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Striking mosaic work on La Casa del Cavaliere.

The Lost “Art” that was Casa del Cavaliere

If you visit the city of Messina in Sicily and find yourself driving along the Via Maregrosso in the neighborhood of the same name, you might see some unusual mosaics atop a wall. You have reached what used to be known as “La Casa del Cavaliere” and can see what remains of one of Italy’s most interesting, or at the very least, unusual artistic endeavors. Created by Giovanni Cammarata (1914-2002), who, after serving in the Italian Army during World War II, began working as a mason for a construction company in Messina. He became quite adept at sculpting and casting, using concrete. He purchased a small piece of property in the Maregrosso neighborhood, a small industrial section along the city’s sea front. In 1957, he began decorating his garden with ornamentation using shells set in mosaic patterns. It was a creative activity that increasingly took up more and more of his time. By the 1970s, he began working full-time on the project he would continue to develop for the rest of his life – a house and garden fully decorated with mosaics and sculptures.

The exterior wall facing the main street was decorated with reliefs depicting various historical scenes, such as Hannibal crossing the Alps, knights engaged in battle and images from classical Egypt. The upper side of the facade was decorated with a row of totem-like sculptures. The interior garden was fancifully decorated with mosaics, in addition to the numerous sculptures of characters from fairy tales, such as Snow White and from movies like King Kong.

In some respects, the work of Cammarata is reminiscent of another individual’s mosaic artwork, that of Sabato Rodia (see The Italian Tribune – January 19, 2017), whose towers in Los Angeles have become an attraction in the generation following his death. Such was his celebrity that two years after his death, he was one of the 71 people featured on the cover of The Bearles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Unfortunately, Cammarata did not attain such status. After Cammarata died in 2002, the site gradually deteriorated. The property was located in an area that the Messina urban planning offices had designated as a future parking area for a shopping mall. Notwithstanding, a public protest by a group of friends and artists, the urban plan was largely implemented and the garden disappeared. The only component that remains today is part of the facade, separated from the street by a fence. In recent years, interest in and appreciation of the unique artistic stylings have greatly increased. But with the passage of time, the artwork has been lost and what remains of La Casa del Cavaliere are memories and an ordinary parking lot in a somewhat rundown part of town.

While on the subject of the most famous album cover in history, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni were also to have been featured on that cover. The photograph cutouts are there, but are hidden behind the waxworks of The Beatles. One other mention is a shout-out to Dion DiMucci. The good friend of Italian Tribune Publisher Buddy Fortunato is also on the cover of the iconic album.