Broken Window in Dome of Guarini’s Chiesa dell’Araceli, Vicenza

As reported by Vicenzareport, on 10 April 2020 a portion of one of the oval windows in the dome of Guarino Guarini’s Santa Maria d’Araceli, Vicenza, crashed to the floor of the church. No one was injured in the apparently spontaneous mishap.

Video footage shows firemen securing the window by removing the remaining sections of glass before a temporary covering was installed. The video also provides a close look at the roof and exterior of the dome, views of the building rarely included in photographic surveys.

The church, for a convent of Poor Clare nuns (Clarisse), was built from 1675-1680. The local architect Carlo Borella oversaw the construction. It is the only church that Guarini completed for a female religious order, and his only extant church outside Piedmont.

The recent accident, while minor, is disturbing, since the church underwent a thorough restoration from 1981 to 2000. One hopes that this is not a sign of larger issues of deferred maintenance accumulating in the intervening decades.

Further reading on Santa Maria d’Araceli

Sketching Santa Maria d’Araceli: with additional bibliography.

Guarini Sites Outside Turin: with a link to additional images.

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.

Entangled Histories, Multiple Geographies Proceedings Published

Papers from EAHN 2015, Belgrade

Most of the papers presented in October 2015 at the European Architectural History Network regional thematic conference Entangled Histories, Multiple Geographies are now available in the conference proceedings. At just over 300 pages, the proceedings include thirty-seven papers, many with numerous illustrations.

Contributions consider chronologies from ancient, medieval, and early modern through modern and contemporary, with topics examining issues such as cultural transfer, historiography, restoration, identity, and the politics of conflict. The conference featured a distinct emphasis on central and eastern Europe, as well as the eastern Mediterranean region, although other geographies were also represented.

Click here to download the EAHN 2015 proceedings.

Another Crumbling Facade – This Time in Turin

Minor Damage to Facade of San Lorenzo

Last week, the Turin newspaper La Stampa reported that some stucco fell off a rusticated quoin-like corner pilaster of the facade of San Lorenzo. Fortunately no one was injured when the debris landed on Piazza Castello below. The incident recalls the one in Modena last year, when portions of a corner capital at Guarino Guarini’s Theatine casa of San Vincenzo (now a courthouse) broke off and landed on the Canal Grande street below.

The photo gallery below takes advantage of La Stampa‘s generous Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licensing for local reporting to share some images of the damage.

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The San Lorenzo facade predates Guarini’s arrival in Turin in late 1666. It is already visible in close to its current form in a fresco in the Stanza delle Magnificenze (c. 1662-65) at the Castello del Valentino. Originally an open portico on the ground floor with rooms above, the openings to the piazza were walled up in 1661, creating what now serves as the church’s narthex. Guarini’s church thus rose behind this preexisting portico block when it was constructed from 1670-1680.

Guarini’s own plans for the facade called for covering the existing structure with a kind of sheathing of pilasters, columns, and rich ornaments, possibly inspired by an unexecuted design (c. 1643) by Antonio Maurizio Valperga for the facade of the adjacent Palazzo Ducale, now Palazzo Reale. When Guarini’s design, too, remained unexecuted, and with few other intervening changes, the church facade still essentially corresponds to the state seen in the fresco at Valentino (view the fresco in the video at the bottom of this post).

San Lorenzo facade comparison

Comparison of Guarini’s proposed facade for San Lorenzo, Turin, with the extant building
Sources: Dissegni d’architettura civile, et ecclesiastica (Turin: Per gl’Eredi Gianelli, 1686), plate 5 (Getty Research Institute / Internet Archive /public domain); and Wikimedia Commons / public domain

As in Modena, one hopes that this minor incident serves as a wake-up call for the authorities to invest in necessary maintenance, if for no other reason than to protect the public from falling debris. (They should be well aware of the damage: the office of the relevant Soprintendenza is in the building next door.)

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Further reading:

Henry A. Millon, review of G. M. Crepaldi, La Real Chiesa Di San Lorenzo in Torino, Turin, 1963, in Art Bulletin 47, no. 4 (Dec. 1965): 531-532; here 531.

Susan Klaiber, Guarino Guarini’s Theatine Architecture, Ph.D. dissertation (Columbia University, 1993): 204-207; 216-218; 277-280.

Susan Klaiber, “Le fonti per San Lorenzo,” in G. Dardanello, S. Klaiber, and H. A. Millon, editors, Guarino Guarini (Turin: Umberto Allemandi & C., 2006): 328-337.

Crumbling Capitals: Guarini in Modena

Screenshot of capital, Modena

View of the damaged corner capital at the Theatine casa of San Vincenzo, Modena (begun 1675)
Source: Screenshot from Gazzetta di Modena

Last week, the Gazzetta di Modena reported that portions of a capital and cornice crumbled and fell to the ground at the Tribunale di Modena (courthouse) on 9 June. Fortunately no one was injured. The building was originally built in the late 1670s as the Theatine house of San Vincenzo, according to designs by Guarino Guarini. The building is the sole example of Guarini’s architecture in his native city.

A later report in the same newspaper – while containing some inaccuracies about the date of the building and the date of the accident – quoted the administrative director of the building, Luigina Signoretti. She claimed the building had not received necessary maintenance since the Modena earthquake of 2012.

This current evidence of neglect at the historic San Vincenzo ensemble in Modena comes nearly two years after Guercino’s Madonna with the Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory the Wonderworker (1639) was stolen from the adjacent church. Although different authorities administer the courthouse and church, the incidents underscore the fatal combination of bureaucracy, indifference, and lack of funding for preserving Italian cultural heritage, particularly for monuments with a low profile outside major tourist centers.

Such neglect is by no means confined to isolated incidents in smaller towns such as Modena: last month, the Stampa reported crumbling facade elements at the popular sanctuary of the Consolata in Turin, where both Guarini and Filippo Juvarra worked.

Unfortunately, corporate partnerships such as those that recently funded restoration of the Trevi Fountain (Fendi) or the Spanish Steps (Bulgari, work underway) do not seem a viable strategy for preservation of the vast majority of Italian heritage sites. In the case of the Consolata and the Modena building, perhaps concern for public safety will finally convince the authorities to invest in necessary upkeep.

Related links

Modena Court Expands in Guarini Building (June 2013)
Guarini Sites Outside Turin

Entangled Histories, Multiple Geographies: Program

EAHN 2015 Conference Program Now Online

The EAHN 2015 Regional Thematic Conference Entangled Histories, Multiple Geographies will be held in Belgrade from 14-17 October 2015. The conference program is now available online, and features twelve panels organized in four sessions of three panels each. The panels are further classified within eight tracks: Transfer, Politicized City, Ideology, Communities’ Roots, Historiography, Identity, Contested Heritage and Constructed Traditions. Three keynote speakers – Branko Mitrović, Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, and Aleksandar Kadijević – and a concluding roundtable moderated by Ana Miljački frame the conference program as plenary sessions.

A detailed program for the session I will chair on 16 October, Contested Heritage, may be downloaded here as a PDF file. The images below give a preview of the themes to be covered by the five papers in my session.

Villa Il Maggiordomo

As a Detroit-area native, ruin porn generally irritates me. I’ve seen too many voyeuristic photographs of the sad remains of the Michigan Central Station. Where were all the rubberneckers when these monuments still might have been saved, before the city fell victim to recreational arson and scrap metal theft?

Photographs of decaying buildings do have some documentary value, though, either as a final record before demolition or as a last-ditch wake-up call for preservation efforts. The seventeenth-century Villa Il Maggiordomo, in Gerbido (part of Grugliasco) on the outskirts of Turin, is a case in point.

Circle of Guarino Guarini, Villa il Maggiordomo, Gerbido (Grugliasco), late 1670s-early 1680s, various interior and exterior views.
Source: Flickr / Giampaolo Squarcina (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The villa seems to have been constructed at approximately the same time as Guarino Guarini’s Palazzo Carignano in Turin (begun 1679), which it closely resembles in some respects. The convex central pavilion in Gerbido recalls the similar volume in the courtyard of the Palazzo Carignano, and the decorative details of the two buildings are also related. The villa’s owner was Valeriano Napione, a member of the household staff of Emanuele Filiberto, Principe di Carignano, who had commissioned the Turinese palace from Guarino Guarini. Napione’s position was maggiordomo to the prince, hence the name of his suburban villa. The villa has traditionally been associated with Guarini because of its links to the Palazzo Carignano, in fact a drawing for some windows at the Villa il Maggiordomo is preserved among the drawings for the Palazzo Carignano in the Archivio di Stato, Turin. The drawing, however, is not an autograph sheet by Guarini, but rather seems to have been drafted by an assistant, perhaps Giovanni Francesco Baroncelli.

Palazzo Carignano courtyard

Guarino Guarini, Palazzo Carignano courtyard, Turin, 1679-1683.
Source: Flickr / Bernard Blanc (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

For years, no interior photographs of the Villa il Maggiordomo were available. Colleagues in Turin inevitably failed to receive permission to enter the villa for viewing and documentation. Exterior photographs typically showed a deteriorating structure shot with a telephoto lens through a wrought iron gate and thick underbrush on the overgrown grounds.

Several years ago, though, interior photographs of the villa began circulating online, following the trend for ruin porn. Apparently the villa was now entirely abandoned, so that photography enthusiasts (and others) could just enter with no permission necessary. The images are shocking, depicting a building neglected for decades, apparently near collapse. One photographer, Giampaolo Squarcina, kindly made his images available on Flickr with a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license, and I am therefore grateful to be able to post them here.

A Happy End?

In view of these disturbing images, a recent thesis (tesi di laurea) prepared at the Politecnico di Torino in 2014 offers encouraging news. The author, Elisa Bellan, reports on initial preservation work undertaken to consolidate the building remains and considerations regarding a definitive restoration (apparently still pending) of the Villa Il Maggiordomo. Indeed, the current Google Maps satellite view of the building shows the roof covered with a blue tarp, at least preventing any additional water damage. One can only hope that the work will continue and that the owners will cooperate with the preservation authorities to save this important monument of the Piedmontese Baroque.

And the Michigan Central Station in Detroit? It may also be on the road to restoration. This week, BBC News reported that new windows were being installed in the building. Perhaps we’ve seen the last of ruin porn from these structures. In these two cases, it seems ultimately to have been a positive force for change.

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further reading

For an extensive bibliography on the Villa Il Maggiordomo, consult the abstract page of the thesis by Elisa Bellan, Il progetto di restauro e risanamento conservativo della villa “Il maggiordomo” di Grugliasco : indagine storica e recupero dell’apparato decorativo, Rel. Tulliani, Jean Marc and Rava, Antonio. Politecnico di Torino, Corso di laurea in architettura per il restauro e valorizzazione del patrimonio, 2014.

A 1984 article by Bellan’s co-advisor (available online) includes photos of the villa in a better state of preservation just a few decades ago:
Antonio Rava, “Ricerche ed interventi su alcune facciate dipinte in Piemonte,” Bollettino d’Arte, supplement no. 6, November 1984, pp. 89-106. (On Villa Il Maggiordomo, see pp. 95-96.)

Update on Restoration: Chapel of the Holy Shroud, Turin


UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2018: Please visit my new post announcing the reopening of the Chapel of the Holy Shroud in September 2018.

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EARLIER POST OF 2013: A press conference today in Turin gave an update on the restoration underway at the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, severely damaged in a fire in 1997. The encouraging report is summarized in a video posted to YouTube by the Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici del Piemonte.

A few highlights: Arcas, the firm entrusted with the restoration seventeen months ago, plans to complete the project as scheduled in March 2014. Some elements are being restored or replaced using marble from the original quarry in Frabosa, reopened especially for this project. With a total budget of 8.7 million euros, the firm employs fifty workers at the site.

The complete press release with numerous images of the restoration in progress may also be downloaded. Below, images of the press conference and subsequent press tour of the site as posted to Twitter by MiBACT_Piemonte, the official account of the Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali in Turin.

Modena Court Expands in Guarini Building

ModenaCourt_croppedModenaonline reports that the Modena courthouse will be expanding into the third floor of the former Theatine casa of San Vincenzo (Corso Canalgrande 77). Construction is already underway for the alterations that will allow several regional courts to be united under one roof.

Guarino Guarini’s building, begun in 1675, has suffered numerous alterations over the centuries as it was adapted to accommodate institutional functions ranging from military barracks to a school of music. These changes included inserting an entrance portal in the main façade where none had been envisaged: Guarini’s original entrance had been at the rear of the church skirting the sacristy, since the semi-cloistered Theatines had no need for access to their house directly from the street.

The most grievous intervention, however, came just over fifty years ago, when the spectacular interior was gutted to turn the building into the present courthouse. This destruction of a significant Baroque monument happened just at the moment when major critical reassessment of Guarini’s architecture was getting underway in the 1960s and the building was not yet widely recognized as a Guarini design.

One can only hope that the current renovations will do no further damage to any remaining portions of the historic structure.

Guarino Guarini, courtyard of Theatine casa, San Vincenzo, Modena (begun 1675)
Photograph: Susan Klaiber Creative Commons License

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Further reading:

Susan Klaiber, “I progetti per la casa dei Teatini di Modena,” in G. Dardanello, S. Klaiber, H. A. Millon, eds., Guarino Guarini (Turin: Allemandi, 2006): 276-283, with complete additional bibliography.

See also Guarini Sites Outside Turin, with a Google Map of the San Vincenzo casa and links to two Guarini drawings for it.

Shroud Chapel to Reopen in March 2014

Guarini’s Chapel of the Holy Shroud, Turin (1667-1694), is scheduled to reopen in March 2014, according to a press statement made last month by Mario Turetta, director of Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici del Piemonte. The chapel has been closed since a devastating fire in April 1997.

For a glimpse of the ongoing restoration, watch the following report by Piedmontese local television GRP on the announcement of the scheduled reopening.