed the publication by the Istituto Italiano di Arti Grafiche in Bergamo of Emporium, “an illustrated monthly journal on art, literature the sciences and a miscellany of subjects”, modelled after the English publication The Studio. An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art, which had been founded two years earlier. Emporium dedicated long articles to the Pre-Raphaelites, to Dante Gabriele Rossetti, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and, from the very first issues, it introduced its readers to the theories and works of the leading figures of Anglo-Saxon Modernism, namely William Morris and Walter Crane. In its discussion of John Ruskin it said that the talks he delivered “emphasized the relationship between all the arts, coming to the conclusion that the new style could only be achieved through a collaborative effort and a common intent between the fine arts and the decorative applied arts”. Emporium did not just cast a glance in the direction of the British experience but actually offered examples of the modern decorative arts in France, from the posters designed by Grasset and Mucha to the furniture of Gaillard and Majorelle, and in 1896 it heralded the publication of the new journal Jugend in Munich. World-class critic Vittorio

Pica devoted an essay to Japanese art, another source of incalculable impact on the new art: the predilection for the continuous curved line and the use of colours applied à plat achieved a flattened perspective, and was, in fact, inspired by Japonisme. While Emporium aimed at a middle-to-high-class readership, a few years later, in 1902, Il giovane artista moderno, a popular and inexpensive fortnightly magazine dedicated to the decorative arts, began to be published in Turin. The magazine had very little in the way of text and was instead filled with photographic and graphic reproductions of exclusively Italian and modern decorative arts. The critics, who were kept up to date through their subscriptions to European trade magazines, lay claim on behalf of the artists to research that was original and expressed Italy’s own path to renewal. They contributed to the diffusion of new trends, and catalyzed a reappraisal of the decorative arts and the equal standing between the decorative arts and the fine arts, promoting the movement’s leitmotif: “art for everybody”. Included in the renewal were fine art painters and sculptors who also devoted time to the more decorative genres, which until then had been considered a minor form of art. The new style was fully present in the work of some of the self-made artisans as well: these included the cabinet-maker Eugenio Quarti, the ironwork designer Alessandro Mazzucotelli and the sculptor Duilio Cambellotti. All three of them had started out from a proletarian background but were soon to become internationally renowned masters racking up prizes at all the international events.

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page 16 Cover of Emporium, December 1896. Founded in 1895, it was the first magazine to provide information on the art of the PreRaphaelites and to disseminate the Art Nouveau culture in Italy. Cover of the first issue of Il giovane artista moderno, a popular fortnightly magazine dedicated to artist-decorators, 1902. to the right Rodolfo Paoletti Cover of the magazine Natura ed Arte, a special issue published in 1901. Euterpe, the muse of music, laments the death of Giuseppe Verdi.

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italian liberty style

The Art Journals Divulging the New Style

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page 16 Cover of Emporium, December 1896. Founded in 1895, it was the first magazine to provide information on the art of the PreRaphaelites and to disseminate the Art Nouveau culture in Italy. Cover of the first issue of Il giovane artista moderno, a popular fortnightly magazine dedicated to artist-decorators, 1902. to the right Rodolfo Paoletti Cover of the magazine Natura ed Arte, a special issue published in 1901. Euterpe, the muse of music, laments the death of Giuseppe Verdi.

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italian liberty style

The Art Journals Divulging the New Style

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pagE 28 Poster for the 7th Meeting of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), Imola, 1902. An example of the widespread use of the Liberty style.

Female heads with flowing manes of hair typical of the Liberty style decorate this small traditionally shaped writing desk, ca. 1905, private collection.

Carved and painted, a long and twirling iris stem unwinds along the front of this tall chest of drawers, ca. 1905, private collection.

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italian liberty style

The Physiognomy of the Style

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pagE 28 Poster for the 7th Meeting of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), Imola, 1902. An example of the widespread use of the Liberty style.

Female heads with flowing manes of hair typical of the Liberty style decorate this small traditionally shaped writing desk, ca. 1905, private collection.

Carved and painted, a long and twirling iris stem unwinds along the front of this tall chest of drawers, ca. 1905, private collection.

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italian liberty style

The Physiognomy of the Style

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xxxx, xxx.

Giovanni Buffa Orpheus, glass panel manufactured by the Milanese Beltrami & C., ca. 1905. Modelli d’Arte Decorativa, vol. VIII, pl. 21. to the right Wrought-iron screen with three glass panels, glass welded together with lead, ca. 1905, Cafagna collection. The pomegranate was also one of the symbols of the international Art Nouveau movement.

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italian liberty style

TITOLO CAPITOLO

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xxxx, xxx.

Giovanni Buffa Orpheus, glass panel manufactured by the Milanese Beltrami & C., ca. 1905. Modelli d’Arte Decorativa, vol. VIII, pl. 21. to the right Wrought-iron screen with three glass panels, glass welded together with lead, ca. 1905, Cafagna collection. The pomegranate was also one of the symbols of the international Art Nouveau movement.

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italian liberty style

TITOLO CAPITOLO

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fo c u s o n

to the left Achille Beltrame drawing of Gabriele D’Annunzio in his study at Francavilla al Mare; the inset shows Michetti making his portrait. Cover of L’Illustrazione Italiana, January 1898.

Dannunzian Style

to the right Adolfo de Carolis poster for the first performance of La figlia di Jorio, 1906, Museo Civico L. Bailo, Collezione Salce, Treviso.

1863

Gabriele d’Annunzio is born into a well-heeled bourgeois family in Pescara on 12 March.

1889

The novel Il Piacere is published, paving the way to his success in the field of literature.

1919

D’Annunzio and group of soldiers leave from Ronchi di Monfalcone to free the city of Fiume, which the allied troops had assigned to Italy.

1938

He dies in Gardone Riviera on 1 March of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 75.

68

Gabriele D’Annunzio, national hero, writer, playwright, interior decorator, an obtrusive protagonist of the worldly literary and political scene created a style of his own even in interior decor, as we can clearly see from the photographs of his various homes. The last of these, the Vittoriale, where to this day everything has remained untouched, including the Vate’s extravagant wardrobe, has now been turned into a museum and can be visited along with all its contents: a dense accumulation of modern decorative artworks and copies from antiquity, statues, fabrics, embossed leather, ceramics, silver, glasswork and glass panels, and an endless series of bric-à-brac. The style known as “Dannunzianesimo” had nothing innovative about it, and spoke of the showy, excessive, theatrical and histrionic embracing of the fashion of the times, which hinged upon redundancy and a love of luxury. When D’Annunzio arrived in Rome from his native Pescara, in 1881, Eclecticism was in fashion; the homes of the aristocrats and the wealthy, the high society that he spent his time with and which he described in Il Piacere as being empty, decadent and solely interested in aestheticism, were furnished with Renaissance furniture both real and imitation, brimming over with objects of varied and multifarious provenance, and weighed down by elaborate draperies. We might say that latenineteenth-century Eclecticism, akin to an imprinting of sorts, remained for D’Annunzio, throughout his long lifetime, the guiding standard in his choice of decorations and furniture, and therefore in his self-image.

italian liberty style

Eclecticism demoted to the category of “poor taste” had already been violently rejected in the early twentieth century with the advent of Italy’s “Lo Stile Liberty” (Liberty style), which was against bric-à-brac and instead suggested formal and expressive homogeneousness and a new order in which everything had to be conceived of uniformly. As a result of their common imaginary, the two styles, Liberty and Dannunzianesimo, overlapped, and, they were both wholeheartedly refused for the short period that they were contiguous. But Dannunzian style went much farther than the Liberty period, as it was constantly being rekindled by its sole actor with heroic gestures, plays, novels, poetry, love affairs with famous women, always in the spotlight. For all his life D’Annunzio was a friend to and patron of the artists as well as an avid collector; indeed, in the collective memory he is remembered alongside the names of De Carolis, who designed the graphics of his literary output, Renato Brozzi, who made the sculptures and jewelry he would offer to his lady friends, and Mariano Fortuny, whose fabrics graced the theatrical splendour of the places where he lived.

69


fo c u s o n

to the left Achille Beltrame drawing of Gabriele D’Annunzio in his study at Francavilla al Mare; the inset shows Michetti making his portrait. Cover of L’Illustrazione Italiana, January 1898.

Dannunzian Style

to the right Adolfo de Carolis poster for the first performance of La figlia di Jorio, 1906, Museo Civico L. Bailo, Collezione Salce, Treviso.

1863

Gabriele d’Annunzio is born into a well-heeled bourgeois family in Pescara on 12 March.

1889

The novel Il Piacere is published, paving the way to his success in the field of literature.

1919

D’Annunzio and group of soldiers leave from Ronchi di Monfalcone to free the city of Fiume, which the allied troops had assigned to Italy.

1938

He dies in Gardone Riviera on 1 March of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 75.

68

Gabriele D’Annunzio, national hero, writer, playwright, interior decorator, an obtrusive protagonist of the worldly literary and political scene created a style of his own even in interior decor, as we can clearly see from the photographs of his various homes. The last of these, the Vittoriale, where to this day everything has remained untouched, including the Vate’s extravagant wardrobe, has now been turned into a museum and can be visited along with all its contents: a dense accumulation of modern decorative artworks and copies from antiquity, statues, fabrics, embossed leather, ceramics, silver, glasswork and glass panels, and an endless series of bric-à-brac. The style known as “Dannunzianesimo” had nothing innovative about it, and spoke of the showy, excessive, theatrical and histrionic embracing of the fashion of the times, which hinged upon redundancy and a love of luxury. When D’Annunzio arrived in Rome from his native Pescara, in 1881, Eclecticism was in fashion; the homes of the aristocrats and the wealthy, the high society that he spent his time with and which he described in Il Piacere as being empty, decadent and solely interested in aestheticism, were furnished with Renaissance furniture both real and imitation, brimming over with objects of varied and multifarious provenance, and weighed down by elaborate draperies. We might say that latenineteenth-century Eclecticism, akin to an imprinting of sorts, remained for D’Annunzio, throughout his long lifetime, the guiding standard in his choice of decorations and furniture, and therefore in his self-image.

italian liberty style

Eclecticism demoted to the category of “poor taste” had already been violently rejected in the early twentieth century with the advent of Italy’s “Lo Stile Liberty” (Liberty style), which was against bric-à-brac and instead suggested formal and expressive homogeneousness and a new order in which everything had to be conceived of uniformly. As a result of their common imaginary, the two styles, Liberty and Dannunzianesimo, overlapped, and, they were both wholeheartedly refused for the short period that they were contiguous. But Dannunzian style went much farther than the Liberty period, as it was constantly being rekindled by its sole actor with heroic gestures, plays, novels, poetry, love affairs with famous women, always in the spotlight. For all his life D’Annunzio was a friend to and patron of the artists as well as an avid collector; indeed, in the collective memory he is remembered alongside the names of De Carolis, who designed the graphics of his literary output, Renato Brozzi, who made the sculptures and jewelry he would offer to his lady friends, and Mariano Fortuny, whose fabrics graced the theatrical splendour of the places where he lived.

69


Alessandro Grassi Peacock Glass Panel, exhibited in Turin in 1902, Maestri Vetrai, Milan, private collection.

Giovanni Buffa Medusa, glass panel made by the G. Beltrami company in Milan after a cartoon by the artist. The glass panel was exhibited in Turin in 1902, Wolfsoniana, Fondazione regionale per la Cultura e lo Spettacolo, Genoa.

90

italian liberty style

International Exposition of Modern Decorative Art, Turin 1902

91


Alessandro Grassi Peacock Glass Panel, exhibited in Turin in 1902, Maestri Vetrai, Milan, private collection.

Giovanni Buffa Medusa, glass panel made by the G. Beltrami company in Milan after a cartoon by the artist. The glass panel was exhibited in Turin in 1902, Wolfsoniana, Fondazione regionale per la Cultura e lo Spettacolo, Genoa.

90

italian liberty style

International Exposition of Modern Decorative Art, Turin 1902

91


Italian Liberty Style