BASILE, Ernesto
(b. 1857, Palermo, d. 1932, Palermo)


Italian architect and designer, son of the Neoclassical architect Giovanni Battista Basile (1825-1891). Ernesto developed a peculiarly Sicilian version of Art Nouveau, making the city a centre of the Stile Liberty, the Italian version of that style, surpassed only by Turin and Milan. Although Ernesto's architecture eclipsed that of his father, he dubbed him the 'inventor of a new style' and acknowledged his debt in training, ideas and opportunities.

He studied architecture in Palermo until 1878. In 1881 he moved to Rome, where from 1883, he taught at the university as a visiting lecturer. He returned in 1891 to Palermo, where a year later, he was appointed to a chair in architecture. In 1902, he moved his architectural practice to Rome. At the Turin Exposition in 1902, he received an award for his architecture and interiors.

Initially, his buildings were eclectic in style, but around 1900 he adopted the floral version of Art Nouveau. He exploited the opportunity of the National Exhibition in Palermo in 1892 to display his skills in combining current European ideas with the revival of 'Sicilian styles'. Among other Sicilian elements, here and in his later work, he drew on Norman domes, Islamic profiles, Catalan-Gothic tracery and Baroque marbling. For the exteriors of his buildings, he borrowed heavily from 15th-century motifs, as at Villino Florio, Palermo (1907-09).

Most of Ernesto's commissions were from the upper-middle-class for private villas, such as the Villino Basile (1903-04), all in the new residential district northwest of Palermo. They represented the conspicuous expenditure necessary to affirm the status of this rich entrepreneurial and mercantile class. Ostentatious towers, crenellations and Gothic mullions endowed the villas with the air of grand castles; large windows and straightforward planning were convenient, while studied asymmetry, smooth planes and stepped windows looked convincingly modern. The Hotel Villa Igiea is particularly important, as it contains almost the only surviving Basile interior.

By 1903, when he designed the Villino Basile, his work was marked by a new rigour: planning was stressed with clear-cut volumes and deliberate asymmetry, while decoration concentrated on wrought iron and mosaic work.

Although most of Basile's work was for private patrons, his public buildings in Palermo include the Cassa di Risparmio (1908-13) and the uninspiring church of Santa Rosalia (1928), his last work. More important was his new parliament building in Rome (1902-14), a vast addition to Bernini's Palazzo Montecitorio.