Juvarra in Turin
Leading this exaltation had been the sculptor Bernini, who developed an unabashedly emotional sculptural language. Then in the middle of his career, Bernini, like Michelangelo before him, turned to architecture. His bringing together of architecture and sculpture was fundamental to the baroque style. Perhaps reflecting the fact that sculpting stone is concerned with what is taken away, Bernini's greatest works were of and in open urban spaces, such as the oval Piazza of St. Peter's with its two sets of colonnades.
To Bernini's assistant, Francesco Borromini, this playing with artistic and decorative ideas merely hid the reality of architecture. Borromini preferred monochrome design and produced breathtaking spaces through a highly complex interplay of shapes. Inevitably, Bernini and Borromini became bitter rivals. From the legacy of their energetic dialog, Juvarra emerged to transform Turin.
This was a fabulous commission, and Juvarra approached it with a sweeping hand. He started by changing the entrances to the city. He produced broad public spaces and wide, straight boulevards that opened vistas out to the Alps beyond.
Powerful rulers tend to like wide thoroughfares, which are often presented as a means of beautifying their cities, as a gift to their people. But such a heavy-handed urban intervention may only be interpreted as a gift as long as the people appreciate the giver.
Powerful rulers also like wide thoroughfares because, in the event of an uprising, people can be more easily controlled in large, central piazzas. This is why one of Juvarra's first schemes was for the two symmetrical barracks of the Quartieri Militari at the Susa Gate. From there, the army could be at the city's center, at the Royal Palaces, in minutes.
Though it was early in his career, Juvarra faced one of his most challenging problems. Turin was an old city — it had been an important center for the ancient Romans, as evidenced by the surviving Roman Palatine Gate. At the new city center was a grim, four-square medieval fortress that was the antithesis of the soaring lightness of the Baroque.
Juvarra's task was to update the fortress, converting it into one of the largest royal residences in Europe — the Palazzo Madama. He began by adding a light Baroque facade with pilasters and massive fluted columns at the main, upper tier, topped by a balustrade with vases and statues. Behind the lofty facade is a grand staircase.
Though the total scheme was never completed, the Palazzo Madama is pure theater. The contrast between the wide-windowed Baroque facade and the dark fort to which it is attached can only work — can only be tolerated — because the contrast is so complete. Madama is a velvet glove, with an iron fist barely concealed behind.
Fulfilling a Ducal Vow
During his 20 years in Turin, as Juvarra extended his work both within and beyond his stage set of urban design, rulers across Europe enviously viewed the Palace of Versailles near Paris as the "must-have" standard of architecture.
With this probably in mind, Juvarra continued the work of his predecessor on the 14th-century Rivoli Castle, west of Turin. Besides becoming the desired palace, the castle fulfilled another design intention. The original plan had included an imaginary tree-lined road from Turin westward to France. Juvarra extended this conceptual road to the east, toward the Basilica of the Superga, which would become known as the most commanding and exquisite building in the region.
In the late 17th century, when Turin had been held under siege for four months by French and Spanish armies, the Duke swore that if the siege were lifted he would build a church in thanks. It took 25 years, but he kept his word. The top of the hill overlooking the town was flattened, and Juvarra designed a votive church with a convent behind.
The round Basilica of the Superga has a two-conched cupola in the style of Michelangelo, flanked by two tall asymmetrical campaniles. The convent, on the longitudinal axis, is joined to the Basilica by one of its short sides. Juvarra had learned well in Rome.
The Associazione Torino Città writes of the church: "the interior is in the form of an irregular octagon with corner pillars supporting Corinthian columns resting on concave pedestals allowing one to pass from the octagonal to the circular space which bears the drum in an arrangement proposed by Raphael and Baldassare Peruzzi in the 16th century."
In the city, Juvarra worked on palaces, interiors, churches, and public spaces. One of the churches is San Filippo Neri. Its interior has a single aisle with six side-chapels, with arches resting on polychrome marble columns. The multicolored horizontal fascia and the curved union with the vaulted ceiling enhance the sense of a single space. The Corinthian pronaos surmounted by a drum in Juvarra's design for the facade was only added in the 19th century.
Juvarra understood the medial position of Turin and displayed eclectic influences in the massive hunting lodge, Stupingi, which many believe to be his finest building. He drew on the ideas of his Roman teacher, Fontana, and the Austrian architect, Johann Fischer von Erlach.
Stupingi has a two-tiered elliptical hall, with short wings branching out towards tree-lined avenues in the form of a Saint Andrew's Cross, marking the crossroads of hunting routes. An avenue, a cour d'honneur, leads to Turin.
Juvarra died suddenly in 1736 in Spain, where he had been summoned to work for King Charles V. His introduction of ideas from the south and their acceptance in northern Europe had a long-lasting influence. However the city of Turin is his greatest monument. We should be grateful that an 18th-century client trusted a young architect to fulfill his vision.
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Richard Haut has worked with the architectural profession for over 25 years and produces the weekly Richard Haut's Competitions, which has given architects details of many thousands of projects for which they can apply across Britain and Europe.