The architect, Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, who played a central role in rebuilding Catania, Sicily after the devastating 1693 earthquake, was born on February 3, 1702 in Palermo. Although trained in Rome by Carlo Fontana, Vaccarini’s architectural style is a synthesis of Baroque forms. Vaccarini enjoyed the support of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni much like Filippo Juvarra, whose designs Vaccarini knew well. In addition, Vaccarini’s play of concave and convex in the treatment of facades draws from Borromini while his symbolic capitals draw inspiration from Guarino Guarini’s architectural treatise. According to Anthony Blunt, he preferred the “lively” forms of Francesco de Sanctis, Filippo Raguzzini, and Alessandro Specchi to more classical inspired ones. (Blunt, 19) Vaccarini’s continued study of the architectural design of his contemporaries is evident in the work completed at the end of his career; in the projects completed after 1756, Vaccarini’s familiarity with the work of Luigi Vanvitelli and Ferdinando Fuga in Naples is evident.
In 1730, the Senate in Catania named Vaccarini architect to the city. Vaccarini arrived at a time of rapid rebuilding. In 1736, he completed a fountain in the piazza in front of the Municipio. With its elephant (the symbol of the city) base and obelisk, the design echoes the Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk but the treatment of the decoration typifies Vaccarini’s handling of the local black lava stone.
Vaccarini’s consideration of vernacular forms is evident in many of his designs. The convent church of Sant’Agata includes the choir tradition in the region with forms that borrow from Borromini’s Sant’Agnese in Agone and San Carlino. His Palazzo Valle integrates the wrought-iron balcony form into a sacred context and San Giuliano has a covered belvedere that allowed the nuns to “take the cool air of the evening.” (Blunt, 20)
Facade, Cathedral, finished 1768. Catania, Sicily. (Berthold Werner, Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Sant’Agata, 1748-67. (Image credit: Giovanni Dall’Orto Wikimedia Commons)
San Giuliano, 1739-60 (Image credit: Effems, Wikimedia Commons)
Further reading: Giuffre, Maria and Melo Minnella. The Baroque Architecture of Sicily. London: Thames and Hudson, 2008; Blunt, Anthony F. and Jorg M. Merz. Pietro da Cortona and Roman Baroque Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.