Palazzo dell’Arte in Cremona, the work created by the architect Carlo Cocchia in 1941, has returned to its former splendour thanks to the generous intervention of the Fondazione Arvedi Buschini. Work was concluded in September 2012.
The renovated building houses the Violin Museum, the engine of cultural activity in the area and the concrete symbol of the historical excellence of Cremonese violinmaking.
HISTORY (by Anna Adami, historian of art)
The Thirties were crucial years for Cremona, not only regarding violin making.
The Fascist dictatorship promoted an urban renewal project that deeply altered the layout of the historical centre, by introducing modern buildings into the background full of ancient architectures. They wanted them to express success, power, solidity. Roberto Farinacci (1892-1945), the Fascist leader of Cremona, was responsible for this plan and the construction of Palazzo dell’Arte (1942-1946), which today hosts the Museo del Violino, represents its final act.
The area on which it was built originates from the previous demolition (1924) of the church of Sant’Angelo, one of the most ancient in the city, held by the Benedictines at first, then by the Observant Franciscans up to 1810, today remembered in the name of the square behind the palace. Later, the annexed monastery and connected buildings, considered insalubrious, were razed to the ground (1936-1939).
The demolition aimed at creating a monumental space which would conclude the ancient route of the Roman cardo maximus and host the city markets.
This empty space was later marked, on its north side, by the construction (1938) of the building that housed the headquarters of Farinacci’s periodical “Il Regime Fascista”, together with its printing presses, offices and apartments. Finally, thanks to a podestà’s deliberation (1940) the area was named “piazza Guglielmo Marconi” (Guglielmo Marconi Square), after the Italian physicist Nobel laureate who had died in 1937.
In the early Forties, on the south side of the square, Palazzo dell’Arte came into being.
An original mix of tradition and innovation, Palazzo dell’Arte is one of the Neapolitan architect Carlo Cocchia’s (1903-1993) first production masterpieces and strongly stands out among the Cremona architectures of the Fascist era, embracing the south side of piazza Marconi.
Largely due to Roberto Farinacci’s will, who aimed at creating an appropriate location for art exhibitions and cultural events (above all, the so-called Premio Cremona – “Cremona Prize”), the building was designed in 1941, erected during the World War II (1942-1946) although it had not obtained a complete building permit, but finished only after the end of the conflict.
Carlo Cocchia drew inspiration from the ancient mediterranean culture as well as from the latest modern architecture of Milan (recalling Giovanni Muzio’s Palazzo della Triennale). The layout of the building is composed of two wings – formerly surrounding two courtyards – connected through colonnades and merging into a massive central section assigned to major events (today converted to Auditorium).
Palazzo dell’Arte features sober volumes and masses, a severe arrangement of the inner spaces, and a wise, original and sophisticated application of the bricks that cover the building and enliven its surface like a skin, creating a peculiar chromatic and tactile effect. Brick and marble are predominant in the interior, too, blending the warm clay colour with the grey stone purity.
Thanks to its presence Cremona acquired a piece of modern architecture that shows foreign roots and results of a national debate, combining Cocchia’s creativity and the demands of the Local Planning Authority, and, at the same time, surprisingly interacting with the architectural context. In other words, Palazzo dell’Arte is a “foreign body” that was placed in a strong but intelligent way into the urban pattern. And owns, still today, despite the new prestigious function that takes it back to the origin, the aesthetic charm of an unfinished project.
Palazzo dell’Arte was meant to be finished by the spring of 1943 to host the celebrations for the 300th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s death, the classes of the International School of Violin Making and the 4th edition of the so-called Premio Cremona. But events came to a head and this competition never took place.
Temporarily assigned to military functions, in 1946 it was reaffirmed as municipal property.
Over the decades it has played different roles, despite continuous, vain attempts to claim a permanent exhibit location by the Cremona artist association. Roles that turned this building into a “container” able to host numerous temporary art exhibitions and trade shows, ballrooms and dance halls, gyms and sporting competitions, all sorts of conferences, lectures, meetings, headquarters for any kind of institutions, committees and associations, shows, performances, charity events, and so on.
What about violin making? It has always been connected to Palazzo dell’Arte. Here the 1949 International Exhibition of Violin Making took place, as well as some Biennial festivals between the Sixties and the Seventies. Here the International School of Violin Making arrived in 1956 and left in 1974 for Palazzo Raimondi. The annexed Violin Making Museum was hosted here until 1975, when it moved to Palazzo Affaitati.
Also the Civic Museum of Natural History was located here, from 1958 to 1995, together with the interior design classes which expanded the courses provided by the school until recent times since 1960.
As long as piazza Marconi was exploited as bus and coach station (until 1987), some rooms of Palazzo dell’Arte were used as ticket office and café. The square hosted the city market twice a week until 1999. From 2005 to 2007 the palace housed storage rooms and laboratories of the archeologists who worked in the archeological excavation that dug up the remains of a luxurious Roman Domus dating back to the 1st century, whose precious findings are now on exhibition at the Civic Archeological Museum of San Lorenzo.
What was defined as “Palace of the chaos” due to the multiplicity of its functions, after a failed attempt to turn it into a Football Museum, today celebrates the excellence of the violin making of Cremona and the world as Museo del Violino.
THE PROYECT (by Giorgio Palù e Michele Bianchi, architects and designers)
The architectonic project of Palazzo dell’Arte rests on the bipolar theme of exhibition and music, represented by the intrinsic functions of the Violin Museum and the Auditorium. The Violin Museum is a museum of and for the future, an active museum, shared and empathic, which came into being with a forceful idea: to bring together under a single roof the best of the expression of Cremonese violinmaking, previously spread over three museums.
Maintaining the historical and structural identity of the building designed by Cocchia, the ten rooms were set out so as to diversify the many functions indicated by the Scientific Committee and create a unique, dynamic and interactive structure conceived to be highly communicative. Overall the main areas of the project for Palazzo dell’Arte are represented by the Violin Museum, the Temporary Exhibitions Pavilion and the Auditorium. Multi-media requirements represent elements that the architectural project has linked in an articulated path of learning, reading and in-depth study that can be repeated tendentially in a circle going through the museum and which valorizes its focal points.
The architecture of the Auditorium supports the acoustic requirements by taking on, in an overall context, a highly evocative importance. The exuberance of its plasticity calls on an expressive and fluid architecture which evolves without interruption, softly interlinking, where everything is connected and taken up again in a singleness of discourse, between placidity and decisive volumetric accents, aspects and intentions which are aimed at representing in a three-dimensional form the movements of musical composition.