A delight of shapes, a riot of colors

montecatini-art
A delight of shapes, a riot of colors

To build, to learn, to work in peace, the great work of the Florentine Galileo Chini.

Walking along Viale Verdi, we find situated on an artificial elevation the town hall whose mass seems to compete for monumentality with the prestigious spas and hotels that were built beginning in the late eighteenth century. The “‘Regi Bagni di Montecatini”, or the Royal Baths of Montecatini, was in fact a new town, having been established only in 1905 upon separating from the ancestral castle (today Montecatini Alto). At that time, following its growth in the nineteenth century and the mondain atmosphere of the Belle Époque, this city of the waters was the destination of an international clientele.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, new recreational commercial, and spa facilities arose on the historic “stradone dei Bagni”, or Spa Row, the work of entrepreneur Pietro Baragiola and his trusted architect Giulio Bernardini. In 1911, the design of a building in the historical eclectic style was entrusted to Montecatini resident Raffaello Brizzi; the intention was clearly to enrich the urban scene with a work worthy of the town’s prosperity and vitality.
Begun in 1912, construction was slowed by the war; until 1918, work on the interior decorations proceeded at a good pace: a triumph of stuccoes, frescoes, stained glass, and sculptures where nothing was left to chance. A bust of Bararagiola (who died in 1914) and a dedicatory inscription to Luigi Righetti, the town engineer who directed the work, are found on the staircase landing, a veritable stone waterfall. They introduce this gallery of praiseworthy men (which also includes Bernardini) of this ville d’eaux, which is depicted in the busts above the doors on the piano nobile.

Palazzo Comunale di Montecatini Terme

Yet stopping on the ground floor, the two internal courtyards, covered by a skylight, perfectly symmetrical with respect to the stairwell, reveal an unexpected joy of shapes and colors. Both the glass ceiling and the doors, all produced by the Fornaci di San Lorenzo, Galileo Chini’s renowned manufactory, refer to the original functions of the two halls.
In the one to the left, originally the tax collector’s office, light enters through the municipal coat of arms, while, to the right, the hall of the Royal Mail glorifies the cross of Savoy. There are “high-fire” imprints of work emblems (e.g., a spade with ears of wheat) on the glass doors of the first hall and postal communication emblems (e.g., an envelope and a telegraph) on those of the second hall. These emblems are replicated in the frescoes above the respective galleries.
Here, amidst the bright red candelabra on a green background, the signature of the renowned Florentine painter can be seen.
In 1920, the year of the palace’s inauguration, he also carried out the fresco cycle on the vault that supports the skylight over the stairs. From the central glass ceiling, (installed in 1918, like the other two), the neo-Renaissance putto, typical of Chini’s repertoire, seems to converse with the eight allegorical figures on the pendentives that, two to a side, embody the mottos of their lunettes: “Costruire, sapere, lavorare nella pace” “To build, to learn, to work in peace” – namely, the fundamental values of the prosperous and harmonious society in which Chini believed and of which the Flora-Pace, gracefully scattering flowers, seems to be the most captivating exponent.

Galileo Chini (1873-1956)
Born in Florence, Chini was a very fashionable painter of fresco, ceramic, and glass decorations for public and private buildings and was very active in Florence, Pistoia, Montecatini, and Viareggio.
At the Regi Terme, he was also known for the eaves of the sales pavilion of salts at the Tamerici Spa, located within walking distance on Viale Verdi. The “Fornaci di San Lorenzo” – the ceramic manufactory he founded in 1906 with his cousin Chino Chini – had a shop in the small, Liberty building. On its façade, Galileo Chini is portrayed as a Renaissance craftsman in a bas-relief by Domenico Trentacoste (1902 ).

TEXTS

Claudia Becarelli

PHOTO

Foto Rosellini

 

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