You Wear it Well

 

Audrey - You've Forgotten Your Hat!

Audrey – You’ve Forgotten Your Hat!

On Spello’s main street, just beyond the Piazza della Repubblica, is La Bottega degli Intrecci. It’s the prettiest shop in the street from the outside, and stepping inside does not disappoint.

Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Bottega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Paola Tacconi is the driving force behind the business. She is a chic, cultivated lady, always smiling. A creative person and a published poet, her passion is to create beautiful clothes with a strong ethical philosophy. The materials she uses are natural and organic – linen, bamboo and wool are particular favourites – leaving behind the smallest imprint possible on the planet.

Paola Tacconi, Spello

Paola Tacconi, Spello

Paola was born in Terni near Rome but moved to Spello 28 years ago, when she fell in love with its peaceful, spiritual ambience. She opened her shop 18 years ago and now has clients from all over the world who recognise the quality and originality of her work.

Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Everywhere you turn there are stylish clothes, recalling the timeless elegance of Audrey Hepburn.

“The imprint of Miss Hepburn is absolutely, totally present.” Manolo Blahnik

Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Everything is designed by Paola and her designs are translated into reality by a local seamstress with whom Paola has worked for many years. It is all made by hand, all made in Spello.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” Enzo Ferrari

Wool and Bobbins, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Wool and Bobbins, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

The clothes are wonderfully classic in style, the sort of things to buy and keep rather than discard the following season: full of flair, rather than disposable fashion. Paola is full of good advice, helping customers select items and matching them to delightful accessories, all without any pressure to buy. The boutiques of Milan can’t compete with service like this!

Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello. Fine bamboo top with silk beads.

Whether you are going to the beach or to the ball, once you have chosen your clothes, there are original bags, scarves and jewellery to complete your look….

Stylish Bag, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Stylish Bag, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Paola promotes the age-old art of tatting: handmade lace-making using a small shuttle to produce intricate jewellery. Each piece is entirely original and very decorative.

Tatting, Bottega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Tatting, Bottega Degli Intrecci, Spello

As well as tatting, there are many pieces made from macrame, a form of textile making that uses various knots to produce lampshades, cords and chains. Again each piece is original, delicate looking and light to wear.

Macramé Jewellry, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Macramé Jewellery, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

Macramé Necklace, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Macramé Necklace, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

It is the fine details that make Paola’s clothes stand out. The collar and button on this vibrant jacket add a timeless quality….

Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

BUtton Detail, Bottega Degli Intrecci, Spello

…and this coat sleeve has layers of detail that take it well beyond any high-street item….

Coat Sleeve Detail, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Coat Sleeve Detail, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

To mark her 18 years in business, Paola commissioned local artist Elfrida Gubbini to produce a terracotta sculpture, Madonna del Telaio (Madonna of the Loom) which can be found on Via Catena on the wall of the shop. It is a lovely work, and a generous gift to Spello, its residents and visitors who walk these cobbled streets.

Madonna Del Telaio, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

Madonna Del Telaio, Botega Degli Intrecci, Spello

I am no shopper, but even I left with a stylish little number. All I need now is a special occasion to wear it. Breakfast at Tiffany’s anyone?

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I Heard it Through the Grapevine

Prosecco, Drinking Wine, Spello

Prosecco, Drinking Wine, Spello

If you come to Italy for just one thing, come for the gastronomic experience. If your heart is hardened to history, culture, art and beauty, come anyway and feast. Drink in the colours, breathe in the aromas and taste the wonderful, local, seasonal food that Italy has to offer.

Fresh Truffle Bruscetta, Vinosofia, Spello

Fresh Truffle Bruscetta, Vinosofia, Spello

As we drove along the winding roads to Montefalco we passed rows of neat vines heavy with the weight of magnificent bunches of grapes gleaming in the bright sunshine. The wine produced by these sun-kissed grapes is delicious, sometimes even divine.

“Beer is made by men, wine by God.” Martin Luther

Afternoon Delight, Bar Bonci, Spello

Afternoon Delight, Bar Bonci, Spello

We regarded it as our duty to try out as many local restaurants and bars as we could in order to give you a taste (no pun intended) of the local produce. Olive oil is one of Umbria’s best products and it features heavily in its recipes.

Tartare, Drinking Wine, Spello

Tartare, Drinking Wine, Spello

Salami, cheeses and unsalted bread is the most popular Umbrian antipasti dish – great for sharing.

Antipasti, Dada's Spello

Antipasti, Dada’s Spello

Zuccini flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese and herbs was a favourite dish; these vegetables tasted like ambrosia.

Zuccini Flowes, L'Alchemista, Montefalco

Zuccini Flowes, L’Alchimista, Montefalco

“Wine is sunlight held together by water.” Galileo

Vino Rosso, Vinosofia, Spello

Vino Rosso, Vinosofia, Spello

What is fine food without fine wine? An incomplete experience surely.

Carpaccio of Beef, Rocket and Parmesan, Drinking Wine, Spello

Carpaccio of Beef, Rocket and Parmesan, Drinking Wine, Spello

Perhaps our biggest culinary treat was Sunday lunch with our Italian friends, cooked by la bella Mariella, who had taught us how to make ravioli on an earlier visit.

Pigeon, L'Alchemista, Montefalco

Pigeon, L’Alchimista, Montefalco

We started with a selection of Bruscetta, topped with aubergines, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh figs, speck and straccino cheese with wild rocket. A meal in itself, but this was Italy so this was merely the prelude.

Salami, Vinosofia, Spello

Salami, Vinosofia, Spello

Next we had ravioli, stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a light tomato sauce. It was a mouthful of flavours that left us wanting more, but knowing that there was more to come it was wise to decline.

Rose, L'Alchemista, Montefalco

Rose, L’Alchimista, Montefalco

Pappardelle with hare sauce arrived, a meaty, savoury dish that melted in the mouth. By now we were feeling full, but still we waited in anticipation for the main event.

Potato Rosti with prosciutto and Parmesan, L'Alchemista, Montefalco

Potato Rosti with prosciutto and Parmesan, L’Alchimista, Montefalco

Piled up plates of hare cooked with garlic, rosemary, slivers of olives and white wine, in a sauce of olive oil, capers, garlic, vinegar and parsley appeared, with dishes of spinach, perfectly seasoned. It was thoroughly delicious.

Coffee and Passito, Dada's, Spello

Coffee and Passito, Dada’s, Spello

No Italian meal is complete without a dessert, and this lunch was no exception. Ciaramicola, a traditional Perugian dessert was served, red on the inside and covered with white meringue, the colours of the Perugian emblem. According to tradition, girls give this cake to their lovers at Easter; this would melt many an Italian man’s heart!

Tiramisu- already nibbled! L'Alchemista, Montefalco

Tiramisu- already nibbled! L’Alchimista, Montefalco

Did I mention the wine? Umbrian whites and reds accompanied each course. Afterwards there was an aniseed liqueur, known as a “coffee killer”, poured into strong espresso to hide the bitter after taste. I resisted photographing each course as I was too busy eating, so use your imagination to conjure up a meal fit for a king.

“I shall drink no wine before it’s time! OK, it’s time.” Groucho Marx

 

 

Scene Through the Eye of a Lens

Spello Staircase

Spello Staircase

One of the things I love about Italians is that they love a festival. Any opportunity to celebrate local food, wines, traditions and culture is seized upon with enthusiasm. One such cultural event which we were privileged to attend this week was the Spello Photo Fest.

Fabrizio Corvi's Studio, Spello

Fabrizio Corvi’s Studio, Spello

Organised largely by Fabrizio Corvi, who has a studio in Spello, and Barbera Pinci, it was a celebration of the work of fifteen talented photographers. Local people opened up their garages, storage spaces and unrestored buildings to host the exhibitions in the ancient Via Giulia. This meant that as well as the art on show, we were allowed a secret peek into the wonderful old buildings which are usually hidden behind large wooden doors. This particular space was enhanced by the view across the fields and hills: a framed picture in itself….

Framed View, Spello

Framed View, Spello

Interiors offered glimpses into crumbling rooms, waiting to be brought back into use….

Ripe for Renovation, Spello

Ripe for Renovation, Spello

The exhibits themselves were extremely varied. There were haunting black and white photos by Deigo Good that drew you into his mystical world….

Lake Trasimeno. Copyright Diego Good

Lake Trasimeno. Copyright Diego Good

Artists such as Andrea Cianca documented the struggle of Italians who came out onto the streets as a last resort to defend things that were dear to them, such as their land and their jobs. These were harsh realities, tenderly portrayed.

Copyright Andrea Cianca

Italian Streets. Copyright Andrea Cianca

A laughing bride was presented in a distressed frame against a rustic wall….

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As well as the more traditional works, there were contemporary exhibits such as this mix of familiar objects. Who wore these shoes? Who watched this TV? Whose lives are we part of for a few fleeting minutes?

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Fabio Galioti recreated a 16th century painting by Caravaggio – The Calling of Saint Matthew – in a 9 minute film entitled “In the Light”. The characters were positioned exactly as in the painting, and as we watched they moved really slowly. It was an unusual and moving piece.

Was this doll’s head meant to remind us of childhood, or to give us nightmares?

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In a local cafe there was a display of old photographs of Spello and the people of Spello – the Spellani. This picture was really evocative – taken in Via Guilia which has hardly changed.

Family Collection, Spello

Family Collection, Spello

In Spello’s tiny museum there was another celebration of photography, this time by the American photographer Steve McCurry containing photos of Umbria. Steve McCurry is perhaps best known for his beautiful colour photos in the documentary tradition, including his striking portrait “Afghan Girl” which first appeared in National Geographic magazine. (We saw this recently at an exhibition “Drawn by Light” in London’s Science Museum).

Steve McCurry Exhibition, Spello

Steve McCurry Exhibition, Spello

“Even in the most forgotten and hidden areas of the country you will come across massive amounts of elegance and poetry, architecture and art. In Italy I like to explore the old and new and see how they intersect. And…if I had to recommend a place to visit in the world I would not hesitate: it’s Italy.” Steve McCurry

Family Lunch, Perugia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Family Lunch, Perugia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry’s photographs were beautifully presented, lit from behind in a darkened room. They are full of life, full of colour and display a real empathy for the people he portrays. This photo of a horse rider taken near Castellucio di Norcia – an area known as the Tibet of Italy – could almost be a painting….

Castellucio Di Norcia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Castellucio Di Norcia. Copyright Steve McCurry

In Bevagna at the medieval market of the Gaite held each June, he captured this recreation of an ancient craft, lit like a Vermeer painting….

Bevagna Medieval Market of the Gaite. Copyright Steve McCurry

Bevagna Medieval Market of the Gaite. Copyright Steve McCurry

His photos are inspirational; it is easy to see why he is considered to be a master of his craft.

“If you wait, people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.” Steve McCurry

Monk, Spello. Copyright Steve McCurry

Monk, Spello. Copyright Steve McCurry

 

My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You

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Set amongst picturesque mountains and surrounded by some of Umbria’s most stunning scenery, the ancient Roman town of Spello is a place where you come to visit, leave and then long to return to.

Rooftops Spello

Rooftops Spello

And so it was that we arrived in Rome after a perfect flight, ready to connect with the fast train to Roma Termini, the main railway station, then onwards to Spello. Unfortunately the luggage for our entire flight went missing and it was an hour and a half later before we finally had our cases. By the time we tumbled onto the final train, night had fallen so we arrived in darkness, hungry and tired. Next morning, refreshed and bright-eyed, we were delighted to see the views from our terrace.

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The bells of the ancient church of Santa Maria Maggiore welcomed the day and we strolled around the streets, reacquainting ourselves with old familiar places and familiar faces.

Spello street

Spello street

And yet there is always something new to see, like this pair of angels on the wall of a house. Were they always there?

Angelic Wall, Spello

Angelic Wall, Spello

Even though summer is over, bright flowers can still be seen, their colours contrasting starkly with the mellow Spello stone….

Spello Street

Spello Street

An unexpected development was the long-promised work to improve the streets. This sunlit church watched over diverted traffic….

Sunlit Church, Spello

Sunlit Church, Spello

It is a huge project but progress is good and the end result will surely be worth the disruption. Here and there we had to squeeze past large trenches cut into the ancient foundations….

Work in Progress, Spello

Work in Progress, Spello

Familiar places, familiar faces, blue skies and Italian food; it’s good to be back in Magic Spello.

“Is that actually you or am I dreaming again?” Phil Klay

Spello Sky

Spello Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainbow Valley

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 “And sometimes you realise the value of the rain by knowing how unreliable and vanishing the rainbow is.” NUR BE DEIR

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 “Where does the rainbow end, in your soul or on the horizon?” PABLO NERUDA

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 “I’d rather see the world as a rainbow than endless shades of grey.” AMANI ABBAS

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There’s a land that I’ve dreamed of, and dream of still. A place that lets me go, yet doesn’t. A town that constantly tugs my mind back, back to its rosy stones. Spello, magic Spello, I am even now conjuring up my reappearance!

“You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.” CHARLIE CHAPLIN

Supper’s Ready

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Italy is well known for its wonderful food, using fresh, local ingredients. When Mariella – a beautiful Italian mamma – offered to share the secrets of her kitchen, we did not hesitate.

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Mariella arrived carrying a huge wooden board, an enormous rolling pin and all of the ingredients required to make ravioli filled with ricotta cheese and spinach.  First she prepared the filling, using a hand stick blender to mix 300g of ricotta with a large handful of spinach, a good grating of fresh nutmeg, a generous pinch of salt and an egg.

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Next she heaped up 400g of Type 00 flour and made a well in the centre, into which she cracked 4 eggs. Using a fork she mixed the eggs into the flour at the speed of light, gradually drawing in the dry flour from the edges. Then she used the heel of her hand to knead the dough.

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The dough was formed into a ball and left to rest for 5 minutes before being kneaded a second time.

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One third of the dough was broken off, leaving the remainder wrapped in a tea towel. The smaller portion was rolled out, using only a light dusting of flour to prevent sticking. This was tough work, requiring long, fast strokes, keeping the dough moving. Not a pasta machine in sight!

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When the pasta is rolled as thin as possible, use a glass to cut out a small circle. Insert a teaspoon of the filling in the centre and crimp the edges together to make a half-moon shape. Line up the completed pieces of ravioli on a clean cloth. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. To cook, pop the lovely little parcels in boiling water for just one minute and serve with a sauce of your choice or simply with a dusting of parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Mmmmm. If you have made too many, freeze flat before storing in freezer bags. Don’t defrost when cooking: put straight into boiling water for about 2 minutes.

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It is all very well watching and learning, but getting similar results in your own kitchen can be a challenge. We followed Mariella’s instructions and made ravioli parcels, this time filled with a ricotta cheese and beetroot mix. These ones are ready for the pot and look pretty good for a first attempt….

Ravioli with beetroot and ricotta

Apart from the ravioli – which was, incidentally, delicious – I made a traditional Umbrian dish using Umbrian strangozzi pasta with slivers of fresh, earthy truffle….

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….and zucchini (courgette) flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese and herbs, gently warmed for 5 minutes in a medium oven then garnished with fresh peas, tomatoes and parmesan. A colourful feast for the eyes which tasted just like summer….

Zuccini flowers, stuffed

Thanks to Mariella for her inspiration and education. Recreating dishes you have eaten in particular places certainly brings back memories of sharing food, wine and happy times with friends and family.

Have you ever recreated food memories and, if so, how well did they turn out?

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If You Ever Come Back.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

I’ve no idea how we missed the bus stop. Almost all of our fellow passengers got off, but for some reason we stayed on. As the bus took a sharp, uphill turn we saw a fleeting glimpse of the Basilica of Saint Francis; we pulled away. Several hairpin bends and delicious views later, we reached the end of the road, literally. There was a sign opposite the bus stop pointing out the pedestrian route to the centre of the town via a Roman tunnel. Into the depths we descended through the Roman remains of Assisi. Suddenly, daylight, big skies, church towers and domes!

Assisi

Assisi Cathedral: Saint Rufino

The Duomo of Saint Rufino is thought to date from the 8th century, although it was rebuilt in the 11th century when it was consecrated as the cathedral of Assisi. It is an enormous structure with a beautiful green dome and evidence of repairs due to age and earthquakes.

Assisi: Church of Saint Clare

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Clare

Although Saint Francis of Assisi is the town’s most celebrated former resident, his contemporary, Saint Clare, is also honoured here. The Basilica of Saint Clare was constructed in the 13th century. It has a pretty, striped facade, using pink stone from Mount Subasio, on whose lower slopes Assisi lies. The church has a large, square bell tower and, from above, wonderful views of the Umbrian countryside.

Assisi

Assisi

Still we descended the steep streets, with picturesque views to right and left.

Assisi

Assisi

Through arches and bridges we saw changing vistas of mountains and trees, crops and clouds.

Assisi

Assisi

Tall medieval buildings seemed to dwarf their Lilliputian residents.

Assisi: Torre del Popolo

Assisi: Torre del Popolo

Approaching the town centre, the 13th century Torre del Popolo towered above the ancient square, the Piazza del Comune. The beautifully situated 16th century fountain in the same square is guarded by 3 rather tame looking lions.

AssisiAssisi: Three Lions Fountain

Assisi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO describes the town as “an outstanding example of a type of architectural ensemble that has significantly influenced the development of art and architecture.” That is quite an accolade, but one that is well deserved, not least because of the Basilica of Saint Francis.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

In front of the Basilica there is a striking bronze statue by the sculpture and artist Proietti Norberto, a native of nearby Spello. The statue is known as the Return of Saint Francis or the Pilgrim of Peace. The Franciscan movement preaches a universal message of peace and tolerance, a message sadly lacking in our troubled times.

"Return of Saint Francis" by Norberto

“Return of Saint Francis” by Norberto

Looking down into the lower plaza, the panoramic views extend across the Umbrian plain. You might just make out the blue dome of the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli: I have written about this unusual church, containing the cell in which Saint Francis was said to have died and his first chapel, in an earlier post.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

The plain facade of the Basilica of Saint Francis does not prepare the visitor for its remarkable decorative interior with frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue and Pietro Lorenzetti amongst others. Both the lower and upper churches are crammed with remarkable art.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

This unique treasure house, somewhat ironically built in honour of a man who cast aside riches and dedicated himself to the poor, is surely worth a visit.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

On our previous visit we had concentrated largely on the Basilica and found it rather overwhelming and a little distasteful. But we were glad we had returned; through missing our bus stop we had seen a whole new side to Assisi with its winding streets and quiet squares. We also had a chance to enjoy once again the mesmerising religious art of this historic town.

Assisi

Assisi

 

Can’t Buy Me Love

 

Click those heels together and make a wish!

Slippers that keep an eye on you….Click those heels together and head back to Kansas!

“Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” Marilyn Monroe

It is true to say that money can’t buy you love, but it can get you pretty much everything else. I should tell you right away that I am not a shopper. The consumerism that has gripped so many people in the developed world does nothing for me, but I do still enjoy a bit of window shopping.

Where did you get that hat?

Where did you get that hat?

Where better to window shop than Italy for quality and style? Home of so many fashion labels: Versace, Gucci, Armani, Moschino, Valentino and Prada, to name but a few. But as well as the big names, small businesses – often family affairs – are commonplace, and their attention to detail in materials such as leather, silk and wool is wonderful.

“Fashions fade, style is eternal.” Yves Saint-Laurent

Bags of choice

Bags of choice.

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated” Oscar Wilde

Even in the small Umbrian town of Spello there are a variety of small shops crammed with delights….

Spello La Bottega

Spello La Bottega degli Intrecci

….where a little Italian flair is used to show the goods to best effect….

Leather and ceramics Spello

Leather and ceramics Spello

Further afield, in Umbria’s capital, Perugia, the shops are cosmopolitan, stylish, plentiful.

“Where is the man that can ease a heart like a satin gown? Dorothy Parker

Party? Me?

Party? Me?

I think I was more attracted to the reflection of Perugia Cathedral than the contents of this particular window….

Plastic Fantastic!

Plastic Fantastic!

“Elegance is the only beauty that never fades.” Audrey Hepburn

This was a feast for the eyes. Look – more sparkly shoes….

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Food shopping is more my style. Local cheeses just waiting to be nibbled with a decent glass of wine….

Cheese: yes please!

Cheese: yes please!

Then there is chocolate. Perugia is famous, amongst other things, for its high quality chocolate. No surprise then that shop windows are crammed with sweet delights….

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Even better was the Chocostore in Perugia’s main square….

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….with a view of the beautiful fountain….

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Even the drinks were chocolate-based, including alcoholic beers and cocktails….

Chocolate Heaven, Perugia

Chocolate Heaven, Perugia

The city of Assisi is known for its links to its most famous son, Saint Francis. Here, beside the many churches and the basilica, numerous shops and restaurants exploit the Saint, for example selling Saint Francis cakes which are tagged with a picture of him!

Assisi Bakery

Assisi Bakery

Walk in the steps of Saint Francis: this footwear could only be found in such quantities in Assisi….

Assisi, sandals

Assisi, sandals

Time to head back to Spello where this hill town helmet caught my eye.

Hill Town Helmet!

Hill Town Helmet!

Helmet, designer sunglasses, leather gloves and Vespa scooter….I’m all ready to go touring with the Touring Club Italiano!

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“Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” Coco Chanel

 

Sun It Rises

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Early to rise, pale morning wrapped in mist….

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Over the mountains the sun it rises.  Shadow dancing, peeping, creeping….

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….the light painting the cloud-cloak a rich gold….

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A burnished halo, breathtaking, fleeting….

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Elusive still. The sun is up, the cock crows, the church bells peal. Come now, awaken the town with the promise of another day!

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In the Gallery with the Artist Elvio Marchionni

Elvio Marchionni, detail

Elvio Marchionni: Detail of Mother and Child

The small Umbrian hill town of Spello has produced two remarkable artists. The first was Bernadino di Betto, better known as Pinturicchio (“little painter”), one of the great painters of the Renaissance. The second was Maestro Elvio Marchionni. Elvio Marchionni attended the Art Institute of Bernadino di Betto in Perugia, where he explored medieval painting techniques, the classics and the past masters. His palette is one of subdued colours, and many of his works resemble frescoes ravaged by the effects of time. He has exhibited all over Italy, including at the Venice Biennale of Sacred Arts, as well as in Paris, Madrid, Germany and the US. I spoke to him about his work and his inspiration.

Do you come from an artistic background?  No, I come from a family of farmers. My parents had no real concept of what art meant.

When did you realise that you wanted to be an artist?  Ever since I can remember. I have always drawn, even as a very small child of two or three.

Which artists do you most admire? Michelangelo is for me the greatest of all artists, better even than Leonardo da Vinci or Raphael, although I respect them both. I particularly admire Michelangelo’s drawings. In terms of modern artists, I was very inspired by the work of Alberto Burri, the Italian abstract artist. He reduced his colour palette and incorporated textures in his work, using sacking, iron, wood and plastic. He would also scar and burn areas of his canvas to add layers of interest.  Without Burri, I would not have developed my own textural techniques.

What artistic techniques do you use?  I like to use different textures in my work. For example, I use the crumbling plaster walls of old buildings to extract colour and texture. I take layers of gauze which I stick to the walls. When the layers are dry I pull them off, and traces of the pale colours and plaster remain on the material. I then use this as my canvas. The paintings produced in this way are known as strappi, from the Italian word strappare meaning to tear off or extract. For me, the canvasses contain memories of the past and of colours that have changed through time.

Elvio Marchionni with silk screen print frame

Elvio Marchionni with silk screen print frame showing the image.

I also use the serigraph or silk screen process. After creating an image, the silk is stretched across a frame and treated with a gel that is sensitive to light. A single colour is forced through the fine mesh of the silk material. When it is placed under a strong light, the image is fixed. Additional colours are added separately, drying well between each coat. It is a very long process.

Do you see yourself as following in the tradition of the great Renaissance artists?  No, not specifically. I love Renaissance art, but my art comes from using all of the artistic knowledge that I have from both the past and the present. I continue to learn every day. My favourite colours are those you see in the ancient frescoes, although some of their shades have changed over time. For example, the Madonna was usually depicted dressed in a deep blue, but this would originally have been much lighter. As the blue pigment was very expensive, artists diluted it to make it go further. The dilution agents slowly evaporated, resulting in a darker colour.

So you paint every day?  A good musician plays his instrument every day. It is the same for an artist. It is not enough to say you will only paint when you are inspired: you must practice, practice, practice to improve your art. Even now, when I am talking to you, you will see that my hands are never still; I always have a board or sketch pad close by. Sketching helps me to concentrate.

Elvio Marchionni - Sketches

Elvio Marchionni – Sketches

Do you ever paint outdoors?  Rarely now. When I was a young boy I often painted in the fields and mountains, but now I prefer to paint in the studio. That does not mean that I do not get inspiration from the landscape, because I do.

I understand you were born in Spello.  Yes, during the War, in 1944. In fact it was during an air raid. It was such a confusing time that my mother wasn’t sure whether I was born on the 16th or 17th of January. She settled on the 17th.

And you still live in Spello?  Yes, I love this town deeply and I still live in the centre. I also have a house close by on the mountain. I know the mountains so well, and enjoy walking on the slopes, picking wild asparagus and herbs and hunting for truffles.

When you are away from Spello, where do you like to visit?  I am happy to be in Spello even when I am not working! If I do go away, it tends to be to places that remind me of my home town, with mountains and olive groves. I love Puglia; when I go there I like to stay in a small village. The area is very beautiful. I also love to eat the fresh fish.

Many of your paintings have a religious theme – why is that?  Well, I myself am an atheist, but I consider myself to be a friend of the Church. Many of my works are in churches and therefore depict religious themes.

You paint women often, and these women have the most beautiful, serene expressions. Yes, I love women! I like to paint them looking serene, calm and beautiful.

The depiction of a mother and child is a theme you return to frequently.  I have painted the Madonna and Child frequently but also many other works showing a mother and child. My aim always is to portray them for any generation; an eternal mother and child relationship if you like.

You recently produced a beautiful painting of Pope Francis. How did that come about?  It was a commission from a consortium of Umbrian banks. I actually went to the Vatican to present it to the Pope personally. I think he was pleased with it! The Pope took his name in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi, so I included the Saint and the basilica built in his name in the background. I also produced 500 serigraph copies – one of which hangs in my house – and a regional newspaper printed 50,000 posters of my portrait.

Portrait of Pope Francis and Saint Francis by Elvio Marchionni

Portrait of Pope Francis and Saint Francis by Elvio Marchionni

The Marchionni Foundation (Fondazione Marchionni) was recently inaugurated in Spello, in the former church of Saint Michael the Archangel. Why did you set up this organisation and what is it intended to do? The Foundation aims to encourage people – particularly, but not exclusively, children – to produce art and to grow as artists. It is about creativity and experimentation, allowing people to try out different techniques and materials. As well as trying to ensure that our rich artistic traditions are perpetuated, the Foundation will also manage my body of work. It is difficult for me to lay the responsibility for this on my family; through the Foundation my work can be managed independently.

Can you teach anybody to draw? I don’t teach people to draw. Through my Foundation, I put myself at the disposal of both adults and children when they are trying to solve problems with their art. Children know what they want to draw, even at a very early age. What might look like scribbles to us is something definitive in a child’s mind. Sometimes art lessons in schools drive children down particular routes. I want to undo this sort of teaching; children are able to express themselves through their paintings and they should be free to do this without necessarily having to conform to accepted art forms. I think that anyone can draw or paint to some degree, but without natural talent and training it is not possible to be a true artist.

Elvio Marchionni at work

Elvio Marchionni at work

Aside from art, what interests you? Women, children and cooking. I am told I am a pretty good cook! Also, as I mentioned earlier, being at one with nature in the fields and mountains.

What are you currently working on? I am producing a series of eleven pieces for the Baptistry of Folignio Cathedral.

From Maestro Marchionni’s house we crossed the street to the former church of Saint Michael the Archangel, home of the Foundation. Here I saw the work in progress for Folignio Cathedral and an exhibition of childrens’ art from the most recent junior workshop. We then strolled up the street to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore to see one of his works, a Madonna and Child. We walked around the Renaissance Baglioni Chapel with its rich paintings and decoration by Pinturicchio completed around 1501: perhaps his finest works. We admired the two pale paintings by Perugino from 1521. Finally, we visited the Chapel of the Sacrament where Elvio Marchionni’s four panels decorate the splendid 16th century tabernacle. Today’s artist is justifiably proud of his work, that of the local Renaissance masters and of his town.

Of what are you most proud? Every day when I wake up I feel good to be alive. I am proud that I succeeded in becoming what I always wanted to be. I also love freedom; I am a free spirit.

Painting by Elvio Marchionni

Painting by Elvio Marchionni

With sincere thanks to Maestro Elvio Marchionni for his time and his generosity of spirit. Thanks also to Francesca Carbonini for her patience and help with translation.