In the heart of Brescia’s historic centre lies the “Archaeological Park”, so called because it includes a collection of monumental architecture from the Roman era. It is the oldest and most suggestive part of the city, enhanced by a long process of investigations, studies and restoration. Today it looks like a whole, but the process that led to its current form was gradual and is still ongoing.
It all began in 1823, when the painter Luigi Basiletti and the architect Rodolfo Vantini began soundings and excavations at the foot of the Cidneo hill. Within a few months, the ruins and traces of a complex dating from the imperial age emerged. It was immediately realised that this was the Capitoline temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, built in the time of Vespasian. Shortly afterwards, in 1826, the famous bronze statue of ‘Winged Victory’ was discovered, which shed new light on the Roman roots of Brixia. Once reassembled, the temple structure was destined to house the Museo Patrio. In the meantime, excavations had involved the area of the theatre, which had also been restored to its original spatial dimensions. The overall image of the ancient Forum took shape and the relationship with the Basilica located at the southern end was understood.
In 1937-38 the structure of the Capitoline temple was integrated with a brick pediment, thus highlighting the elevation. More recently – between 1990 and 2005 – archaeological investigation led to the discovery of the so-called Republican Temple, perhaps the primitive core of the sacral area. Mosaics and wall frescoes make it the most impressive sanctuary in northern Italy. In addition, the nearby museum complex of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia has been restored, as well as the domus dell’Ortaglia with its Viridarium. Within the geography of a vast block you can breathe the air of centuries.
What makes a strong visual impression in the Brescia “Archaeological Park” is the massive presence of Botticino marble and Breccia. If Brescia is a ‘city of stone’, this is precisely the place that gives shape to an unparalleled building practice. It is enough to consider the powerful texture of the pilasters, columns and stone ornaments to understand how the wisdom of Roman architecture found in the local material an exceptional support. Imperial classicism, with its Mediterranean aura, reached this latitude. From that moment on, the city’s history took a direction that is no longer forgotten.
But not only architecture, because the Roman artistic civilisation introduced the sculptural use of Botticino and Breccia marble in statues, fountains, altars and decorations. They are fragments scattered everywhere, in particular inserted on the walls of the Monti di Pietà in Piazza della Loggia. It was from here that the Brescian Renaissance was born, and the imprint of classicism would echo down the centuries.
The last act of this long story involved the restoration of the “Winged Victory”, conducted by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure of Florence. For the occasion, Spanish architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg created a new setting in the eastern cell of the Capitolium. The setting, deliberately minimal and poetic, leaves the spectator in direct contact with the absolute beauty of the statue.
One of the most widespread artistic techniques in Roman times, mosaics were present in all the cities of the empire. They decorated temples, public buildings and private homes (domus and villae). Possibly of Eastern and Greek derivation, they reached their figurative peak in the southern parts of the peninsula, from Sicily to Pompeii. However, even in the northern latitudes the use of mosaic ornaments became very frequent and impressive.
The finds preserved in the “Archaeological Park” of Roman Brescia, between the Capitolium, the domus dell’Ortaglia and the exhibition halls of the Museum of Santa Giulia are beautiful. One can perceive the fineness of the workmanship, the quality of the materials and the richness of the compositions. The models, similar to those in Rome and Pompeii, dialogue with the wall paintings, especially in the Republican Temple. Here, the floor plans are reminiscent of carpet backgrounds and speak to us of a refined and sensual civilisation.
The best known and best preserved is the mosaic in the central cell of the Temple of Vespasian. A central composition of 25 square metres obtained with tesserae of different marbles, mostly of Greek and African origin. The design follows a very minute assemblage, where the ornamental weaves merge into a centred motif. In other examples the geometric decoration is accompanied by naturalistic and symbolic images, as in the case of the figuration of the vine that appears in the so-called domus of Dionysus. Very frequent are monochrome and ‘terrazzo’ mosaics made up of small black and white marble chips that do not follow any regular arrangement.
From the Republican Temple to the cells of the Capitolium, from the floors of the domus dell’Ortaglia to the finds in Santa Giulia an exhibition itinerary unfolds which is perhaps unique in northern Italy. It is the manifestation of an artistic tradition that will continue in the following centuries, up to the innovative laying techniques of our days.
The mosaic projects that Marmi Ghirardi has carried out in many parts of the world are the fruit of a mastery that is rooted in a distant sensitivity. Thus, for example, the spectacular floor in the “Brasserie Chavot”, opened in London’s Mayfair district. Ghirardi G1938 brilliantly implemented the project conceived by the Alex Kravetz Design studio. The effect is reminiscent of Parisian Art Nouveau atmospheres, but is the result of the extraordinary craftsmanship of Italian workers. The “Tea Library” at the Sheraton Hotel Muscat Oman is also enveloped in the elegant swirls of black and white tiles and gold leaf inserts, again the result of G1938’s skill. Like a revival of ancient Roman mosaics, the floor surface lights up the room and transports the observer into a timeless dimension.
In the heart of London, Mayfair has always been an exclusive residential area. Shops, boutiques, trendy clubs and art galleries make it a centre of international elegance. This is where typical English taste meets that of the most refined capitals. This is why Michelin-starred chef Eric Chavot opened Brasserie Chavot in the heart of Conduit Street until 2015.
The tradition of Parisian bistros is one of simple cuisine and a popular clientele, but Chavot’s creative flair has raised the bar. Even the setting has combined French flair with the chic and cheeky feel of the new trends. The kitchen and the furniture become a real brand.
The architect Alex Kravetz, known for his elegant and very classical works, was called in to create the setting for the small, striking restaurant (26 x 8 m). The almost neo-Palladian imprint is evident in the Corinthian semi-columns on the walls, while the French touch emerges from the burgundy-coloured seats and the decor of the large mirrors. The link between the two styles is Italian, as can be seen in the mosaic flooring specially made by Marmi Ghirardi.
The sumptuous interweaving of plant swirls and the diagonal arrangement are derived from Renaissance figures, here proposed in a Rococo key. The assembly of the mosaic tesserae reflects Marmi Ghirardi’s great craftsmanship and becomes a scenographic occasion. The mosaic is composed of 140 elements measuring 105 x 105 cm and was obtained with marbles of different shades: Botticino, Bardiglio, Verde Alpi, Giallo Siena, Rosso Levanto and Nero Marquina. Like an aristocratic carpet, the floor becomes the iconic feature of the room.
While the delicate tones of the flooring brighten up the public area, a more severe classical accent is given by the materials in the bathrooms. The walls are clad in Carrara marble, the floor in Silver Wave marble with open-book veining. Other limestone inserts create the connection with the corridor and the bases of the half-columns and doors. The result is an overall perception of rare accuracy.
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