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Paintings show the warmer side of Terragni's sinister brilliance


Red granite from Baveno, black Sienite, Pietra di Trani marble with red veins, Adriatic Yellow marble, ochre porphyry, opaline green glass, ebony borders, polished brass, lacquered doors, decorative panels and gilded metal blades. It sounds like a description of the tastes of an aesthetic dilettante, but is, in fact, a partial record of the palette favoured by Giuseppe Terragni.

The oddest, but also the most original section of the newly published Terragni Atlas (reviewed on page 48) is a chapter entitled 'Materials and colours', which deconstructs Terragni's oil paintings in an attempt to recapture the use of colour in his architecture, much of which has been lost either through time or neglect.

Individual paintings are reproduced on the page, broken down into blocks of colour and juxtaposed with images of Terragni's buildings, so that, for example, a colour sample from Terragni's Portrait of Man with Hat sits alongside a photograph of the facade of Casa Rustica, while his Portrait of Woman with Red Dress sits next to an a photograph of the internal staircase at the Monument to the Fallen in Como, in an attempt to demonstrate a direct relationship between the colours they employ.

The chosen analytical strategy is straightforward to the point of being simplistic, but the exercise is a reminder of the inevitable partiality of architectural commentary, and the extent to which it influences, and is influenced by, prejudice. Traditionally presented as crystalline compositions in shades of white and grey, Terragni's architecture is readily categorised as 'serious' Modernism - its controlled elegance exuding an eerie calm that seems to hint at the more chilling aspects of the Fascist society which Terragni so enthusiastically served. Presented in terms of its relationship to the vibrant colour palette of Terragni the portrait artist, the clichés are less easy to embrace. What emerges is an impression of warmth and colour. From the same buildings that seemed to signify the cold beauty of a brilliant talent employed in the service of a sinister regime, suddenly appear the exuberant outpourings of youthful creativity, executed with characteristic Mediterranean warmth.

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