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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Duilio Cambellotti - an Arts & Crafts Master in Rome

From the Latina series, mythologizing the "heroic" peasant.
Duilio Cambellotti is an Italian artist who worked in, and excelled in, many mediums. He sculpted in bronze and wood, made bowls and furniture, worked in leaded glass, painted buildings, designed stamps and stage sets, painted frescoes, designed tiles for a high school auditorium. It's more a question of what he didn't do. He's both everywhere around Rome and yet little recognized.

Born in 1876, Cambellotti lived to be 83--through two World Wars and Fascism. His art was born in the crucible of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, what in Italy is called "Stile Liberty," and in some ways his art - while spanning many media and showing great creativity among them, in my opinion did not change much. The English Wikipedia entry on him is surprisingly thorough, though short on any explanation of his work under Mussolini.

In 1937, Cambellotti created an ad for a Fiat car named "La Nuova Balilla." The ad says it's the "Balilla of the Empire."  "Balilla" is the name of the youth groups that engendered Fascism in Italy's youth (Bill reviewed a book about them).

A stamp Cambellotti designed
for the Mussolini government,
with Art Deco ("Stile Liberty")
style fasce.

Cambellotti sculpture of peasant with
plow. The plow was another icon he used
in different media.

We first encountered Cambellotti's work in the town of Latina, in the Agro Pontino southwest of Rome, the marshes Mussolini's government reclaimed and in which it built new cities, of which Latina is one. There Cambellotti painted frescoes in public buildings, depicting a nostalgic view of agriculture and the land (see top photo above), reflecting his ties to the British William Morris and the widespread Arts & Crafts movement. There is a small museum of his work in Latina.
The plow used on a bowl.
Poster for 1911 "Show of the Agro Romano" in Rome,
featuring the plow.

Cambellotti's iconic (for him) kneeling bull, again demonstrating his mythologizing
of agricultural life, which was basically a horrific existence in the Agro Pontino,
especially with the malarial swamps there. The kneeling bull appears in several
 of his sculptures, bowls and paintings.
We've also seen Cambellotti's sculptures in a villa, a museum and a high school in Rome, ran across one of his painted buildings in Prati, and enjoyed an expansive exhibit of his works last year at Villa Torlonia: "Duilio Cambellotti: Myth, dream and reality."

Cambellotti is perhaps most often seen in Rome in the Casina delle Civette (Casina of the Owls) in Villa Torlonia, where the Torlonia family commissioned several Stile Liberty artists in the second decade of the 20th century to design the faux-Swiss cottage and adorn it with stained glass.  Cambellotti did the owls.

Villino Vitale, 1909
In the Prati area of Rome one can simply look up and see Cambellotti's birds on the 1909 Villino Vitale, via dei Gracchi, 291. The doves are frescoed and the swallows on the tower are in maiolica (tiles).
The doves frescoed on Villino Vitale

The swallows in maiolica on Villino Vitale

The "aula magna" of Liceo Galileo Galilei decorated with Cambellotti's tiles.
Unfortunately, the projection screen covers some of the work.
One of the more astounding of Cambellotti's works is the tile decoration on the walls of the auditorium in a Rome technical institute and science high school, Liceo Galileo Galilei, a building designed in 1920-22 by Marcello Piacentini, one of Fascism's famous architects about whom we've written previously. (Via Conte Verde 52, near the Manzoni Metro stop and not too far from Palazzo Merulana.) The building went through several transformations, and therefore I'm not sure of the date of Cambellotti's work, but certainly after 1920. We will write about the school's interesting history in another post. One can get inside only on special occasions, in our case for an Open House Roma tour. In the tile work, one can see the themes of mythology, industry, and, in this case, sea-faring, again a valorization of the
Poster for a 1948 production of "Agamemnon"
at the Greek Theater in Syracuse.

Finally (for this post), here are a few examples of Cambellotti's work for the theater.  We hadn't known, until we saw the Villa Torlonia show last year, that Cambellotti designed sets, costumes, and posters for the theater. Many of these were for the Greek Theater in Syracuse (Siracusa), Sicily.

Stage set for a 1933 production of a Sophocles play.
Program insert.

Prolific though he was, we find Cambellotti's name almost unknown in Rome today. The temporary exhibitions that crop up now and then, and the placement of his work in 20th-century art galleries and museums, such as the too-little visited Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Roma Capitale and Palazzo Merulano, hopefully will change that.


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