Architectural drawings and renders are defined both by creativity and moreover, their accuracy. Nothing in them cannot work. They are complex and often beautiful, yet function reigns supreme. That’s not the case with the Italian style of capriccio though, a movement that imagines fantastical architectural composites to dramatic effect.
As mysterious as Capriccio’s place in the pantheon of artistic styles is, it is the movement's etymology that can give us the greatest clue. Widely recognised as coming from ‘capretto’, an Italian word that describes the unpredictable movement of a young goat, it does raise the question - what does capriccio have in common with a young goat? Not much, it turns out. The similarities lay in its unpredictability.
Art has the capacity to create boundlessly, thumbing a nose to form and function in the purest pursuit of the beautiful. Juxtaposing monuments, buildings both historical and entirely imaginary, capriccio is sort of like city planning for people who spent too much time daydreaming in class, at least in theory. Its practice is far more interesting. Although it sounds like an oddity of the past, this peculiar artistic style was once all the rage.
One of the more interesting aspects, and origin of capriccio’s largely overlooked crossover appeal, is how the buildings aren’t just reimagined in place, but in condition. Like apocalypse-porn and cyber-punk style, capriccio art projects the artist’s interpretation of what may happen in the future - or what they wish would - by allowing them to reimagine sites that have succumbed to nature, or man-made ruin.
There’s a real joy in this too, as gloomy as it sounds. It can be twofold. One, we become more grateful for the abundant beauty of architectural marvel, or two, and at the opposing end of the scale - it fills us with a joy at what nature is capable of doing should we leave it for a long enough time. Nature comes back, it reclaims. Its powerful trees and weaving ivy editing our built environment is a reassuring image.
Besides that, when an architect makes their drawings, usually based in reality, less a conceptual piece, it is limited by the capabilities of man, of how it can be constructed, but also of material. In capriccio, no such limitations exist. Rather, decorative niceties are wilfully incorporated that wouldn’t humanly be possible. Like science-fiction leads the way of technology, capriccio doesthe same for cities.
Still, there’s a gap in that logic. Capriccio tends not to look directly into the future, but draws heavily on the traditions of the past, romanticising how beautiful something was - even though it never actually looked as it is depicted. Our memories function in a similar fashion, exaggerating certain features whilst completely deleting our data recollection of others. That’s why the past is fragmented, less prone to objective truth as a subliminally subjective design.
What capriccio paintings leave us with is something truly bewildering and breathtaking: fictionalised documentaries of the past as it never really looked, or a visualisation of how those in the past imagined that the future may materialise. Therefore, as much as an artistic insight, it’s a psychological one that delves into the minds of its painters. How far away is the past’s vision of the future to how we envision our own? More people? Technology? Doesn ature and the built coexist?
Most of the style’s key practitioners - Viviano Codazzi, Domenico Gargiulo and Alessandro Salucci - are from the Baroque period, a style of architecture and art characterised by its extravagance. Perhaps this grandiosity is part of what drives these artists, and the movement. Baroque felt like a style that was pure monument and majesty - the very heightened extremes of sense and taste.
It’s with this reckless abandon, filled with romantic hope, that the artists of capriccio create their works. It’s inherently utopian, even when degradation and ruin are being portrayed. In a way that a child imagines a sandbox to be the planet of their dreams, so too did this era of Italian artists who imagined landscapes that combined real life with fantasy in the same way that musicians, poets and even politicians have always done. A vision. Their vision, of a world as it could be.
More like this:
Please, check your email.