Ukrainian masterpiece has intriguing Italian roots

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Heartbreaking images from the war in Ukraine have been dominating the news. Near the beginning of the war, the country’s leader, President Zelenskyy, made a video in front of a stunning historic building in Kiev. As compelling as his message was, I couldn’t help but notice the majestic structures behind him. So, I did some research and found an interesting Italian angle.

One of the official presidential residences, the building is called the House of Chimaeras, and is a masterpiece of Art Nouveau architecture. It was built in the early 1900s by Polish architect Władysław Horodecki for his own use as an upscale apartment building.

The ornate decorations that grace the top of the building were sculpted by the Italian-born artist Emilio Sala. Made of cement, the exterior figures include mermaids, dolphins, rhinoceros, elephants and frogs. The interior décor features chandeliers with oversized catfish strangled in the stems of lotus flowers. Horodecki chose the animal depictions to reflect his interest in hunting. The name of the building references to the architectural style known as Chimaera, which features animals as decorative objects on buildings.

Born in Poland, Horodecki settled in Kiev after finishing school in Saint Petersburg. He was a well-known architect and designed many buildings in Kiev, including the National Art Museum of Ukraine. Due to his personal financial issues, he wasn’t able to keep the House of Chimaera for very long, and ended up selling it. In the early 2000s, after it was evacuated by the Communist Party of Ukraine, it was fully restored and has been one of the official presidential residences since 2005.

To view a video about the building, click here.

About Jeannine Guilyard

Jeannine Guilyard is a longtime correspondent for Fra Noi and the Italian-American community newspaper in Rochester, N.Y. She has also contributed to the Italian Tribune of New Jersey, Italian Tribune of Michigan and L'Italo Americano of Southern California. Jeannine wrote and directed the short film "Gelsomina," which was selected for the Screenings Program of the 59th Venice Film Festival, and she won Emmy and Peabody awards as an editor of ABC's "Special Report" following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Jeannine is also a writer and editor for Italian Cinema Today, a publication and blog she founded in 2005 to bridge culture between New York and Italy. Follow her on Instagram at Italianartcinema and on Twitter at @ItaloCinema2day.

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