Living in church
A FORMER CONVENT IS THE HOME OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER MASSIMO VITALI. IF IT EVOKES HIS IMAGES, IT HAS TO DO WITH LIGHT AND SPACE.
This deconsecrated church from the 14th century, in Lucca, is the home of Massimo Vitali, a leading contemporary photographer, and it reminds us of his images, for one simple reason: it is a matter of light and space, of
reality and the diferent viewpoints needed to portray it. Vitali was born in Como in 1944, but has resided in Tuscany for 18 years now. He moved into this house seven months ago, with his wife Annette Klein, a jewelry historian, and their son Otto, 16. The renovation was subject to constraints, like the need to conserve the original open plan, and the concerns of the heritage authorities.
Was the choice of this house infuenced by your profession?
«Yes, because as a photographer I need vast spaces. Thanks to the staircases, the box created inside, the windows that are not at a uniform height, this house ofers many vantage points, diferent perspectives».
What do you know about the history of this church?
«The building is from 1364. In the past it has seen it all. It was used by the Compagnia della Croce, whose mission was to comfort prisoners on the verge of execution. It became a church in 1760. Later it was repeatedly expropriated, but some things were conserved. During Fascism it was a gymnasium. After deconsecration in the 1940s, it was bombed. Then it belonged to a Mister Rossi, and the garden became a parking lot. Then I came along. I liked the big garden».
What is part of the renovation you like the best?
«I have managed not to conceal the layers of time, from the inscription “believe, obey, fght” behind my bed, to the particular tone of the vault, between blue and gray, so Tuscan in the evening. To avoid touching the walls I had to fght against everyone, the workmen, the architects, my wife. I hid the electrical system under the foor, behind plasterboard walls, needed to erect the two internal structures».
The hardest part?
«The time required for excavation, inside and out. The pouring of concrete, the months of work on the garden. It took a year and a half: the archaeologists monitored every operation, stone by stone...».
The renovation was done by the architect Paola Sausa of the Momus studio in Lucca. What was her most important contribution?
«She found the size for the three-story wooden cube (containing the master bedroom, a bath and service spaces, ed.). The studio also managed to explain the project to the heritage authorities. That’s the advantage of working with intelligent local people».
The immediate sensation?
The strong point?
«Light. They knew where to put windows in churches. The light comes
from above, and moves throughout the day. The efect is very special».
Your son’s room is on a loft in front of the cube. No ceilings, just the vault of the church. Wasn’t that risky, with a teenager?
«Yes, but it worked, in the end».
For photographers home is often a refuge to return to after long trips...
«For me it is more than that: it is my frst real home, which I have cultivated, prepared and owned».
I HAVE MANAGED NOT TO CONCEAL THE LAYERS OF TIME, FROM THE INSCRIPTION “BELIEVE, OBEY, FIGHT” BEHIND MY BED, TO THE PARTICULAR TONE OF THE VAULT, BETWEEN BLUE AND GRAY.