Friday, 27 August 2010

Italia & Architect: Carlo Scarpa

I am just back from spending a week in the north of Italy, in Verona, The Veneto region and Trento. The last time I went to Italy was on a trip to Turin (which is an amazing city) four years ago, so I felt long overdue for another visit to the land of art, architecture, and style. I saw so many beautiful and interesting things that this blog post has grown really long. I don't know if people really like these general travel posts, but I won't be going away again for a while, so I'll be back to posting shorter, more regular, more fashion-orientated updates again after this.

Verona is a really beautiful city, with Ancient Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Mannerist buildings all still standing.

I absolutely love the signs which churches have depicting the sort of attire (and attitude) which is not acceptable; most churches also had big baskets of modesty capes with which immodest visitors must cover themselves!

I became rather obsessed with all the Christian iconography, a lot of which - if I can say this without causing offence - was brilliantly kitsch.

Local saint stamping on the devil...take that, devil!


In retrospect, I don't think laughter was the appropiate response to this painting depicting the Massacre of the Innocents...yet there was just something so hideously grotesque about the baby kebab, I couldn't help myself:

Bread (give money) for the love of God:

Come in to confess when the green light shows:

Hilariously un-politically-correct statue depicting a famous Christian missionary:

This was, however, all very tame compared to what you can find in churches in southern Italy, where they still go in for relics (grisly vials of blood, splinters of bone, and even - I recall - a whole heart, which resembled a French cheese, purported to have belonged to important religious figures) proudly displayed on red velvet cushions in ornate cases, and contemporary depictions of miracles. I remember this wonderful naïve style painting of the hand of God coming from the sky, pulling a woman to safety from beneath the wheels of a tram. Anyway, that was another trip, long ago...Back to Verona:

Road opened up to display Roman ruins:

Wonderful doorways:



The spectacular Andrea Mantegna altarpiece in the Basilica San Zeno Maggiore:


In summer, opera productions are put on outdoors in the incredible Roman amphitheatre:


We stayed in the stylish Hotel Accademia which (luckily) has been totally refuribished since the pictures on its website were taken. It was a very old school smart Italian hotel, complete with an 'American' cocktail bar with a barman in a white jacket and black bow-tie. Service was very proper, but warm and friendly too. The hotel was centrally located, had every modern comfort and convenience you could need, and had a great breakfast buffet, presided over by even more waiters in immaculately tailored jackets.

Something which struck me in all of the places that we visited (even in the smaller towns) was how well presented and well designed nearly all of the shops were, even those selling food and hardware and stuff. There were lots of small, independent boutiques selling cutting-edge high fashion (something which you hardly get in the UK), and there were some amazing home stores, but I was really impressed by how the owners of even everyday shops had made them look good and unleashed a bit of creativity.


These Prada women's sunglasses are so good:

Fendi nightmare:

Brilliant 60s executive desk:

Amazing antiques shop in Asolo:


Prada men's FW10 military inspired accessories:


Various 'street seen' moments, 'urban textures' etc:

I love the hyper-real brightness of these signs, which serve to remind you of the old rule, "never trust somewhere with a photo menu":


Fantastic typeface:

One of the places we stayed was Hotel 'x'. It was a hotel with very grand intentions, but when we arrived I just couldn't stop laughing because it was unbelievably stuffy, and it seemed to be full of slightly grotesque, well-preserved old people sitting around in garden chairs, looking like they'd come to die. A faded, framed photograph of the Queen Mother who had once stayed, signed and dated 1987, summed up the vibe perfectly. Later on during the stay we discovered two sizeable scorpions in our bedroom, one of which was in the bath, having crawled out of the plughole.

Asolo is a very pretty, very sleepy little town in the foothills of the Alps:

While we were having lunch in this very good, very simple restaurant, a television crew and a very done-up presenter with a Prada bag and very high heels (on the cobbled stones) suddenly descended from nowhere and started filming the place for a travel show...totally surreal!

The spectacular Villa Barbaro, designed by Andrea Palladio in the mid 1500s:

The walls of Castelfranco Veneto, where Giorgione's very famous, and very enigmatic, Madonna and Child Between St. Francis and St. Nicasius
is on display in the Cathedral.

This rabbit was nibbling by the walls:

Another spectacular Palladian villa, Villa Emo:

I can never resist a bit of ugly post-modern architecture:

The Fondazione Canova (dedicated to the famous 18th century sculptor, Antonio Canova) in Possagno:

We hired a tiny bubble car, and took it up into the Alps one day:



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Carlo Scarpa was an Italian Modernist architect from Venice, whose work often incorporated elements of traditional Venetian, Japanese and even South American building design. He is little known today, which is a shame because his work is brilliant. We saw three projects which he completed.

The first was the absolutely incredible Brion Tomb near Treviso, which is a concrete mausoleum complex designed by Scarpa in 1970 for a wealthy local family. I love concrete architecture, but this complex is much more than a harsh concrete expanse; rather, it is an extraordinarly evocative place, which almost hypnotises, and it somehow brings a new dimension to the use of concrete, as a material conductive to a gentle, reflective, almost 'poetic' space. Every single design detail, from the inward sloping surrounding wall which is exactly level with the height of the crops in the surrounding fields, to the almost Aztec-looking corner pieces, to the Japanese influences, and the clever use of water and different levels is stunning. The architect himself is buried there too, modestly placed just outside the complex, which adjoins a traditional cemetry on one side.

He also designed an extension to the Canova Foundation:

And the retrofitting of the interior of the castle in Verona which serves as the city musuem; fantastic stairs:

Rather ironically, Wikipedia informs us that Scarpa died after falling down concrete stairs in Japan.

Brilliant use of different levels again, in a sort of Japanese tradition: