According to British art historian Hugh Honour, the Palazzina – or Casina – Cinese in Palermo is the most refined example of Italian chinoiserie from the late 1700s.
Designed by Palermo-born architect Giuseppe Venanzio Marvuglia (1729-1814) for King Ferdinand IV of the Two Sicilies, the building is a refined mix of different architectural styles, ranging from Gothic to Neoclassic. However, its Orient-inspired flavor is what made it famous: the Palazzina in Parco della Favorita is crowned by the acme of chinoiserie – a pagoda-like roof – and full of rooms decorated in Eastern style by artists such as Giuseppe Velasquez.
And yet, Marvuglia was not interested in ephemeral trends, nor in complex building techniques that had nothing to do with real substance and were just an end in themselves.
Indeed, in 1823 – year of a terrible earthquake for Palermo – an article in “Giornale di Scienze, Letteratura ed arti per la Sicilia” included a short description of the Casina: “Master Giuseppe Venanzio Marvuglia’s factories, even in the areas hit the hardest by the earthquake, have not suffered at all. But architects like Marvuglia are rare, not only in Sicily but throughout Italy. He was deservedly included in the French Academy and proclaimed by Duforny, one of the best architects of all time, to be an artist of ornament and decor.”
He created wonderful and exotic decorations, for rock-solid buildings.