Near the piazza Buenos Aires
in Rome is a neighborhood called the quartiere Dora, or more commonly
these days, the quartiere Coppedè. Rome is a city with world-class
art and architecture from antiquity through the present, but nothing can prepare
the visitor for this astonishing, fantastic, and, best of all, extensive
Art Nouveau development.
The quarter was built 1919-1926 by
the important Italian designer Gino Coppedè (hence its alternate name).
Coppedè (1886-1927) designed the quarter and his atelier produced almost
all of the artwork featured there; his lugubriously overdecorated style was
not very well received critically in an Italy moving into the fascist (and modern) period, but it was
well enough liked in America, and found its way onto Italian transatlantic liners.
While continental Art Nouveau
features open eroticism, Coppedè worked in a version called Liberty
Style which tends to suppress it. Liberty Style is named for its most important
commercial patron, Arthur Liberty, who ran a decorative-arts store in London;
the style not only conforms to Liberty's own tastes, but also
to late Victorian middle-class standards (footnote 1).
Liberty Style has strong affinities to English Arts
and Crafts Style and the sense of moral uprightness that style tried to reflect.
Where René Lalique would
give you a steamy femme fatale-dragonfly monster (1898: fn. 2), Edvard
Munch a nude vampiress sucking her victim's blood in a highly erotic
kiss on the neck (1893: fn. 3), and Gustav Klimt a terrifying and powerful
"gray-eyed" Athena (1898: fn. 4), Coppodè offers us a dour
helmeted goddess, whose lowered eyebrows but otherwise blank expression suggests
not so much a femme fatale as, well, a statue (fn. 5).
None of this is to Coppedè's
discredit; just to show he is not in mainstream continental Art Nouveau (in fact, in this development he's
decidedly on the trailing edge). When he does offer a female nude on a pilaster,
she is (I think) a fairy with wings and a pretty muscular torso reminiscent
of some of Michelangelo's less enticing nudes (fn. 6).
Instead of focussing on sexuality,
Coppodè finds his inspiration in a more intellectualized revival of historical
styles, which he mixes joyfully and chaotically. The 31,000 square meters of
the quarter (with some 40 structures) are alive with Florentine towers
and Venetian palazzi decorated with external mosaics and frescoes,
Baroque Roman palazzi with real and imitation papal stemmata,
a sundial, and even a building devoted to a musical decorative scheme whose exterior ironwork and
carvings imitate musical notation. It is literally fantastic, with
structures of vastly different period styles sitting next to one another cheek-by-jowl.
It is also wonderful (fn. 7).
The focal point of the quarter
is the small piazza Mincio, which has as its centerpiece the so-called fontana delle
rane, the "fountain of the frogs." The carved frogs of
the fountain playfully mimic the tortoises of Giacomo della Porta's
serious fontana delle tartarughe (fountain of the tortoises) in the
Roman ghetto, in this case, a model dating to 1584 (fn. 8).
Not only do the buildings fronting
the piazza exhibit fantastically detailed revivalist carving, they also carry
along some natural elements common in Art Nouveau, most prominently the beautiful
polychrome spiderweb mosaic in the entryway of the so-called palazzo
del ragno (fn. 9).
Coppedè carved his aesthetic
credo on the architrave of one of the palazzi fronting the piazza
Artis praecepta recentis
maiorum exempla ostendo.
I show our forefathers' examples
as precepts of modern art.
While the quarter was originally
intended for middle-class inhabitants, Coppedè appears to have gotten
out-of-hand. Many of the palazzi and villas are very large, and indeed,
the quartiere Dora is now the haunt of the plutocratic and embassies.
It is worth the full half-day you'll need to get there and do justice walking
through its streets; but beware, Coppedè made few concessions to daily
life and you will not find any nice restaurants or bars in the quarter itself.
(1) On Liberty and eroticism see:
(2) Bayer and Waller call Lalique's
dragonfly corsage (in the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Museum in Lisbon) "both
erotic and terrifying," p. 18. See: (http://www.nga.gov/feature/nouveau/teach/slide_04fs.htm)
(3) The 1893 canvas from the Munch
Museum in Oslo is much superior to the images available on the web, but here
is an example: (http://www.home.no/edvard-munch/theme/3/vampyr.jpg). There is
a small but very good reproduction in Greenhalgh, p. 85.
(4) See Greenhalgh 36, 40 for this
impressive canvas. The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has a reproduction
which does not do justice to Klimt's mouth-watering original (http://www.nga.gov/feature/nouveau/teach/slide_16fs.htm).
(6) Coppedè nude: http://www.giovannirinaldi.it/page/rome/coppede/image10.htm;
(7) Browse the index of images at:
http://www.giovannirinaldi.it/page/rome/coppede/index.htm or here: http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/rome/pk_coppede.htm.
(8) Browse the index of images of
the fountain at: http://www.thais.it/citta_italiane/roma/fontane/piazze/Mincio/pag1.htm.
For the fountain of the tortoises in piazza Mattei, see: http://tesoridiroma.altervista.org/galleria/ghetto/foto/fntartarughe01.jpg.
(9) You can just make out the spider
in his web here: http://www.thais.it/citta_italiane/roma/fontane/piazze/Mincio/Alte/770.htm.
This palazzo was used for atmosphere in the movie The Omen.
Bayer, Patricia, and Waller, Mark.
The Art of René Lalique. Quantum Books, 2001.
Agnati, Adriano, et al. edd. Guida d'Italia. Roma. Touring Club Italiano,
Greenhalgh, Peter, ed. Art Nouveau 1890-1914. Victoria and Albert Museum/National
Gallery of Art, 2000.