Carlo Scarpa’s Brion-Vega Cemetery

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“I would like to explain the Tomba Brion…I consider this work, if you permit me, to be rather good and which will get better over time. I have tried to put some poetic imagination into it, though not in order to create poetic architecture but to make a certain kind of architecture that could emanate a sense of formal poetry….The place for the dead is a garden….I wanted to show some ways in which you could approach death in a social and civic way; and further what meaning there was in death, in the ephemerality of life—other than these shoe-boxes.” Carlo Scarpa

Dan Hill at City of Sound reminds us (okay, reminds me…) of Carlo Scarpa’s incredible private cemetery via a link to a Wallpaper* photo feature about the place. Scarpa’s final work (he’s buried in the grounds) was built for the Brion family at San Vito d’Altivole, Italy, and completed in 1978.

This construction and other Scarpa buildings often come to mind after encountering some disastrous use of concrete in architecture. Scarpa, like Frank Lloyd Wright, shows how well that meanest of building materials could be used with the application of care and imagination. And Scarpa, like Wright, also favoured attention to detail, with the cemetery providing copious examples of this, notably the motif of a pair of interlaced circles which feature as a prominent window design and recur in tiny elements elsewhere. Those paired circles and the garden itself remind me of the Jantar Mantar at Jaipur. I’m sure I read that one of Scarpa’s influences for the cemetery was Arnold Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead but I’m unable to find any online reference. For more about that painting, there’s my earlier post on the subject.

• Flickr has a wealth of photographs of the cemetery
A black & white photo set by Gerald Zugmann

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hugh Ferriss and The Metropolis of Tomorrow
The Jantar Mantar
Arnold Böcklin and The Isle of the Dead
Frank Lloyd Wright’s future city

Masonic fonts and the designer’s dark materials

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The trailer for The Golden Compass turned up this week, the first part of Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy, and I can’t help but note that the film’s designers have chosen Jonathan Barnbrook’s Mason font for the titles and the rest of the typography. This isn’t so surprising given that Mason has been used on the covers of several editions of the books already but I wonder if this flush of even greater popularity will spell (as it were) the end of a stylish typeface.

hdm.jpgMason (originally named Manson) was one of Barnbrook’s earliest published type designs, appearing in 1992 via the Emigré foundry, and over the past fifteen years has been widely imitated and become the default font for fantasy works, especially book jackets. The attraction for the genre is obvious in the way the design uses elegant and traditional serif letterforms that have been amended slightly to give them a distinctive quasi-ecclesiastical flavour, with flourishes derived from Greek, Renaissance and Biblical letters. The Gothic arch of the letter A has also helped make the font a popular choice for New Age or occult books. Mason was designed as a set of serif and sans serif variations but it’s Mason Serif Regular which is used the most. (The cover for The Science of His Dark Materials shown here is using both the sans serif variation and Mason Regular Alternate.)

Distinctive fonts take a while to get around and I don’t recall seeing Mason until at least 1994. From 1995 to 2000 it began to appear everywhere, even in newspaper ads for a while, before finding a permanent place in the book world. The trouble with this kind of ubiquity is that the novelty the design once possessed quickly vanishes and it begins to runs the risk of becoming a design cliché. Many typefaces go this way, especially in the publishing world where the choice of typeface is often dictated by genre expectations. So Orbit-B and its variants used to signify “science fiction” or “the future” in the 1970s, Caslon Antique and Rubens have become associated with horror while FF Confidential has been over-used for crime novels.

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The apocalyptic art of Francis Danby

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The Deluge (1840).

In the days before cinema and the likes of Roland Emmerich, people had to visit galleries or see touring exhibitions of huge paintings for their fill of artistic cataclysm. I discovered some of these works on my first visit to the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain), aged 13. I was there to see favourite pictures by the Pop artists and Surrealists and so was completely unprepared for the room of three John Martin paintings and the awesome (and enormous) The Deluge by Francis Danby (1793–1861). These were pictures that never appeared in conventional art histories although subsequent scouring of libaries revealed at least one book devoted to Martin’s scenes of Biblical destruction. Danby, on the other hand, remained obscure, and for years this single painting was the only work of his that I’d seen.

Over the years I’ve come to prefer The Deluge to many of Martin’s paintings. His figures are larger and the draughtsmanship is better, the composition is more developed and the technical qualities (despite complaints in the article below) are superb. Like many painters of this period, Danby had great skill at rendering the translucence of water and the gorgeous texture of the waves in this painting was one of the first things to strike me (something that’s impossible see in books or online reproduction). Closer examination reveals detail of a kind that Martin usually buries or ignores, from the tiny ark sailing away on the horizon, to the lion clutching desperately at a branch to escape the water. Most curious of all, in the far right the painter has stranded a pair of anomalous Biblical figures, a glowing angel and what appears to be a drowned giant. The Deluge is probably Danby’s most accomplished work so it’s good to know it remains on public display.

The following article is seventeen years old and remains the only newspaper or magazine feature I’ve seen about Danby’s work to date.

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An Attempt to illustrate the Opening of the Sixth Seal (1828).

Darkness Visible

Many of the sombre, apocalyptic works by the nineteenth-century painter Francis Danby have become darker still as the paint and varnish have deteriorated over the years. But now some have been successfully restored for a retrospective of his work.

Andrew Graham-Dixon
Saturday, February 11th 1989
The Independent

FRANCIS DANBY’S The Upas, or Poison Tree in the Island of Java, the smash sensation of the annual British Institution exhibition of 1820 and one of the most ambitious narrative paintings of its time, has languished in the obscurity of the V&A’s basement for more than a century. Recently restored, it is the focal point of the Danby retrospective that has been mounted jointly by the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery and the Tate Gallery. The Upas Tree marked Francis Danby’s London debut, and in some style. Measuring 66in by 99in, Danby’s gloomy canvas was an enormous calling-card, his way of announcing that here, from provincial Bristol (via Ireland, his place of birth), was a young painter to be reckoned with.

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Arnold Böcklin and The Isle of the Dead

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Another favourite painting for many years and Böcklin’s most well-known work.

Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901) produced several different versions of the painting. All versions depict an oarsman and a standing white-clad figure in a small boat crossing an expanse of dark water towards a rocky island. In the boat is an object usually taken to be a coffin. The white-clad figure is often taken to be Charon, and the water analogous to the Acheron. Böcklin himself provided neither public explanation as to the meaning of the painting nor the title, which was conferred upon it by the art dealer Fritz Gurlitt in 1883. The first version of the painting, which is currently at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, was created in 1880 on a request by Marie Berna, whose husband had recently died.

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