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The construction and decoration of the Town Hall building was completed and inaugurated in 1931, thanks to the project collaboration between the council engineer Augusto Lorini and Tito Chini. The building shows a plain and linear architecture on the outside, but inside there are some original variations, not only on the superficial decoration, but also through the insertion of particular architectural elements.
The first of these is the Great Staircase which connects the entrance-hall on the ground floor with the upper floor, and which occupies a cylindrical space, underlined by fluted columns which compose the handrail and the jambs. According to the testimony of the sculptor Augusto Chini, his brother, Tito Chini, was not extraneous to the project of this stairway, regarding the formal solution, demonstrating that he maintained a total idea of the decoration of an environment, in combination with the surrounding architecture. On the other hand, Pietro Chini, uncle and collaborator of Tito in this endeavor, seems to have had a secondary role, limiting himself to the fulfillment of some pictorial parts. Both the structure and the decoration were based on few geometrical modules, rectangles, diamonds or rhombus, and circles, similar in the design to the glass doors at the entrance-hall.
All the parts in glass and ceramics were produced by the San Lorenzo Furnaces, as always capable of supplying almost all the ornamental elements: for example, the four wall lamps in wrought iron and chalices of opaque glass on ceramic bulbs, or yellow ceramic sections inserted at regular intervals on the cement skirting board. Also, the wooden decorations were based upon Tito’s drawings, like the doors and the benches, then produced by the Bini carpentry.
The strong influence of the Art Déco style is evident in this section with elements with strongly stylised and geometrised lines, in vivid and pure colours. Going up to the upper floor, there are large windows and the mural paintings which cover the semicircular space of the walls with geometrical and allegorical representations. On the ceiling, there is a false round skylight with the same colours and shapes of the glass of the windows. The ceiling, on the other hand, is adorned by a mural painting in red and gold, which preludes to the antique style of the next room; this entrance-hall on the first floor leads into the rooms of the various officials arranged in a hexagonal space.
The walls are decorated with a skirting board in Pompeian red and graffito designs of amphoras, rosettes and gridirons, as a symbol of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence, patron saint of the Council together with St. Martin, also used as the Furnaces’ trademark.
The two saints are painted on the walls facing the Mayor’s room. The painting is made by Tito Chini, in a romantic taste. The doors show the same design of diamonds and circles; these are embedded in cement jambs which reproduce the entrances of antique temples in a schematic manner.
The Mayor’s room is polygonal in shape, the mural decoration, carried out in a few, but efficient, colours on fabric panels alternated with ceramic reliefs, with putti holding sheaves of wheat; the representation honours the major local personalities, from Giotto to Monsignor Della Casa.
The floor in red and white tiles, by the Furnaces, bears in the centre the image of the patron saint with his gridiron, inside a circular frame with geometrical designs and volutes, unfortunately quite damaged today. The chandelier in wrought iron with glass chalices has the same Art Déco pattern of the lamps on the walls of the entrance hall on the ground floor.
The glass windows, protected today by a supplementary window on both surfaces, bear the rhombus and the circle in tones which reproduce the effect of the antique windows in alabaster. Finally, in the Secretary’s room there is a canvas painted by Galileo Chini, “The Last Invitation”, a late work of the artist, that may be dated around 1952; it is a disturbing reflection on oldness and death, with an ideal portrait of Eleonora Duse, according to critics, and a stylistic appeal to European Expressionism.
The peculiarity of the Town Hall is to have maintained the original aspect almost intact, thanks to the preservation of the antique furnishings and the restoration of the pictorial sections carried out by Augusto Romagnoli (1988), who was an apprentice at the Furnaces in the years 1928 – 1931 and a collaborator of Tito Chini in various projects, amongst which the decoration of this building.
Today the medieval Palace of the Chief Magistrate is the seat of the municipal library. It probably dates back to the mid-13th century and was already quite damaged in the early twentieth century. Another very serious damage was caused by the earthquake of June 1919, a circumstance that made the restorations even more urgent.
However, we have to wait for 1934 to have a real intervention, thanks to the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, whose president was the Marshal of Italy Guglielmo Pecori Giraldi. The restorations, designed and directed by the engineer Augusto Lorini, who changed the lines of the building according to the period, were completed three years later.
At the beginning of the work, Dino Chini was entrusted with the restoration of the pictorial sections, more precisely the large group of the ancient Coats of Arms of the Podestà (Chief Magistrate) of Borgo San Lorenzo, painted in the entrance hall on the ground floor. Probably he made ex novo the simple geometric decoration of the entrance door and window spouts, the high base plinth of the walls, as well as the geometric and neo-14th century paintings of the close chapel; this is also visible from the outside and dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi. As far as the restoration of the numerous painted coats of arms is concerned, it seems that Dino intervened in a rather consistent manner. In some cases, these show a remarkable graphic and chromatic vivacity, so much so as to recall the style of Galileo; in some sections, the traditional taste prevails, perhaps due to the desire to adapt more to the style of the pre-existing painting. Therefore, not being a conservative restoration as we understand it today, the coats of arms have clearly shown Dino’s intervention, who shows himself having skilled and gifted hands taking inspiration from the stylistic work of the most famous components of the Chini family, for instance, Galileo.
The Oratory of SS. Crocifisso was built in the 18th century on the site of the Company of Corpus Domini, also called “dei Battuti and dei Neri”, whose seat was erected right on its left side, and it holds the Holy Crucifix, a secular-venerated wooden sculpture of the end of the fourteenth century. The architectural complex was severely damaged by the earthquake of 29 June 1919, so much so that in the following years it was necessary to proceed with the reconstruction of a large part of the church and the chapel; these were the headquarters of the Compagnia dei Neri (Company of Blacks).
On this occasion, the Fornaci San Lorenzo lent their work to the cause, but no significant traces remain today. On the back wall of the presbytery of the oratory of the Compagnia dei Neri, there is a beautiful stained glass window divided into three panels, each of which is framed by corbel motifs and rosettes referring to the sixteenth-century style. In the center of the right sector, there is a coat of arms, in late Renaissance style: it relates to the Compagnia dei Neri and shows the Eucharistic symbols of the chalice and the sacramental bread, and the grill of the holy martyr protector of the town (Saint Laurent). The window was donated by the Fornaci and by Chino and Teresa Chini in 1922. The product, of appreciable quality, has suffered considerable and serious losses and has probably also been disassembled and reassembled incorrectly.
Leaving the chapel of the Confraternity, under the portico of the Sanctuary there are two ceramic reliefs depicting the Annunciation Angel and the Madonna Annunziata, above the side doors of the church: the figures are inspired by the Annunciation of the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, by Andrea della Robbia. Augusto Chini made a copy of this work of art and is kept at the Saint Francis Nursing Home.
The large majolica lunette in relief, also placed under the atrium of the Sanctuary and depicting the coats of arms of the Mugello municipalities, was created by Augusto Chini. Inside the church, there is a beautiful majolica tile panel depicting St. John the Baptist. In this monumental painted panel converge Medieval, Renaissance and Art Nouveau influences; a second example is known, evidently taken from the same drawing, and attributed to Galileo Chini.
The Viale della Repubblica is the result of the building expansion of the town towards the railway station, which took place in the early years of the twentieth century. Formerly named as Viale Umberto I, it presents notable and numerous architectural decorations in the villas and the buildings along the street, attributable to the Fornaci San Lorenzo.
At street number 41, a small villa bears on the upper part of the façade, two square tiles in slight relief depicting a stylized flower, and crowned by a series of painted triangles; on the opposite side of the street, another façade shows a simple decoration with four blue tiles in a diamond shape along the openings on the first floor. Further on, on the large facade of the building at street number 84, albeit very faded, there is a decorative band painted in monochrome. The house located at the following street number 88 has a large decorative band of polychrome tiles that runs up to the top floor.
On the opposite side of the avenue, at street number 57, a beautiful house shows above each of the two windows of the balconies on the first floor, a lunette: here there is a beautiful round decorative motif in majolica representing a stylized insect. Inside the building, some rooms are still very well preserved, including a magnificent entrance hall painted and covered in colored and decorated tiles. The beautiful painted decoration also bears the date 1912 and was probably taken from cardboards supplied by Galileo Chini. Crossing the road at street number 90, it is possible to admire the façade of the Cesare Bini carpentry, which was the seat of the carpentry that on several occasions produced the furniture for the rooms made and decorated by the Fornaci. Finally, at street number 92, the openings of the upper floor are decorated on the crown with polychrome tiles and worked in metallic luster, both on the facade and on the east side. Worth mentioning, also the external decorations of the beautiful house on the corner with Piazza Dante.
The current appearance of the Cemetery of Mercy is the result of changes that occurred in the first thirty years of the 1900s; above all, we remember those described in the numerous projects and drawings by the engineers Niccolò Niccolai and Severino Crott, and architect Ugo Giusti, preserved in the Confraternity Archive. From this documentation, we can deduce that the place should have assumed the appearance of a real monumental cemetery, while the achievements were then always limited to enlargement and rearrangement of the burial areas. In the area of the Main Chapel, there is a series of tombstones decorated with tiles with the cross in natural stoneware and placed on dark green ceramic panels. In the former chapel on the left, the sepulchre of Pio Chini is highlighted by a beautiful garland in stoneware and decorated with small polychrome ceramic reliefs.
The villa was built by Chino Chini around 1923, as a residence for himself and his family in Borgo San Lorenzo, near the Fornaci San Lorenzo. At that time, in fact, Chino took care of the manufacturing and therefore he had the need to live close by. It is an original construction in stone and brick, quite freely inspired by the neo-Gothic models that have been spreading since the beginning of the 20th century.
The exterior is decorated with numerous tiles from the production of the Fornaci, especially from the repertoire created for the recent monumental decorative enterprise of the Berzieri Baths of Salsomaggiore (1920 – 1923); the house was financed with the proceeds from the project in Salsomaggiore Terme. Straight ceramic appeals stand out on the façade overlooking the avenue; they are curved in correspondence with the archivolts of the windows and show coloured or gilded motifs with broken lines, rhombuses, triangles, squares and weaves. Square and round tiles with figurative details from various eras decorate the terraces and the attic; it can be considered a sort of permanent display of their samples. The balustrade and the roof of the terrace are supported on columns in Grès with a metallic luster, while around its base runs a series of lion heads in natural Grès. Under the canopy, a Madonna and Child in imitation of Della Robbia hangs between two fruit festoons. The two gates and the surrounding wall are also decorated with various minute ceramic pieces, as well as a natural terracotta relief depicting a Putto holding a moray eel; also in ceramic the plaque with the name and the plaque of the old bell, with a green lizard biting its tail.
The interior provides examples of cladding, particularly interesting also for the fact that they have been perfectly preserved, especially in the majolicas of the Bathroom, in those that cover the fireplace and in the spectacular floor with The Birth of Venus, designed by Galileo Chini and inspired by the famous Florentine painting of the Renaissance and made in polychrome stoneware by the Fornaci.
This building was designed by the engineer Severino Crott in 1928 and inaugurated in 1930 as the headquarters of the Casa del Fascio (House of Fascism). The large ceramic eagle in relief and the polychrome glass still preserved on the façade were made by the Chini manufacture; its severe style was imposed by the regime which later even banned the decorations of the exterior. Unfortunately, the decoration of the room that housed the cinema inside the building also made with the materials of the Fornaci, has been lost; but the local press described that as a sumptuous environment: “a wonderful harmony of lights and colours”.
In 1906 Galileo Chini, who, together with his cousin Chino, had founded the Fornaci San Lorenzo in that year, participates in an important restoration campaign inside the millenary Romanesque church of San Lorenzo.
The large painting in the apse is surely the most demanding of his works, depicting Christ the Redeemer enthroned between Saints Lorenzo and Martino, ancient protectors of the Municipality of Borgo San Lorenzo. This is probably one of the first artistic experiments of Galileo in Mugello (at least after the foundation of the Fornaci), but a clear sign of his fame in his native land.
The painting highlights some important elements of his art. Temporarily abandoning the liberty styles, the painter makes a notable adaptation of his production to the sacred and austere character of the building. Therefore, he performs a composition with a clearly neo-medieval tone and following the taste of the time; the multiple cultural experiences of the painter converge in a well-balanced synthesis; his intense activity of restorer of ancient paintings in the churches of Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Trinità and Santa Croce surely influenced this work.
The solemn, hieratic solidity of the figures, almost with a Romanesque tone, perfectly aligns with the modernist decorative refinements, which make this commitment of Galileo much more valuable than a simple neo-medieval painting.
The remarkable quality of the design reaches its peak in the splendid lower decorative band of the basin: its graphic and chromatic preciousness are combined with the modern elegance of the liberty style of Galileo.
Other creations by the Fornaci and Galileo Chini enriched the Pieve of San Lorenzo, but have disappeared over the decades. In particular, in 1907 the main chapel was equipped with two wrought iron gates made by the blacksmith Carlo Torelli from a design by Galileo; Niccolai remembers in 1914 the Chini decoration of the baptismal font in the chapel; and in 1919 Galileo and Chino had made a votive altar dedicated to the Madonna of purity.
Recently, a canvas by Galileo Chini was placed above the baptismal font. The painting, framed in a decorative work by the sculptor Salvatore Cipolla, represents a solemn figure of St. John the Baptist. Purchased by the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, the painting was then granted to the Borgo San Lorenzo parish. This work, belonging to the late phase of the Chini production, is characterized by the strong plasticity of the figure of the Saint, powerfully defined by fast and chromatically contrasting brushstrokes, which increases its dramatic effect.
© Il Filo – Idee e Notizie dal Mugello, Aprile 2021