Stylistic restoration in Italy

Legislation in Italy had mainly concerned classical monuments, but some orders had been established for the protection of mediaeval buildings since the fifteenth century.56 General practice had, however, followed the principle of completing buildings in the current style, as is shown by the many proposals for the west fronts of some major churches, Milan Cathedral, San Petronio of Bologna, Santa Croce and Florence Cathedral (Wittkower, 1974). The tradition of transforming historic buildings in the fashion of the time still prevailed at the beginning of the nineteenth century; e.g., Giuseppe Valadier built neo-classical fronts to San Pantaleo and SS Apostoli in Rome. With the arrival of the Gothic Revival, these attitudes were gradually changed. In 1823, the Early Christian Basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura was badly damaged in a fire. Proposals for its reconstruction were prepared by Valadier who was not in favour of building a replica, but proposed, instead, to keep the surviving transept and apse, and complete the basilica in a modern fashion. Another attitude prevailed, and in 1825 Leo XII decided to have the burnt part rebuilt in its earlier form. The work was begun by Pasquale Belli (1752-1833) in 1831, and was completed by Luigi Poletti (1792-1869) in 1869.57

Amongst the first restorations of mediaeval buildings, was the town hall of Cremona, which had been previously modified in a classical style. In 1840 it was restored in its original style. In 1848-50, the church of San Pietro in Trento had a new Gothic front designed by Pietro Selvatico Estense (1803-80), the first important exponent of the Gothic Revival in Italy. He travelled in England and Germany, and was influenced by German romanticism. His aim was to establish a national architecture in conformity with Christian thinking, and he recommended Italian mediaeval styles as the most appropriate, because these were the true expression of the people. From 1850 to 1856, he was professor of architecture at the Academy of Venice, and the students included Camillo Boito, who became his successor at the Academy.

In the 1840s, new proposals were prepared for the unfinished west fronts of Santa Croce and Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Nicolo Matas designed proposals for Santa Croce, one in neo-classical style in 1837, and another in Tuscan Gothic in 1854; the latter was taken as the basis for execution in 1857-62. Together with B. Muller, he also made proposals for Santa Maria del Fiore, and was involved in an association to promote a new elevation

Ancient Monuments Restoration
Figure 6.25 The principal elevation of Florence Cathedral was built to the design of Emilio de Fabris, who won the competition in 1868

Figure 6.26 The restoration of Siena Cathedral was conducted by G.D. Partini from 1865 till his death in 1895. This included renovation of the sculptural elements in the west elevation

(Beltrami, 1900:50). Three architectural competitions were organized between 1859 and 1868, where Selvatico and Viollet-le-Duc were consulted. These competitions were accompanied by polemical debates about the most appropriate style; the winner, Emilio de Fabris (1808-83), professor of architecture at Florence Academy, had to defend his project in several writings.58

One of the top competitors in Florence was Giuseppe Domenico Partini (1842-95), a young architect from Siena, who had completed his studies at the Academy of Siena in 1861, where he was later professor (Buscioni, 1981). From 1865 till his death, he worked on the Cathedral of Siena, renewing and restoring practically all the main parts of the building, including Giovanni Pisano's sculptures on the west front and the famous mosaic floor in the interior. The restoration aroused some per plexities even amongst his supporters, who complained that although the ancient models had always and in all details been faithfully reproduced, the facade appeared quite different from what it had been before (Rubini, 1879; Buscioni, 1981:44). In the interior, all 'decadent' Baroque additions were removed (as had been done in the Cathedrals of Florence, Pisa and Arezzo) in order to restore it to 'its original beauty' (Buscioni, 1981:45). When restoring Romanesque buildings Partini appreciated their 'oldness' (vetustà), and treated them in a 'disinterested' and severe manner. When dealing with Gothic buildings, instead, he let his creative spirit run free, as in Siena Cathedral. His enthusiasm for craftsmanship led him to decorate the buildings with frescos, mosaics, metal work, etc. Modern critics have emphasized how past and present were conceived as one and the same reality

Figure 6.27 A selection of original statues from Siena Cathedral have been placed in the Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana, established in 1870

in his work, and he worked 'above the historical time in a sort of identity of method' (Buscioni, 1981:9). Much of his work has been taken for genuine mediaeval, and as an architect he has hardly been mentioned by historians.

The Austrian administration in Venice, from 1815 till 1866, undertook several large projects including the railway bridge and the harbour. In 1843, a long-term restoration programme started on San Marco, and in the Ducal Palace. In 1856 a special fund was formed for San Marco, and Selvatico was consulted for the works. His proposals for the 'care' of the building were published in 1859 (Dalla Costa, 1983:24.), and included a radical structural consolidation and reinforcement with iron chains, as well as the restoration of old mosaics, capitals and column bases. The sixteenth-century Zeno Chapel was considered 'discordant' with the rest of the building, and it was suggested to demolish it. In 1860 the responsibility was entrusted to Giovan Battista Meduna (1810-80), who had rebuilt and restored the old La Fenice Theatre in Venice in neo-rococo style after a fire in 1836. Meduna continued working on the north side of San Marco until 1865, and on the south side until 1875; later, other works were foreseen on the west front and in the mosaic pavement. These restorations were approved by many. Viollet-le-Duc, who had visited Venice in 1837, had described how the whole structure was moving and cracking, and how it looked like 'an old pontoon destined to sink back in the lagoon from whence it had come' (Viollet-le-Duc, 1872,I:15). Seeing the church again in 1871, he complimented the Venetians, who had not let themselves be discouraged, and considered the works essential in order to provide the building with solidity, and a longer life.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment