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Magazine    May 2001

The churches, courtyards and palaces of Venice boast some of the most intricate and spectacular mosaic work and tile patterns, many of which have brought as much notoriety to the world’s most unique city as the magic and splendor of its great canals. Venetian floors provide a longstanding visual history of art that comes alive in an array of stunning decorative motifs. The patterns glimmer and shine, forming swirls of lapis lazuli, prisms of Eastern marble, waves of malachite and inlaid gardens of mother-of-pearl.

The Decorative Floors of Venice, with its more than 175 vivid, full-color photographs, is an authoritative account of floor art in the romantic Italian city. Examining the techniques and materials used as well as the significance and symbolism represented in the work itself, Tudy Sammartini offers an abundance of pictures by Gabriele Crozzoli of allegorical figures and tile designs, such as the sets of immortal peacocks facing the great Tree of Life in St. Mark’s Basilica, and dramatic family crests–like one measuring a grand 6 square meters alive in a wash of gold tesserae in the palazzo where Lord Byron once stayed. The book is an open invitation to visit such notable landmarks as San Giorgia Maggiore, with its adjoining Benedictine monastery, and to tour the great reception halls of the Palazzo Condulmer, where an 18th century nobleman and celebrated gambler with the same name would win a large sum of money from the crown princess.

An extensive glossary of terms used and an exhaustive bibliography combined create the first comprehensive account of one of the less-well-documented aspects of the city, from the earliest mosaics of the Byzantine and Ravenna schools to those of the present day.

How can one gauge the richness of a house? When Queen Victoria visited Lancaster House, she told its occupant, the Duchess of Sutherland, “I come from my house to your palace.” Built in 1825, the duchess’s residence is one of the finest surviving examples of London town houses, which rivaled the magnificent palazzi of Venice and Florence during Britain’s heydey as the world’s greatest power.

Lancaster House: London’s Greatest Town House, by James York of the Victoria and Albert Museum, provides a comprehensive account of the design, construction and decoration of a place that entertained some of the most well-known figures of the day, including Frédéric Chopin, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Garibaldi. The house, which set a standard for decorating in the Louis XIV style, provided a rich foil for the superb art collections that the Duke and Duchess acquired, and now, though it has been transformed from residence to venue for international summit meetings, it still retains much of its lavish past character.

Some architects dream up buildings and large edifices. Michael Hopkins designs projects to respond to specific considerations, claiming “he cannot proceed ‘without a client, a brief and a site,’” writes Colin Davies in the Architectural Review. Davies, an architecture professor in London, has authored Hopkins2, a monograph on Michael Hopkins and Partners that presents the genesis and logic behind the design of 26 projects and focuses on the firm’s latest most important commission, the New Parliamentary Building in London.

Hopkins’s work, whether new architecture, additions to existing buildings or renovations, has the quality of both blending in with the environment, yet being recognizable as innovative. In 1994 he and his wife, Patty Hopkins, received the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture. The citation makes clear why the firm is chosen over and over for projects such as the Glyndebourne Opera House and, most recently, the commission to design the Royal Academy of London’s expansion: “What best characterizes the work … is an equal appeal to ordinary people and to architects. A growing public notices and finds pleasure in their work, finding no contradiction between the Hopkins’s buildings and the culture of the twentieth century.”

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Decorative Floors of Venice by Tudy Sammartini, with photography by Gabriele Crozzoli
Merrell, $65.00
Lancaster House: London's Greatest Town House by James Yorke
Merrell, $75.00, £40.00
Hopkins2: The Work of Michael Hopkins and Partners by Colin Davies
Phaidon, $69.95, £45.00
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