By: Amy Fredrickson
Ernesto Basile died on 26 August 1932. Born in Palermo on 31 January 1857, Basile grew to be a leading architect, designer, and chair of the architecture department at the University of Palermo. His father, Giovanni Battista Filippo Basile (1825-1891), who was also an architect, influenced his son’s style. In fact, after his father died, Ernesto Basile finished his father’s commission of the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele in Palermo. Several exhibitions displayed Basile’s work, including the 1892 National Exhibition in Palermo. For this exhibition, he drew on aspects of other cultures, such as Roman Baroque marble, influences of Catalan-Gothic, Islamic, and Norman inspirations.
Basile’s work was particularly popular between 1890 and 1914. During this time, Art Nouveau was considered the most popular form of architecture throughout Europe. Its counterpart in Italy, which was often referred to as Liberty Style architecture, was a combination of traditionalism and nationalism accompanied by Italian classical components. Palermo’s upper middle-class commissioned Basile’s architecture as a way to assert their newly established socioeconomic status after Italian unification. As a result, Palermo’s city center was steeped in Liberty Style architecture.
Basile also studied traditional Sicilian architecture. He copied and measured Matteo Carnilivari’s (c.15th Century) drawings for practice. While his work is indicative of the Liberty Style, it also draws on important Sicilian architecture from the quattrocento. The Villino Florio (1899-1902) is an example of how Basile executed elegant linear designs, which were representative of the Liberty Style. Basile worked in conjunction with the prominent Florio family and The Villino Florio used some fifteenth-century aspects of Carnilvari’s work. The villa is both original and eclectic in Basile’s inclusion of curved surfaces which are reminiscent of the Roman Baroque period, cylindrical towers like those of French castles, and Romanesque and Renaissance colonnades. Together these aspects create the eclectic facade that Basile made popular in Palermo.
Basile also designed interiors. The Hotel Villa Igiea (1899–1904) is the only interior that still survives today, and is steeped in the Liberty Style, from the large windows to the wrought iron bannisters and the inclusion of Art Nouveau frescos. In addition to this Palermo project, he also acquired a prestigious commission in Rome. He designed a new addition to the parliament building in Rome, where he worked from 1902 to 1914. Basile produced an incredible work that was an addition to Bernini’s Palazzo Montecitorio.
Basile’s architecture assumed a more classical nature following World War I, which is evident in two buildings located in Palermo, the Istituto Provinciale Antitubercolare (1920- 1925) and the Albergo Diorno (1925). These works are prime examples of his resistance to Functionalism, which became popular in twentieth-century architecture. Unfortunately, many of his works are no longer in existence; the buildings that remain, however, show Basile’s contribution to Italian architecture.
Curl, James Stevens, A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (London: Oxford University Press, 2006) p. 68.
Helen M. Hills. “Basile.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 19, 2017
Rusell, Frank, ed. Art Nouveau Architecture, (London: Academy Editions, 1983) p. 211.
Ernesto Basile, Villa Igiea Grand Hotel (Interior), 1908, Palermo, Italy
Ernesto Basile and Giovanni Battista Filippo Basile, Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele, 1897, Palermo, Italy
Ernesto Basile, Villa Florio,1899-1902, Palermo, Italy
Ernesto Basile, Palazzo Montecitorio (addition), 1908-1919,nRome, Italy