The Padiglione delle Feste in Castrocaro Terme

The Padiglione delle Feste in Castrocaro Terme: Art Deco architecture interpreting the “genius loci”

Gianfranco Brunelli - Director of Major Exhibitions at the Cassa dei Risparmi Foundation in Forlì


A style, an allure and a language that distinguished Italian and European artistic production in the twenties and thirties. The generalised definition of Art Deco corresponds to an eclectic, fashionable and international lifestyle. This moment in style owes its success to the pursuit of luxury and the pleasure of living, as intense as they are fleeting, promoted by the European bourgeoisie after the dissolution, during the Great War, of the last of the nineteenth-century myths and the mimesis of industrial reality, with the logic of its production processes. Twenty unbridled, ‘roaring’ years, as they were called, of the great international bourgeoisie. Italy had a unique influence on all this.

Its relationship with the Liberty style, its chronological predecessor, was initially one of continuity, then transcendence, and finally opposition. The difference between the idealism of Art Nouveau and the rationalism of Art Deco appears substantial. The very idea of modernity, industrial production of objets d’art and the concept of beauty in everyday life changed radically; indeed, transcendence of the sinuous, serpentine and asymmetrical lines associated with a symbolist concept which saw the fundamental laws of the universe in the nature of plants and animals gave rise to a new artistic language. The vitalistic drive of historical avant-gardes and the industrial revolution replaced the myth of nature with the spirit of machines, the geometry of gears, the prismatic forms of skyscrapers and the artificial lights of the city.

Art Deco was the style of cinemas, railway stations, theatres, liners, public buildings and great bourgeois residences. Above all, it was a stylistic formula with clearly recognisable traits which, in the twenties and very early thirties, influenced all decorative art production - from furniture to ceramics, from glass to wrought iron and from jewellery to fashion - on various levels, as well as the form of automobiles, advertising posters, sculpture and painting for decorative purposes.

The reasons behind this new expressive and stylistic system lie in various avant-garde movements (the Mittel-European Secessions, Cubism and Fauvism) featuring artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Lhote and Schad, while international style players included, at the very least, the names of Ruhlmann, Lalique, Brandt, Dupas and Cartier, as well as the aristocratic and fashionable portraiture of Tamara de Lempicka and the sculptures of Chiparus, which fuelled the legend of the dancer Isadora Duncan.

The Deco phenomenon ran with explosive force through twenties’ and thirties’ furniture, ceramics, glass, processed metals, fabrics, bronze, stucco, jewellery, silver and clothes, personifying the vigour of high artisanal and proto-industrial production and contributing to the birth of Italy’s famed design and production.

The demands of a market with an increasing thirst for novelty while, at the same time, nostalgic for the great Italian craftsmanship tradition had triggered a literal explosion, in the twenties, of an extraordinary production of objects and decorative forms: from the lighting fixtures of Martinuzzi, Venini and Pietro Chiesa’s FontanaArte to the ceramics of Gio Ponti, Giovanni Gariboldi and Guido Andloviz; from the sculptures of Adolfo Wildt, Arturo Martini and Libero Andreotti to the Lenci figurines or the highly original sculptures of Sirio Tofanari; from the Byzantine jewellery of Ravasco to the silverware of Finzi; from the furniture of Buzzi, Ponti, Lancia and Portaluppi to the fine silks of Ravasi, Ratti and Fortuny and the cloth tapestries of Depero.

Since this was a taste and a lifestyle, there was no shortage of influences and correspondences with cinema, theatre, literature, magazines, fashion and music. From Hollywood (with Lloyd Bacon’s musicals, divas like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich and stars like Rodolfo Valentino) to the unforgettable pages of Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) and Agatha Christie, Oscar Wilde, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Italo Svevo and Moravia.

Architecture played a leading role; indeed, Deco is cross-categorical and readily identifiable in choices of decorative solutions, that set of essentially graphic image forms belonging to its iconology, as Irene de Guttry defined them. An inclination to modernity.

At the start of the twenties, the tendency towards historicist eclecticism was still prevalent in both public and private construction and, in reaction to so much exhausted unruliness, a counterpoint need for order was born and was met by a return to Classicism, not as nostalgia or remembrance but rather as new modernity. Classicism provided a decorative repertoire and a discipline in spatial forms, paving the way for a new linguistic transposition.

Castrocaro, the spa complex, the grand hotel and, in particular, that wonderful compendium that is the Padiglione delle Feste e dei Divertimenti (pavilion of festivals and entertainment) are a precious example of synthesis of a broader national climate which, at that moment in time (1937-1938), was rapidly turning towards monumentalism.

In his plans, the engineer Diego Corsani had conceived the Padiglione as a continuous space, whose intensity of light and colour would reflect the lush nature of the park around it. However, the design owes its innovative quality to the contribution of Tito Chini and his sophisticated architectural and decorative sense. Its simple and linear volumes are marked by the sophisticated use of materials, both old and new: terracotta, black marble, travertine, glass and ceramics.

A monument of life and to life whose heart could beat by day and night: the cultured and sophisticated tranquillity, by day, of the decorative references, so readily identifiable in the materials and forms, now simplified, now with strong plastic overtones, materialising in the undulating lines and waterthemed fountains, and the compulsive night life of dances, theatrical performances, play and love.

The Padiglione delle Feste, inaugurated (although still unfinished) in September 1938, in the presence of Prince Umberto of Savoy but not of Tito Chini, puts on a fine show inside, as well, with its sequence of rooms, each with a different theme and each distinguished by specific decorative elements, from the great mosaic in the lobby to the ceramics and windows of the ballroom, the frescoes in the reading and smoking rooms and the extraordinary cycle in the gaming hall. All its decorative art comes together to joyful and festive effect.

An artistic legacy which undoubtedly constitutes one of Italy’s greatest expressions of Art Deco culture.

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