Despite a lull in China's never-ending parade of coming-out megaspectaculars, this summer's pavilion season still seems to be as rabid as any other year. Spend even a little time in any of the spatialist hot spots, and you'll be conked in the retina with Instagrams of the newly installed and/or the unapologetically Rococo renderings for the Tumblr-Pinterest-Twitter circuit. Should you be lucky enough to make the pilgrimage to the season-ending Venice Biennale, no doubt you'll be psychosomatically Florence Syndrome'd with pavilions within pavilions within pavilions, all swarming with the toterati.
In any case, I thought I'd insert myself into all the festivities with one of my favorite pavilions: Giovanni Bologna's Appennino.
Measuring about 35 feet tall, it's arguably the most spectacular feature of the gardens of Villa Medici at Pratolino, now part of Villa Demidoff, located about 7 miles north of Florence, Italy. A personification of the Apennine mountain ranges, it's sculpted as though on that liminal margin between landscape and man, its smooth skin emerging out of the rough terrain or morphing back into a mountain. He even has stalactites for a shaggy beard.
This colossal sculpture recalls the figure of Atlas in Virgil's Aeneid, and also the architect Dinocrates' proposal to shape Mount Athos into a man in honor of Alexander the Great.
With seemingly all the might of his hand, he squeezes the head of a monstrous beast, which spills a cascade of water out of its hell-mouth and into a fish pond.
Of course, the Appennino isn't just a sculpture. He's also a building.
Inside you will find a network of grottoes, their walls studded with shells, corals, pearls and crystals, and painted with frescoes of muscled men mining precious ores. In this way, Appennino is both mountains and abysses. You enter not only the belly of a garden giant but also down into the belly of the earth. There were also two working fountains, one of which portrayed Thetis, and located in his head is a chamber for a small orchestra.
I haven't been able to confirm this in any of the literature, but I've been told that there's also some sort of fireplace in the head. When lit, smoke would billow out of Appennino's nose, thus adding, I'd imagine, another sensory element to the Mannerist theatrics of a raging battle between god and beast.