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.

Summer Postcards

Last week the Austrian National Library launched its digitized postcard portal AKON Ansichtskarten Online with over 75,000 historic postcards available to browse and download. The AKON portal supplements several other similar online resources such as the E-Pics Image Archive at the ETH Zurich, which includes a large group of historic postcards assembled by the Swiss collector Adolf Feller. Both collections focus primarily on European postcards. Many of these images provide valuable information about buildings or urban ensembles now destroyed or dramatically altered, while others offer amusing presentations of familiar sites.

Good online collections emphasizing American postcards include the Boston Public Library’s Tichnor Brothers Collection, the National Trust Library Historic Postcard Collection at the University of Maryland, and the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery (here search under the genre “Postcards”).

Most images are freely available to use and download under a variety of Creative Commons licenses or public domain designations. The navigation on the AKON site is intuitive but slightly clumsy, based on a zoomable world map. The ETH site includes extensive metadata with its images, automatically creating captions.

A loose sampling of postcards from these collections follows, grouped under the headings “Work” and “Play.” The first category features sites that have occupied me professionally during the past year, while the second shares snapshots of my summer vacation. Click any image to link to its source.


Torino, Palazzo Madama, Castello Medioevale, Mono. Vitt. Emanuele, II. Ricordo Nazionale

Torino, Palazzo Madama, Castello Medioevale, Mono. Vitt. Emanuele, II. Ricordo Nazionale

Torino, Veduta del Po, colla Grand Madre di Dio ed il monte dei Cappuccini

Torino, Veduta del Po, colla Grand Madre di Dio ed il monte dei Cappuccini



Roma, Panorama dalla Cupola di S. Pietro

Roma, Panorama dalla Cupola di S. Pietro

Roma, Piazza S. Pietro, Ispirazioni Divine

Roma, Piazza S. Pietro, Ispirazioni Divine



Chicago Skyline

Macatawa MI

Ottawa Beach Holland MI

P.S.: The Boston Public Library gives an incorrect location for Lake Macatawa – it is in Ottawa County in western Michigan.

The Madonna of the Manger

Christmas, San Gaetano and the Nativity in Theatine Churches

Gaetano_MMAA key episode in the life of San Gaetano Tiene, founder of the Theatine order, relates a mystic vision the saint experienced at Christmas 1517. While praying in the chapel of the Presepe – a relic believed to be the manger from Bethlehem – in Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, the Virgin and Child appeared to Gaetano, accompanied by a choir of angels. Encouraged by Saints Jerome and Joseph, Gaetano approached the Madonna. In an intimate gesture of trust, Mary then offered the Child to Gaetano to hold. This image of the Theatine saint cradling the infant Jesus in his arms, often with the Virgin and other saints looking on, or receiving the baby from Mary, is a major motif in the iconography of San Gaetano.

This mystic vision of their founder seems to have given the Theatines a particular affinity for Christmas devotions. In Paris the order presented a popular annual Christmas novena, the Couches de la Vièrge, a nine-day devotion beginning on 16 December and concluding on Christmas Eve. Members of the French court regularly attended, and a description in the Journal des Guerres Civiles of Dubuisson-Aubenay details one of the final days of this novena in 1648:

“At three o’clock the queen was at the church of Sainte-Anne-la-Royale of the Theatine fathers, which all of Paris comes to see because of the representations there in the form of a theater with perspective, at the back of which the Holy Sacrament from the altar is displayed. On one side is the emperor Augustus with his court, and on the other are mathematicians who describe the world according to the gospel: edixit edictum a Caesare Augusto ut describeretur universus orbis (Luke, chapter II).”

Such a novena was also practiced at the Theatine church in Messina, Santissima Annunziata, as a 1644 source reports:

“…during the nine days before the Holy Birth of the Lord, the anticipation of the delivery of the most Holy Virgin… they celebrate here with much solemnity, with expensive stage sets, full of infinite lights, not without interest and attendance of the public, who come to rejoice and contemplate the sacred mystery of the incarnation of the Word, represented here with the sweetest music.”

Both descriptions mention elaborate ephemeral apparatuses employed for the novena, and both emphasize the popular appeal of the sacred spectacle. While it is not clear whether San Gaetano’s vision played a role in the Paris devotions or the early ones reported in Messina, a musical Dialogo relating Gaetano’s episode at the manger surives in a published version, performed at the church in Messina to mark his canonization in 1671. The fourteen-page libretto, entitled I celesti fauori concessi a S. Gaetano Tiene…, calls for five characters – the Madonna, Gaetano, Charity, Humility, and Providence – accompanied by a choir. At the latest after Gaetano’s canonization, then, his mystic Christmas experience seems to have played a more prominent role within Theatine spirituality.

479px-Matteo_rosselli,_natività_di_CristoElsewhere in Italy, an explicit link between the general cult of the Nativity and specific reference to San Gaetano’s Christmas vision can be traced in Florence. There, a chapel dedicated to the Nativity was installed in the right transept at the Theatine church of San Michele in 1610. The dedication originated in a vision of the Virgin experienced by the chapel patron, Elisabetta Bonsi, the night of Christmas Eve 1602. The altarpiece of the Nativity was painted by Matteo Rosselli. In 1671, upon Gaetano’s canonization, an image of his mystic encounter at the manger in Santa Maria Maggiore was added to the wall opposite the chapel entrance. For the Theatines, the saint’s vision thus becomes another station in the iconographic cycle of the Nativity itself. Gaetano also became a co-patron of the entire church to mark his canonization: today it is officially Santi Michele e Gaetano, often known simply as San Gaetano.

Nativity chapel San Lorenzo Wikimedia CROPPED These two elements of Theatine Christmas devotion – general celebration of the Nativity, and specific commemoration of San Gaetano’s mystic vision – are joined by a third component at San Lorenzo in Turin. Guarino Guarini’s Theatine church (constructed 1670-1680) prominently features a chapel dedicated to the Nativity flanking its high altar to the left, donated by the Marchesa Camilla Bevilacqua Villa. The Marchesa was first lady in waiting to the duchess regent, Maria Giovanna Battista, who as patron oversaw completion of the church and its furnishing by the most important members of her court. The chapel’s altarpiece of the Nativity is by the Savoyard painter Pierre Dufour, active as a portraitist and miniaturist at the court. The chapel patron, the Marchesa Villa, was purportedly related to San Gaetano on her mother’s side. No evidence has yet emerged indicating the Theatine Christmas novena was practiced in Turin, though the family ties between patron and saint make this likely. But the Madonna of the Manger also had another very important meaning here.

When it first was established in Turin in 1563, the church of San Lorenzo had originally been installed in a small Romanesque church dedicated to Santa Maria del Presepio – St. Mary of the Manger – on the northern city wall, behind the cathedral and the site of the later ducal palace. [Claims that the current chapel in the church narthex are located on the site of the original church of Santa Maria del Presepio should be disregarded (Klaiber, 1999).] That San Lorenzo subsumed the dedication to Santa Maria del Presepio seems confirmed by the opening lines of the inscription on the cornerstone laid when the church moved to its present site in 1634. The inscription specifically invokes the Virgin of the manger:

DEO     OPT.     MAX.
  Ac Sanctissimae Deiparae ad Praesepe
  Beato Martyri Laurentio ex Serenissimi Emmanuelis Philiberti voto...

Silos San Lorenzo cornerstone

The heightened devotion to San Gaetano after his canonization in 1671 carried through the entire decade of the 1670s and into the 1680s, as witnessed by numerous projects to build new Theatine churches dedicated to him (Nice, Vicenza, Salzburg). This popularity also influenced the cults celebrated at San Lorenzo in Turin – under construction during the same period – most obviously in the inclusion of a chapel to San Gaetano (second on the right). The connection of the Nativity chapel to Gaetano is less immediately apparent, but perhaps more deeply resonant. The Marchesa Villa’s chapel, dedicated in August 1680, could perpetuate the titular cult of the lost Romanesque chapel of Santa Maria del Presepe and link this to the iconography of San Gaetano, fortuitously mingling the origins of San Lorenzo as a ducal church in Turin with Theatine spirituality and the patron’s familial piety.

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Images (top to bottom):

● Gaetano Gherardo Zompini, Saint Cajetan of Thiene Holding the Infant Jesus, pen and ink, eighteenth century.
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Rogers Fund, 1966, 66.53.6)

● Placido Cara, I celesti fauori concessi a S. Gaetano Tiene… (Messina: Paolo Bisagni, 1671), p. 2.
Source: Google Books / Biblioteca nazionale centrale, Rome

● Matteo Rosselli, Nativity, Santi Michele e Gaetano, Florence, 1610.
Source: Wikimedia Commons / public domain

● Chapel of the Nativity, San Lorenzo, Turin, 1679-1680.
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0)

● San Lorenzo cornerstone inscription from Giuseppe Silos, Historiarum clericorum regularium, vol. 2 (Rome: Heredum Corbelletti, 1655): 444.
Source: Google Books / Bavarian State Library

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Sources and Further Reading

Giuseppe Dardanello, “Cantieri di corte e imprese decorative a Torino,” in Giovanni Romano, ed., Figure del barocco in Piemonte (Turin: CRT, 1988): 163-204; 237-252.

Susan Klaiber, Guarino Guarini’s Theatine Architecture, Ph.D. dissertation (Columbia University, 1993): 97-8, 245, 256-7.

Susan Klaiber, “The First Ducal Chapel of San Lorenzo: Turin and the Escorial,” in M. Masoero, S. Mamino, C. Rosso, eds., Politica e cultura nell’età di Carlo Emanuele I. Torino, Parigi, Madrid (Florence: Olschki, 1999): 329-343.

San Gaetano in Art: private webpage with extensive collection of images documenting the iconography of San Gaetano.

Mansart and Guarini: The Concave Church Façade Illustrated

DeCotte_961v_detailMessina facade detail

Gallica has recently released a huge batch of newly digitized documents from the extraordinary collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and its partner institutions. Among the many treasures now available are a number of François Mansart’s architectural drawings, all dense with ideas and some of the most fascinating records ever made of an architect’s creative process.

These new releases allow me to redress an annoying omission in two of my previous publications on Guarino Guarini and Paris.* Both essays reported on the evidence for a lively exchange of architectural ideas between Guarini and French architects during his years in Paris from 1662-1666. The most convincing witness to Guarini’s effect on French architects is the comparison illustrated above: the façade of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, the church facing the east front of the Louvre on one of Mansart’s drawings for the royal palace prepared in 1664 while Guarini was in Paris (BNF, De Cotte 961v), juxtaposed with Guarini’s Theatine church façade in Messina of c. 1660. When my essays were published, external constraints (space, budget, and deadlines) prevented me from including an image of this telling detail to illustrate my arguments.

Thanks to the wonders of open-access digitization, I can now provide the missing illustration for both articles. Here, an excerpt from the 2006 article in the original English version:

“…François Mansart was the most important French architect for Guarini during these years in Paris. The open vault of Mansart’s stairway at Blois is often cited as an influence on Guarini, and Mansart’s designs for the Bourbon chapel at Saint-Denis explored the possibilities of a double-shelled cupola with open lower vault and hidden lighting effects, effects which Guarini had begun to experiment with at Sainte-Anne, and later developed fully in his design for San Gaetano in Vicenza. This dialogue between Guarini and Mansart seems to have been a two-way street, with Mansart borrowing from Guarini’s Santissima Annunziata in Messina of just a few years earlier in his Louvre designs, where he regularizes the skew façade of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois with a curved façade pivoted away from the axis of the church at one end, similar to that in Messina.”

– from my “La formazione di Guarini,” in G. Dardanello, S. Klaiber, H. A. Millon, eds., Guarino Guarini, Turin: Allemandi, 2006: 26.

DeCotte_961vMessina facadeFrançois Mansart, first project for the Louvre, 1664 (left) and Guarino Guarini, façade of Santissima Annunziata, Messina, c. 1660, from Architettura civile, 1737 (right)
Images: / Bibliothèque nationale de France (left and right)


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*“Guarini e Parigi: interscambi culturali e critici,” in Giuseppe Dardanello, editor, Sperimentare l’architettura (Turin: Fondazione CRT, 2001): 15-36; “La formazione di Guarini,” in G. Dardanello, S. Klaiber, H. A. Millon, eds., Guarino Guarini, Turin: Allemandi, 2006: 22-27. Both articles include additional bibliography and context for the interactions between Guarini and French architects.

Double Vision: Early Photograph of SS. Annunziata, Messina

Annunziata Messina 1860 Sevaistre

This stereoscopic albumen print of the Piazza dell’Annunziata, Messina, by the French-Italian photographer Eugène Sevraistre dates to c. 1860, and is thus probably the earliest known photograph of Guarini’s façade of the Santissima Annunziata in the Sicilian city. The Theatine church was consecrated exactly two hundred years before the photograph was taken, and destroyed in the devastating Messina earthquake of December 1908.

The photograph gives valuable information about the urban context of the church, complementing other surviving images of it. Interestingly, the photograph underscores the apparently axial relationship of the church portal to Andrea Calamech’s 1572 statue of Don Giovanni d’Austria, the victor of the naval battle against the Ottoman Empire at Lepanto in 1571. Don Giovanni, an illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V, had led his fleet to victory starting from the Messina harbor. It would be nice to know when the statue was placed at this location; later images appear to show the statue farther away from the church. Were the Theatines making an intentional political statement in aligning their church with it, trying to link themselves to the Habsburg dynasty and the conqueror of the “infidels”?

Eugène Sevaistre, Piazza Catalani già piazza dell’Annunciata – Monumento a Don Giovanni d’Austria, Messina, c. 1860, with lower story of Guarino Guarini’s Santissima Annunziata façade.
Photograph: LombardiaBeniCulturali