From Iron Roots grow Sinuous Flowers
I was impressed, reading the essay on the Italian Liberty architecture by the authoritative art historian Rossana Bossaglia, by the her concerns regarding the development of an Art Nouveau (Liberty, as the movement is known in Italy) architecture. In particular she complained about the lack of a real innovative research of new forms in architecture during the Art Nouveau period in Italy as was the case, for example in Belgium or in Spain. Accordingly to Rossana Bossaglia, the problem with the Italian Art Nouveau architecture is the lack of a very meaningful research on the forms in the building’s own structure, thus relegating all the evocative suggestions of the Art Nouveau’ Lines to the decorative elements on the façade. In other terms, in Italy, accordingly to Bossaglia, the development of the national Art Nouveau style lacked a personality such as Victor Hortha in"Belgium, Odon Lechner in Hungary, Otto Wagner in Austrian or Anton Gaudi in Spain, thus limiting to very few examples the very contribution of Italy to the development to the international modernist style.
Anyway, even stated the lack of an outstanding personality or a school master, in Italy we could experience a very development of the know-how, of some techniques which are nevertheless impacting over the progression of the Art Nouveau style and technique. A brief digression here regarding the relationship between the style and the technique. In classical point of view, the work of art represents an ideal wedding (chemical ?) between technical skills, inspiration and personal style. The technique element, the Greek tekné constitutes a world of potential and possibility with which the artist could fully express his or her own feelings or inspirations. The point here is that classically an artist could really produce a work of art only after having mastered the expressive technique of his own artistic field. I have well printed in my head the words Arnold Schönberg, who in his theoretical masterpiece, Armonienlehere, complained that his fellows and disciples must know very well and master all the classical composition techniques prior to try any subsequent engagements into the new dodecaphonic arrangements. Giving life and form to a work of art (informing, using aesthetic terminology, a work of art) means basically mastering a technique at the same level which permits to a poet to fully express the complexity of his poetry and inspirations just after, and only after, having a deep knowledge of the language (including the possibility of providing complex images as consequence of mastering a complex vocabulary).
As far as the development of the Stile Liberty, the national declination of Art Nouveau in Italy, is concerned, one of the most exiting an fundamental contribution of the Italian artists at the turn of the century is due to their outstanding improvement of the iron workmanship techniques. Walking through some streets in Milan gives exactly the idea of the outstanding level that the technique of iron decorations reached during the turn of the century in Italy.
Artists such as Alessandro Mazzucotelli, Carlo Rizzarda or Umberto Bellotto, maybe not so known as other champions of art nouveau such as Alphonse Mucha or Gaudi, were eventually able to push to the extreme the ornamental possibilities of iron. Iron structures developed in other countries, of course: In the fin de siècle Barcelona or Paris, iron structures were used in architecture, sometime not just as decorative elements rather than as fully structural ones.
Anyway the technical level reached by the Italian artists permitted to create ornaments which present decorative ornaments with a very fitomorphic feeling. Moreover, seems that the researches for an art which could be overcharged by the same explosive mystic strength of Creative Nature, an art which could be able to mimic not the naturalistic elements rather than the very inner force of the Nature itself, these researches boosted by improving these new techniques.
The expressive potentiality of an art as a mirror of the symbolic aspect of the nature was significantly improved by a technique which could release the flexibility potentiality of the metallic materials. The researches of Mazzucotelli and the other Italian artist of the iron constituted not just a technical step forward in the direction of fitomorphic ornament: they constituted also an improvements of its symbolic dictionary.
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