Monuments and Public Architecture

 

The D’Aronco family moved from Gemona del Friuli to Udine in 1876 following the head of the family who had taken over an artificial stone and cement factory. In the same year, Girolamo’s company was entrusted with the task of overseeing the restoration of the Loggia del Lionello. Here the young Raimondo gained his first experiences, before enrolling at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice (1877), where he immediately stood out for his commitment and talent. From his earliest projects, his dedicated search for innovation was carried out within the framework of tradition, which the architect intended to revolutionise, using eclecticism as a tool of ars combinatoria, allowing him to range between epochs and styles. Thanks to his continuous drawing practice, consultation of texts and collections, participation in competitions and publication in national and international magazines, his work attracts increasing interest: “For art researchers, it is interesting, through the series of these and other drawings, to investigate the evolution of D’Aronco’s style; to see him move from classical forms to pointed arch, from Pompeian polychrome to the Renaissance, always struggling in the search for new forms and expressions in the field of architecture, and finally to see him arrive to that particular method that is specifically known with the name of its Author” (Daniele Donghi, 1891).

The boards of the competition for the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II are preserved in Gemona, the first important recognition for the architect who in 1887 was commissioned to design the new Town Hall in Udine, completed in 1930. The history of the project and the changes in the architectural language used enable to follow the evolution of the classical tradition from eclecticism to the geometric rigour of the Viennese school, to arrive at the “modern Renaissance” of the town hall. Had the plans for the Banca Cattolica del Veneto (1907) and the project for the enlargement of the Albergo Nazionale (1911) been realised, they would have configured a marked secessionist intonation in the urban fabric of Udine. The arrangement of Piazza del Ferro in Gemona as a covered market and pavilion for the library (1910), on the other hand, foreshadowed the turning point of the modern Renaissance of Udine's Town Hall.

The design of monuments is a constant feature that returns in the design activity and, if at the beginning the opportunities were offered by national contests celebrating the young Italian nation and the wars of the Risorgimento, at the end of World War I memorials prevailed: the Monument in San Pietro al Natisone (1918), the Faro Monument to be erected on Mount of Buja (1924-1925) and the work designed for the national contest for the Foot Soldier Monument on the Mount of San Michele (1920).

In 1914, a competition was announced among Friulian artists to erect a monument to commemorate the annexation of Friuli to Italy, an initiative promoted by the Friulian community living in Argentina, which had fostered a subscription of funds for the occasion. The selected site was the vast hemicycle outside Porta Poscolle, for which the architect proposed a triumphal column with signs of Roman military glory.

In 1920, D’Aronco studied the new interior design for the small temple of San Giovanni in what is now Piazza della Libertà, whose function is that of a memorial for the fallen of war.

Sacred architecture

 

Raimondo’s encounter with Gothic and Medieval style was predestined. His competent passion should be equally ascribed to the neo-Gothic design of his father, author, and builder of many churches, and to the teachings of Giacomo Franco at the Academy of Venice. If his first contact with the Gothic style took place in the building site of the Loggia del Lionello, D’Aronco later became passionate about the work of Viollet-le-Duc, praising the “marvellously clear and simple” Entretiens. For the cemetery of Cividale, D’Aronco chose an architectural language characterised by a neo-medieval lexicon, into which he introduced neo-Gothic elements - peaks, pinnacles - providing the project with that innovative imprint much appreciated by the client, who praised his “good taste and genius”. D’Aronco’s most significant experiences with Medieval styles and in particular the Gothic were concentrated in two years, from 1888 to 1890. In addition to Cividale, in fact, he participated in the second contest for the Palace of Parliament in Rome (1889) where he presented a project that could compete the Houses of Parliament in London. Further proof of his Gothic expertise is the competition project for the Treviso Cemetery (1890). Two versions of the “Chapel to be erected near the Castle of Rocca Bernarda in Friuli” (1884) are known: one for a small church where he used decorative vestments without emphasis or redundancy and in the façades, he used facing bricks.

The Family Tomb in the Udine Cemetery (1898), on the other hand, is ascribable to the peculiar eclecticism of the architect who, by then living in Istanbul for a few years, combines the East - understood as ancient Egypt - with the West, mixing urns, garlands and ribbons with lion heads and sacred scarabs. The design for the Lantern for the dead in the Udine Cemetery (1890-1896) stands out for the quality of its execution and the usual creative approach to the unusual theme. For the Camavitto Tomb (1904) the architect develops the studies he had carried out for the Regional Exhibition, one of the highest points of his adhesion to modern architecture, anticipating the dynamism of Futurism with the simultaneous progression of the arms of the cross rising above the funeral chapel.

The project for the new Shrine of Sant’Antonio in Gemona (1923-1924) developed in a Baroque sense from Renaissance assumptions, a Greek cross plan with a succession of niches, exedras, protruding bodies, concluding in a majestic dome comparable to Juvarra, which, as in the church of Superga, is preceded by a large pronaos. Whilst the Shrine was not realised, the construction of the church attached to the Ribis asylum (1922-1923) was successful. D’Aronco studied two versions: one with more sober scores, the other with a wealth of curvilinear forms in keeping with the contemporary “Roman Baroque”.

The architect’s houses

 

Two of Raimondo D’Aronco’s first works when returning to his homeland in 1909 after his long and extraordinary stay in Turkey are the houses for his brother Quinto in Tarcento (1909) and Udine (1910-1911). This last building is of considerable importance, since together with the villas that are still preserved – D’Aronco’s house in Turin (1903), Djemil Bey’s house in Kireçbürnü (1903) and the former summer residence of the Italian Embassy in Tarabya on the Bosporus (1905-1906) - it represents a valuable example of D'Aronco’s contribution to the main theme of 20th century architecture, the single-family house, which became a field of experimentation for the search for new shapes. D’Aronco mainly challenged himself with the advanced architecture of Central Europe, but he was also familiar with English and American architecture, that of cottages and the Shingle Style, as well as relying on the knowledge of Ottoman architecture, gained by designing villas for cultured and cosmopolitan clients. According to D’Aronco, it is the composition of the plan to be the central theme of architecture, which in his view originates from within and then projects outwards.

As the architect states in a letter to engineer Enrico Bonelli, his appreciation for the arrangement of spaces in the Turkish house originated from the practicality and functionality he found in his own home in Arnavutköy, in particular what he calls “a vast hall”, a rather large room around which life in the house takes place. The room described is the sofa-divanhane, or the spatial and distributive node of the Ottoman house, and in the correspondence with Bonelli the comparison serves to justify a change to the plan of his own house in Turin. The most significant experiences take shape around the spatial theme of the hall, starting with the prolific English and American context that would later spread to Europe.

The application for the construction of the house in Viale Duodo is dated 1912, but the first project dates back to 1910 and of all the houses built in Italy, this is the one that is most reminiscent of the layout of the villas for Turkish clients. Although using elements learnt during his stay in Istanbul, the Udine house belongs to the design phase with an Italian imprint, which the architect was developing in the contemporary design of the town hall. On the same wavelength is the Casa di Quinto in Tarcento (1909-1910), with its oriental turret with the bulbous dome in which the spiral staircase acts as a vertical distribution axis, flanking the main staircase. The plans for Villino Zanuttini (Via Cairoli and Via D’Azeglio in Udine) are dated 1923, but it was not realised according to D’Aronco’s plans.

In 1924, the architect designed for Luigi Tamburlini the small villa that was to be built in Viale Trieste and demolished after a disastrous bombing in 1944. The project reveals D’Aronco as a garden architect and the tables of decorative details document the extraordinary care for decorative elements, an indispensable architectural element.

In his reinterpretation of Renaissance in a modern key, favouring the eccentric elements of Mannerism, D’Aronco designed the reform of Villa Biasutti in Villafredda di Tarcento (around 1924), inserting powerful rusticated pilasters on the corners of the building and to seal the central forepart, while for the house in Udine, he designed an annex on the side facing the new Viale della Vittoria (1924).

The Udine Regional Exhibition of 1903

 

The 1903 Udine Regional Exhibition did not enjoy the notoriety of the 1902 Turin Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art, which established Italy's adherence to the Art Nouveau movement and the international prominence of Raimondo D’Aronco, author of the exhibition pavilions. On the other hand, the architect considered the boards prepared for the Udine exhibition “as the most serious and complete study he had ever made”.

There are no breaks between the projects of the two exhibitions, as reordering the sequence chronologically, including variants, the evolutionary path of his architectural language can be pieced together, and D’Aronco’s statement about the conclusion of the two-year research project, carried out between April 1901 and February 1903, might be shared.

The distance travelled can be seen by comparing the pavilions designed for the “Rita 2” project that won the competition in Turin and the Concert Tent designed for Udine, where the expressive autonomy is proportional to the emancipation of the reference models, which historiographers almost unanimously identify in the Viennese school.

The works for the Udine Exhibition began in August 1902, as soon as D’Aronco received from his correspondent, engineer Giobatta Cantarutti, the programme and the plan for the Exhibition in an area between Palazzo degli studi and the old hospital building.

In Udine, he oriented his expressive research on certain themes that would later be developed in other projects. In particular, he devoted himself to elaborating the triangular scheme, whether in the form of gabled façades - the Fine Arts Pavilion, - or tympanum-shaped - the Labour Gallery - sometimes in the curvilinear version - the Sports Pavilion - or in the sloping pitched roofs - the Café on the Lake – as well as in the decorative scores - the Concert Tent -. The numerous boards illustrating the decorations, both ornamental and constructive details, with their sumptuous range of colours, document the author's extraordinary imaginative creativity: “The style I wanted to deal with in that project, was not to be in common with the ancient ones, less so than the buildings of the Turin Exhibition, where traces of the architecture of the past could still be found here and there. Thus, no familiar features for the audience, no columns, no trabeation, no gables or other useless objects, like notches, triglyphs, palmettes, etc.. I wanted a simple and majestic line that clearly determined the shape and use of the building”.

D’Aronco illustrates the innovative dimension of the project for Udine, which he says to be more powerful than that of Turin, because the architectural language - whose guidelines he reveals - has cut off all reference to the past, creating a vocabulary of simple and majestic lines. He makes an appeal to an aesthetic functionality, to that union so close to Wagner’s heart of technique and art that is indispensable for modern construction in the age of new materials.

Many projects were not realised, but the different studies and drawings produced originated from possibilities for expressive research that he had glimpsed: “I want to touch the most different subjects and prove that everything can be done anew without repeating itself and that everything is suitable for a more or less sumptuous artistic form, depending on the importance of the thing, but always sincere”.

D’Aronco in Turkey

Having obtained the prestigious assignment from Sultan Abdülhamid II to design the pavilions for the Ottoman Exhibition, D’Aronco moved to Istanbul in 1893 to begin his work. When the exhibition was cancelled due to the devastating earthquake of 1894, the architect was called upon to collaborate on the reconstruction. In fact, the Sultan proposed him to stay in the capital to contribute to the impressive restoration work on mosques and monuments damaged by the earthquake. He then designed residences and private homes, public and religious buildings, where his perspective broadened towards the East, making him discover a new and fascinating universe of forms and structures. Between 1900 and 1905 he left historicism and eclecticism behind and with his imaginative creativity, inspired by the modernist and Secession wind blowing in from Vienna, he created buildings whose polycentric dimension includes the suggestions of Ottoman architecture that are innervated in western architecture. In the design of the villas, he reinterprets the spaces of the Ottoman house, showing a compositional freedom nourished by the eclectic polycentrism and syncretism of the Ottoman art. The reinterpretation of the sofa-divanhane is emblematic, revealing affinities with the hall but also with Palladio's tetrastyle atrium as in the summer residence of the Italian embassy in Tarabya. The plans for the Fahry Bey house in Anadoluhisari (1904), the Mehmed Sadik Effendi house in Feneryolu (1904-1907), the project to enlarge and reform the Djemil Bey house in Erenkeuy (1904), the Botter house in Fanaraki (1906) document his passionate search for modernisation, which was appreciated at the architecture exhibition held within the framework of the International Exhibition of Sempione in Milan in 1906. Locati considers him as the head of “the modern secessionist movement in Italian architecture” and notes his adherence to Turkish housing culture as his most innovative characteristic: “A powerful desire for new expressions of art, well satisfied by an ardent imagination and fervid creativity, the search for beauty through all forms without any fear or contrition of creating new ones, a feeling of exotic art nurtured and developed on the sweet sea of Constantinople, in the gardens blooming with orange trees, in the white houses breaking through the transparent blue sky of Turkey”. Between 1903 and 1904, he designed the Small Mosque in Galata, the Tomb Fountain and Library complex for Seyh Zafir in Yildiz, the Collection Hall and Library for Memduh Pacha in Arnavutköy. These projects show the extent of the modernisation in terms of genius loci proposed by D'Aronco, as building typologies such as a prayer hall or a monumental memorial complex for a convent of dervishes, become an opportunity to reformulate the decorative patterns of the Viennese Secession by adapting them to the vast repertoire of Islamic and Ottoman ornamentation.

D’Aronco’s special attention to Ottoman architecture goes hand in hand with a strong belief in the primacy of the new expressive language that allows him to propose modernity in a cultural context where traditional values are a fundamental point of reference. His architectural proposals are welcomed because the innovative measure retains a strong identity value, which can be traced back to that East that for many western architects and artists marks an unparalleled source of inspiration.

Biography of Raimondo D'Aronco

 

Raimondo D’Aronco (Gemona del Friuli 1857 - Sanremo 1932) is one of the most famous Friulian architects and is considered as one of the most important Italian exponents of Art Nouveau.

 

The firstborn of seven children of the entrepreneur Girolamo and Santa Venturini, after two years at the Municipal Technical School in Gemona, due to his rebellious character, he was sent to Graz where he attended a private craft school.

In 1874, he returned to Gemona and after completing his military service as a volunteer with the military engineering department in Turin, D’Aronco enrolled in the ornamentation and architecture course at the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice. During the same period, he worked with his father's firm and probably supervised the renovation of the Loggia del Lionello in Udine, directed by arch. Andrea Scala.

The originality of his designs, his skill in drawing and his great imagination led him to stand out in the various contests in which he participated in the early 1880s. He realised the marble altar for the chapel of the Sant'Antonio shrine in Gemona and a chapel to be erected in Rocca Bernarda.

His career as a designer went hand in hand with his teaching profession: after qualifying as a drawing teacher in 1880, he was appointed as architecture and ornamentation professor in Massa Carrara, achieved the chair of drawing at the Technical Institute in Palermo, where he taught from 1882; in 1885 he was transferred to Cuneo. He became full professor for the teaching of ornamentation and architecture at the University of Messina in 1886, won the contest for the decorations of the Venetian Fine Arts Exhibition building the following year.

In 1888, he was contacted by the Udine city council and began the long-lasting designing and building of the town hall. The administration of Cividale, at the same time, commissioned him to build the cemetery.

D’Aronco designed the seaside establishment in Poffabro (1892-1893), the pavilion for his father's artificial marble factory in Udine and the façade of the new theatre in Tolmezzo (1893).

On behalf of the Italian government, he travelled to Istanbul to plan the Ottoman National Exhibition. The event was cancelled due to the earthquake that destroyed the city on 10 July 1894 and was the beginning of D’Aronco’s collaboration with the Ottoman government.

The following years were very busy for the architect who, travelling between Italy and Turkey, realised his most famous works expressing himself through that Art Nouveau style and the Ottoman influence that made him famous.

In 1902 he designed the pavilions for the International Exhibition of Decorative Art in Turin and in 1903 he designed the Udine Regional Exhibition, which he followed from afar through his correspondence with engineer Giobatta Cantarutti.

In 1923, as his health conditions deteriorated, he returned to Udine and designed the church for the Ribis psychiatric hospital (frenocomio), the new sanctuary of Sant’Antonio in Gemona, and the Zanuttini and Tamburlini villas.

After his teaching period ended in 1929, he moved to San Remo in search of a better climate to cure the angina that had affected him for years and died there on 3 May 1932.

The extraordinary creative and artistic experience of Raimondo D’Aronco, one of the protagonists of international Art Nouveau architecture, developed between Italy and Turkey, where he served the Sultan between 1893 and 1909. The development of his architectural proposals fostered by the encounter of the Ottoman tradition with the advanced Viennese and Central European architectural culture, modelled the peculiarity of his research, which from the very beginning was regarded with great attention by the Italian critics. His distance from Italy never stopped proposals and projects for his homeland, Friuli, where he was born and lived in the early part of his life. His first important human and professional experiences took place between his native Gemona and Udine, and throughout his career the architect was able to plot a close dialogue with his homeland, to which he generously dedicated the outcome of his original works. Previously unpublished documents, rediscovered archives and a historiography that enriched the knowledge of his activities form the basis of the research project to reinterpret the Friulian projects in the light of international experience, which in a continuous process of osmosis feed and are nourished by his Turkish experiences.

“Exuberant, restless, impulsive, sometimes even violent, easy to fall in love with any idea that had the mark of genius and originality, he accompanied, either directly or indirectly, the architectural evolution of the thirty years between 1880 and 1910. This is the salient character of Raimondo D’Aronco: the continuous and harried search, the disavowal of the past and the insatiability of the present”. Marcello Piacentini, 1932

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