Villa Cerruti: The Secret Art Collection

BY Harper's BAZAAR Interiors / Oct 21 2019 / 10:14 AM

Located just outside of Turin in a pristine villa, the secret art collection of the reclusive Italian tycoon Federico Cerruti, is now open for public viewing

Villa Cerruti: The Secret Art Collection
Gabriele Gaidano
An interior view of the study room at the Villa Cerruti

On a staircase landing of the Cerruti Villa - tucked away in the Classical town of Rivoli, Italy - hangs an oil-on-panel by Italian Modernist painter Scipione (Gino Bonichi), founder of the Roman School. The painting, The Awakening of the Blonde Mermaid (1892) is of a mermaid lying on a mossy bank, her arms curving into the air, a comb in one hand as her strawberry hair falls across her shoulders in airy waves. The painting is part of the art and antiquity collection of Francesco Federico Cerruti, who made his fortune in the 1960s during Italy’s post-war economic boom. Cerruti developed a unique industrialised technique that revolutionised the book binding process.

A recluse at heart, Cerruti quietly assembled one of Europe’s most significant art collections, all of which began with the purchase of a small Wassily Kandinsky watercolour in the late 1960s. It was during this time that Cerruti was building a special villa in the outskirts of Turin, with panoramic views of the western Alpine arch and the Superga Hills, designed by architect Cataldo d’Imperio.

An exterior view of Villa Cerruti

Photography by Gabriele Gaidano

The villa was built in the Provençal style, fashionable in Turin at the time, in the earthy colours of the French countryside, reminiscent of the Cote d’Azur. In textile and design it brimmed with accents of lavender, pale blue, olive green, ivory and cream. Rooms were paneled with beech, walnut and rose wood, and a special attention was paid to framing the alpine views with a soft romantic drapery. As Cerruti’s collection grew, the villa became its home and tribute, and was refurbished in the 1980s to suit the needs of the artworks. A stone veranda was added to its entrance, and antique dealer Giulio Ometto draped and furnished the house with delicate pieces and accents from the 18th century to better complement the nature of the collection, which has a special focus on the Italian Renaissance.

More recently, Baietto Battiest Bianco of Con3Studio, Turin, conducted a contemporary renovation to ready the villa as a house museum, which is now open to the public. During Cerruti’s time, the villa was kept almost exclusively private, a place he visited only on Sundays to spend time with his artworks. And although the villa has a kitchen, dining room, master bedroom, library and even a special bedroom for Cerruti’s mother, it was never lived in. It exists solely for the art collection, and has only ever been inhabited by it.

The villa’s most distinctive architectural feature is a tall observatory tower, which was made in reference to the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. The walls of the tower room are dressed in red hues of dark wood, highlighted by olive green walls, textiles and a carved counterpane. The room is layered with religious iconography and references Porta Palatina in its design, which is one of Turin’s most famous architectural sites, as well as being in the metaphysical style.

The Tower room at Villa Cerruti

Photography by Gabriele Gaidano

De Chirico lived in Turin for many years and was particularly taken by the city’s Roman geometries and gridded urban planning. He profoundly influenced the surrealists, particularly in his handling of shadow, light and dimension. The dining room of the Cerruti Villa, which is perhaps its most dazzling and flamboyant room - entirely clad in silver-blue mirrors and gold accented wood - houses Cerruti’s de Chirico collection, in a dedicated presentation of eight drawings and paintings.

Cerruti’s specifications for the display and curation of artworks in the Villa were very particular, and everything is still hung as he intended it. Esoteric juxtapositions are thus noticeable throughout the house: in the de Chirico room we see an early self-portrait, Self portrait with one’s own Shadow (c.1920), with markedly supernatural references, placed above a late 18th Century console table inspired by the work of neoclassical printmaker Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Shadows, interiors and geometric lines—noticeable in both the painting and the console - similarly preoccupied both artists, as did the

Dinning room at Villa Cerruti, hung with paintings by Giorgio de Chirico. 

Courtesy Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin

Photography by Gabriele Gaidano

The music room, which is one of the first as you enter the Villa, plays host to several sculptures - including a spindly standing nude by Alberto Giacometti from 1953, and a small pink wax and plaster bust by Medardo Rosso of a young girl - which are set together with paintings and one of the only photographs in the collection, a portrait of Harry Melvill by Man Ray. At the centre of the room is a grand Steinway piano that ties it all together with its elegance and musical intonation.

There is an air of the Piedmontese baroque to the whole villa: an extravagant affair that is highlighted by its relationship to symmetry, figurative detail and clear geometries. And while it may have a certain propensity to the Renaissance, the villa is also filled with rare and interesting instances of modernist works: etchings by Picasso; a rare first edition of Albert Camus The Plague from 1947, which has a fine mosaic-like binding and gilt edges; an intricate 1641 dry point by Rembrandt of the Madonna and Child floating in a panel of tufted clouds; and even an acrylic and silkscreen print by Andy Warhol of Hélène Rochas, in which she leans on one shoulder, flashing a wry smile at her audience in a flurry of vivid green and blue. There’s much to finally, after years of closure, be seen in this precious abode of art.

From Harper's Bazaar Interiors