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Italian houses - Expo Paris 1867

Italian houses at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

Doesn't it seem, on seeing this palace and this marvellous garden of the Exhibition, where all the curiosities of the world have been brought together, that a capricious fairy alone could have created these enchantments?

And yet it is the cold compass of the engineer, the mathematical calculation of Industry, which has made abundant vegetation, shade, greenery and flowers emerge from an arid, bare, sun-scorched land; to the positive and mathematical genius we owe this fairy-tale picture in which the splendours of the East mingle with the splendours of the West, those of the North with those of the South.

If we are given to see under the same sky, separated only by the foliage of a few trees, the minarets and mosques of Constantinople, the massive palaces of old Egypt, the Swiss chalets, the Russian houses, the Chinese pagodas, the Arabian palaces, the Italian houses the English cottages, the fantasies of Moorish architecture next to the regular lines of Greek art, the Chinese singularities a stone's throw from the simplicity of the pavilions of the Biblical Society - this prodigious ensemble is not a fairy tale, but much better than that, a history of Industry.

It is therefore to the skilful combinations of the engineer and not to the caprices of chance that we owe it to the Italian buildings in the Exhibition Park next to the Summer Palace of the Viceroy of Egypt and the Mosque.

Italian buildings, I admit, seem a little modest next to the superb specimens of oriental architecture: but could Italy give us a shortcut to the Colosseum, a diminutive of the Pantheon, of St. Peter's, of St. John Lateran, or even of the Farnese Palace in Rome, or of the Doria Palace in Genoa? No, the result would have seemed ridiculous; one does not reduce the grandiose; to reduce it is to annihilate it.

The East could, without falling into parody, show us specimens of an architecture that consists of a few graceful details such as the elegant moucharabi hanging like nests from the sides of its palaces, its doors with their vast arches, and its delightful arabesques.

Italy has done more than just send us reductions of palaces: it has placed before our eyes the products of several industries in which it has always been without rival: that of ceramic earthenware and that of mosaics.

It is with the aim of housing the numerous objects of these two industries, or to better say of these two branches of art that it had to build two pavilions in the Park, the space having become too narrow in the enclosure of the Palace to contain the consignments of all the exhibitors of Italian earthenware and mosaics.


When one has just left the eastern buildings and is heading towards the Suffren gate, one does not delay in coming across a building with pure and regular lines; it is adorned with columns surmounted by an unadorned pediment: this is the building that is referred to as the Greek temple and that it would be better to call the Pompeian temple, as it is copied from a temple discovered among the ruins of ancient Pompeii.

A statue of Socrates stands next to the building, at the bottom of the steps, and seems to indicate the entrance.

Is it on purpose or by chance that the wise Socrates is placed there?

We do not know.

But the statue of a wise man does not seem to me to be badly placed in the vicinity of a temple where prayer does not resound, where incense does not smoke, it is true, but in which the products of work and industry, the true wisdoms of the people, are gathered.

The Greek temple was not, however, in the original thought of the Italian commission, to be used for the exhibition of various objects of industry.

Another project, which unfortunately could not be carried out, had led to the choice of this rather unusual form to house household utensils and vulgar pottery.

Let us do justice to Mr. Cipolla, the architect of the Temple and of the other Italian constructions in the Park, he had more taste than he seems to have. He did not build his temple to serve as a home for plates, bottles and earthenware vases.

The temple was to be a sort of Pompeian museum, with a host of objects found in the ashes of the unfortunate city grouped together before our eyes and showing us specimens of Roman art and industry.

There was not enough time, and perhaps not enough space, and the Pompeian exhibition was not made.

It is also to be regretted that another very curious exhibition could not be held in the same room, I am referring to the exhibition of the Sommelier apparatus, intended for the piercing of the Alps. The expense of the drilling machine and its accessories being too great, the engineers abandoned their project.

As it is, the Pompeian temple still shows us some curious works, for example two bronze reproductions of statues found under the lava and ashes of Herculaneum; one of them, the Dancing Faun, is full of grace and naivety.

Next to these statues we find the faience busts of Luca Delia Robbia and Bernard de Palissy facing each other. In the same room we find a plaster reproduction of a very curious house in Bologna in the Moorish style, and finally mosaics of various Italian marbles and numerous utensils whose only interest lies in their very low price.

On leaving the temple, let us not forget to admire the two elegant and slender Carrara fountains placed on the lawn next to various blocks of marble from Italian quarries.


A stone's throw from the Pompeian temple is a Tuscan house.

What gives it this nickname is not precisely its shape, but the device used in its construction, a device that is frequently found in Florence and in particular in the Pitti Palace and the old Ducal Palace.

This device consists of an assembly of enormous blocks of stone or marble, the edges of which protrude and which are sometimes carved in the shape of a diamond point.

However, the sculptors have done nothing to give the Tuscan house its protruding edges, only the painter's palette has been used, but what does it matter? the illusion is complete.

On the western facade of the house we see a very beautiful terracotta door, the work of M. Boni.

This red door, which rises to the roof of the building, is both powerful and graceful. The lines are severe and simple, but this door would undoubtedly be too bare if a thousand finely worked arabesques did not adorn this nakedness.

In the middle of the arabesques stand out portraits of Napoleon III, Victor Emmanuel, Cavour and Garibaldi.

The emblematic figures of Rome and Venice can be seen alongside this patriotic door surmounted by a liberated and triumphant Italy.

Inside, the Tuscan house offers the visitor a collection of fabrics and agricultural products from Italy, various works by local peasants, plans of farms, penitentiaries, relief plans of various model farms, as well as reproductions of the various instruments used in Italy for working the soil, such as spades, shovels, piles, ploughs, carts, wheelbarrows, etc.

These specimens are sufficient, I believe, to give an idea, more or less complete, of the state of agriculture in Italy.

the Italian pavilion.

After the Tuscan house, still going towards the Suffren gate, we come across the Italian pavilion, the prettiest of Mr. Cipolla's three buildings.

This graceful pavilion is exactly square, each of its sides is six metres long, it consists of a ground floor and a single storey, a flat roof with wide edges like an awning surmounts the building and defends the windows of the first floor against the bright sun.

On each of the side façades there are two arched windows. The entrance door is also arched, but the entire first floor façade above the door is glazed like a greenhouse, with two slender pink marble columns dividing this glazing into three parts: this is a very happy arrangement. On the outside, the effect it produces is graceful; on the inside, it gives light and air.

Suppose the house is built on a hill. This opening, which occupies one side of the first floor, gives this side of the flat a view of the whole countryside. Without leaving one's chair, from the very back of the room, one enjoys an immense perspective. Isn't this natural picture preferable to all possible walls, however well decorated they may be?

The fourth façade of the Italian pavilion is occupied almost entirely by a huge earthenware piece by M. Devers, the King of Italy's enamel painter.

This remarkable faience, entitled the Guardian Angel, represents an angel of gigantic size descending from heaven accompanied by two smaller angels; one holds a closed book in his hand, the still blank book of human life; the other holds a legend, still without inscription, which he is beginning to unfold. These three angels seem to cover with their gaze and their protection a graceful child lying on the lawn, his eyelids half closed.

The other walls of the house are covered with arabesques in grisaille in the Florentine style: the design of these arabesques, in the form of coiled garlands, is very graceful. In the folds of these ornaments are placed twelve earthenware medals representing the twelve months of the year, as well as the portraits of Philippe de Gérard and Bernard Palissy.

The entrance to the Italian pavilion is not public; it was built for the Italian commission; H. H.H. Prince Humbert came here to rest for a few moments during his last visits to the Universal Exhibition.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée