Carlo Mollino: the Life of a Contemporary Renaissance Artist

By Fulvio Ferrari
Painting of Carlo Mollino by Italo Cremona, 1928. Courtesy of Museo Casa Mollino.

Carlo Mollino (Turin, 1905-1973) was the son of a successful structural engineer and inherited his father's passion for engineering, from architecture to automobile engines to airplanes. In 1931 he graduated with a degree in architecture from the Politecnico di Torino where he would later become a professor in 1949, and his personal and professional affinities intersected repeatedly throughout his life. In the early 1940s, he theorized new skiing techniques, illustrated by diagrams published in a 334-page volume.

Mollino’s automobile concept to challenge the land speed record. Courtesy of Museo Casa Mollino.

Later, Mollino dedicated himself to racecars, creating a revolutionary aerodynamic car with two bodies, the Bisiluro ("Twin Torpedo"), which he test drove himself during every phase of its construction. The Bisiluro participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1955. He also designed a speed record car which would have exceeded a speed of 400 miles per hour, though was never built due to its expensive production. In 1956, Mollino obtained a pilot's license and in 1962 was recognized among the best Italian aerobatic pilots. That year he designed an aerobatic airplane. In 1936 he designed a photography studio, Casa Miller, in which he produced unique photographic-works, full of suggestions and symbols that were expressions of his vast culture. In 1943 he legitimized photography as art through a ponderous 444-page volume of history and photographic criticism, Il Messaggio dalla Camera Oscura.

Coat hanger by Carlo Mollino, circa 1945. Courtesy of Museo Casa Mollino.

In the 1930s Mollino relied upon the creative freedom and dreamlike quality of Surrealism to design his first architectural masterpiece, the Società Ippica Torinese, in which, for the first time in the history of architecture, Metaphysical and Surrealist features informed a building that is recognized as a masterpiece by critics. Between 1933-1936, his innate literary agency produced a Surrealist novel (L'Amante del Duca) and a semi-autobiographical novel (Vita di Oberon), which were followed by numerous essays. From 1936 until 1949, Mollino designed unique and luxurious furniture made by exceptional craftsmen who sculpted forms similar to bone structures, which furnished interiors with black and white engravings of forests and waterfalls covering the walls. He began to experiment with the curvature of plywood in 1946 and with approximately two hundred different models of furniture, lamps, fireplaces, and radios made in his lifetime, he explored the possibilities offered by every imaginable material and technique known. In fact, Mollino even filed a patent for new production techniques including bending plywood without heat. In the 1960s he designed two major public projects for the city of Turin: the Chamber of Commerce, a building suspended from the roof and supported by a single central pillar; and the Teatro Regio (Royal Opera House), the floorplan of which emulated the bust of a female body.

Interior view of Mollino’s private apartment. Courtesy of Museo Casa Mollino.

His last project was a private apartment, intended to reflect the essence of his existence, composed of elements from different cultures, organized with precise and esoteric mathematical and geometric laws in accordance with the spirit of the Renaissance. And as a contemporary Renaissance artist, Carlo Mollino in his life mastered Art and Technique, which by no coincidence was the title of his 1947 book.

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