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Villino Ida


Palermo  Liberty

Palermo is not only Baroque Style,  but is  also a  liberty style city. Between the end of the Eight hundred and the beginning of the Nine hundred, it  realized the theatres, the villas and the buildings of a middle class that  wanted to feel to the height of the old city aristocracy. “ For feelings and distant images, of when I came here for the first time toward 1930, I often succeed in extracting from the beautiful chaos that is Palermo an essentially liberty town, almost a small capital of the art-nouveau." These words of the Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia tell us how this town  had to be a long time ago, turning on the desire to go to verify how much has gone lost and how much instead has survived with the assignment to hand down the memory of a disappeared world.

Who reaches Palermo  can feel today still the echoes of a city that, between the end of the Eight hundred and the beginning of the Nine hundred, had chosen the modernism, the so-called  art-nouveau, to realize works that showed the wealth and the prestige of an entrepreneurial middle class in ascent. A class that intended to build theatres rather than churches, and then buildings and villas to the height of those of the ancient aristocracy. Here is the liberty movement. It appears glorious in the insides of the Theatre Massimo to which Ernesto Basile worked and directed the jobs since 1891, year of the death of his father Giovanni Battista Filippo, inventor of the initial project, or in the splendid saloon of Villa Igiea, painted in frescoes by Ettore De Maria Bergler, with an explosion of young girl in flower among iris, poppies and pomegranates. 

But effigy that better represents the liberty style is the portrait of Frank Florio  of the painter Giovanni Boldini where  she wears her very famous thread of pearls long seven meters. The same necklace that she is wearing  in a photo taken  in 1904 while she welcomes the Emperor William  II  in the park of her renewed house at the  Olivuzza.

The picture, today lost, it is known only through some reproductions. It seems that it has been made  twice by Boldini: Ignazio Florio didn't like the lascivious air that the painter had attributed to his  wife, splendid and really admired daughter of the baron of St. Giuliano.  We must admit, however, that also in the second version Donna Franca appears in all of her sensual beauty.

Just in  Villa Florio, the Florio was the most important family of industrialists of the Palermo fin de siècles, there is the essential characteristics of the architecture of Ernesto Basile who  built it only four years before the visit of the Kaiser in Sicily. It is in this invented and scene graphic building, full of  staircases, turrets, arcs and projections, that Basile  shows his love for the Gothic and Renaissance culture from Sicily, together with a sincere adjustment to the  international art-nouveau movement.

The insides, unfortunately destroyed in 1962 by  a fire,  had  furniture, lamps and staircases drawn by Basile  and realized by the firm Golia-Ducrot, one of the more  profitable matches of the arts and craft of the period. So much to represent the best of Italy at the International exposure of Decorative Art in Turin in 1902.

The start to the season liberty in Palermo  had been given by Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, who had been defined  later on  "free artist and initiator of a Liberty style" - in 1889 with the project of Villa Favaloro in Piazza Virgilio. A curved and sinuous line that builds and decorates at the same time, a great variety of solutions that  doesn't exclude a meditation on the art of the past, the harmony between the structure and the ornament that must exalt each other:  this is the inheritance that Ernesto receives from the light and fresh beauty of Villa Favaloro. It puts it into practice, while projecting some years later, a tower that widens the construction, crowned  by a decoration of leaves of grape and clusters of stylized grape. We are in full flowery climate.
Palazzo Dato , Vincenzo  Alagna’s work, in Via  XX Settembre strikes for its  red and yellow chromatist, very different from the white or from the grey usually used, while in Via  XII Gennaio the prospectus of palazzo Failla is a continuous  flow of woven lines.

A few meters away, in Via  Siracusa, we can find the house that Ernesto Basile   built for his family: Villino Ida, today the office of the Superintendence for the monuments. It is a very simple construction, enriched by coloured “ maiolicas” in yellow and in blue - the stamps typical of this place - and by  ornaments in wrought iron.

The characteristic of the new art is  that it invades every creative field. From the furniture to the cloths, from the jewels to the glasses, from the porcelain to the silver: everything is subdued to the demands of the new taste. In this way, we find the glass door realized by Pietro Bevilacqua in the turret of Villa Caruso planned by Filippo La Porta , or the mosaic that shines on the grave of the family Raccuglia in the cemetery of Sant' Orsola, modernist example of funeral art. Here there is also  the elegance that is expressed in arcs, volutes, fake  mullions and capricious coverage of the kiosks disseminated in the city: they enchant the look, both the two that frame the façade of the teatro  Massimo – and the one in Piazza Castelnuovo.

But perhaps the most  beautiful surprise is the sensation  you feel while wandering  among the stands of the market of the Capo  in front of the panel in mosaic of a bakery in Piazza Sant ' Anna, where there is a figure that seems the Italian answer to the female images painted by Klimt, or by the exponents of the English  Pre-Raphaelites movement

It is important also to mention La Fondazione Thule Cultura in Palermo for the very notable and rich collection of  Liberty art.