Neighboring borders reopened, as well as many places until yesterday off limits, trips out of town, a summer that is not yet well known as it is: the opportunity to re-propose this service appeared on Casa Tips Clear in October 2015 are different. To these there is also an anniversary that knows a bit of a high school exam – at least the old style ones – “where was Vincenzo Vela born?”. The question is however: how many know who Vincenzo Vela is? In reverse order: sculptor from Ticino, Vela is a central figure in nineteenth-century naturalism and, here is another reason to talk about it, this year is the bicentenary of his birth. Now, to the most avant-garde contemporary taste, Vela’s work may appear rhetorical and worthy of a few yawns. It is not so. It is enough to read it in the correct historical perspective, that is, in its ability to archive the idealizing forms of a Neoclassicism which then became only in a manner and to direct attention (and passion) to current events, to real life. Real people like workers and miners, authentic feelings, civil and political commitment, that’s what is found in the works of Vela. An art history lesson is out of place here, therefore, answering the initial quiz, go to Ligornetto, in Mendrisiotto – in essence, pass the customs (Chiasso, Porto Ceresio …) and you have arrived.
The traffic of the Italian-Swiss cross-border commuters and of the addicted outlets heading to Mendrisio’s FoxTown is immediately far away as soon as you climb the hills that surround Monte San Giorgio. Few villages dozing between the fields and you come to Ligornetto, to the house – and museum – of the Ticino sculptor Vincenzo Vela, undisputed master of the nineteenth-century naturalism. It is there, very white, on top of the hill where the sculptor wanted it, a romantic residence surrounded by a panoramic park enchanted and with delicate hydrangeas and timeless anemones.
From the village of Mendrisiotto Vela he left as a teenager for Milan. Stonemason, later a student from Brera, attended the most progressive circles, and was a volunteer in the First War of Independence. Hayez he protects him and his works are soon successful, the orders multiply. Conquest for its ability to seize the day: as a modern photographer he represents men in unusual but intimate moments, showing theirmore sincere soul.
He studied in Turin and Milan.
An intelligent diplomat, with his refined delicacy he finds the consent of kings, queens and simple citizens who turn to him because they celebrate, stopping them as marble snapshots, victorious memories or melancholy regrets. Already in 1848 he bought that vast hill of Ligornetto cheaply, covered with chestnut trees and vines with an old farmhouse; long last, at the height of fame, in the early sixties, decided to build one country residenceaway from the busy city life. By his own will, the house (which had an atelier nearby) is now also a museum and this Vela leaves it written that it is after his death: therefore he remains where he still receives the protagonists of the history, politics and culture of the century, and together place of art also open, always, to the occasional passerby.
For the Vela project he calls Cipriano Ajmetti, the architect of the yards of the Duke of Genoa and the Piedmontese court and, later, the Ticino-born Isidoro Spinelli di Sagno. Vela is categorical: they must be his sculptures to determine the building, establishing its size and structure. The atelier house follows a precise development. Horses and carriages climbed the road to stop where today a gentle green lawn accompanies the visitor towards the entrance, who is greeted by the gigantic chalk of the “Spartacus”. Immediately to the right, the Pantheon, the grandiose double-height octagonal room, with the chalks depicting the protagonists of the Italian Risorgimento, a real counterpart to the Canovian plaster cast gallery in Possagno. Here the artist exhibits his models; a colossal Duke of Brunswick on horseback, an imposing Vittorio Emanuele II and an impatient Garibaldi seem to protect the house queens: Savoy Maria Theresa and Maria Adelaide. But also Cavour, Carlo Alberto, “L’Alfiere”: the monument, of clear anti-Austrian connotation, to the Sardinian army. And then a whirlwind of busts and allegorical and funerary reliefs that rises, double-circle towards the sky.
Next to the Pantheon, here is what was there main room, overlooking the town: here Vela welcomed guests; today it is the hall of beauty and allegory and houses an original plaster two meters high depicting Italy grateful to France (1861-62), the kiss that the two women exchange is suggestive and ambiguous, but so the ladies wanted it patriot of Milan for the empress of the French Eugenia, wife of Napoleon III. The eastern wing was one wunderkammer reserved for art, with its gallery and library, covered with paintings, books, coins, illustrations and stuffed animals. And it is here that, almost last rest, the plaster of the dying Napoleon winner of the first prize at the universal exhibition in Paris of 1867 is found: the statue that was taken is today in Versailles.
In the western wing there were the private rooms, with a view over the roofs of Ligornetto and the plain up to Chiasso and Como. From the company room, with a fireplace surmounted by a mirror, one came to the dining room and the kitchen, with a large Ticino fireplace, where one sat by the fire to peel the roasted chestnuts. Today it is called the funeral sculpture room, between realism and elegy; here a huge white canopy bed embraces the countess Maria Isimbardi d’Adda: so delicate and real, it almost seems to be able to move a strand of hair away from her so as to make her look even more beautiful. There magic of these chalks conquest for the unusual and palpable depth, never rhetorical, of gestures, faces, figures. Whether they are the tender kisses of young girls or the frown of the rebellious slave, everything immediately becomes reality: a true that thus crystallized loses all tragic tone to sublimate itself in peace and tranquility.
Having come almost intact to us in architecture, the building has nevertheless had one busy lifeas explained by Gianna Mina director of the museum and president of the Association of Swiss Museums: «Vela is an interesting example of a mid-nineteenth-century house-museum; remodeled several times since 1896, it retains few original traces regarding the layout of the collections and furnishings. This allowed one reflection on the meaning and urgency of an intervention strong – materialized in the restructuring of Mario Botta of 2000 – that would allow you to stay there temporary exhibitions and to become a dynamic actor on the national and international cultural scene “. On the occasion of the most recent infrastructural improvements, a new installation has been devised that completes the celebration of the work of Vela with attention to the minor and more “domestic” aspects of the collections.