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Carlo Mollino:

Italy's Last Renaissance Man?

Largely unknown outside the creative circles, Carlo Mollino (1905-1973) is considered one of the most original Italian architects, designers and photographers of the mid-twentieth century. Born in Turin, he grew up in the city's upper-middle class society: his father was a successful engineer and exerted a strong influence on Mollino’s work.  

During the course of his life, he excelled in a variety of fields. He was interested in photography at an early age and wrote in 1949 Il Messaggio dalla Camera Oscura, the first compendium on the history of photography ever published in Italy. After his death, a large collection of erotic photographs from the mid 30’s through early 70’s was discovered and eventually published in 1985. Characterized by an elegant surrealism, these photographs display a variety of women, from the Turinese high society to prostitutes, all posing provocatively, dressed in elaborate fabrics, and paired with eclectic accessories and furnishings Mollino designed himself.  

Skiing was another of Mollino’s interest and a favorite subject of his photography. As an accomplished alpine skier in 1942 he published a three hundred page tome on downhill skiing techniques (Introduzione al Discesismo) that contains many of his own photographs and drawings emphasizing the elegance of the sport. From images of the ski tracks on snow to action portraits of downhill skiers, these images express the sensual shapes typical of his design. Mollino also trained to be a race car driver and won the Sestriere rally in 1955. He participated in the famous “24 Hours of Le Mans” in a futuristic race car (la Bisiluro) that he designed himself. In 1956 he took up flying and became an accomplished acrobatic flyer, taking part in prestigious international competitions.

Despite his many interests, Mollino was primarily an architect, designing over 400 buildings in Turin and Piedmont. However, only a dozen of his buildings now remain, most having been destroyed, abandoned, or altered beyond recognition. Among his most accomplished architectural works that still exist are the Slittovia del Lago Nero (a mountain house in Sauze d’Oulx) built in 1947, the Chamber of Commerce (1964), and Teatro Regio (1973), both in Turin, whose stage and auditorium was inspired by the anatomy of the female womb. 

Casa Mollino, Via Napione 2, Torino

He also had an interest in the occult and ancient Egypt. Casa Mollino, an elegant apartment in a late-19th-century villa situated on the banks of the river Po in downtown Turin, was conceived as his 'afterlife home' and renovated for over eight years (1960-1968). The apartment was discovered only after his death. Inspired by Egyptian mythology and symbols, it currently hosts the Museum of Casa Mollino, containing furniture, photographs, and objects he designed himself.

His furnishings were true works of art rather than objects made for commercialization: generally produced as a single item or in very limited quantities, they were made-to-suit for his clients and at times too expensive for production. A Mollino oak and glass table from 1949 was auctioned by Christie's New York and sold for $3,824,000. A world record price for a 20th century piece of furniture that was set in June 2005. 

Carlo Mollino, a renaissance man whose thrill-seeking approach to life, architecture, and design made him one of the most experimental and evocative artists of modern times.

YouTube: The Fantastic Design of Carlo Mollino

Article written by Astrid Garino in collaboration with the ICC Editorial Team

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