Guarino Guarini

I have been trying to get to grips with the history of Piedmontese architecture as background to visiting the buildings.   Key to understanding it is obviously the career of Guarini, trained as a Theatine monk and the most intellectual of architects, equalled perhaps only by Wren, who was his nearly exact contemporary (Guarini was born in 1624, Wren in 1632;  both visited and were influenced by Parisian architecture in the 1660s).   Born in Modena, Guarini was ordained in 1648 and remained there until 1657, when he left to travel, visiting Prague, Lisbon and Messina, where he was a Lecturer in Mathematics.   In 1662, he arrived in Paris to design the Theatine church of Sainte-Anne-la-Royale.   Reading about him in Richard Pommer’s history of Eighteenth-Century Architecture in Piedmont:  The Open Structures of Juvarra, Alfieri, and Vittone (still, so far, as I am aware, the best account), he was much influenced by the intellectual atmosphere of Paris at the time, particularly the new found admiration for gothic, as expressed by Claude Perrault:  ‘in contrast to the taste of Greek architects, who could find no beauty in a structure that didn’t look solid, Gothic architects loved the appearance of the miraculous, and built extremely long and slender columns to sustain great vaults, which actually rest on brackets suspended in air’.   In 1666, he arrived in Turin to design the Theatine church of San Lorenzo, which Pommer describes as ‘a great work of hallucinatory engineering’.   Not long afterwards, he began work on the Santissima Sindone.   A decade later, in 1679, he was commissioned by Prince Emmanuel Philbert, a deaf mute, to design the Palazzo Carignano on the site of the old royal stables.   Again, Pommer is helpful is explaining the intellectual and dynastic background to the conditions of buildiing:  ‘The urban scene was left plain and monotonous, a vast series of tan barracks constructed by an autocratic policy that demanded the rapid enlargement of Turin with uniform rows of palace façades fencing in long, straight streets…But against this reticent background, a few churches, palaces and country residences were set off by their showy grandeur, overrichness, or flagrant ‘bizzarria’.   In many ways, the Dukes of Savoy were militant, austere, and even puritanical;  in architecture they often sported a taste for the strange or flashy’.

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