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Villa Necchi Campiglio. Classically modern

By Lucia Borromeo
Director of the FAI Historic and Artistic Research

Milan, Via Mozart 14: a historic address in the centre of one of the busiest cities in Europe. At this address, hidden right at the very heart of the metropolis and in the middle of a garden with a swimming pool and vegetable garden, lies Villa Necchi Campiglio, a house that was built between 1932 and 1935, by Piero Portaluppi. A monument, really, of incomparable beauty and considerable charm that became the property of the FAI in the will left by the sisters, Gigina Campiglio Necchi and Nedda Necchi, who entrusted their house to the Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano (Italy’s National Trust) so that it would be protected, conserved and, once restored, opened to the public. These were commitments undertaken by the FAI and finally realised by June 2008, the date of the inauguration of the property.
The restoration was undertaken by Portaluppi’s grandson, Piero Castellini, and took more than three years of work and a total investment of approximately six million euro with public and private sponsors. The restoration involved four main areas: the restoration of all external and internal structures, stone paving and finishing touches on all the doors and windows of the Villa as well as further secondary buildings such as those new ones that would be used by the public such as the ticket office, bookshop and café. The second area involved work on the re-utilisation of the entire property aiming to transform Villa Necchi Campiglio into a house-museum equipped with all the most suitable facilities such as those required for conferences and temporary exhibitions. The third area concerned the adaptation of the whole area into an area that would satisfy all current laws and regulations for buildings that are destined to be opened to the public, in particular security and protection from fire. Lastly, the museum layout and the restoration of the furniture and furnishings were designed to conserve, along with the building itself, the history of a family’s lifestyle and, with this, a look at the life of the Milanese upper middle classes that were building their futures and the future of their country with commitment, dedication, a sense of responsibility and a dose of steadfast optimism. This was the future that Umberto Boccioni had revealed – ahead of his time – in his famous “Città che sale” (City Rising).
The Villa was one of Piero Portaluppi’s key works. He had been one of the creators of the architectural renaissance of the city of Milan between the two world wars and had only just been rediscovered as one of the most important architects of his day. The residence in Via Mozart was evocative of the introduction of Rationalism into the city’s architecture yet it expressed, at the same time, the ingenious creative imagination of the designer as well as the continuation of those elements that had been characteristic of the Art Deco style a few years previously. The Villa is not only a work unto itself with its imposing structure, the sensational quality of the materials and the finishing touches, the importance of the collections exhibited and the magic of its garden hidden inside the very heart of the city, but it is also the symbol of a city that was ambitious and illuminated and that, in the 1930’s, was one of very few cities that was entirely projected towards the future. For almost ten years now, Villa Necchi has been a place of culture in a city that is a great capital dedicated to work and business, a place where people can stop and meet, admire art masterpieces as well as relax and spend time with themselves and their friends. Villa Necchi is a place in which the Milanese may bear witness to the true identity of their city – a city which is both visionary and pragmatic – and a place where they might find a slice of their own history and their own culture.
Villa Necchi Campiglio was built by a culturally inquisitive and illuminated family from the city of Pavia’s upper middle class that had moved to Milan. The family soon made its house a pleasant and highly welcoming place to visit. It was open to the world and international just like the city around which it stood. It is a house that is modern and original in style, even experimental for the period in terms of the technological inclusions employed in its construction. At the same time however, the house is both as exciting as it is moving. It sets off in the mind of the visitor that sensation of “wonderment” which is one of the deepest senses connected to art. Eighty-two years after its construction, it still amazes and fascinates on account of a markedly expressed sensation of liberty employed in its conception, the luxury of its optional features – the heated swimming-pool, the tennis court (recently refurbished as an events pavilion), the enormous bathrooms of precious marble –, its confinement right in the very centre of the city, the extraordinary intuition to equip the house with the period’s most advanced technological solutions – from an internal communications system via intercom to the immense modern-style portcullis that, by rising electrically from the ground, closed the entrance at night.
Visiting Villa Necchi Campiglio – now part of the circuit of Milanese house-museums along with the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi and the Casa Boschi-Di Stefano – is a bit like travelling back in time yet not so far back as to have been forgotten, even though the grandiose lifestyle that the family enjoyed might seem to hail from a more distant moment in time. It is, however, in the furniture and the furnishings, the objects and the decoration, that are presented before us that we may enjoy a sort of living testimony to a house that had been so very intensely lived in up to just a few years ago. Gigina Campiglio Necchi lived there until her death in 2001.
The historic and artistic worth of the Villa does not only consist in these aforementioned facts. The Villa is home to the Claudia Gian Ferrari collection, an extraordinary catalogue of 44 superb works of art from the Twentieth century in Italy, from Arturo Martini to Giorgio Morandi and from Giorgio de Chirico to Mario Sironi, that the great collector (who died in 2010) had destined as a permanent loan and, in her will, as the property of the FAI, entrusting the Foundation with the responsibility to protect and enable such a hugely important collection to be known to future generations. The Villa also houses, on the first floor, the Alighiero and Emilietta de’ Micheli Collection, a complete reconstruction of the drawing room of the famous Lombard businessman and collector, with paintings by the likes of Canaletto, Tiepolo, Marieschi and Rosalba Carriera, as well as precious porcelain and Lombard maiolica, a collection of miniatures by Jean Baptiste Isabey and important Italian and French furniture from the Eighteenth century.
The Villa is as active today as ever it has been with a whole host of organised events that continue to attract extraordinary donations of works of art.