Venice has always been a city dedicated to the arts, so it was no surprise that it quickly and fully embraced the seventh art, cinema. In 1932, the Serenissima invented the Mostra, the world’s oldest film festival and its top prize, the Golden Lion, the symbol of the city’s patron saint, San Marco. Frank Capra’s Forbidden and the first, inimitable Frankenstein, directed by James Whale, were shown at the cinema on Venice’s Lido island, in the presence of Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and Vittorio De Sica. A few years later, Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, the founder of the Mostra and President of the Biennale di Venezia, realised his ambition to bring the festival to the heart of the city, housed in a huge cinema that was open to all. The architectural project was completed in 1936 and the Mostra found its place in the city, on the site of Cinema Teatro San Marco, one of city’s oldest cinemas which had been built in 1908.
An Architectural Challenge
For writer and art historian Adrien Goetz, this “La Fenice of Cinema,” situated between the Piazza San Marco and the church of San Moisè, represents an architectural conundrum: “can the neoclassical or the neo-Baroque styles suit a cinema?” The choice of architect Brenno Del Giudice was, for Goetz, like writing “a manifesto for contemporary architecture.” Alongside sculptor Napoleone Martinuzzi and painter Guido Cadorin, Del Giudice created a chef d’oeuvre, a “ model of balance between the Venetian tradition which the three men came from” and “an eruption of genuine modernity in the shadow of the Basilica di San Marco.” The cinema space, with more than 1,100 seats, was reminiscent of “naval architecture rather than traditional Italian theatres”, says Goetz, with a “huge suspended, democratic balcony, no boxes, no dress circle; it was a cruise ship without first or second class. A complete work of art in a new genre.”
The Venetian’s Cinema
The inspirational cinema was a dialogue between eras and also between concepts. Guido Cadorin, an heir to 17th century Venetian craftsmen, responded to the building’s external minimalism with a bright fresco that lit up the lobby and featured characters from the commedia dell’arte, the playful and popular Italian art form and ancestor of cinema. the artist chose a gold mosaic to echo the vaulted ceilings of the Basilica di San Marco, a way, according to Adrien Goetz, of reaffirming that “this cinema had an international aspect, but above all it had to be the cinema of the Venetians.”
While Cadorin’s work has survived, transferred to a neighbouring palazzo, the cinema’s original décor was unfortunately lost in successive refits. It was with this heritage in mind that Louis Vuitton began writing a new page in the building’s history, with a unique project combining fashion, exceptional craftsmanship and culture. From April 21st to May 19th 2013, on the Maison’s top floor, a series of photographs will tell the story of this building which is so dear to Venetians.
Images via Louis Vuitton