Preserving the traces of history
Maria Giulia Zunino
Strolling through this delightful town in southern Sicily, we come across an eighteenth-century building with a first-floor balcony supported by a series of corbels with human features. Technically known as “caryatids”, the locals refer to these figures as “masks” and art critics are divided as to their meaning: for some they represent the four seasons, for others the states of the human soul. Along with this balcony, another distinctive feature of the building is its twentieth-century central staircase, also supported by cast-iron winged caryatids and designed by the founding father of the Sicilian Art Nouveau movement Ernesto Basile. After beginning his career as an architect in Palermo (where he worked on the family home Villino Basile alongside his father Giovanni Battista, already an established architect, and also designed Villa Igea, Villa Florio and many others), Basile moved to Rome where he worked on the project to remodel Palazzo Montecitorio, where he added the so-called Transatlantico, the long and impressive salon which surrounds the debating chamber and now acts as the informal centre of Italian politics. But he was also a pioneering designer, renowned in particular for his furniture, and a university professor.
The balcony and staircase grace the exterior of Palazzo Gaetani in Naro, a baroque jewel in the province of Agrigento which was already a flourishing royal city under Frederick II, Duke of Swabia. Extending over two floors looking out onto an Italian garden, not far from the now abandoned Norman Cathedral, the building is still inhabited by the heirs of a noble family of Neapolitan origin, whose family history includes Pope Boniface VIII (Cardinal Benedetto Gaetani, consecrated Pope in Castel Sant’Elmo in Naples on 24 December 1294).
Inside, the elegant rooms are steeped in culture and decorated with Rococo, Empire and Art Nouveau furnishings, including splendid curtains, mirrors, sofas and armchairs upholstered in velvet or embroidered fabrics, dressers and chandeliers.
The ceiling vaults were frescoed by Olivio Sozzi – an eighteenth century Palermo painter who would later become famous for the decoration of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Spaccaforno, the present-day Ispica – and depict a series of classically-inspired stories in the artist’s grandiose baroque style.
In contrast, the floor has been renovated using a contemporary material inspired by the past. Ceramic tile was chosen not just for its recyclability, durability, resistance and ease of maintenance, but above all for its aesthetic qualities.
The London collection produced by the Del Conca Group company Ceramica Faetano stands out in particular for its ability to blend in with the unique characteristics of the location. These porcelain tiles reflect a return to a traditional 20×20 cm size and are inspired by the cement tiles that were used in many early twentieth-century homes and were popular for their distinctive designs and colours. Moreover, the choice of 5 decorations (Camden, Mayfair, Notting Hill, Soho and Whitechapel) together with the 4 basic colours white, cyan, grey and taupe meant that a different floor could be created in each room. It is a coherent choice that serves as a harmonious counterpoint to the frescoes.
Ceramica Faetano, London
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): ≤0.5%
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): CLASSE GB min.
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): compliant
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): >35 N/mm2
Slip resistance (DIN 51130): R9
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): compliant
Crazing resistance (ISO 10545-11): compliant
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): compliant