Odessa steps. The Potemkin Staircase between cinema and architecture

site: MAN Art Museum of the province of Nuoro (Nuoro).
treatment: Giovanni Francesco Tuzzolino, Federico Crimi, Paolo De Marco.

The MAN Museum in Nuoro hosts an unprecedented and important exhibition dedicated to the history and myth of the Odessa staircase, renamed the “Potemkin Staircase” by popular culture following the success of the famous film by Sergej Michajlovic Ejzenštejn, “The battleship Potemkin” of 1925 .
The original project of the staircase, a monumental hinge between the sea and the city, was signed in the 1830s by the architect Francesco Carlo Boffo (1796-1867) whose biography remained shrouded in mystery for decades, in poised between an oral tradition that tied him to Sardinia and new documentary elements that the exhibition today reveals along the way, thanks to recent archival discoveries.

Francesco Carlo Boffo is a figure of great interest, both for the architectural experimentation of themes related to urban space, and for his role as interpreter of the Italian architectural culture, already very much alive between Russia and Ukraine since the reconstruction of the Moscow Kremlin in Renaissance, and which gave the multicultural Odessa that unmistakable classical face also betrayed by the choice of a Greek name for the city.

Boffo is therefore presented as the main author of many public spaces, of representative architectures and of the same stairway symbol of the place, which connects the esplanade of the port to the Piazza de Richelieu, along an ideal axis that the exhibition will return through the exhibition of drawings provided exceptionally by the Odessa Archive, original plans on loan from prestigious Italian institutes, including the National Central Library of Florence and the Historical Archive of Turin, as well as the reconstruction of the drawings and a scale model made thanks to the collaboration with the Agrigento Territorial University Pole of the University of Palermo.

The MAN will delve into the work of the architect for the first time, emphasizing the contribution offered in the construction of the architectural and urban identity of Odessa, together with the fascinating human and artistic story suspended between the legend of his birth on the Island and the real Ticino origins, fertile ground for many architects who later grew up in Italy and in its centers of academic culture, strongly linked to the discipline of design.

But the story of Boffo and “his” staircase could not fail to intertwine that of a film that made this panorama universally known in the eyes of the twentieth-century public, transforming a nineteenth-century architectural masterpiece into an icon of the big screen, thanks to the tight, violent and dramatic editing of Eisenstein’s famous sequence, engraved in the common imagination. In the catalog text by the film critic Roberto Nepoti we read: “It is an indisputable sign of iconicity that the sequence is by far the most quoted in the entire history of cinema, both in the form of homage and in the form of parody, by of countless followers of the Russian director. So much so that, at the end of the 1990s, the well-known critic Roger Ebert wrote: “… the famous massacre on the Odessa steps is so quoted, that it is probable that many viewers saw the parody before the original””.
The exhibition is enriched by two romantic paintings of considerable value and quality, a stormy navy by Ivan Konstantinovic Ajvazovsky from 1897, granted by the National Museum of Warsaw, and a large port of Odessa by Rufim Gavrilovitš Sudkovski from 1885, coming from the Kunstimuseum of Tallinn, Estonia. Curious is the presence of some rare ex-votos with scenes of Sardinian brigantines in the bay of Odessa, before and during the Crimean war.

Architecture and cinema alternate along the entire route, now sinking into the constructive analysis of the staircase, now reviewing the frames of a film that has made school and which enhances, in its own shots, the formal details of the scenographic ramp. Period panoramas and new views duet with the ingenious solutions of Ejzenštejn’s direction at the center of the video installation which tells of its genesis.

In collaboration with the Agrigento Territorial University Pole – University of Palermo, National University Lviv Polytechnic, State Archive of Turin, State Archive of the Region of Odessa
Coordination Rita Moro and Elisabetta Masala from an idea by Tommaso Esca

Featured image
Richelieu (detail)

Odessa steps. The Potemkin Staircase between cinema and architecture – Arte.Go.it