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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Raffaele de Vico: Everywhere, but Hardly a Household Name

A dapper de Vico, appropriately in the bushes
If you're headed to Rome and been brushing up on your Rick Steves, you'll have read about Michelangelo, Borromini, Caravaggio, Piranesi, Bernini and a dozen other luminaries of Rome's art and architectural past. Maybe even Marcello Piacentini, who was the creative force behind EUR on the city's outskirts, or Luigi Moretti, who designed several of Rome's best modernist buildings.

A name you won't find in the index to your Blue Guide is Raffaele de Vico, though in your week or two in Rome you'll probably experience more of his work than that of any of his much more famous counterparts. Before Palazzo Braschi gave de Vico his own show in the spring of 2018, we had never heard of him.  And now, for us, he's everywhere.

Raffaele de Vico (1881-1969), an architect, designed a few buildings and other structures in Rome, but none are notable--indeed, none are "tourist attractions."  One that we've always liked--we've been by it hundreds of times and wondered what it housed--is a serbatoio (literally a tank--a building housing a waterworks) --in via Eleniana, a few steps from Porta Maggiore.  It was completed in 1934.

Another, in the famous Verano Cemetery, is an impressive memorial to those who died in the Great War.  We've been in the cemetery more than once, but because it's so large--or because the architect in this case is not so well known--never had it pointed out.

Great War monument, Verano Cemetery

Monument to the regions of Italy, never built.

De Vico also designed (1944) a spectacular monument to the regions of Italy, which--had it been constructed (if it could have been constructed)--would have
been off-the-charts cool.

There's a hint of de Vico's future importance early on, when as a youth he became interested in plants.  Yes, plants.  At the Academia di Belle Art di Roma, he studied classical plants with Giacomo Boni while pursuing a degree in architecture. For a while he worked with many other professionals on the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, making important friends and contacts, including sculptor Adolfo Cozza.  In about 1913 he was appointed professor of architecture at the Liceo artistico di Roma, while exploring "green" (plant-related) projects.

Impressive neo-classical serbatoio, Villa Borghese

After serving four years in a non-combat role in World War I, in 1920 de Vico took up residence in a house in Villa Borghese, where he lived the rest of his life. The Villa is the site of another of his few buildings--a second serbatoio, and an impressive one.

De Vico completed his degree in architecture in 1923, then (1924) took a position as a consultant to the city's garden services agency. Marcello Piacentini nominated him to be general advisor for the EUR gardens, and he was appointed in 1940. He served as head of EUR garden services from 1955 to 1961. In 1950, he and others founded the Italian Association of Landscape Architects.

And that's why you'll see so much of de Vico as you tour the city.  As a landscape architect (and perhaps to a lesser extent, as an architect), he had a hand in designing and planting dozens of Rome's piazzas, boulevards, and parks, as well as some of its hills and "mountains." He landscaped Parco Savello (better known as Garden of the Oranges) on the Aventino (1931). He was involved in the restoration of Villa Sciarra (1930). He worked on Piazza Bologna and Piazza Verbano (1930), on the Piazza Sempione gardens in Monte Sacro (1926), on Piazza Monte Grappa (in della Vittoria, 1930), and the still-lovely Parco Virgiliano (in the Trieste quartiere).

Parco Virgiliano
He drew up some elaborate plans for Monte Mario (1951), though most of his ideas were never realized:

He is also credited with designing Testaccio Park, though, having been up Monte Testaccio, it's hard to see that any of his contributions remain.

Carlo Montani painting of Testaccio Park, 1935
Several of de Vico's "creations" are specially notable.  One is his contribution to Colle Oppio, the hilly area just across from the Coliseum. If you're near the Coliseum it's worth trekking the few paces up the hill--and especially so these days, when volunteers have been cleaning things up.

Montani, Colle Oppio, looking toward the Coliseum
The fountain in Parco Cestio (below)--part of the Colle Oppio--is attractively designed and remains a favorite spot for sitting and relaxing:

View of the Coliseum, fountain in foreground
Here's de Vico, photographed while supervising the the installation of the fountain (1939): 

Then there is the landscaping along viale Carlo Felice, which runs east from the basilica

Viale Carlo Felice (right) and adjacent park, 
of San Giovanni in Laterano. Today it's a favorite place for itinerant merchants to lay out their

The charm of Piazza dell'Indipendenza (charming despite a taxi lane running through its center, replacing the trolleys of yesteryear) is indebted to de Vico's skills. It's close to the Termini station. There's a nice cafe in center of the piazza, which somehow seems immune to the traffic.

Piazza dell'Indipendenza, then with trams

De Vico also did significant "green" work on Villa Glori, on the city's north side, including the viale dei Settanta, in the Parco della Rimembranza (1924) and a reconstructed portal of Villa Capponi on via Flaminia at the entrance to the viale dei Settanta.

Villa Glori, viale dei Settanta, as it looked in 1924
One of de Vico's greatest achievements is the design and landscaping of Piazza Mazzini, and the intersecting Viale Mazzini, both completed in 1926. The sculptures that grace the marvelous fountain in the piazza were done by someone else. The fasci--the symbol of Mussolini's Fascist regime--remain.

Piazza Mazzini, 1926 and, above, painting by Moldani, 1935

Lots of de Vico to see in Rome--if you know what you're looking for, and at.


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