The history of Palazzo Rosso
The Palazzo Brignole Sale or Palazzo Rosso is a house museum located in Via Garibaldi, in the historical center of Genoa, in Northwestern Italy. The palace is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Genoa: Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli.
The ancient Brignole-Sale palace, donated to Genoa in 1874 by the Duchess of Galliera to “increase the decor and usefulness of its inhabitants and its fame among foreigners” and intended for public gallery, was designed and almost entirely built, in Strada Nuova, between 1671 and 1677, by the Lombard Matteo Lagomaggiore, by order of Rodolfo and Gio Francesco Brignole-Sale.
The first decorative works were carried out in 1679 by Domenico Piola and Gregorio De Ferrari, completing the fresco on the vault, De Ferrari’s masterpiece, which destroyed during the Second World War, and four rooms whose decoration is dedicated to the seasons of the year.
In 1691 the second decorative phase began with frescoes by Giovanni Andrea Carlone, Carlo Antonio Tavella, Andrea Leoncini and Bartolomeo Guidobono. The restoration and completion of decorative works continued until the mid-nineteenth century. In addition to the palace, in 1874 ,the duchess of Galliera donated to the City of Genoa the splendid picture gallery that, together with the furnishings, formed the historical core of the museum collections: careful acquisitions and commissions carried out for more than two centuries to demonstrate the social, economic ascent and politics of the Brignole Sale family.
Starting from the first commissions of the first half of the seventeenth century to some great artists such as Antoon Van Dyck by Gio Francesco Brignole, successors also continued this policy by making a significant expansion of the rich art collections thanks to the inheritance received.
In 1952, Franco Albini, who from this moment on would always work together with Franca Helg, received the commission for the restoration and exhibit design of the Museum of Palazzo Rosso, completed in 1961 under the supervision of Caterina Marcenaro.
The superb Baroque monument, Palazzo Rosso in Genova has been completely restored to its original entirety, and to contemporary life, as a public museum, of which the principal art piece is the beautiful building itself.
In the early 1960s, after the opening of the Museum of Palazzo Rosso, the city of Genoa had set up a formidable museum system.
Franco Albini was an Italian Neo-Rationalist architect, designer and university instructor in design. In Venice, for the opening of the school year 1954-55, Albini gave a talk entitled My Experiences as an Architect in Exhibitions in Italy and Abroad, in which he illustrated the main motivations of his “art of offering” objects in space: “The exhibit invention must engage the visitor in its game; it should generate the most suitable atmosphere around the works to enhance them, but without ever overwhelming them. Architecture must be the intermediary between the audience and the things exhibited, adding value to the environment as a powerful, evocative element for the visitor.”
Next comes the definition:“To achieve this result one must, in my view, employ spatial solutions rather than plastic solutions: one must create architectural spaces, or underline existing ones, connecting them in absolute unity with the works exhibited. It is my opinion that what must be constructed are precisely the voids, because air and light are construction materials. The atmosphere should not be still and stagnant, but which the dream dimension transfigures the reality of history, in keeping with a design method the architect consistently pursued throughout his career.
In Albini’s conception of space the objects, suspended amidst luminous chromatic compositions, poetically translate the signs of the time and open the way for the creation of the new. The “Albini style” is coherent, rigorous, almost maniacal in its attention to detail, but at the same time
it always stimulates new emotions, with surprising traces that mark the space.
The renovation of Palazzo Rosso
a. The museum
The first objective of the designers was to display the palace itself, a great baroque monument, restoring it to its original state, and also enhancing it through interventions.In the presentation of the works of art, some museographic principles already experimented in Palazzo Bianco were observed, such as the flexibility display of the paintings and the arrangement of the lighting fixtures.
Restoring the building to its original integrity, renewed the fluidity and continuity of internal spaces which are the splendid feature of this monument of the Genoese baroque.
The glass,, which close all the loggias, also allow a more comfortable path of the building: the transparent but enclosed spaces, protected from the wind, have the same temperature as the other rooms that the public travels through. The windows have joints and pins in burnished bronze. (The fixed parts of the window are in correspondence with the columns, the part that can be opened is in the center of the arch).
The lighting of the works is regulated by spotlights suspended with an angular metal arm from a bar that runs along the springer of the vaults. Some lamps are double, with one reflector facing the vault, the other to the painting. With this unique system the lighting and the hanging of the paintings are resolved in every room.
The Palazzo Rosso project is completed by two exceptionally skillful pieces, almost like “cameos” in which Albini directly enters the stage with his talent: the finely cut octagonal staircase, in continuous tension, along the four floors of the building, and the apartment in the attic created for Caterina Marcenaro. Located in a nodal point between the building and the annexes, this new staircase – the only completely new object designed by the architect, except the display racks, the lamps, the windows – is of great importance, with a continuous design, connecting the four floors. (from the Primo Piano Nobile, arrives on the top floor)
The flat is situated on the last floor of the annexes of Palazzo Rosso, that Albini had restored to become the residence of Caterina Marcenaro. In the three main rooms,-livinf,dining and fire place-and in the bedroom as well, antiques were mixed with modern elements such as the fire place, the bookcases or the two armchairs, all drawn by Albini himself, shown the mixture between antique and modern. At the death of Caterina Marcenaro, her properties passed to whom she had intended for, while the flat was rent again for a few years, before being transformed into an office.
At the final restoration of Palazzo Rosso(2005), thought also in the sense of its evolution as a private city mansion through three centuries of its history, it was decided to restore those rooms too, and to give them back their architectural dignity, reproposing a fitting out recalling Albinian’s choices. For what antique furniture was concerned, a number of purchases, gifts, and bequests were selected, but mainly it was decided to draw from the bequest of the Genoese Costantino Nigro(1894-1967), antiquarian and generous patron of the arts, while modern pieces of furniture are all examples of Franco Albini’s design.
In the apartment, everything is again suspended in the air, from the wooden steps detached from the floor, leading to the library above, to the iron hood of the fireplace, hung from three supports, and the large baroque angel sustained by a black iron upright. On the walls, along the entire frame of the ceilings, runs a black iron strap to support the cables used to hang the paintings.
1. Caterina Marcenaro. 1963. “La sistemazione di Palazzo Rosso, un altro contributo italiano al restauro vitale, nel campo dei musei”. Domus 408. Novembre, 1963
2. Piero Boccardo. 2007. “L’appartamento disegnato da Franco Albini all’interno di Palazzo Rosso, a Genova, per Caterina Marcenaro, ora riaperto al pubblico” Interviewed by Federico Tranfa. domus. February, 2007
3. F. Bucci. 2009. Franco Albini. The School of Milan, Electa, Milano
4. Kay Bea Jones. 2014. Suspending Modernity: The Architecture of Franco Albini.