CASA SARACENI

via Farini, 15

History

The building stands on a site where the Clarissimi family owned a house in the 13th century. A plaque in the adjacent Vicolo S. Damiano still records that a tower belonging to A. Clarissimi there once stood on the spot. It was converted into the present raised terrace in 1469. Some sources claim that Casa Saraceni must have already been built in the early 16th century, probably by Antonio Saraceni, a member of the city’s ancient nobility and an anziano (councillor) of the Senate from 1468 to 1502. The importance and splendour of the residence are shown by the fact that on 18 September 1510, after the expulsion of the Bentivoglio family, it was chosen as the most appropriate place to lodge two Venetian ambassadors visiting Bologna in the retinue of Pope Julius II. In 1575, it passed by inheritance to the Cospi family, in 1631 to the Garzoni and in 1735 to a charity, the Opera dei Vergognosi, which leased it to one Gualandi, a canon lawyer. In the early 19th century the building was still owned by the Gualandi family. After further changes of ownership, in December 1925 the whole building was acquired by the Società AnonimaMagazzini Centrali Italiani and in 1930 it passed into the ownership of the Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna.

Architectural features

With its outstanding historical and artistic importance, the building is considered one of the most interesting the Renaissance city produced in the late 15th century. Its compositional model makes it comparable to Palazzo Felicini-Pallavicini (1497-1528) in Via Galliera. The design of the façade blends the solid Bolognese tradition with an innovative Florentine architectural vocabulary. Local materials and elements are combined in new forms inspired by the refined scheme of Brunelleschi’s Ospedale degli Innocenti (1421), which is well suited to Bologna because of the portico. The conception of the dark string courses, echoing the horizontal emphasis of Filippo Brunelleschi’s work, here takes the form of cornices running across the façade and underscoring the arrangement of the windows. The building is fairly small, well proportioned and modulated by a strict rhythmical order. The terracotta decorations, rich yet restrained, play an important part by emphasising the architectural divisions and embellishing the design of the windows and the cornice moulding which crowns it. The façade, elegant and harmonious, is divided into two stories. It rises  above a large portico which has seven rounded arches resting on brick columns with sandstone capitals, counterpointing the six large windows set in the piano nobile, with their round arches, central pendant capitals and broad surrounds of decorative beading. The upper floor has a  succession of rectangular windows that rhythmically articulate the space below the cornicemoulding. In 1860 the arches of the portico were partly interred, so reducing the upward thrust of the whole building due to the levelling of the road, formerly called Via Ponte di Ferro (running  between Piazza de’ Calderini and Via Castiglione). This was after Bologna was added to the Kingdom of Sardinia and the new Via Farini was laid out, unifying and straightening the course of four consecutive streets that formerly had different names.

Restorationwork in the 1930s

The bank commissioned an engineer, Augusto Baulina Paleotti, to adapt the building to the new practical needs of the banking services for which it was to be used. Paleotti consolidated the part of the building towards Vicolo S. Damiano, replaced some columns in the portico, rebuilt the walls of the raised terrace and inserted new windows in it, while the interiors were decorated with murals in the Renaissance revival style typical of the period. So while the exterior preserved the original appearance of the façade, the interior was drastically restructured to increase the distinction and prestige of the rooms, enlarged by taking in the building behind the palazzo and adjacent to it. This made it possible to lay out the spaces more coherently, but on the outside the two buildings still retain their separate identities.

Interior

On the ground floor, the wooden coffered ceilings of the salons were reconstructed on the Cinquecento model and a marble staircase was installed, adorned with decorated vaults in the manner of Raphael. This was the work of Roberto Franzoni (1882-1960), a leading exponent of Art Nouveau in Bologna, who created his most complex and successful work in Casa Sareceni (1933). Having studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna under the guidance of Achille Casanova and Enrico Barberi, Franzoni devoted himself not only to painting but also sculpture, graphic design and commercial art. A member of the circle founded by Alfonso Rubbiani, Franzoni here revealed his mastery in Art Nouveau decorations in the tradition and style typical of the Renaissance revival. In particular he decorated the vault of the great staircase with lively grotesques and the coffered ceilings on the first floor with allegorical images extolling the virtues of thrift and hard work. Sinuous, spiralling lines bring out the figures firmly, with clear volumes and bright colours. The decorative cycle shows that the artist possessed remarkable natural skill, refined by his exacting academic studies. His art draws on Pre-Raphaelite ideals of beauty while endowing the figures with unusual realism. During the restructuring work a second floor was added. The panels over the doors were decorated with bright stucco ornaments and landscapes inspired by 18th-century works.

Modern restorationwork

More recently, the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna has undertaken a new and important program of restoring and enhancing the whole building. The refurbishment of the exterior between 1995 and 1998 was followed in 2001 by a makeover of the interior. The extensive and detailed restoration project involved special maintenance work and functional improvements. The reception facilities, services and activities of the Foundation have been upgraded. The work included careful cleaning and restoration of all the marble and sandstone elements, the wooden ceilings, terrazzo  flooring, the door and window frames, and all the painted or decorated surfaces. This work made it possible in May 2004 to open the new reception rooms on the ground floor, fitted up to be venue for exhibitions with all the most modern equipment. To these was added a large space designed for hosting meetings and conferences.

On the occasion of the third edition of the Festival della Scienza Medica, Casa Saraceni will be  open beyond normal opening times:

Thursday, April 20, 2 p.m. – 7 p.m.;
Friday, April 21, 2 p.m. – 8 p.m.;
Saturday, April 22,  2 p.m. – 8 p.m.;
Sunday, April 23, 12 o’clock – 6 p.m.

During thwe weekend, guided tours will be organized at the following times:

Saturday, April 22, 4 p.m. and 5.30 p.m.;
Sunday, April 23, 3 p.m. and 4.30 p.m.

Free entrance

Find out more on http://www.genusbononiae.it/en/palazzi/casa-saraceni/