Certainly it could be its slightly secluded location, far from the town centre, in the midst of a wooded area at the end of a long road, but, in particular, it is the outline of the mausoleum overlooking the surrounding plain that makes the Crespi cemetery the most fascinating and mysterious structure of the entire village.
The architect Gaetano Moretti, born in Milan on 26 July 1860, conceived its design. The source of his inspiration for the mausoleum can be traced back many years, to when his father, a skilled carpenter and interior designer for Milan’s upper class, brought his promising child along with him to visit his distinguished customers, families such as the Visconti di Modrone, the Poldi Pezzoli and the Turati.
Gaetano had already mastered the art of carving and was also enjoyed drawing and created sketches that mixed romantic and eclectic elements, astonishing those who saw them.
Having completed his apprenticeship in the family’s business, he enrolled in the Accademia di Brera, the art school in Milan, followed by the School of Architecture and a three-year specialised programme. His talent was evident from the very beginning. In 1881, his work was recognised in a competition for the façade of the Milan Duomo and four years later he won a competition for Milan’s secondary cemetery.
In 1887, be began teaching at the Accademia di Brera. There, he met Camillo Boito who guided his reflections on historical architectural styles. Boito believed in the importance of designing using the traditions of the past without, however, blindly imitating them. Moretti reinterpreted contemporary architecture through the lens of the past, thoughtfully mixing them and introducing new materials.
In the mid-1800s, the Great Exhibitions introduced Europeans to art and compositions with foreign influences. Elements from the Far East and Central America took over the collective imagination, presenting opportunities for artists and architects to create enchanting, fairy-tale world. In the beginning, these elements provided inspiration for gardens, villas, smoking rooms, garages and stables.
As Moretti came into contact with these influences, he chose to include them in funerary art and civil architecture, in both cases, inspired by and at the request of the Crespi family. He designed the family’s mausoleum and the Taccani hydroelectric station in Trezzo sull’Adda.
Both structures present exotic elements. The mausoleum, for example, has echoes of the Khmer temples in Cambodia, as well as links to Buddhist funerary monuments in India, known as stupa, or Indonesian temples, candi, with their quadrangular foundations supporting a series of stepped structures that decrease in size as the structure rises.
Homage is also given to pre-Columbian art, in particular the Mexican talud-tablero style, especially seen in the stairs that lead to the chapel. The friezes, bas-reliefs, the engravings in the exedra, the slit windows, all have Mesopotamian elements, in particular deriving from ziqqurats.
The Taccani hydroelectric station, in the other hand, is in the neo-Medieval style. Cristoforo Crespi asked Moretti to create a structure that complemented the surrounding area and the ruins of the castle above the site.
The architect was able to blend with the context by using a long, low front, which could easily be mistaken for the lower part of the fort. The walls were covered in sheets of Adda ceppo, to match the colour and texture of the old manor house. However, exotic elements were also added, following a reinterpretation of the motivations for the German Secession.
In addition to his work for the Crespi family, Moretti is also remembered for his monumental cemetery in Chiavari and for having re-built, with Luca Beltrami, the famous bell tower in Saint Mark’s Square in Venice, which collapsed on 14 July 1902.
In 1908, he was awarded the prestigious Chair of Civil Architecture at the Technical University in Milan, which had previously held by Boito. He accepted commissions in Buenos Aires, Lima, Rosario and Montevideo. He died in Milan on 30 December 1938.