Browsing category Italy
Cortona is a Tuscan village in Italy where my fellow workshop participants and I spent 4 days painting (May 2016), exploring the ancient history, and feasting on the food, the wine… It was incredibly enjoyable, as was the charm of the narrow cobblestone streets and clay tiled roofs. The drive up to the town was a long ascent via winding roads culminating in a breathtaking view over the vast valley below. Imagine my surprise when I first pushed open my hotel room shutters to this amazing view! (Just like in the movie, “A Room with a View” :)
The EtruscansFrom our tour guide I learned that three million years ago, there was a shallow sea in this entire valley radiating out from the present day Lake Trasimeno (which you can see from my window). It was the ancient Etruscans who were the first civilization to inhabit this area, and they made an indelible mark. Soon after about 700 BC, the Etruscans began large scale land improvement schemes, including drainage, land reclamation and irrigation of the area. A complicated, skillfully constructed network of canals collected surplus and stagnant water which were channeled to wherever they were needed for farming purposes, and any excess still remaining was carried in big drains down to the sea……. The Etruscans first developed the technique of dry farming. From about 700 BC onwards, fruitful groves, fields and gardens began to replace tracts of forest, swamps and impenetrable thickets which transformed the valley which is still flourishing today.
My photos of the ancient walls:Ancient stone walls, and elaborate Etruscan wells are proudly preserved through out Cortona. Here you can see the newer bricks that support the very old stones that comprised the defensive wall around the city.
I loved the arches I saw in Florence, especially those that rise out of the columns and spread out so geometrically at the ceiling. But the gray and white stripes, WOW! See the photos of my favorite interior at the Cathedral in Siena (above). Was it meant to be just decorative or what? The Santa Maria Novella and the Santa Trinita Churches in Florence (see photos below) also had gray and white stripes on their columns in certain areas, but neither one of them were quite so pronounced as the Siena Cathedral. With all of these gray and white stripes going on in the Florence region, I realized there must be a pattern (no pun intended), so I looked it up.
Here's what I found out.It seems the Italian Gothic style used different shades of stone to exaggerate the buildings’ breadth — an early example of how they used stripes to manipulate architectural appearances. There was also a practical reason for the stripes. Alternating layers of brick and stone were often used to reinforce the wall structure, by tying the outer skin of the wall to its interior (often brick) fill. It had other advantages, too: where quality stone was scarce or expensive, it could be selectively introduced between bands of inferior material (brick or stone) to strengthen the wall. And, while this composite construction may be grounded in principles of structure and economy, its decorative effect cannot be ignored, and may explain the medieval Italian use of stripes over entire building surfaces. Check out the close up photo below of the Siena Cathedral. These stripes are not painted on here, they are layers of different shades of stone. Stripes evoke an interesting reaction. Another interesting twist to the use of stripes is their deceptive connotation, which is why they went out of style in architecture after awhile. Sometimes you see stripes in Renaissance clothing. Even today, most of us today still associate stripes with a strong sense of marginality, fraudulence and deception. And, while the sentiments attributed to striped surfaces have oscillated significantly over many centuries, Pastoureau* notes that stripes never entirely lost their connection to deception. This can be witnessed even today in the familiar representations of clowns, tricksters and criminals in striped attire.
*Michel Pastoureau, The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes
In this setting, I still think they are beautiful!
Preserving art, is in itself inspiring.I am fast forwarding past many interesting segments of my trip to Italy in order to write about San Fedele where I am taking a painting workshop. I want to be in the present as I write about the second half of the workshop located at this spectacular setting. Our hosts are treating us superbly at this restored monastery, surrounded by vineyards, Cyprus and olive trees in the Chianti hills. I am intrigued by its history and how it became what it is now. The proprietors Nicolò and his wife, Renata, had a common vision to find property that would become their home and a place to host activities with a classic Italian style that revolves around community and bonding. When they discovered the abandoned monastery in 2001, they were drawn to it. They said it was “a moment of spontaneous madness” that began six years of meticulous restoration of San Fedele. The restoration was careful to respect the traditional methods of building in Tuscany. All materials were either original or reproduced according to the same methods used in making the originals. Craftsmen from all over the area recreated the woodwork, stonework and painting. Every roof tile and floor tile is exactly as it would have been in the original monastery. During the restoration they found the bones of priests and residents buried over the centuries under the altar. All work had to stop while the authorities of the Catholic Church and the archeological ministry were called in to review and assess every detail and re-bury the bones. Regulators insisted that every wall in the building be checked in segments to to see what might be hidden beneath the deteriorated plaster and paint. A seventeenth century fresco was uncovered in what is now the dinning hall. It took several years for two restoration experts to meticulously uncover it only to find out some parts of the artwork were irretrievable. The fresco tells the story of a priest who was ordained and those who attended.
A seventeenth century fresco was uncovered in what is now the dinning hall.San Fedele, now operating as the Tuscan Renaissance Center, is a vibrant and beautiful venue for people from all over the world to come and share their passions. It was a privilege for me to spend time in the inspiring environment. You can find out more at www.tuscanRC.com.
After a day of exploring Cortona, Italy, a fascinating town of history and legends, I chose a beautiful stacked cluster of houses as the scene to paint for my study. It was windy and cool, with occasional heavy showers today, so I worked from a spot inside my hotel, looking out of a meeting room window. Fortunately the sun shone enough for me to capture the rich colors. Let's face it, I am rusty at this. It's been a while since I've painted regularly. I am determined to stop overworking the paints, and use more confident strokes. Simple, simple, simple....