Juvarra, Filippo

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Juvarra, Filipo (Messina 1678- Madrid 1736): Italian architect, designer and draughtsman formative in transforming Turin into an 18th century royal center.

Juvarra’s late Baroque architecture embodies that period’s emphasis on grandeur but with a directness rare in his contemporaries. A skilled draughtsman, he produced voluminous sketchbooks, ranging from scientifically precise renderings of coats of arms, to careful renderings of historic buildings, to fantastic set designs for theatrical productions. Juvarra’s vast architectural programs for palatial estates, churches and urban plans transformed Turin from a provincial to a royal center of power.

Apprenticed to his father as a silversmith, Juvarra also studied theology and became an ordained priest. Ordination gave him entry into Roman society in 1704, where he worked under Carlo Fontana, Rome’s primary architect. Studying at and then teaching in the Accademia di S Luca under Fontana, Juvarra was inspired by the vigorously physical nature of the architecture of Michelangelo and Borromini and the decorative and theatrical programs of Bernini. In Rome, Juvarra was most gainfully employed as a theatrical stage designer to Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. These designs departed from the formal architectural images of past theatrical backdrops to more illusionistically convincing renderings.

When Juvarra left Rome for Turin and Piedmont in 1714, it was to enter into the architectural service of Victor Amadeus II, following Guarino Guarini (1624-83) as the leading architect of the city. While in Turin, Juvarra completed four churches: Basilica di Superga (1717-31); S Filippo Neri (1715); Santa Croce (1718-30); Church of the Carmine (1732-36). The Basilica di Superga is dominated by a centrally placed dome, which soars 1500’ above Turin by being built on a steep hill outside the city and by being raised on a tall drum. While decorative bell towers flank the dome, the heavily ribbed dome and drum, as well as the uniting giant orders of engaged pilasters, calls to mind Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s. S Filippo Neri used a longitudinal plan, but Juvarra’s Santa Croce, following Borromini, bridges the longitudinal and the central plan by employing an oval as its basis. Juvarra’s greatest design is considered to be that of the Church of the Carmine, where the supporting structure of its nave is compellingly dematerialized. Juvarra made the height of its side aisles equal to that of the nave, creating a spatial connection between formerly segregated areas. Airy, light-filled and theatrically surprising, the Church of the Carmine demonstrates Juvarra’ skills at minimizing mass in piers and vaults in favor of continuously linked spaces punctured by prevalent and carefully placed sources of light.

While in the employ of Victor Amadeus, Juvarra also executed residential projects. The most visible was his renovation and rebuilding of the Palazzo Madama (1718-21). Located prominently on the Piazza Castello, the Palazzo Madama had been transformed over its history from a Roman city gate, to a medieval fortress and then to a royal residence for the House of Savoy. Juvarra’s drastic plans for it, were left largely unexecuted with the exception of the façade and the notably grand interior staircase. Juvarra made the staircase, often a utilitarian architectural afterthought, into a theatrical stage for royal patrons, for whom the rituals of greeting, arriving and departing were key social and political events. Equally impressive in formality and in architectural stagecraft, but on a fully developed scale, is Juvarra’s Stupinigi (1729-33) in Turin, a royal hunting lodge modeled on the Versailles axial prototype. Just before Juvarra’s 1736 death, he was called to Spain by Philip V to design a new royal residence in the wake of a fire to the old one. Fully planned, but never executed, the structure would have been the largest royal residence in Europe.

Further Reading:

Gritella, G., Juvarra: l’architettura, 1992.

Pommer, R., Eighteenth-century Architecture in Piedmont; The Open Structures of Juvarra, Alfieri & Vittone, 1967.

Randall K. Van Schepen

Roger Williams University