Marcello Piacentini and Ernesto Rapisardi, Palazzo di Giustizia (Milan, 1929-1940)
The idea of a new courthouse, substituting the seven small and outdated judicial offices then existing in Milan had already been proposed in 1925. Though the area – Porta Vittoria – and three winning projects were selected in 1929, nothing happened until 1931, when architect Marcello Piacentini was put in charge of the new project. Together with architect Ernesto Rapisardi, Piacentini designed and supervised the construction of the new courthouse, which was finally inaugurated in 1939. The massive building, built on a fairly central plot, was conceived as a single body hosting three different institutions – 'Corte d’Appello', 'Tribunale' and 'Pretura' (Court of Appeal, Court and Magistrates court) – which were connected but also accessible from independent entrances. Piacentini then decided to separate the Criminal and Civil sections ('sezione penale' and 'sezione civile'), placing them on different floors. The structure of reinforced concrete was internally adorned with precious stones and marble such as serizzo and diorite. While Palazzo di Giustizia was rather plain on the outside, it was richly decorated on the inside: bas-reliefs, mosaics, frescos and sculptures were accomplished by various artists, including Mario Sironi, Fausto Melotti, Carlo Carrà and Arturo Dazzi.
The Sacralisation of the New Man’s Total Politics through the Arts
Shaping the New Man’s Reality by Fashioning National Myths
Monumentalism: Visualising Subjectivity and Objectivity
Looking at Palazzo di Giustizia in Milan one can easily recognise the so-called ‘Fascistisation of the arts’. Everything here, from the building to the decorative details performed according to a precise iconographic programme, spread an unequivocal message: Fascist politics were everywhere and could control everyone. In fact, this courthouse was designed not only to substitute an old and obsolete judicial system, but also to show the power of the regime within one of the most important and productive cities of Italy. And it did so by calling upon the architects, artists and decorators that were the main protagonists of the Fascist era, and by choosing precious materials. Palazzo di Giustizia’s construction site was a place populated by talented professionals working for the same purpose: the materialisation of 'divine and earthly Justice', both embodied by the PNF (Fascist National Party).
Piacentini’s courthouse was a 'holistic vision' rather than a simple architectural plan. It was an austere point of reference within the urban context, admonishing all the people passing by, and it represented Fascism’s idea of justice, spreading a political message. But it served also as a public ‘art gallery’ where people could admire contemporary pieces of art addressed to the local community as representations of Fascist beliefs. In this sense, the use and abuse of the theme – the connection between justice and Fascism – was an attempt to create a new vocabulary, a new iconography related to the regime. For example, 'IVSTITIA' (Latin word meaning 'justice') is the first gigantic word one can notice and read above the main entrance. After this threshold, an entire (mostly) internal path is marked by the same concept, with artworks such as Arturo Martini’s Giustizia fascista or Le leggi fasciste by Leone Lodi.
The architectural context in which these artworks were exhibited was a monumental building, with a gigantic order of marble columns and pillars giving a spatial rhythm to all the rooms and corridors. Palazzo di Giustizia in Milan was in fact a revised version of the courthouse Piacentini had designed in Messina (1912-1927): it was a functional space marked by an undoubtable austerity, but also an itinerary throughout the complex and inescapable judicial system of the Fascist era.
Nicoloso, Paolo. 2018. Marcello Piacentini. Architettura e potere: una biografia. Udine: Gaspari.
Pisani, Mario. 2004. Architetture di Marcello Piacentini. Le opere maestre. Rome: Clear.