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From the Baroque age to the decadentism period


Sicily is a naturally Baroque island.
Baroque explodes in the stone ornamentations, in the architectural structures, in the cromatic sensuality of the frescoes which embellish the coastal and inland cities and towns.

The Baroque spectacle begins in the City of the Strait, Messina, the gateway to Sicily, and recurs throughout the historical itineraries of the island. Because of the earthquakes of 1783 and 1908, little is left of the ancient Messina, except a few aristocratic traces such as Porta Grazia and the Fontana di Nettuno.
In Palermo, Mariano Smeriglio designed the Quattro Canti di Città , the “theatre of the sun”, and the capital city was trasformed into a magnificent “machine” of light and colour with the work of great numbers of artists.

The peak of the baroque is to be seen in the putti of Giacomo Serpotta, the masterpiece of the greatest European sculptor of the 17th c.: in the Oratories the putti seem to dance with a joie de vivre that is quite unique.

Not far from Palermo, the visitor will find a lot of baroque examples in the Bagheria‘s ville, in particular Villa Palagonia with its statues of gnomes, monkeys, centaurs, dragons, toads, all made in tuffaceons stone and with a monstrous appearance.

Not to foget Noto and its S. Corrado Cathedral, with a flight of steps which make more spectacular the face of the building. The Palazzo Vescovile, Palazzo Landolina and Palazzo Comunale testify the affirmation of a style which reach also the balconies of the buildings around the city.

The peculiarity of Sicilian baroque is due also at the quality of the stone used, a type of arenaria stone which, under the sun rays become gold: the effect which produced the Noto cathedral and the monuments and buildings in Modica and Palazzolo Acreide.

The most strange baroque is in Syracuse where Palazzo Vermexio and Palazzo Beneventano, with wrought iron balconies, are worth a visit.

Moving to Catania, we can see that, the architectonic town planning goes back to the end of 17th c., while the scenographic plant of Piazza Duomo gives an exactly definition of Catania’s baroque, with Palazzo Biscari, the most beautiful example . Also the Benedettini Abbey, is a great example of baroque and it is considered the second biggest Abbey in Europe after that of Manfra in Portugal. Via Crociferi with its churches, monasteries and convents is another wonderful witness of Catania baroque.

Acireale, close to Catania, is a rich baroque town where this style is concentrated in Piazza Duomo, with the Cathedral, the Church of San Pietro e Paolo and downwards to find the splendid church of San Sebastiano.

As regards as the architecture of the 19th c., one of the most curious buildings is certainly the residence preferred by a king of the Reign of Two Sicily: the Palazzina Cinese that in 1799 the bourbon Ferdinando III built in the Favorita park, under the shadow of Monte Pellegrino in Palermo, where we can find a valuable collection of English and Chinese paintings, of silks and furnitures, and a ballroom styled Luigi XVI.

Another neoclassic building, the Castle of Donnafugata, lies in the park of a rich residence built in Ragusa during the half of 19th c..

The style which in France was called Art Nouveau, in our country was nicknamed Stile Liberty and suffered the Arab influence connected with a sort decadentism. Sicily, in particular, sticked early for its insularity that has opened itself at foreign invasions.The development of the Art Nouveau in the island was favoured by the delegates of a new aristocracy and of the upper middle-class, as that of Florio, which were the purchasers and by numerous artists, like Ernesto Basile. Palermo can be defined as a little capital of Art Nouveau.

The Villino Florio, built in Palermo in the years 1899-1903, was the testing ground for an exeptionally productive team of artistis and artisans, together with whom Basile interpreted the aspirations of the cultivated upper bourgeoisie for a new cosmopolitan representative image. Also in Palermo there is the Villino di Via Siracusa, which Basile designed for himself, devoid of ostentation, eclecticism and floreal mannerisms, and showing instead a new expressiveness in the simplicity of its proportions, in the materials used and in its outline.

Villa Igiea, overlooking the sea, has become a de-luxe hotel. The dining-room is emblematic of a mature and original Sicilian interpretation of the modernist principle of the unified art object.

The Teatro Massimo in Palermo, one of the largest theatre in Europe was built at the end of the 19th century to the design of G.B. Filippo Basile and completed by his son Ernesto, who adopted traditionally Sicilian medieval motifs and inserted them in forms of expression from Catalan Modernism, the English Ruskin, the Scots Mack-intosh and the Viennese Olbrich.

At the start of the new century, Naples, Florence and also Rome were still influencing Sicilian painters and sculptors. Indeed, after World War I, Sicilian artists increasingly left their native soil, sometimes permanently, for richer and culturally more stimulating cities such as Rome and Milan.

Renato Guttuso lived in these two cities where through contact with the Roman School and the “Corrente ” group, he adhered to realistic themes in open contrast with the official art of the Fascist Regime. Starting with Picassian postcubistic influences, Guttuso continued to experiment the expressive and evocative capacity of reality with Sicily as his main subject ( the “Pesca del pescespada”, the “Notte di Gibellina” or the “Vucciria” ). Guttuso died, after returning to his native homeland, in 1987.

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