By Costanza Beltrami

Architect and interior designer Antonio Curri was born on 9 October 1848 in Alberobello, a small southern towen famous for its trulli. Legend has it that Curri followed Giuseppe Garibaldi in the Expedition of the Thousand, a crucial event in the Wars of Italian Unification. Later on, he attended the Academy of Arts in Naples from 1865 to 1869, and eventually became professor of decorative illustration and architecture at the same institution.

Despite being little-known today, Curri created several of the most iconic landmarks of modern Naples. In 1887-91 he collaborated with Ernesto DI Mauro to decorate the Galleria Umberto I, an airy and luxurious shopping gallery. Substituting a dangerous slum, the Galleria was the cornerstone in a process of urban risanamento, literally “making [the city] healthy again.” Covered with a glass and metal vault, and resembling Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the project proclaimed Naples’ modernity and ambition. The artist also beautified the quarters of Via Caracciolo, Posillipo and Ponte di Chiaia. and restored the interior of the Teatro di San Carlo, the world’s oldest lyric theater.

In 1890 he designed the interior of the Caffé Gambrinus, the center of Naples’ nightlife during the Belle Époque. The decoration comprises wreaths, masks, mirrors, and pastel and tempera paintings, forming a lavish, yet refined interior. It is considered Curri’s masterpiece.

References: Antonella D’Autilia. “Curri, Antonio.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press,; Tommaso Scalesse, “Curri, Antonio.” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani,

Bust of Antonio Curri in the Galleria Umberto I, Naples.

Carlo Brogi, Entrance of the Galleria Umberto I, c. 1890.

Giorgio Sommer, The Galleria Umberto I, c. 1890.

The Caffé Gambrinus, c. 1920.

Martha de Jong-Lantink, Interior of the Caffé Gambrinus, 2010.

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