Villino Chini, interno liberty

Twentieth century art in Valdievole

The Valdinevole boasts some interesting examples of twentieth century art

In Pescia there is a fascinating museum of plaster models by Libero Andreotti, an artist who was born in the town in 1875. Modern critics consider him one of the most important Italian sculptors of the first half of the twentieth century. The museum was opened in 1992 in celebration of the artist’s life and works and takes visitors through the process of producing the plaster models which then go on to be used as templates for bronze or marble sculptures.

There is a ‘Gipsoteca’ (plaster model gallery) in the Palagio which was the ancient seat of the ‘Podestà’ or town mayor. This building was constructed in the thirteenth century although it was renovated in the fifteenth century and underwent some alterations between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. From the end of the nineteenth century to the to the start of the twentieth century, the town of Montecatini became an international centre for the ‘new style’ and the town was frequently visited by artists, VIPs and famous people from the world of fashion. Visitors should try to picture the town during the Belle Epoque, from Piazza del Popolo to the elegant atmosphere of Viale Verdi.

One of the artistic stars of this period was Gabriele Chini. His works of art and the ceramics manufacturing factory that he founded in 1896 blended with work of the best architects, artists and decorators of that time. Visitors can admire the Locanda Maggiore, the Gambrinus porticos, the Politeama Theatre which is today known as Cinema Teatro Imperiale, the Palazzo Municipale with its splendid glass windows, the Cinema Excelsior, the Padiglione (Pavilion) Tamerici and the ex-casino which is a wellness centre today called Excelsior. Close to the green park is the Terme Leopoldine, Terme Torretta and Terme Tamerici thermal spas, which blend in harmoniously with their natural surroundings.

At the end of the avenue is the imposing façade of Terme Tettuccio with its beautiful wide open spaces. Visitors should also see the decorations on the cupola in the orchestra gallery, the historic writing rooms in the old Caffè and above all, the fascinating ‘galleria delle bibite’ (drinks gallery). This gallery has lovely ceramic panels representing different stages of the life of Basilio Cascella. Its also delightful to simply wander through the city’s streets and gaze up at the eclectic style of Casinò Kursaal Theatre, the prestigious Grand Hotel La Pace and the Villino Il Rinfresco which is characterised by majolica decorations with the recurring theme of stylised roses along the lines of Mackintosh.

In Monsummano, at Mac’n, there are many educational laboratories that study different elements of modern art and the styles of art commonly practised during the twentieth century. These educational labs are open to the region’s schools. There are labs which examine techniques such as tempera using egg, oil painting, etching and how to read modern art. Casa Chini (Chini’s Home) is also worth a visit. The Chini family were very important in the development of the Liberty style in Italy. They were particularly active in the first half of the century and created several splendid works such as the Terme Berzieri (thermal resort) in Salsomaggiore.

The family member who stands out is Galileo (1873 – 1956). He was an eclectic personality who both painted and practised the minor arts. He began by doing restoration work and simple decorations for historical medieval buildings and eventually matured a style which was in tune with Central European Liberty art. Galileo Chini’s work has recently been re-evaluated by modern critics after several years of being largely ignored. The building itself was constructed by Chino Chini in 1923 with the money made from decorating Terme Berzieri.

The house isn’t far from the furnaces where artistic ceramics were produced and the building served as a place to catalogue the decorations, ornaments and balustrades produced, as well as for the gates, the boundary walls, minute but ornate ceramics and all the other items that testify to the skill and level of excellence of the Chini family’s production. Today, a plaque with the family name can still be seen as well as another plaque over the old entrance way which shows a lizard biting its own tail. Many of the interior decorations are also still intact and visitors can admire the bathroom, the covering of the fireplace and one of the floors which has a design by Galileo Chini depicting ‘The Birth of Venus’.