Italian Stile Floreale or Stile Liberty

Notes to accompany my talk which you can find on my YouTube channel @ Anne Anderson Art and Design History Channel

Impressionism/ Divisionism


Fraquelli, Simonetta, Giovanna Ginex, Vivien Greene and Aurora Scotti Tosini, Radical Light, Italy’s Divisionist painters 1891-1910, exhibition catalogue, London: National Gallery/YUP, 2008

Gaetano Previati, 1852-1920, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Reale, Milan, 1999

Greene, Vivien (ed), Divisionism/Neo-Impressionism: Arcadia and Anarchy, exhibition catalogue, New York: Guggenheim, 2007

Stutzer, Beat, Giovanni Segantini, Zürich: Scheidegger & Spiess, 2016

The Macchiaioli Masters of Realism in Tuscany, exhibition catalogue, Rome: De Luca Publisher, 1982

Divisionism emerged in Northern Italy around the end of the 1880s. The first generation included Vittore Grubicy De Dragon (1851–1920) who as an art critic and dealer also promoted their work; Emilio Longoni (1859–1932) who combined divisionism with hard hitting social realism;  Angelo Morbelli (1853–1919) who also depicted scenes of contemporary rural life; Plinio Nomellini (1866–1943) who focused on landscapes; Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (1868–1907), whose powerful Human Flood or The Fourth Estate has become a socialist icon; Gaetano Previati (1852–1920) opted for symbolism and gentle Madonnas; and  Giovanni Segantini (1858–1899) who achieved international fame with his symbolist The Punishment of Lust (1891) and The Evil Mothers (1894). Their painting method was based on the juxtaposition of strokes of pigment, rather than French pointillist dots, to create the visual effect of intense single colours. Its roots were in the optical and chromatic ideas developed by scientists, particularly those published in De la loi ducontraste simultané des couleurs (1839) by French chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul and Modern Chromatics (1879) by American physicist Ogden Rood.

Liberty Style


Bossaglia, Rossana and Valerio Terraroli, IL Liberty A Milano, Milano: Skira, 2003

Bugatti: Carlo/Rembrandt/Ettore: I Mobili/I Soprammobili/Le Automobili, exh. cat., Galleria dell’Emporio Floreale, Rome, 1976

Dejean, Philippe, Bugatti: Carlo, Rembrandt, Ettore, Jean, New York: Rizzoli, 1982.
Guttry, Irene, Maria Paola Maino, and Gabriella Tarquini, Italian Liberty Style, 20th Century Decorative Arts, Pero: 24 Ore Cultura, 2012

Howard, Jeremy, Art Nouveau International and National Styles in Europe, Manchester: MUP, 1996

Lopez, Guide and Elisabetta Susani, The Liberty in Milan and Lombardy, Milan: Celip Italy, 1999

Massé, Marie-Madeleine, Carlo Bugatti au Musée d’Orsay: catalogue sommaire illustré du fonds d’archives et des collections, exhibition catalogue, Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 2001

Roiter, Fulvio and Guido Lopez, Milano Liberty/Art Nouveau in Milan, Milano: Edizioni CELIP Milano, 1993

Speziali, Andrea (ed) Italian liberty. Una nuova stagione dell’ Art Nouveau, Flori: CartaCanta editore, 2015

Speziali, Andrea (ed), Italian Liberty. Il sogno europeo della grande bellezza, Flori: CartaCanta editore, 2016

Speziali, Andrea, Giuseppe Sommaruga (1867-1917). Un protagonista del Liberty, Flori: CartaCanta editore 2017

Speziali, Andrea (ed.) The World of Art Nouveau, Flori: CartaCanta, editore 2017

Squarotti, Silvia Barberi, Il Liberty nei quartieri torinesi, Torino: Daniela Piazza Editore, 2012

Stile floreale or Stile Liberty, initially named after Liberty’s of Regent Street, offers a wonderfully eclectic mix, with quintessential floral decoration cascading over buildings that often still reference the Baroque or Neoclassicism.  Stile Liberty quickly acquired a new sense, creative freedom transformed into an expression of Italian unification.  In Italy individualism prevailed over regulation, apparently leading to ‘aesthetic anarchism’. Gabriele Fahr-Becker considers the ‘floral sumptuousness…waxed into a wedding-cake building style of totalitarian pomp’ (Art Nouveau, 2015). Perhaps she had in mind Giovanni Brega’s seaside villa in Pesaro for Oreste Ruggeri, a pharmaceutical industrialist. Its four facades are covered with the most amazing abstract-floral decorations that swirl in all directions. The Villino Ruggeri (1902-1907) was designed to be a complete work of art; on the first floor are four themed rooms, the horse chestnut, the wisteria, the narcissus and the sunflower room, the ultimate expressions of Stile floreale. 

The obvious historical sources for such extremes can be found in Italian Mannerism, in the paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526-93), who constructed faces out of vegetables and flowers, and the spectacular Boboli Gardens, created by the Medici family in Florence.  Here the notion of the ornamental grotto is taken to its limits (c.1550-1600); fantastical figures appear to grow out of the walls.   Flourishing between the High Renaissance and the Baroque, Italian Mannerism tends to get overlooked. Mannerist artists still relied on classical models, but they took liberties with the rules, deliberately distorting the established architectural vocabulary in bizarre and entertaining ways.  The ability to surprise, even shock clearly attracted Giuseppe Sommaruga (1867-1917) whose Milanese buildings certainly defy architectural conventions.

Giuseppe Sommaruga (1867-1917, Palazzo Romeo- Faccanoni 1911-13  Via Michelangelo Buonarroti 48 

Liberty in Turin

Although Liberty style can be found all over Italy, the style is concentrated in Turin, Milan, and the Regione Lombardia around Lake Como. Turin was briefly the first capital of the kingdom following the unification of Italy (Risorgimento) in 1861. The opening of the Fréjus Tunnel in 1871 transformed Turin into an important communication node between Italy and France. The Triple Alliance (1882),  an agreement between  Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy against France, Russia and Great Britain, resulted in an influx of capital that boosted the Italian economy.

Turin holds a particularly important place within the history of Liberty Style because of the groundbreaking exhibition of decorative arts held in 1902, the Prima Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Decorativa Moderna.  The guidelines stated ‘Only original products that show a decisive tendency toward aesthetic renewal of form will be admitted. Neither mere imitations of past styles nor industrial products not inspired by an artistic sense will be accepted’. The city was chosen to host the exhibition because it was at the forefront of modernisation and industrialization; its first car companies date to the turn of the 20th century (Fiat 1899, Lancia 1906).

Central Pavilion. Raimondo D’Aronco architect, Giovanni Battista Alloati sculptor, Leonardo Bistolfi painter

With the Scottish entry showcasing works by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Four, entire room settings presented by the Belgian master Victor Horta   and the German section dominated by an entrance conceived by Peter Behrens, this event marks the apogee of the new art.  

The exhibition was held in Valentino Park, overlooking the Po river. Its layout and principal buildings were conceived by Raimondo D’Aronco (1857-1932).  Trained in Graz, Austria, D’Aronco followed Austrian Secession models more closely than most of his Italian compatriots. In 1893, he was invited to Istanbul to prepare designs for the Istanbul Exhibition of Agriculture and Industry to be held in 1896. He remained the chief palace architect to the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhami II in Istanbul for 16 years. A handful of his buildings have survived:

Turbe (tomb) of Sheikh Zafir Effendi, in Yıldız, Beşiktaş district in Istanbul

Fountain, Karaköy, Şair Ziya Paşa Caddesi.

Former Imperial Stables (c.1903), Palanga Cd. 64, Istanbul.

Casa Botter (Botter Apartment, 1900–1901) on İstiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu, Istanbul. Built for Jean Botter, a Dutchman who worked as the Sultan’s tailor.

In Turin, the best example of his work is Villa Javelli, (Casa D’Aronco), Via Francesco Petrarca 44. Built 1904, the broad sloping roof line echoes a swiss chalet. Although the detailing is simple, a classic female face mask peers out from under the eave.

Important figures

Pietro Fenoglio (1865-1927)studied civil engineering under Carlo Cepp.  Fenoglio was one of the organizers of the 1902 and 1911 International Expositions in Turin. He was also a founder and contributor to the magazine L’architettura italiana moderna.  

In 1902-1903 he built his most indicative work, a visually arresting apartment block known as Casa Fenoglio-Lafleur on the corner of Corso Francia and Via Principe d’Acaja, Cit Turin. Other works that should be highlighted include the Villino Raby (1901 with Gottardo Gussoni),Corso Francia 8, with a wealth of sculptural details, Palazzina Rossi-Galateri, Via Giuseppe Luigi Passalacqua (1903) and Villa Scott (1902 with Gottardo Gussoni), hugging the hill side on the other side of the Po river.

Palazzina Ostorero   Via Claudio Beaumont 7 Built 1900 Pietro Fenoglio. This chalet style private residence only hints at Fenoglio’s mature Liberty style.

Villino Raby  Corso Francia 8  Built 1901 Pietro Fenoglio and Gottardo Gussoni. The sculptural detailing, notably the ornamentation around the projecting oriel window,  and the painted frieze, show Fenoglio’s progression.    

Villa Scott Corso Giovanni Lanza 57 Built 1902 Pietro Fenoglio and Gottardo Gussoni. Fengolio achieves his mature Liberty style.  The bay window, with its sequence of coloured-leaded glass windows, is especially impressive.  The corner tower provides another focal point. With the grotto-like fountain, at the foot of the steps rising to the entrance,  Fenoglio created a perfect ensemble.

Casa Fenoglio-Lafleur Via Principi d’Acaja 11 Built 1903 Pietro Fenoglio. His masterpiece. The corner, which rises to four storeys, is dominated by a projecting oriel window filled with coloured-leaded glass windows. The corner is surmounted by a glass canopy. The compass inscribed circles in the plasterwork and the painted frieze under the cornice are signature motifs.

Palazzina Rossi-Galateri Via Giuseppe Luigi Passalacqua 14 Built 1903 Pietro Fenoglio. On this symmetrical facade, note the highly ornamented projecting oriel windows as well as the deep decorative frieze, both painted and sculptural, running under the cornice.     

Coloured-leaded glass doors leading to the interior courtyard. These bold abstract patterns owe a debt to Victor Horta and Hector Guimard’s stylized curvilinear forms.

Casa Guelpa, Via Luigi Leonardo Colli 2, Built 1903 Pietro Fenoglio. One of a series of large apartment blocks. The detailing around the windows and the frieze of compass drawn lines are indicative.

Casa Macciotta, Corso Francia 32, Built 1904, Pietro Fenoglio

Casa Boffa-Costa-Magnani Via Ettore De Sonnaz 16  built 1904 Pietro Fenoglio

Casa Rey Corso Galileo Ferraris 16-18 Built  1904-06 Pietro Fenoglio. This dramatic oriel window extends through three storeys.

Gottardo Gussoni (1869-1951) stands alongside Fenoglio as the two architects often collaborated.  He created the last Liberty style building in Turin, the Palazzo della Vittoria, Corso Francia,  (House of the Dragons, 1918-20).  This massive apartment block masquerading as a medieval castle is covered with sculptural details, with dragons supporting the balconies and greeting you at the elabourate entrance.

Casa della Vittoria Corso Francia 23, built 1918-20 Gottardo Gussoni 

Alessandro Mazzucoteilli (1865-1938) was known as the ‘magician of iron’. His distinctive forms can be seen on the Villa Faccanoni-Romeo, via Buonarroti and Casa Ferrario, 1902 (Ernesto Pirovano, 1866-1934), in Milan. He created gigantic butterflies and dragonflies that perch on gate posts or hang from lamps.

Casa Maffei, Corso Rodolfo Montevecchio, Antonio Vandone di Cortemiglia. Built 1904-06 has iron balconies by Alessandro Mazzucotelli and relief sculptures by Giovanni Battista Alloati, whose work also featured at Turin 1902.

Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940) was born in Milan, studying at the Brera Academy before finishing his education in Paris at the Academie des Beaux Arts, where he may have acquired his taste for Japonisme.  He opened his workshop in Milan in 1880.  His fantastic furniture combines a heady blend of Moorish, Japanese, African, and Medieval elements. Bugatti stole the limelight at Turin 1902 with his ‘Salon escargot’. Father of sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti and automobile manufacturer Ettore Bugatti.

Eugenio Quarti (1867-1926) was a leading decorator and cabinet maker who favoured unusual materials and lavish ornamentation.  His use of inlays of silver, copper, bronze, pewter and nacre resulted in his nickname ‘goldsmith of furniture makers’. He designed furniture for the Palazzo Castiglioni, Milan and Villa Carosio, Baveno, Stresa, on Lake Maggiore for Giuseppe Sommaruga; for the Grand Hotel and Casino, San Pellegrino Terme (1904-06 architect Romolo Squadrelli) and the Ausonia and Hungaria Palace Hotel, Venice Lido (1907 architect Nicolo Piamonte) famed for its polychrome majolica mosaic facade, the largest in Italy, by Luigi Fabris (1913).

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