Friday, November 27, 2009
RST Top 40. #35: The Gino Severini Mural at the Palazzo dei Congressi (EUR)
One day a few years ago we went out to EUR and to the Palazzo dei Congressi (the translation, Palace of the Congresses, sounds dumb), eager to see Massimiliano Fuksas's massive, avant-garde new hall (we thought), "Cloud." Once inside, we looked everywhere but the basement, even going up some stairways that were obviously not intended for the general public and poking around on the floors above. We were disappointed in not finding "Cloud" (we learned later that it did not yet exist), but more than pleased at what we did find: an enormous,didactic mural by Gino Severini, completed in 1953 (the same year the building itself opened) for the International Exhibition of the Federation of Agricultural Enterprises. We have included a view from the side (above left), sufficiently unrevealing that it shouldn't spoil your encounter with it. The mural employs a seasonal motif that Severini had first explored in the painting "L'Estate" (1951) [below right], part of the collection at the Museo Carlo Bilotti (a newer museum in the Villa Borghese - we recommend it).
Severini was no spring chicken when he did this mural (at 70, more like a winter chicken). He was born in Cortona, Italy and moved to Rome in 1899, at 16. As a young artist he was influenced by Futurism (he was a signer of the important 1910 Futurist Manifesto) and by Cubism, and, living in Paris, a good friend of Modigliani. The photo at left captures him on the scaffold, paintbrush in hand, working on the mural with artist Stefania Lotti. It was painted on Masonite (disclosure: my father was for a time Manager of Industrial Sales for the Masonite Corporation), often incorrectly referred to on Italian websites as Maronite.
Enjoy the mural. But don't miss having a good look at the splendid building in which it is housed. The Palazzo dei Congressi was one of many buildings planned for E42 (Exposition 1942), planned for the 20th anniversary of the March on Rome--the establishing moment of Italian Fascism. It has strong classical lines, as did many buildings of the Fascist era, but it also speaks to a modernist sensibility that was part of 20th-century culture all over the world, and which was deeply influential for many of the architects working under Fascism. Construction began in 1938, but the war intervened and delayed completion.
The building's architect was Adalberto Libera. In the late 1920s, Libera was one of the founders of the Italian Movement for Rational Architecture, based in Rome. He was influenced by both Futurism and Rationalism and maintained close ties with the Mussolini government--close enough, anyway, to get commissions and keep working. He also designed the superb post office on via Marmorata and was one of five architects who worked on designs for the Olympic Village (1960; a 5-minute walk from Parco della Musica in north Rome).
The Palazzo dei Congressi has many features, but none so obvious or original as that big cube in the middle, which houses the Salone dei Ricevimenti (Hall of Receptions, or Welcoming Hall). The cube is 38 meters on each side, big enough, as it is often said, to hold the Pantheon (though getting it there and inside would be daunting). The rounded top may have been necessary to bring the cube to Pantheon dimensions, but whatever its purpose, it's the Palazzo's signature feature.
To get there, take the Metro B line to the Fermi exit. When you walk out of the subway you'll be about 5 blocks south/southwest of the Palazzo. So walk north/northeast through EUR until you find the building.