A real palazzo

The word “palazzo” is thrown around loosely here. At the end of the day, it’s used to mean “apartment building.” But there are, in Milan, palazzi which deserve the unavoidable association an English speaker makes with the word “palace.” Here and there, usually on corners, but not always, are truly palatial-looking buildings. Ornate, grand, fairy-tale like, with an architectural vernacular verging—successfully, I’d say—on the brink of kitsch-castle.

I spotted this one the other day while ambulating in a neighborhood far outside my beaten path. It was impossible not to stare at its various textures—real and faux—and to marvel at the mix of materials. I suppose what holds it all together is the color palette, which grows out of those earthly prime materials: argilla (clay, as in brick), limestone (cement), and marble (both real and trompe l’oeil).

It’s a building to touch, to read in braille with outstretched fingers—who can resist those pyramid shaped bricks? The tiles in the entry way? The lion’s head perched above the necessary bureaucratic signage? The rough, gravelly stone cladding the building’s base? The bricks set in the traditional offset pattern but also in a gridded formation, outlining the iron-clad symmetry of the structure? And even the horizontal ridges of the closed taparelle (exterior window blinds)?

What story would these walls tell? I wonder. You can only imagine that the lives lived inside them contain some of the same conflicting elements, no? Intrigue, art and artifice, discipline and chaos, exuberance and sobriety, harmony and the lack thereof, and above all the desperate Milanese need to maintain appearances at all costs.

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2 Responses to A real palazzo

  1. Ann Moore says:

    So beautiful. We have the same kind of ornate finishing on relatively few buildings here in New York City (and increasingy few, as new structures go up), but what you have written today is very relevant to what I was thinking as I was walking the streets yesterday: The new buildings, I suppose for reasons of cost, are sleek, straight-lined, glossy, of varying heights but mostly tall. The older buildings have much more visual variety and character. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe the building that I see across the street when I look out my windows: It is cream colored brick above the first two floors, which are cement or stone of the same color, but ornate with arches over the entries; flutings, tiny curly-headed upper bodies of angels, or scholars, at the base of each of the numerous rising columns in which, above the stone (or whatever), the bricks are laid, not flat but at complementary angles so that they create, from there to the roof, a series of parallel brick “columns.” And so forth. I could go on, but I see that I don’t have the vocabulary to describe what I am seeing. And that is just one very ordinary building. The New York Public Library around the corner, an immaculately white and spectacularly low rise structure, has recently been gorgeously refurbished. What very heaven it is, just to walk the streets in New York City, as in Milan, and look.

  2. Debra Kolkka says:

    I just love these details on buildings in Italy. I find them fascinating. Visitors to Italy from Australia always amuse me when they say quite boastfully that they are going to stay in an Italian villa. They are not impressed when I tell them that villa means house, and think I am being mean. I can’t imagine what they think a palazzo is.

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