Monday, August 18, 2014

Siena, Il Duomo.... a Thin Place




Lately I have been thinking and writing about 'thin places' and
 have come to recognize these more and more in life.




A thin place is  said to be  a place where heaven and earth meet, there are no boundaries.
Although a thin place does not have to be a sacred place yet when in Siena, James and I always
visit Il Duomo ( Santa Maria Assunta) and for for each of us it is a place where heaven and earth come together.

The Cathedral (1245) is built on the highest point in Siena over what was an early church dedicated to  the goddess Minerva. The facade of the Duomo is dazzling, but it is when I enter through the doors, in from the sunlight and suddenly find myself standing in  the low lit interior that I am captivated by the scale and space of it all.





The 13th Century Pulpit by Nicola Pisano is a masterpiece . Walking into the side chapels and alters there are words of art by the later Renaissance artists, Michelangelo, Donatello, Bernini, Pisano and Pinturiccio that should be taken note of as they add to the complexity of the Cathedral.



The alternating black and white horizontal  pattern of the interior has such magnificence and ones eyes are carried  far upward to the golden stars on the blue ceiling. Light passes softly through the
window, the radiance pulls our eyes and  feet forward while the Duomo wraps around you, time collapses and you become absorbed in the power of the place.
It is humbling.




A Gian Lorenzo Bernini gold gilded lantern tops the star filled dome .
James wondered how many children must have looked up and thought that God was really up there. Right there.
But,  they must have wondered,"how can you swim in air, how can you get there?"
It seems so frustratingly impossible....I guess that was "the churches point", they will provide the "ladders".



Vasari, in referring to the mind boggling Duomo floor said, " the most beautiful, largest and most magnificent that was ever made."
The marble intarsia and graffito that covers the floor was created from the 24th-16th Centuries by the hands of 40 artists.
I  get absorbed in looking I often forget to take photos, so you will just have to go see this for yourself, it is a remarkable piece of artwork that you will find yourself walking upon.




A visit here requires time. Time just to walk through the rising black and white columns, time to walk into  the side chapels and to light a candle as you thin about someone you love. Sit back where it is quiet and feel the calm and the place.
Breathe.



The Cathedral was meant to be larger, as a matter of fact the plan was for it to be the largest Cathedral ever built.  However, in 1348 The Black Death's toll on the population of Siena was devastating, it is thought that 75% of the population died from the plague. How did they ever recover to become once again a vibrant city?
Work on the Cathedral stopped when the plaque swept the city and was never restarted although what was started still stands, almost as a memorial.

Siena is Medieval, you see it in the architecture and you feel it to the bone as you walk through its narrow streets.




Siena has endured the misery of battles, financial troubles and plague.
The Duomo rises high up from Siena looking illustrious and strong.



 Information

For information  click on :  Siena Duomo


The magnificent floor of the Duomo often has sections roped off of covered
But from August 18 -October 27 2014
the entire floor will be uncovered.


More on Siena's Duomo in future blog posts.




















Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Adding Some Color To the Garden

The outdoor benches and chairs were looking bleak, and only wasps were attracted to them.
There must be something about the old grey weathered wood that wasps like.





I like bees  hanging around the garden, but the sting of a wasp and I 
end up in the Emergency Room.

In Italy painted furniture on a terrace or in a garden always looks so welcoming that James and I thought it would add color as well as give us back our benches and chairs!

Blue was our choice for the pair of chairs in walled garden, which is largely perennials.





  A tint of cobalt green was selected for the benches in what we call the courtyard garden.
The plan for this garden is still on the drawing board. but the benches call out as a welcoming place to sit and enjoy the garden as well as to think about it's future.




Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Is Here, Bring on the Cherries!





Sweet Cherries in Wooden Box
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
oil on panel


Summer brings on an array of fruits, but cherries always become not only something to eat or cook with, they also end up as subject matter for paintings.
The color, the shine of the fresh cherries and the stems are eye catching and they continually  grab my attention.



Plate of Rainier Cherries
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
Oil on panel


One of the most challenging things about painting fruit  is the urge to overcome eating it...at least on the first day, when the plate is set out and the fruit is perfect. After a day or two it gets less appealing, as the struggle to get the still life on to the canvas is foremost on my mind.


I feel fortunate to have such delicious fruits and vegetables to bring to the table and to my studio.
Cherry sauce for ice cream anyone?




Monday, July 14, 2014

A Walk Through the Gardens of La Foce.......Wisteria in Bloom ( Tuscany)






In the last blog post I mentioned the wisteria at the gardens of La Foce, so here it is. This photo was taken  in early May on a previous visit  to the garden.
Of course, I was smitten and wanted to have a pergola with wisteria in our garden.


So now, a quiet walk through the garden of La Foce with wisteria in full bloom.

















Truly Magnificant!



Here's a tip.....
Before going to La Foce, plan a visit to Monticchiello, a medieval  Tuscan hill town, and have lunch at La Porta.

A delicious Tuscan lunch and a  grand garden, now that's a good day!






Thursday, July 10, 2014

La Foce ..... a pilgrimage to the gardens (Tuscany)





The garden and villa of La Foce are  the legacy of two quite amazing, if not heroic individuals, Iris and Antonio Origo.
  Together, with esteemed architect and garden designer, Cecil Pinsent, a masterpiece was created.

In 1924, Iris and Antonio purchased the run down  Tuscan villa and with their vision created the wonderous place that is La Foce.
La Foce means" a meeting place", in this case it refers to the place where two valleys meet,
 the Val d'Orcia and the Val di Chiana,  one of the most magical places James and I have visited.
To visit La Foce is more a pilgrimage than a garden tour.





The Pinsent designed Limonaia that houses the lemon trees during the winter months.




James and I made our most recent visit to La Foce in late May so the lemon trees had taken their places in the garden.




We have visited La Foce often, usually in early spring when the wisteria is in full bloom. Our visit this past spring was later, after wisteria but with the lemon trees out of the limonaia and in the garden, along with the roses coming into bloom.




The garden is the centerpiece of a visit here , but beyond is the incredible story of Iris and Antonio Origo and the history of La Foce.
 In 1924 when they purchased the villa, the surrounding landscape, known as 'crete senesi' was that of hardened clay.
It was barren. Some call in a "moonscape".
Iris and Antonio dedicated their efforts into creating a land that could be farmed to produce  food and income for the impoverished families of the Val'd Orcia.




 Work began to improve  the condition of the land and bring farming to the Val'd Orcia, meanwhile, architect Cecil Pinsent was hired to work on the villa and create a garden at La Foce.
Iris hired Pinsent,  for the garden design because she herself imagined a garden like those she knew from her home, Villa Medici in Florence, geometrical and of formal order.

Standing atop the staircase that descends to the lower garden, you can see
 the landscape of the Val d' Orcia centered on Mount Amiata. This is an important idea, the viewer sees the lush ordered green of the garden and then beyond to the beautiful vista of the ordered landscape of Tuscany and  farther yet, Mt. Amiata.



This formal staircase with grotto, designed by Pinsent, takes one from the upper garden into the lower garden with it's geometrical plan of boxwood, meant to create ever changing shadows and patterns as the sun moves across the sky.




The lower garden is framed with cypress, Pinsent's interest was in creating garden rooms. To create garden  rooms at La Foce he guides us along pathways through arches and stone walls, boxwood, cypress, and a pergola with wisteria. 





With  time, money and hard work Iris and Antonio, brought irrigation, wells, and ideas like crop rotation to area farmers and that lead to the  planting of wheat, grapes and olives trees.
An economy was started for this impoverished area.







 When the wisteria is in bloom, a walk down this path is better than any red carpet laid out for royalty. The air is perfumed and the violet blossoms cascading down are all together too magical in the dappled sun.


But, this visit we are here to see the roses, and a few lingering wisteria.



I have read that Iris had a real love for flowers, she would have been pleased by these roses .
Pinsent on the other had was less charmed by flowers, but did add wisteria and lavender to his design.
The roses and other flowers were for Iris.





Well, back to Iris and Antonio...
They were very committed to this place, La Foce and the Val d'Orcia, not only to improving the land and farming but also to the health and education of the people living here.
Both Iris and Antonio came from wealthy backgrounds, so they could have easily looked after themselves and lived a life of ease and comfort, but they chose a different path.

 World War II changed everything in Italy.
The Origos stayed at La Foce with their family. They could have readily escaped Europe and returned to Iris' family in the United States, but their hearts were at La Foce where they remained.
During the war years they took  wounded soldiers to their infirmary, and hid partisans.
Refuge children were welcomed by Iris to La Foce and a small school was built for them.

1943-44  brought the war to Val'd' Orcia and La Foce.
The villa had to be evacuated and the children led by Iris (along with her own children) had to walk  to Montepulciano. Along the way they had to avoid mined roads  and other dangers of war.
 German troops moved in and occupied La Foce.




After the war the Origo family moved back to La Foce , restored the war damaged  villa and garden and continued on their mission.
Their daughters continue to live there to this day.


 Post war, Cecil Pinsent returned to assist in the rebuilding of the gardens.





 This is a stunning view. Once again the garden and the landscape beyond become as one.

During a visit here I always see the beauty of the villa, garden and landscape but in my heart or soul, I don't know which, there is a feeling that this place the Val d'Orcia, has survived  the miseries  of drought, Medieval feudal lords misuse of land and population,  small wars and great wars and yet today survives as a place of beauty. So does La Foce.
It takes your breath away.



La Foce: www.lafoce.com
Chianciano, Tuscany
Italy
Open  to the public Wednesday afternoons .


Related Reading

The War in Val d' Orcia, by Iris Origo
Images and Shadows, by Iris Origo

La Foce, A Garden and Landscape in Tuscany, by Benedetta Origo, Morna Livingston, Laurie Olin & John Dixon Hunt

An Infinity of Graces, Cecil Ross Pinsent, An English Architect in the Italian Landscape, by Ethne Clark





Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Postcard from Umbria (castiglione del lago)

Thinking back to gelato at Sergio's.



This gelato, at a bar in Castiglione del Lago, across from the train station, is divine!
Flavors I never dreamed existed. Che cosa...Polvere? And that dreamy chocolate stuff with cherries.
Incredible.
You think they look good? they taste even better.

Well, there's always next year.
Ciao.




Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Postcard From Tuscany ( La Foce)





Each time we visit Italy James and I make a pilgrimage to the gardens at La Foce.
Last we we went with a group of friends for a visit. 
This is the first time the lemon trees have been out of the limonaia and in the garden.
That was a treat to see.
Each time we visit there is always something new to see, and  somehow the gardens continue to surpass the previous visit.

Buongiornata!