Holiday Cranberries

Cranberry, late 1800s-early 1900s. Firm of Peter Carl Fabergé (Russian, 1846-1920). Chalcedony, jade, rock crystal, gold; overall: 11.5 x 4.8 cm (4 1/2 x 1 7/8 in.).
Source: The Cleveland Museum of Art, The India Early Minshall Collection 1966.446 / CC0 1.0 public domain dedication

The Best Part of Thanksgiving and Christmas

Although ornate Fabergé eggs usually leave me cold, this sprig of cranberries made by the Fabergé firm is absolutely charming. Artfully devised from semi-precious stones and gold, they never wilt or shrivel. The deceptively simple piece immortalizes the humble berries.

This is just as it should be, since cranberry relish, cranberry sauce, cranberry juice, cranberry bread, and dried cranberries punctuating cookies or muffins are among my perennial favorites. Their cheery color and tangy flavor turn meals into celebrations. For me, they are a highlight of the year-end holidays.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and a festive holiday season filled with all the cranberries you can eat.

An Eighteenth-Century French Engraving of San Lorenzo, Turin

Gabriel-Pierre-Martin Dumont, after Guarino Guarini, “Plan, et coupe de la chapelle royale du St. Suaire de Turin” [but in fact San Lorenzo, Turin], 1781.
From: [Oeuvres de] Jacques-Germain Soufflot, plate 16.
Source: Bibliothèque de l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (INHA), collections Jacques Doucet / “Licence Ouverte / Open Licence” Etalab

Inspiration for the Panthéon in Paris

This print has fascinated me ever since I discussed it in an article in 2001. The image reproduces the plan and section of Guarino Guarini’s church of San Lorenzo, Turin, based on plates from the architect’s treatise, except the caption misidentifies the building as Guarini’s Chapel of the Holy Shroud (Cappella della Sindone). As the caption goes on to say, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, the architect of Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, had the plate engraved by Gabriel-Pierre-Martin Dumont to bolster the number of authoritative examples for constructing the dome of his church.

Sainte-Geneviève (now the Panthéon) was constructed from 1758-1790, and spirited discussions in the architectural community accompanied the long process of planning and realization. In several meetings of the French academy of architecture, Soufflot defended his plans to construct a large, structurally daring dome over the crossing of the church. In these sessions, he cited multiple precedents that he had seen on his travels throughout Europe: the churches of Notre Dame in Dijon, Toussaints in Angers, Sant’Agostino in Piacenza, San Carlo al Corso in Rome, Christopher Wren’s Saint Mary-le-Bow in London, Milan cathedral, and unnamed churches by Guarino Guarini. From the guidebook published by Soufflot’s traveling companion Charles-Nicolas Cochin, we know that the French architect had been to Turin and had seen both San Lorenzo and the Cappella della Sindone in 1750.

This extraordinary print testifies to Soufflot’s appreciation of Guarini’s structural achievement at San Lorenzo. Since Soufflot hoped to build a dome at Sainte-Geneviève seemingly supported primarily by slender columns, San Lorenzo provided a good example of how to do this. Guarini’s design at San Lorenzo relied on a framework of hidden brick and timber arches to support the dome, rather than placing any significant weight on the marble columns that visually carry the superstructure.

The mistake in the caption was perhaps due to confusion on the part of the engraver Dumont as he produced the print after Soufflot’s death in 1780. Construction of the church continued for another decade until it was completed after the beginning of the French Revolution.

Soufflot’s commission of such an engraving is surprising in view of the criticism of Italian baroque architecture voiced by the French architectural writers in the eighteenth century. French critics targeted Guarini in particular because of his ill-fated, incomplete church of Sainte-Anne-la-Royale in Paris. Nonetheless, Soufflot’s admiration for San Lorenzo demonstrates the power of an innovative architectural solution to transcend polemics based on style, taste, and nationality.

Fredrick Nash, Interior of the Panthéon in Paris, first half 19th century. Watercolor over graphite.
Source: Cleveland Museum of Art / public domain

 

White Walls: Practical Advice from Guarino Guarini

“Paint your neighbor’s wall white”

Guarino Guarini’s posthumous architectural treatise Archittetura civile (Turin: Mairesse, 1737) is filled with common sense observations. This one on the power of white paint, in a larger section devoted to optical adjustments for altering the perception of architecture, is one of my favorites:

Gli Oggetti, che sono bianchi pajono più grandi, che di colore oscuro, ò nero, e più illuminati

… Il bianco ha forza disgregare e dilatare la vista, e perciò le cose bianche paiono sempre maggiori di quelle che sono d’altro colore; massime che nel bianco ogni sinuosità si conosce a motivo del’ombre, che nel bianco più si vedono che in qualunque altra spezie di colore. Che poi appariscono più luminose è si manifesto, che nelle contrade strette ed oscure per aver luce maggiore nelle stanze basta imbiancare l’opposto muro del vicino.

Architettura civile, Trattato III, Capo xxi, Osservazione 6, p. 159.

[“Objects that are white seem larger and brighter than those of a dark color or black
… White has the power to fragment and widen sight, and therefore white things always seem bigger than those that are of another color; especially since in white every sinuosity is revealed because of the shadows, which you can see in white more than in any other kind of color. That they then appear brighter is shown since in narrow and dark streets to get more light in your rooms it suffices to paint your neighbor’s opposite wall white.”]

I am considering using this tactic for a dark window well in my basement – some of Guarini’s advice is still relevant today!

A Summer Souvenir of Superga

Souvenir spoon with view of Turin [Superga], late 19th century
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Turin was never a major stop on the Grand Tour. During the great age of pre-aviation tourism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the city served as a gateway for travelers entering Italy from the north before heading to more popular destinations such as Venice, Florence, or Rome. Thus, apart from devotional objects produced for pilgrims venerating the Shroud of Turin, relatively few typical souvenir items such as postcards, photo albums, painted porcelain, or other knickknacks representing the Piedmontese capital survive in public collections.

This souvenir spoon at the Metropolitan Museum in New York is a charming exception. The enameled bowl of the spoon bears a view of Filippo Juvarra’s church of Superga (1716-31) on a hill overlooking the city. The view prominently includes the funicular railway connecting the city (at 225 meters elevation) with the summit (at 672 meters). Since the railway opened in 1884, and the spoon was donated to the museum in 1900, we can date it to the final sixteen years of the nineteenth century. The top of the spoon’s handle features a bull, the symbol of the city of Turin.

Other spoons donated with the same extensive collection represent traditional tourist highlights in Italy and elsewhere in Europe: Rome (St. Peter’s, the Colosseum), Venice (Rialto, Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s), Florence (Palazzo Medici, Duomo, Piazza della Signoria), Naples (Bay of Naples, Pompeii), Potsdam, Dresden, Seville, Madrid, and many others. Meant for display rather than use, such objects still perform their intended function as reminders (“souvenirs”) of summer vacations long ago.

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Related Reading

In 2016, the Consiglio regionale del Piemonte presented an exhibition of ceramics featuring views of Piedmont, Il Piemonte sui piatti. The exhibition catalogue may be downloaded as a PDF from the Internet Archive. See p. 28 of the catalogue for plates with views of Superga.

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A Panorama of Turin

Torino, Panorama generale

Torino, Panorama generale, ca. 1914
Source: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / Fel_031762-RE / Public domain mark
CLICK TO ENLARGE

The rich online image collections of the ETH Zürich hold countless treasures, including aerial photographs, historic bookplates, the collection of the Fotostiftung Schweiz, historic scientific instruments, field research photography in geology and botany, and historic photographs of buildings in Zurich. Many images are available with some type of Creative Commons license, or are in the public domain. A great deal of the collection consists of postcards, with some unusual examples such as this five-part accordion-folded panorama of Turin dating to around 1914.

The photographs used in the panorama were apparently taken from the Monte dei Cappuccini, on the east side of the Po River just outside the historic center of the city. The leftmost image looks south-southwest, upstream along the Po, toward the Castello del Valentino. Moving from left to right and facing westward, the images successively pan from southwest to north-northwest, while the final, rightmost image looks northeast toward the basilica of Superga. Near the right edge of the central image, the spire of the Mole Antonelliana punctuates the skyline. Together, the five photographs pan well over 180°. The Po runs along the foreground of the entire panorama, while the Alps form a continuous backdrop, a vivid illustration of Turin as the “città subalpina.”

The ETH image archive also holds similar panoramas of numerous other cities and landscapes. Besides many variations on Alpine panoramas, these include Berlin, Bologna, Budapest, Lugano, Lyon, Palermo, Valletta, and Oahu!

Carnival in Rome

Bartolomeo Pinelli, Il Carnevale in Roma, 1815. From: Nuova Raccolta di cinquanta costumi pittoreschi […], Plate 49.
Source: e-rara / ETH-Bibliothek

Carriages, Enormous Eye-Glasses, Strange Animals

Charles Dickens lived in Italy for eleven months in 1844-45. He wrote about his stay in the travelogue Pictures from Italy, published the year after his return to England. His vivid description of Carnival in Rome in the Pictures from Italy rivals Goethe’s famous account from nearly sixty years earlier. The amusing prints of the festivities by Bartolomeo Pinelli, dating midway between the two texts, perfectly capture details noted by both authors.

In the following excerpt, Dickens gives an impression of the range of costumes and customs seen in the streets during Carnevale:

“… the spectators at some upper balcony or window, joining in the fray, and attacking both parties, would empty down great bags of confetti, that descended like a cloud, and in an instant made them white as millers. Still, carriages on carriages, dresses on dresses, colours on colours, crowds upon crowds, without end. Men and boys clinging to the wheels of coaches, and holding on behind, and following in their wake, and diving in among the horses’ feet to pick up scattered flowers to sell again; maskers on foot (the drollest generally) in fantastic exaggerations of court-dresses, surveying the throng through enormous eye-glasses, and always transported with an ecstasy of love, on the discovery of any particularly old lady at a window; long strings of Policinelli, laying about them with blown bladders at the ends of sticks; a waggon-full of madmen, screaming and tearing to the life; a coach-full of grave mamelukes, with their horse-tail standard set up in the midst; a party of gipsy-women engaged in terrific conflict with a shipful of sailors; a man-monkey on a pole, surrounded by strange animals with pigs’ faces, and lions’ tails, carried under their arms, or worn gracefully over their shoulders; carriages on carriages, dresses on dresses, colours on colours, crowds upon crowds, without end. Not many actual characters sustained, or represented, perhaps, considering the number dressed, but the main pleasure of the scene consisting in its perfect good temper; in its bright, and infinite, and flashing variety; and in its entire abandonment to the mad humour of the time…”

– Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy (London: Bradbury & Evans, 1846), pp. 178-179.

Whether you celebrate Carnival, Carnevale, Shrovetide, Fasnacht, Mardi Gras, or Fasching … enjoy it while it lasts!

Bartolomeo Pinelli, costumes of Roman Carnival, 1812. From: Lettre de M. Millin,… à M. Langlès, sur le carnaval de Rome (Paris: J.-B. Sajou, 1812).
Source: Gallica / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Guarino Guarini Letterato

A Neglected Article by Martino Capucci

“Quel che si sa di Guarino Guarini architetto non è molto: ci sono le sue opere, non la sua figura intera. Manca ancora una monografia che dica non solo dell’artista, ma anche del trattatista d’architettura, del letterato, del matematico e filosofo farraginoso e dottissimo. … riteniamo opportuno ordinare quel che si sa su Guarini scrittore, delinearne gli essenziali aspetti; offrendo così qualche materiale che potra non essere inutile per lo storico dell’arte che voglia tenerne conto.”

From: Martino Capucci, “Guarino Guarini Letterato,” Lettere Italiane 8:1 (Gennaio-Marzo 1956): 75-82 [75].

The article cited above, by the late scholar of Italian literature Martino Capucci (1926-2013), recently surfaced in JSTOR – apparently the journal Lettere Italiane is a new addition to the repository’s invaluable resources. In the 1956 essay, Capucci called for an integrated approach to Guarino Guarini’s life and work, considering all of his activity – in mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and indeed literature – as inseparable from his architectural work. Capucci, who taught at the University of Bologna, surveyed all the writings of the Theatine architect, but then focused his attention on Guarini’s first publication, the play La pietà trionfante (Messina, 1660). Capucci situates the tragicomedy within the tradition of seventeenth-century Italian theater, succinctly and honestly assessing it from the point of view of italianistica. While Capucci finds the play of low literary quality, he nonetheless recognizes its value in reflecting the culture in which Guarini took part:

“In questo ‘maestro del barocco’ il fascino della cultura è straordinario e spesso soffocante, ma a noi non importano tanto i risultati quanto il desiderio di esperienza che sta alla radice di questa cultura; ed è qui, non in un rapporto esterno o magari deterministico, quel punto di contatto fra i due aspetti della personalità guariniana, che giustifica l’esame della sua attività di erudito, trattatista e scrittore da cui possiamo trarre maggior sicurezza nella valutazione dell’opera per la quale egli vive ancora.” [81-82]

To my knowledge, Capucci’s article has remained entirely unknown within the literature on Guarino Guarini. It is not included in any of the usual authoritative bibliographies on the Modenese Theatine. Yet Capucci’s essay coincided with the flowering of studies on Guarini and Piedmontese baroque architecture in the late 1950s through the 1960s, such as Paolo Portoghesi’s short monograph published the same year. Its omission can only be due to the disciplinary blinders that still plague Guarini research today. Few studies on Guarini make more than passing reference to La pietà trionfante, although a play based on it was produced in Modena in 2005, Le regole del cielo. Capucci’s article thus fills a notable gap in Guarini scholarship, providing important literary expertise to assist in our understanding of a figure who is fully comprehensible only through interdisciplinary efforts.

Consult “Guarino Guarini Letterato” by Martino Capucci at this JSTOR permalink. It deserves to be better known and to take its place within the standard literature on the architect.

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Further reading:

● Martino Capucci’s colleagues at the University of Bologna prepared this booklet as a memorial tribute following his death in 2013. The biographical essay includes an account of the genesis of Capucci’s early essay on Guarini.

● Download Guarini’s La pietà trionfante from the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense.

Janus and Chronos at the New Year

Giulio Romano, Victory, Janus, Chronos and Gaea, preparatory drawing for the Sala dei Giganti in the Palazzo del Te, Mantua, ca. 1532-1534
Source: The J. Paul Getty Musuem / Getty Open Content Program

At the threshold between the years 2018 and 2019, Giulio Romano’s group of Janus and Chronos in a preparatory drawing for the Sala dei Giganti at the Palazzo del Te seems a particularly appropriate emblem. They belong to the gathering of gods who have just vanquished the giants, toppling everything in their path. Janus – who gives January its name – looks backward (as an old man) and forward (as a youth), viewing the past as well as the future. Chronos (“Father Time”) strides ahead purposefully, while Victory seems about to place the victor’s crown on his head, marking the ultimate triumph of the inexorable march of time. (The position of this crown is shifted in the executed fresco.) Finally, at the lower right, a wistful Gaea looks on in horror at the violent end of the giants.

After the upheavals of 2018, here’s hoping that Janus sees a bright future for us all in January and throughout the rest of 2019!

The Baroque Holy Ark of Trino Vercellese

Holy Ark of the Synagogue of Trino Vercellese, Piedmont, 1770s. Today in the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv.
Source: Wikipedia [he.wikipedia.org] / User: Michaeli / © This image is copyrighted. The copyright holder allows everyone to use the image for any purpose provided that the copyright holder is properly credited.

This stunning ark, a fine example of Piedmontese baroque woodworking, was created for the synagogue in Trino Vercellese in the late eighteenth century. Portions of the synagogue were designed by the Turin court architect Benedetto Alfieri, although the name of the cabinetmaker responsible for the ark remains unknown. The ark features rich carving, faux marble, and gilded details, and the architectural scene on its doors alludes to the Temple of Jerusalem.

The synagogue in Trino was one of several built in Piedmont in the baroque era, including those in Casale Monferrato and Biella. Today, according to most sources, the synagogue in Trino has been secularized, and its contents dismantled in 1965.

In 1973, the holy ark was acquired by the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. There it was installed in a pavilion designed by the architect Werner Joseph Wittkower, the younger brother of the famous architectural historian Rudolf Wittkower, who was the leading international scholar of Piedmontese baroque art and architecture between 1945 and his death in 1971.

Around fifteen years ago, the museum undertook an extensive restoration of the ark. It was then reinstalled in the Ethnography and Folklore galleries of the museum in 2006-7, along with additional elements from the synagogue in Trino. As the Eretz Israel Museum website explains:

A Holy Ark, or Torah Shrine, as it was called by Italian Jews, complete with its original Torah lectern, worshipers’ benches, and the latticed railing from the women’s balcony, is situated in a separate hall built according to the original synagogue plans. The Baroque and Rococo style of the Ark is typical of the Piedmont district of northwestern Italy and represents an excellent example of the influence of local style on historical Jewish themes. The set of doors carved with architectural images symbolizing the Temple still to be built in Jerusalem is the highlight of the Ark, expressing the centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish tradition.

The Holy Ark of Trino Vercellese stands as an impressive witness to the malleability of the baroque style, demonstrating how it could transcend the Catholic propaganda so often ascribed to it.

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In solidarity with the Tree of Life Congregation, Pittsburgh. Stop the hate.

Cappella della Sindone Reopened

Guarino Guarini’s Chapel of the Holy Shroud, Turin, Restored


The Chapel of the Holy Shroud reopened this weekend after a decades-long restoration campaign. The chapel had first closed in May 1990 when a small piece of marble detached from a cornice and crashed to the floor. Repairs proceeded sporadically over the next several years. In April 1997, the restoration was nearly complete when a devastating fire hit the chapel. The wooden boards on some of the scaffolding caught fire, for reasons never fully determined. The great height of the chapel acted as a chimney to pull the flames upward and fan the fire. Although the marble could not burn, it cracked and changed color because of the intense heat. Splintered fragments of the originally black Frabosa marble fell to the pavement. As later emerged, the structure of the chapel and its dome were largely intact, but the subsequent restoration was fraught with conflicts, setbacks, and a lack of transparency. After multiple missed deadlines, the restoration is complete and the chapel accessible to visitors.

Position of the Cappella della Sindone between the Cathedral of San Giovanni and the Palazzo Reale, Turin

Located between the Cathedral of San Giovanni and the Royal Palace in Turin, access to the chapel was originally provided from both buildings. That meant that members of the Savoy dynasty could enter the chapel directly from the palace, but also that the faithful could enter from the cathedral, as well as view the chapel directly above and behind the high altar of the cathedral. During much of the twentieth century, though, visitors entered from the church side, via the stairways from the two doors flanking the high altar of the cathedral, while the palace doorway was rarely used. With the reopening, the chapel now forms part of the Musei Reali in the Royal Palace, and will be accessed from the palace side, with the cathedral doors closed. The shroud itself is now stored elsewhere.

The portals in the cathedral giving access to the stairways leading to the Shroud Chapel will now remain locked. Source: TripAdvisor

While the successfully completed restoration must be seen as a triumph – reinstating one of the most stupendous spaces in early modern European architecture – the incorporation of the chapel in a museum circuit is symptomatic for our age. Divorced from its relation to the church, devoid of the relic that originally prompted its construction, Guarini’s chapel has become yet another event for cultural tourism.

Beginning Tuesday, 2 October, the chapel may be visited as part of the a general admission ticket to the Musei Reali Torino.

 

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Further reading:

● The Art Newspaper provides a convenient English summary of the restoration campaign.

● John Beldon Scott’s 2003 book Architecture for the Shroud: Relic and Ritual in Turin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press) remains essential reading for the historic background of the Shroud Chapel and the earlier repositories of the relic. See also my review of Scott in Annali di architettura 16 (2004).

● My other posts on the Shroud of Turin.