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The ornamental system

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“The floor, covered in enamels, is a very elegant creation of a group of Venetian artists. In the middle of the Octagon four magnificent mosaics by Salviati represent alternately Italy and England’s coat of arms. The shops, which add up to 96 and occupy the entire ground floor on both sides of the building, are vast, elegant and closed by large glass doors: between the two entrances and above marble pedestals rise pilaster strips that are decorated with varied stucco designs and ascend above the first floor, where a balcony runs around the entire building, surrounded by a beautiful balustrade, on which the coats of arms of 100 Italian cities are represented. The first floor has large and majestic windows and rises above a second floor, which is very low and almost completely hidden by the balcony railing. This, in our opinion, represents a real flaw, as it obviously does not fit into the bigger picture of the project. The third floor, which would have made a better second floor, displays beautiful proportions, and its windows are elegantly designed and intercalated with magnificent caryatids, which support an opulent frame mould, from where the iron arches of the stained glass windows stick out. Four distinguished painters, Casnedi, Pagliano, Giuliano and Pietrasanta, using the fresco method, painted four large allegorical paintings representing the parts of the world, in the four lunettes, which are created by the dome curvature in the octagon. Someone could point out that the parts of the world are five, and that these allegories are now old-fashioned; but let's not dwell on these minor flaws. Inside the pendentives of the two lateral entrance arches, on the bases of the pilaster strips, the same artists painted frescos on a golden background, which represented other four allegorical figures far more well-chosen as well as well-painted, which are the personifications of Science, Industry, Arts and Agriculture. Inside the Octagon and then on the sides of the four entrance doors, at each pilaster base, were placed 24 large life-sized statues of renowned Italians created by Milanese artists, and some came out really beautifully, like Barzaghi’s Raffaello, Magni’s Machiavelli, Lanzone, Giovanni da Procida ...""

from the corriere delle dame, 23rd September 1867

THE FOUR CONTINENTS

Having finally completed the delicate coverage phase of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in late May 1867, the London-based granting construction company signed the contract to decorate the four lunettes just below the massive vault of the central octagon. Therefore, just over three months were left before that ambitious construction feat had to be inaugurated in the presence of the King on the 15th of September, during a crowded ceremony.

On the other hand, since the laying go the foundation stone in March 1865, construction work of the Galleria had been progressing at a frenetic pace that accelerated in a feverishly way towards the end of the project; as a result excited and incessant updates on the construction’s progress invariably followed one after another on the pages of the town chronicles, and with this did not fail to announce, on 5th August, the completion of the bigger lunettes decoration.

Four artists took on the challenge, each engaged in the construction of a large compartment. The idea was to reduce completion time of the whole set as much as possible, though running the risk of stylistic discontinuity, which would have not gone unnoticed by Giuseppe Mengoni and his stern critical eye. The four, who were assigned the decoration of a 15 x 7.50 meters area, were all established painters in Milan and were already used to managing vast areas; all of them had a strong academic culture that ensured them at once consummate allegorical skills and celebratory availability, both indispensable qualities to face the colossal personifications of the four parts of the world that are to face each other from the top of the new Milanese gallery.

  1. America by Raffaele Casmedi - mosaic by Alessando dal Prat

  2. Europa by Angelo Pietrasanta - mosaic by Alessando dal Prat

  3. Asia by Bartolomeo Giuliano - mosaic by Alessando dal Prat

  4. Africa by Eleuterio Pagliano - mosaic by Alessando dal Prat

Raffaele Casnedi, professor of design at the Brera Academy, prepared a matronly feathered America pictured between native Americans and African-American slaves; Asia instead was painted by his deputy Bartolomeo Giuliano languidly seated on her throne while receiving the homage of a Mandarin man escorted by picturesque natives. Instead the young Angelo Pietrasanta was assigned Europe; with her brown and severe look, her tools of human knowledge, which a winged genius equipped with laurel is guarding, as a reminder to the ancient civilization.

Finally, recently back from the decorative toils for the new station in Milan, just like Casnedi, Eleuterio Pagliano entrusted the portrayal of Africa to the prosperous appearance of an ancient Egyptian woman, standing between rich and Nilotic crops and the profile of a tamely bold lion.

  In such triumph of bright skies and colossal figures, therefore, the four corners of the world were chosen as the theme to crown the city’s new Omphalòs, cherishing the ambition to fulfil an international destiny for Milan in the post-unity era, the city where the gallery was rising, as Beretta, Milan’s mayor, would have triumphantly recalled on the day of its inauguration, thanks "to the harmonious blend of Italian art and foreign capital"

THE HUMAN ACTIVITIES

On the same occasion, King Vittorio Emanuele, reviewing all the various construction companies lined up with their flags at the entrance of the Galleria, had to be very pleased at finding more and more of these workers, whenever he came to the city, as if this fact demonstrated, through the colourful crowd of flags, the growing industry of Milan in the late nineteenth century. And to reiterate the laborious nature of the Lombard city, in the new gallery, which was going to house luxury shops, were in fact the representations of human activities located within the four semi-lunettes in the two arches of the side entrances on Tommaso Grossi and Giovanni Berchet streets.


Works of the same artists that were already engaged in the octagon paintings, these personifications stood out against golden backgrounds, painted in tempera on canvas panels, which reads the successful planting in the town chronicles of September 6, 1867; Giuliano painted Science, which paired up with Pietrasanta’s Industry, while in the lunettes above Berchet street was the couple made up by Casnedi’s Art and Pagliano’s Agriculture, a painter that soon after would have moved his studio into a large apartment located above the arch of the new gallery on Piazza della Scala side.

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  1. Human activities. L'agricultura di Eleuterio Pagliano

  2. Human activities. La scienza di Bartolomeo Giuliano

  3. Human activities. L'industria di Angelo Pietrasanta

  4. Human activities. L'arte di Raffaele Casnedi

THE EMINENT ITALIANS

Finally, a large group of eminent Italians, made up by twenty-five life-size plaster statues, recalled the glorious past of the new nation; these personalities had gathered from every era, raised on shelves and paired up along the central octagon of the city gallery, to adorn its entrances. Among others, 46 were the sculptors of the Milan Academy ofcthe late nineteenth century that were exemplarily showcased; we could name Odoardo Tabacchi, author of a Dante and a Lanzone at court, Antonio Tantardini with his Romagnosi, and last but not least Pietro Magni with his six statues: Volta, Michelangelo, Galileo, Cavour, Leonardo and Pier Capponi.

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  1. View of a side of the octagon. Detail of the statues.

The great statues were progressively positioned between the end of July of 1867 and the beginning of September, so as to make sure that the Galleria looked as complete as possible on the day of its inauguration, giving it, thanks to those plaster statues, a grandiose and certainly short-lived look, yet of immediate effect.

However, everybody was expecting their subsequent conversion into marble, since only in such way was it possible to ensure longevity to the distinguished personalities that the high vaults of the Galleria could not entirely shelter from the damage of climatic change. No wonder then that, having never been replaced, already in 1891 such plaster works, increasingly weather-beaten, were gradually removed, leaving the worldly splendours of the Milan Galleria and proceeding to some dark abode in unspecified municipal deposits.

The legend of the bull

In Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is located

the emblem of a bull representing the city of Turin

The custom, founded as a mockery and insult to the rival city, says that it brings luck to put your foot on the attributes of the bull and complete a full circle with eyes closed!

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  1. Details of the mosaic that decorates the floor, the emblem of Florence

  2. Details of the mosaic that decorates the floor, the emblem of Rome

  3. Details of the mosaic that decorates the floor, the emblem of Savoy

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  1. Detail of interior decoration: cariatide

  2. Detail of interior decoration: pilaster

  3. Detail if the eagle in plaster placed in the notches of the dome

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  1. Detail emblem balcony of 100 municipalities

  2. Detail of niche decorated under the arch that opens on Piazza della Scala

  3. Dettaglio stemma balconata dei 100 comuni