The Greatness of Milan Through the Lens of Bottega Veneta

Milan’s eternal flair is found at Bottega Veneta’s palace of home design on Via Borgospesso.

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Cyrill Matter

The paving stones I remember from Milan are not the small convex humps that you see in other cities—unstable and dark as mussel shells—but big, pitted rectangles of pale stone, so wide and heavy that each one seemed to have required a specific and very particular effort. The high heels of my boots would dodge and dance around the pits and dents, and I’d take a little breath before fording the channel of sand between one paving stone and the next.

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They were as block-like as the palazzi of Milan, their ornamental pits as strange and perversely whimsical as the giant bronze ear set into the wall of an apartment building on Via Serbelloni. The Surrealistic-looking ear, turned green by time and the varied particulate matter in the Milanese air, was originally designed in 1927 by the sculptor Adolfo Wildt as access to an intercom.

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Inside Bottega Veneta in Milan
Cyrill Matter

When I lived in Milan, I tried to understand what made its style so distinct from that of the rest of Italy. Unlike Rome, there were no comforting red walls, and instead of ruins, there were the remaining structures of the 15th-century Lazzaretto complex; instead of curls on the facades of Baroque churches, Milan’s Duomo rose vast and lonely from the middle of its big empty square, its back and buttresses bristling and spiked so that it looked like a monumental hybrid of pregnant mountain and irritated dinosaur.

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Inside Bottega Veneta at Palazzo Gallarati Scotti.
Cyrill Matter

The long, straight streets weren’t cozy or romantic or inviting, but as I slogged along, breathing in car exhaust, past the closed plate-glass windows of cafés without terraces, I’d sometimes catch the heavy doors on one of the looming palazzi cracking open. Through them, I could see an inner courtyard with walls covered in flowered vines so delicate, so gentle, so disconnected from the heavy stones around them that they looked like drawings or hallucinations.

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Milanese style comes down to the tension between over-scaled volumes anchored by the weight of bronze, a perverse etherealness, and a glancing, mobile wit.

And just when I thought all visual relief would be light and evanescent, more massive bronze forms would assert themselves, such as Arnaldo Pomodoro’s hulking great disc in the center of Piazza Meda. I eventually decided that the Milanese style came down to the tension between over-scaled volumes anchored by the weight of bronze, a perverse etherealness, and a glancing, mobile wit.

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Inside Bottega Veneta in Milan.
Cyrill Matter

This style is impeccably reflected in the relationship between the Palazzo Gallarati Scotti, on Milan’s Via Borgospesso, and the Bottega Veneta home furnishings within. The palazzo dates from the 18th century, with frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, while the contemporary chandelier over the dining table—which looks like the same delicately braided leather as the brand’s handbags—is, in fact, made from dense, heavy bronze by jeweler Osanna Visconti di Modrone.

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Inside Bottega Veneta in Milan
Cyrill Matter

Some sofas are upholstered in shades so muted—pale peach, hushed green, vanishing taupe—that they seem to cancel out their own bulk. Fringes along the bottom match the colors perfectly in strips of suede. The silverware is exhibited as spills of cutlery in three patinas: sterling silver, sterling silver with a rhodium finish, and stainless steel. All of the pieces are etched with a fine crosshatch pattern. Fine porcelain is also hand-painted with crosshatches, blurred so that the pattern here is recessive rather than assertive.

It takes skill, craft, and imagination to create the bold madness that flourishes, I think, only in Milan, where paving stones become rafts across a sea of sand.

Produced by Charles Curkin

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