Perched on the eastern side of the island of Capri on Punta Massullo is one of the most captivating houses I have ever seen. I first visited Capri in 2007 and soon after we arrived at our hotel, my mother and I were on our first of several journey’s to see the magnificent Casa Malaparte. It’s a breathtaking walk to get there and the views of the spectacular Faraglioni limestone rocks perched alongside one another and an azure horizon of sky meeting sea is like a dream. Lizards crossing our path basking in the sun as we climbed incredibly steep and winding stone trails with bougainvillea in white and shades of peach and fuschia trailing everywhere. I sat and contemplated how the man that designed this house could have chosen such an amazing site and then designed something so timeless and architecturally significant. But I couldn’t linger too long on my first trip to the house. Mom needed to see more of the island but I could have stayed there all day gazing at the sun beaming down on the water and the glowing red brick and flashes of light reflecting off the water and then glistening into the glass of this incredible house.
Designed in 1937 by Italian architect Adalberto Libera for the journalist, novelist and diplomat Curzio Malaparte. Born Kurt Erich Suckert, Malaparte’s chosen surname which he used from 1925 means “evil/wrong side” and is a play on Napoleon’s family name “Bonaparte” meaning in Italian, “good side”. Malaparte rejected Libera’s design for the house and ended up building it himself with the help of Adolfo Amitrano, a local stonemason and the house was completed in 1942. The house is composed of three floors with the private rooms, bathrooms and a library on the lower levels and then a grand salone on the upper level for living and dining with furniture Malaparte designed himself. The minimalist pieces included oversized sofas and chairs, lamps and an altar like table made of concrete bases topped with wood planks that were polished but with live edges. The floor of the grand space was made up of large broken pieces of stone but the centerpiece of the room is the sensational fireplace. Made up of three sections of sculpted concrete capped with a wood mantle the outer sections for wood storage flank a window made of heat resistant glass framing another view of the waves and landscape below.
Casa Malaparte played a significant role in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 film Contempt (Le Mepris) when a tumultuous relationship between Brigette Bardot and Michel Piccoli comes to a head on the terrace overlooking the craggy rocks below. The tapering stairs built into the design of the house are used to dramatic effect as is the swirling white painted concrete wall that resembles a sail atop this striking architectural masterpiece. Bardot famously sunbathes topless in the film and wanders aimlessly in another scene as she contemplates her torn feelings between her husband and Jack Palance. The gorgeous film score by Georges Delerue further enhances this beautiful film in which half of the movie takes place at the Casa Malaparte. Following is the original movie poster and stills from the film.
Many books have been written about Malaparte’s dramatic house and it’s conceptual origin, design and relationship to the landscape of Capri. I have been collecting volumes for years and following are some of my favorites.
In the past three years Casa Malaparte has also served as a backdrop for fashion and fragrance launches including this year’s UOMO by Ermenegildo Zegna and 2011’s Hugo Boss Spring Summer collection. Ermenegildo Zegna’s website for the new fragrance gives a brief history of the house and relates it to the UOMO man with this description. “Casa Malaparte was envisioned and built in 1942 on the Isle of Capri by Italian journalist and writer Curzio Malaparte and it is a testament to masculine determination, a place where the Uomo man – who lives with passion and steps up to claim his destiny – acts out a compelling chapter of his own autobiography.” Here are some of the images from both campaigns highlighting details of the house and it’s materials and finishes and bold contrasting colors with the landscape of Capri. Persol even designed a collection of sunglasses last year based on the architecture of the house called the Capri Edition.
Malaparte called this surreal work “a house like me” since he was exiled there by Mussolini in 1933 but I can’t imagine a more picturesque place to build his dream home. On my last night in Capri I watched the sunset one more time over this beautiful place and this incredible house that I will always remember and captured this image of Malaparte’s inspiring architecture.
More images and details of Casa Malaparte can be seen here as well as reviews of Jean-Luc Godard’s film Contempt.
www.nytimes.com / Architecture review by Herbert Muschamp
www.nytimes.com / A.O. Scott looks back at Jean-Luc Godard’s avant garde film
www.lolamcly.com / Additional history of Casa Malaparte
www.francoishalard.blogspot.com / Interior images of Casa Malaparte by Francois Halard
www.domusweb.it / John Hejduk’s description of Casa Malaparte in Domus magazine from 1980
www.youtube.com / UOMO the new fragrance by Ermenegildo Zegna
www.youtube.com / An essay on Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt and Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva
www.archoffilm.blogspot.com / More film stills from Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt
www.ellengoebel.com / Art direction for Hugo Boss collection shot by Mario Sorrenti at Casa Malaparte
www.persol.com / The Capri edition video with architectural footage of Casa Malaparte
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