Liberty style draws its inspiration from nature’s organic forms and colours, and applies these to art and architecture. It’s a design revolution which explores the need to unite function and beauty in objects in everyday use, and does so through the work of skilled artisans working with every type of material, such as wood, gold, precious stones and building stone, wallpaper, fabrics and metals, who apply the new artistic forms of European taste and sensitivity.
In Palermo, the Liberty capital of Sicily, this fashion was established and spread thanks to a new entrepreneurial middle-class, of whom the Florio family was the main representative and customer, and thus relaunched Sicily into the world both economically and artistically. Villa Igiea, Villino Ida, Villino Florio all’Olivuzza and the Chiosco Ribaudo, and private buildings such as Castello Utveggio, Villino Basile, Villino Favaloro, are Basile masterpieces carefully designed down to the last detail to unify them with the Liberty style.
Working closely with painters such as Ettore De Maria Bergler, the Ducrot furniture workshops and many other artists and artisans, such as stonecutters, smelters and goldsmiths, decorated façades, windows, floors, doors, wallpapers, furnishings and tables (tablecloths, cutlery, porcelain) with gardens of irises and calla lilies, floral maidens like modern Boticelli Venuses, vines with hanging bunches of grapes, elegant swans, peacocks with majestic tails and plant life. They thus created the very pleasant impression of never having abandoned the earthly garden, and of living in symbiosis with nature, despite the heavy influence of the industrial revolution.
Villa Malfitano, commissioned by the Whitaker family between 1886 and 1889 on a Neo-Renaissance plan of the architect Ignazio Greco, has a fascinating “Summer” room which seems like an actual garden. This was the work of Ettore De Maria Bergler.
It’s the Belle Époque: walking along Via Notarbartolo, Via Libertà or the streets of the Politeama district, or along the streets of Mondello-Valdesi, you can absorb the atmosphere of real wealth, well-being and optimism which invaded Palermo in the early 1900s, so making it the protagonist of a new, widespread, artistic and cultural phenomenon.
There are also examples of the new fashion in the rest of Sicily:
In Favignana, there’s the Tonnara dei Florio, today an industrial archaeological heritage site; in Trapani, there’s Palazzo Ferrante, the Palazzo delle Poste e Telegrafo and Villa Laura, and in Valderice,there’s the Molino Excelsior.
In Ispica, there’s Palazzo Bruno di Belmonte, and in Vittoria, Palazzo Piazzese. There’d also Palazzo Musso in Pozzallo and Palazzo Militello in Enna.
In Licata, in the province of Agrigento, there are examples of Liberty style in Villa Sapio, Villa Urso, Villa Verderame (now Bosa) and also in civic buildings such as Casa Re-Grillo, Palazzo di Roberto Verderame and Palazzo Vitello. The Villa Maria in Casteltermini, built around 1800 and surrounded by a marvellous park, took on a typical Liberty-style look in the 1900s; the chapel, annexed to the villa, has a mixed Liberty and Moorish style.
In Catania,, the aesthetic innovation of the Liberty style was stimulated by a temporary exhibition which showed Catania residents the ephemeral achievements of Art Nouveau. A primary example of modern architecture can be found in the alluring Palazzo Rosa by the architect Fabio Maiorana in Via VI Aprile.
In Catania, an elegant and severe work by Ernesto Basile, officially opens the way to modernist architecture: this is the Palazzo Manganelli in Corso Italia, the sumptuous theatrical setting for the film, The Leopard, by Luchino Visconti. One outstanding figure on the Catania scene is the architect Tommaso Malerba who was influenced by tastes in French and German Liberty styles. His work is found in the small palazzo in Piazza Duca di Camastra, in the Palazzina Abate in Via C. Abate and in the famous Palazzo Marano in Via Umberto. In the Frigeri shop in via Manzoni, the liberty decorations are definitely the main attraction.
Catania also has the Teatro Sangiorgi, a complex which includes a café, a hotel and a restaurant. The Villa Ardizzone by Carmelo Malerba Guerreri is in an eclectic Liberty style.
The beautiful Taormina-Giardini station should be visited: the fine building is in Palermo Liberty style with a central raised section on two floors, flanked by two elongated sides. The external façade with two crenelated towers and wrought iron canopy is beautiful, as are its internal rooms, with their dark wood furniture and frescoed ceilings.
The Officine Elettriche in Caltagirone, in the old monastery of Santa Chiara area, dates from 1907 and was designed by Ernesto Basile. The upper part of the Palazzo Municipale is in Liberty style and the Palazzo Poste e Telegrafi, Casa Amico, Palazzo Magnolia and Casa Quattro Stagioni di San Fragapane are all in Liberty style. There’s also the Norman Chiesa di San Giuliano, destroyed by the 1693 earthquake, which was rebuilt with a façade in Liberty style.
In Messina the important names of the architects include Coppedè and Piacentini as well as Basile. The following are Liberty-style buildings: Villa Garner, built by the architect Santacaterina in 1903 in the typical floral Liberty style, and Villa Martines, or Villino delle Rondini, with its ceramics depicting swallows decorating the front façade. There are also Palazzo della Dogana, the Palazzo del Governo di C. Bazzani and the Cassa del Risparmio building, the work of Ernesto Basile, the Cimitero Monumentale and the Palazzo della Prefettura. In Milazzo, in the old maritime district of Vaccarella, the Villino Greco and Villa Vaccarino were built in Liberty style.