the genius of angelo mangiarotti
Once upon a time in Italy, there lived a young man named Angelo.
Every day, Angelo observed his surroundings and noticed how he and others – really, everyone – acted their lives out in a theatre of buildings, objects and places to sit. How they used coffee cups and doorways and stairs and pavements, chairs and bedsheets and dinner plates.
He watched people grasping door handles, opening windows, treading floors. He noticed how our mood appeared to change according to the place were in, how we straightened our backs and lifted our eyes with purpose when we entered grand halls, how we became curious and quiet - almost catlike - as we traversed narrow passageways or back streets.
Every day, he observed how our mortal souls were anchored by our bodies and our bodies were anchored in our material surroundings. He saw that while the body touched timber, marble, glass, the soul felt an intimation of time, gravity, immortality.
One day, he decided to study Architecture.
There he learned more about the human relationship with materials and space, time and place.
Because of this new knowledge, he developed a fascination with raw materials. And because of this fascination he delved still more deeply into the principles of matter.
No stone, no steel, no timber went unexamined, as he mastered the craft of interpreting materials and how we might employ them to meet our human needs. He explored philosophical concepts, but he always returned to the simplicity of everyday life, the plasticity of materials and the exploration of form.
He was curious. He didn’t ask simply how this or that material could be manipulated to meet our culture or traditions. Rather, he questioned our needs. He observed the nature of this stone, that glass, those building blocks. He then asked, given our nature, given their nature, what was it they were most suited to become in the service of our simple everyday movements.
He observed human life with honesty and clarity. He concluded that our everyday actions in the world were not dramatic. We didn’t require more than a few flat surfaces and a comfortable place to sit to function freely.
He began to fully understand and to respect two things – the simplicity of our everyday human requirements and the innate beauty and physical characteristics of the materials around us. He trusted that only a balance between both of these could show him what form this timber seat, or that marble table should take.
In other words, he began to meet his materials halfway – not to bend them to unwarranted purposes but to encourage them to lend themselves to our use as simply as they could.
Marble would remain marble, in the most natural state possible, devoid of unnecessary decoration. He would allow it to express its heft, its gravity. He would promise it a simple form and it would yield just enough to meet him there.
Yes, the stone agreed, it could serve us as a table but only if we let it show us its grandeur, shot through with the faults and patterns of its origin, the aeons of water and calcium, the enormous pressure, its formation in the earth. Angelo understood this could be a greater form of decoration than any we might apply. He never made a thing more complicated than it needed to be.
Finally, Angelo, after many years of practice and observation, realised a beautiful sympathy with his materials. He would coax them, telling them what we needed from them. They would yield, reminding him where they came from and the respect they deserved.
Their relationship blossomed. It gave birth to magnificent forms, monumental works, simple joys and everyday pleasures. Like all good relationships, it produced contentment, a feeling of rightness.
Eventually, after many richly fruitful years, Angelo succumbed to his mortality. He left an unfillable space - irreplaceable as he was - but the most beautiful thing was that he left his works behind.
While Angelo is gone, we can still experience his extraordinary understanding of materials. Every one of his tables and chairs, every curve and corner, is the offspring of his perceptiveness.
Of course, we all know it’s just a marble coffee table! A stone slab on four conical legs, made of marble, as a place to lay your book or put your coffee cup. But as you touch his work, as you live with it, you may realise his genius.
This can bring a great deal of simple pleasure. You can let yourself be soothed and contented by the rightness of this particular form - the slab, the legs - for this particular material - the marble - made for just this purpose - a place to rest your coffee cup.
If you’re open to it, as you live with his work, you might even feel more keenly that your soul is anchored in your body and your body anchored in your surroundings.