Giuseppe Parvis

Giuseppe Parvis

Giuseppe Parvis

Giuseppe Parvis is an Egyptian-Italian decorator and cabinet maker, born in Breme in the province of Pavia in 1831. Parvis brilliantly graduated from the Albertina Academy of Fine Arts in Turin, perfecting the art of carving. In search of fortune, and supported by a great spirit of adventure, in 1859, he left for Egypt, which had always fascinated him, and in a few years he gained a great popularity. Parvis started by studying and drawing the elements of Arab architecture and decorations, which were particularly congenial to him and from which he drew his inspiration; then he bought carved wooden panels from ancient Arab houses and from the second-hand dealers in the city, and worked on the panels, transforming them into Moorish-style furniture. The success that he achieved in a short time and the luck that smiled at him made Parvis more determined to stay in Egypt where he opened a laboratory in Cairo. His fame extended to Europe, and the Parvis style, with its oriental touch, imposed itself in the luxurious residences of the rich Egyptian and European families. Even Khedive Ismail Pasha the Magnificent, was fascinated by his work and commissioned him to create sculpted and inlaid furniture for his residences. 
In 1867, Khedive Ismail Pasha commissioned Parvis to furnish the Egyptian pavilion at the Universal Exposition in Paris in which Parvis displayed an Arab living room, or Mandara, winning a gold medal for Egypt. Upon the Khedive's request, he provided him with a pass which allowed him to enter places and monuments that were not open to the public, thus the doors of the most significant and beautiful buildings in Cairo were opened to him, including the Museum of Arab Art, precursor of today's Museum of Islamic Art, located in the al-Hakim Mosque, so that the Cabinet Maker can study and draw inspiration from them. Parvis had an opportunity to examine and reproduce the most characteristic and significant decorations of Arab art, which he reinterpreted with inspiration and creativity in his own furniture designs. After a first interest in Arab ornamentation, Parvis started studying ancient Egyptian and Greek-Roman ornamental motifs, transposing into the creation of his furniture the eclectic approach that guided contemporary architectural choices. His countless accurate sketches would then become a kind of precious bible of the Arab decorative style.

Thanks to the great success achieved at the Paris Exposition, Parvis was also hired for the Expositions of Vienna (1973), Philadelphia (1876), Milan (1881) and Turin (1884). In 1873, the Egyptian pavilion at the Exhibition of Vienna was designed as an actual dwelling that would house the Khedive during the event, which included a living room or Mandara door, three tall cabinets and various other pieces of furniture, including Kursis (stools), tripods for different uses, Quran stands and a collection of chased copper objects. In 1876 in Philadelphia, he proposed “the furnishings for an Egyptian house,” with two magnificently finished and decorated wardrobes; In 1878, he exhibited a few pieces of furniture in Paris, and in 1881, he was awarded a silver medal in Milan for the “Egyptian living room” he presented. In 1884, Parvis won a gold medal at the Italian Exhibition of Turin by presenting an Egyptian-style bedroom and a living room, decorated with statues in the form of Sphinx.; In 1898, he took part in the Turin Exhibition in the “Italians Abroad” category, but as he was also a judge, his works were not included in the competition. Besides his presence at international exhibitions, bibliographic sources document such work as the decoration of houses and palaces commissioned by Ismail Pasha, works carried out in the palaces of Gezira and Abdeen, at the Opera House, Ezbekieh Gardens and the Qubba palace.
The great success of his products convinced him to open a real factory in Egypt, which exported the famous furniture in inlaid and sculpted wood in the neo-Moorish style he conceived all over the world. In the early 1900s, Parvis’s studio employed about one hundred people. Mashrabiyas, arabesques, muqarnas, and mosaics became ornaments characterizing objects designed to respond to everybody's customs and ways of living. Parvis’s designs imposed a method and taste, offering the market models that were copied and spread, via the activity of cabinet makers who had been trained in his workshop, such as the Furino and Jacovelli brothers. The Furino brothers produced the furnishings of the reception rooms at the Continental and Savoy Hotels. They were awarded the bronze medal at the Exhibition of Alexandria in 1884 and elected as members of the Academy of Arts and Industries of Brussels. The Jacovelli brothers were commissioned by the Committee for the Preservation of the Monuments of Arab Art to carry out restoration of mosques and various other buildings. In 1893, they supervised the installation of the Cairo Street at the Exhibition of Chicago and in 1911, they took part in the international exhibition of Turin. The attention Parvis showed towards the cultural life of the city, contributing to the collections of the Arabic Museum and the Geographic Society Museum and donating some works for the cornerstone ceremony of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, strengthened his reputation and the relationships with some of the capital’s most important institutions.  

Parvis returned to Italy in Turin in 1900, leaving the factory he founded in the care of his children. As an evidence of gratitude, the Khedive of Egypt gave Parvis an ancient sarcophagus of pink granite from Aswan, which upon his death, on September 19, 1909 in Saronno, would be placed over his burial in the Monumental Cemetery of Turin. After Giuseppe’s death, his son Pompeo took over the company. In the late 1930s, he in turn passed it on to his son, Fernando (born in Cairo on June 30, 1901). When he inherited the family company, Fernando substantially revised its production, departing from the Parvis style for which the company was famous.

Giuseppe Parvis furniture showroom in Cairo, early 20th century

Furniture designed by Giuseppe Parvis, a decorator based in Cairo at the time, and exhibited in the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878, in the Egyptian Section. Parvis is an Egyptian-Italian decorator who started his business in Egypt in 1859 and bought the shop in the same year.

Living room in Egyptian style, Milan, Italy, 1881. Giuseppe Parvis is an Egyptian-Italian decorator based in Cairo who participated in the Italian Exposition in Milan in 1881.

Egyptian Room, Turin, Italy, 1884. Giuseppe Parvis is an Egyptian-Italian decorator working in Cairo (at the time) who participated in the Italian Exposition in Turin in 1884. He exhibited the furniture and was awarded the gold medal.

Furniture advertising for Giuseppe Parvis' company.

 Parvis Exhibition in Cairo.

 Inside the apartment of Giuseppe Parvis. The furniture includes numerous Parvis artifacts.

At Parvis Plant in Cairo c. 1885.

Parvis Plant in Cairo.

 Old Giuseppe Parvis

 The Parvis family in Cairo. Elena Garcia, Giuseppe's wife stands at the center.

Giulia Parvis, Giuseppe's sister, born in Breme, Lomellina in 1854 and died in Tonco, Monferrato in 1943.

Entrance to the famous Giuseppe Parvis furniture store in Attaba Sq, Cairo, Egypt, 1912. The other store was located in Ibrahim Pasha St. Photo by Max H. Rudmann.

Giuseppe Parvis' shop in Mouski Bazaar, Cairo, Egypt, 1915. Credit: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich.

Mouski Square in Cairo, where Giuseppe Parvis established his first exhibition of furniture in 1859.

The Egyptian Table and Box. Inlay by G. Parvis. In 1887, on the occasion of Pope Leo XIII's Pontifical Jubilee, he wanted to organize a Vatican exhibition. Giuseppe Parvis participated in the event with a very precious table donated by the Catholic Ladies of Grand Cairo. Illustration picture from L'Esposizione Vaticana Illustrata, No. 1, May 1887.

Café of the Builders Club, Cairo, Egypt, 1930s. Furniture by Fernando Parvis.

Entrance of the Builders Club, Cairo, Egypt, 1930s. Furniture by Fernando Parvis.

Smoking room of the Builders Club, Cairo, Egypt, 1930s. Furniture by Fernando Parvis. Roberto Parvis’ private archives. Credit: and C. Mimarlık Müzesi.

Credits and references:
Manfredo Lapi Gatteschi, G. Parvis family member, Rome.

Giulia Fava-Parvis Bernocco, A bordo del Persia: impressioni e ricordi, Turin: G. B. Paravia e C., 1900, pp. 33-45, S. Romano, Italiani ed istituzioni Italiane in Egitto, communication sent to the Committee of Palermo of the Società Dante Alighieri during the meeting held on August 13, 1905, Palermo 1905, p. 16-17. 

“Il signor Parvis. Industriale italiano domiciliato al Cairo,” in L’Esposizione Universale di Vienna del 1873. Illustrata, Milan: Sonzogno, 1873, p. 355.

“Uno sguardo all’Esposizione egiziana,” in L’Esposizione universale di Filadelfia del 1876. Illustrata, vol. II, Milan: Sonzogno, 1877, p. 106 and “Le rarità della Sezione Egiziana nel Main Building,” p. 275.

“I mobili dell’italiano Parvis,” in L’Esposizione di Parigi del 1878. Illustrata, vol. I, Milan: Sonzogno, 1878, p. 304, 632.

G. Corona, “I mobili", in L’Esposizione Italiana del 1881 in Milano. Illustrata, Milan: Sonzogno, 1881, p. 193-195 and “Il salotto in stile arabo di Giuseppe Parvis,” p. 254-255.
L’esposizione italiana del 1884 in Torino. Illustrata, Milan: Sonzogno, 1884, p. 310. Parvis is included in the list of the members of the 7th Division, 8th class (Industries of metal tools and furniture) awarded a gold medal.  

Esposizione Nazionale del 1898. Catalogo Generale, Turin: Roux Frassati, 1989, p. 370 and “Gli Italiani all’estero premiati,” L’Imparziale, n° 338-339, 4-5 December 1898.

Manfredo Cagni, Egitto, Turin: Carlo Clausen, 1897, p. 216-219. “Quaderni dell’Istituto di Studi Verdiani,” n° 4, p. 142 states that Parvis was commissioned with the mirrors for the Opera House.

“Al palazzo di Koubba,” L’Imparziale, n° 302, 29 October 1897. Parvis designed the main wood staircase for the palace restoration

C. Myntti, Paris along the Nile: architecture in Cairo from the Belle Epoque, Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1999, p. 14.

L’Égypte à l’aurore du XXe siècle, with a preface in Italian by Pr. L. Balboni, Alexandrie: Lagoudakis Ed., 1901, p. 84, Esposizione internazionale delle industrie e del lavoro per il 50° Anniversario della Proclamazione del Regno d’Italia, Catalogo Generale Ufficiale, Turin, 1911, p. 535. 

See also Enrico Nistri.