Galileo Chini and large scale decorations
Over his long career Chini realized many large scale wall decorations, from the early 1900’s up to his last commission in 1942. In all of these works an incredible compositional ability stands out, permitting him to perfectly understand the space in which the decoration develops, in order to take full advantage and give shape to his design ideas.
His first tests are in 1904-1905, when he is commissioned to decorate the interior and exterior of Palazzo Albergotti in Arezzo, where he decorates the staircase and the Council chamber. Along the staircase Galileo portrays allegorical female figures and trees laden with fruits in a style that combines neo-Medieval and neo-Renaissance references with Art Nouveau; on the ceiling two cherubs wrapped in ribbons hold a garland with the date: MCMV. Along the walls of the Council chamber winds a large band painted with a long procession of characters in ancient clothes and animals, made with bright colors and a refined Art Nouveau design. The procession is punctuated by pilasters with Corinthian capitals, simulating a double colonnade in which the characters seem to advance slowly.
Even more grandiose is the interior decoration of the Savings Bank of Pistoia, Pescia and Pistoia, inaugurated on 25 July, 1905. Here the admirable decorative unity with which Chini solves the large spaces of the building makes us better understand his talent in perceiving a space in function of the decoration that is to be painted there. The large scale wall painting occupies the entry foyer, the colonnade vestibule, the internal staircase and the assembly hall, in a jubilation of figures, animals and decorative patterns in pure and bright colors, that follow each other with a magnificent visual impact. Along the walls graceful women, animals, and putti wrapped in red ribbons holding garlands of leaves and fruits, reminiscent of the Renaissance, a theme the artist studied and loved, while bees, pomegranates and wheat spikes, all of propiatory significance, alternate with mottos like honesty, constancy and logic as programmatic intent of the Bank.
From the preceding year – 1904 – is the large decoration of the ceiling in Grand Hotel & La Pace in Montecatini, where in an intense blue night sky, female figures move harmoniously among cherubs and branches in a sort of great art nouveau dream.
The Sala del Sogno alla Biennale di Venezia, (Room of the Dream Venice Biennale) was decorated in 1907. A procession of cherubs entwined with flowing ribbons and garlands of leaves and flowers, are represented with freedom and freshness on a light background of sea and sky. This work so impressed King Rama V of Siam who visited the Biennale, that he invited Chini to Bangkok to decorate his new Throne Palace.
In 1909 another splendid commission, that is only recently visible after a long restoration, was given by the Director of the Biennale Antonio Fradeletto; in January and February in only 21 days Chini decorates the dome of the central hall of Palazzo dei Giardini alla Biennale di Venezia, with the Allegories of Art and Civilization, a story of civilization and man’s evolution through his conquests. The splendor of colors and the uniformed narration draws profound admiration from critics and the public still today is amazed by his invention and use of color.
In July of 1910 Chini receives another important commission from Confraternita della Misericordia dell’Antella, to decorate the dome in the entrance to the Cemetery, five meters in diameter: he paints the Glory of the Angels, a work of deep mystical suggestion; this is his last commission before he departs for Bangkok in late spring of 1911.
In the capital of Siam Chini realizes his largest and most challenging decorative work, bringing to life in the immense space of the Throne Hall Palace the glories and history of the Siamese royal dynasty: with a deep adhesion, but always personal to Asian suggestions, blending Italian Renaissance tradition with the preciousness of the Orient in a work of great visual enchantment for the observer.
Upon his return from Siam another important commission awaits him from the Venice Biennale: a series of eighteen painted canvases titled La primavera che perennemente si rinnova (The spring that is perpetually renewed) for a room dedicated to the Yugoslav sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. In this fascinating cycle of 1914 Chini portrays the eternal renewal of nature, an ode to Life just before the great tragedy of WW1 overtakes all of Europe.
Once the war is over, Chini in 1918 will decorate the Palazzo Comunale in Montecatini Terme, (Town Hall) designed by the architect Raffaello Brizzi. The pictorial cycle on the ceiling of the first floor assembly hall depicts in eight plumes and lunettes the allegories of work and industriousness, justice and peace. He also designs the skylight of the grande stairwell and the stained glass windows of the Post Office on the ground floor of the building.
In 1920 he is once again at the Venice Biennale, in the central hall of the Italian pavilion where he paints five horizontal panels on canvas portraying the Glorificazione della Vittoria, (Glorification of Victory) with allegories of the various arms of the military and Italian heroism, that are highly acclaimed.
From 1919 to 1923 he works on the massive project of the Terme Berzieri Spa in Salsomaggiore, designed by Ugo Giusti. Chini designs the entire exterior surface in ceramic tiles, inspired by the Orient and the healing properties of thermal waters. In 1922 in the great hallway of the principal staircase he portrays an allegory of the waters with female figures floating among trees of life, waves, cherubs and multicolored birds. In the nearby Hotel des Thermes, Chini executes the decorations of the Salone Moresco and the Taverna Rossa, in a fantastical style in which he combines references to Japanism with representations of nature: cascades of roses, clouds and white egrets mix with repeated geometric motifs in bright colors, in an orientalist dream, an atmosphere from Arabian Nights rendered with great freedom and interpretative generosity.
At the International Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925 for the Italian Pavilion, designed by architect Armando Brasini, Chini creates two large vertical panels of bucolic subject with horses and oxen, so appreciated that they will receive the Grand Prix; the decoration was completed with a flooring of gres tiles, two large vases for the vestibule of honor, stained glasses and a large ceramic panel with flowering stems and birds.
Between 1926 and 1929 he completes several works, many of which unfortunately have been lost: among these the interior decoration of Poggio Diana, an eclectic building in the town of Salsomaggiore now completely abandoned; Villa Donegani on Lake Como, later transformed into luxury apartments, and the transatlantic ship Augustus, built in 1926 and sunken during WW2, where Chini had decorated the ceilings, panels and stained glass. Also destroyed by the war were the decorations of Palazzo della Provincia Livorno. Villa Fonio in Salsomaggiore has conserved a large decoration completed between 1927 and 1928 with oriental and floral motifs that recall those of Terme Berzieri Spa.
In 1929 he decorates rooms in Palazzo Vincenti in Pisa, in corso Italia, at the time seat of Consiglio Provinciale dell’Economia e del Lavoro (today a clothing store), where highlights of Pisa’s history are depicted on the second floor and in the stairwell.
Chini’s last large decoration commission were murals in Bologna completed in 1942 in the Casa del Contadino; in the 1950’s the paintings were plastered over and have recently been rediscovered. From this project remain seven large preparatory sketches that portray the last great peasant epic, without rhetoric or propaganda.