In Europe, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a new artistic movement saw its origins. It’s a Londoner merchant, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, to inspire the new movement’s name: he sold oriental objects and was the promoter of a new, elegant style that questioned nature with the aim to capture its decorative elegance.
Far from Arthur Lasenby Liberty, Milan reflected that style on the facades of its buildings, on its ornaments and on its statues.
Beyond the first Italian pool and up to a chemist’s, the art nouveau itinerary of Milan mainly involves the areas of Porta Venezia and St. Ambrogio.
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Started with a shop in London, the movement continued with another one in Milan. In the corner between Corso Magenta and via Boccaccio, however, there were no oriental objects, but cough tablets: it’s the Farmacia Santa Teresa, the drugstore still operating nowadays. Its furnishings and its pottery painted with floral themes were produced by the Bottigelli’s company: for the first time, the façade represented a true decorative element.
The building that houses the drugstore is equally interesting: Laugier’s house, built by architect Tagliaferri, allows the dialogue between wrought iron and lion heads, which is balanced despite the colour contrast.
Decorations are critical to the balance art nouveau aims at as a taste witness.
Although quite simple in its looks, the house Moneta designed, in via Ausonio 3, shows the importance of decorations. Look for the wrought iron gate in the entrance, known as the butterfly entrance. You’ll see small, coloured gems enclosed in a frame made of butterfly wings. The animals that most find unpleasant, like insects and reptiles, are enhanced by the art nouveau style that gives them the best balance that is to be found between nature and architecture.
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Two female figures surround the green door of via Bellini 11. It’s Campanini’s home, elegant, but not impressive, where the plaster colour relaxes and the stairs amaze.
In the nearby via Cappucini, there is another art nouveau palace: indeed, it is the last to be built according to the dictates of style. As a matter of fact, the construction of Berri Meregalli‘s house ends only in 1915 and involves architect Giulio Ulisse Arata and plenty of artists for the façades, the sculptures and the wrought iron.
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Arata’s choice sees animal elements prevail on the vegetable ones and, in fact, lions and owls live on its walls.
The last art nouveau palace to be built is located nearby, in Corso Venezia 47/49.
Palazzo Castiglioni dates back to 1903: in an area devoted to the nobility and to eighteenth-century neoclassicism, it bursts into with its new style. It’s not just Castiglioni’s size to draw attention: two female figures guard its door. But, unlike via Bellini’s, they give their backs to passersby while peering inside the palace. Their posture and the absence of veils gave the Palazzo the nickname of Ca’ di ciapp, meaning butt cheek house.
Today, if you wish to see those lewd women, you must reach Villa Romeo Faccanoni, in via Buonarroti: considered outrageous, they were soon removed from the way too central Palazzo Castiglioni.
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Two other buildings conclude Milan’s art nouveau itinerary.
They are, once again, two houses but they are different from the ones we have mentioned already. Not in the looks, but rather in how and by whom they’re dwelled.
In fact, the first dwellers are travellers who stay in hotel rooms of Diana Majestic, now part of the Sheraton chain. What is now an elegant hotel was once the first Italian pool and bore the name of Diana’s Baths. The viale Piave 3 building has always played a key role in Milan: initially something in between a theatre, a restaurant and a hotel it became a playing area and then a stage for Dolce and Gabbana’s fashion shows.
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Finally, the second and last art nouveau building is dwelled by fish: it’s the Civic Aquarius we are talking about, the only pavilion kept intact from the 1906 Expo.
The interest around the water world was supported by recent editorial outputs like Darwin’s The Origin of Species and Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas. That of Milan is one of the fist aquariums ever built worldwide: it has used the marine sinuous shapes to create a lively and graceful style.
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