There are areas where the descendants of aristocratic families still occupy the homes, neighborhoods that have become the favorite of soccer players and other rising stars, and areas that are favored by artists (which could be described as either rustic or run-down, depending on how you look at it). Each one has its own quirks and features, but most have buildings of completely contrasting styles built right next to each other.
I became painfully aware of how lazy I was when I realized that there were buildings I passed by all the time without noticing that they had any interesting history worth looking into (and therefore barely noticed them). I had been living in Milan more than twenty years when I learned that many of them had unexpected origins or stories attached to them.
One such discovery was the Columbus Clinic, which has a charming, classically Italian story behind it. It’s in one of the areas that’s full of wealthy people, with mansions that reflect the fact that aristocrats once lived here. I remember a Milanese telling me that one of the buildings was a clinic. A clinic!? I thought. This gorgeous mansion? I was shocked, as it looked nothing like a typical clinic in Japan. A huge slope led up to the entryway, and I could picture the aristocrats pulling up on their horse-drawn carriages. You could sense the majesty of the entire structure just by looking at the entrance from the main road.
Interestingly, there’s a key attraction along the side of the building—but I didn’t know about it at the time, so I ended up passing right by it.
The side of the building in question has decorative statues of two women below the window. Modern people are used to seeing statues of semi-nude women in places like art museums, so to us these pieces are simply works of art. What caused such a huge uproar was that the statues were created for a mansion in a well-to-do neighborhood but then taken down because of their scandalous nature and left at another mansion, which ended up becoming the Columbus Clinic.
To give you some more background, a rich entrepreneur named Castiglioni asked Sommaruga, a popular architect at the time, to build him a fantastic and glorious home that was different from all the others on Venice Street, which was full of bourgeoisie families. He probably wanted a home that would show off the wealth and status of the Castiglioni family. Art Nouveau was popular in Milan in those days, so Sommaruga constructed a building in a Milanese Art Nouveau style—Stile Liberty, in other words.
He should have stopped there.
Right after it was completed, however, people starting calling it the “bare bottoms house”, and it quickly became the talk of the town.
You’ve got it. It was the statues of the half-naked women below the window. In those days, it was unheard of to have statues of women with their huge breasts and bottoms hanging out in a high-class district of Milan. Pure scandal. The two semi-nudes were immediately taken down.
When you think about it, though, the architect certainly succeeded in building his client a home that was like no other in the neighborhood.
At any rate, creating a piece that will draw attention and get everyone’s acclaim is no easy feat…