Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Saint Angela or the Ursulines? - You pick

Ursula's Dream
In Italy everyone has a name day or Saint Day. I have two, or seventy-two depending on your POV.

October 2nd is SS Angeli Custodi, the catch all Saints day for tutti i santi (all 72 of them.) That day recently passed. And would have gone unnoticed but for a couple of dear and angelically attuned Italian friends who called me with their Auguri's & I said thank you. (The angel in Angela apparently counts...)


Saint Angela
My OTHER Saint day is Jan 27, the actual feast day for Saint Angela.

Saint Angela (Merici), born in 1474, was devoted to the education of young girls. Growing up, I was the only Angela for miles. No one in school shared my name, nor anyone in our treelined neighborhood.

It was lonely out there. But it made me unique. Until I arrived in Italy, specifically Calitri. Here, there are six Angela's on my stretch of via Fontana alone. Guess you could say I was drawn here.

While opinion in St Angela's time held that women were weak and unable to withstand the moral temptations of society without the protection of a husband or the walls of a cloister, (they called them Zitelle for a reason) she knew that women could rely on their own strength and independence to work and live. Way to go, N'gline! 

But it gets better. Turns out, in 1535 St Angela chose twelve virgins and started the foundation of the Ursuline School for young women. Their Patron Saint? The martyred medieval maiden Saint Ursula of BrittanyHunh.

‘Ursula et XI.M.V’ 
As a young teen my older brother taunted me nearly daily by calling me Ursula or worse, Urs. And I always wondered, why?

The Ambassadors
So, while in Venice again recently, I made a beeline to the Gallerie delle’Accademia. I went specifically to view the Saint Ursula Cycle in Room XXI (painted by Carpaccio in 1495 for the Venetian Scuola di Sant' Orsola) where they have lived since Ruskin's time, to do a little Art History sleuthing and maybe connect these underlying dots. 






In the paintings she is clearly a babe. The daughter of a Christian King, by the time she was fifteen her beauty and wisdom had become known abroad. A heathen King wanted her as wife to his son, whom she would marry only if he converted. She consults her father. He consents, as does her betrothed and she plans their pilgrimage. An angel soon appears to her in a dream announcing her journey to martyrdom. 

 'DIVA F.AV/ST.A'

Princess Ursula, martyred by invading Huns (run through the heart by an Archer) along with her 11 or 11,000 virgins (you pick, as legend here seems confused) while the smitten son of the King of the Huns, the Pagan Prince, looked on is a sort of Renaissance Urban Legend.  

Nonetheless, Carpaccio devoted plenty of canvas space to tell Ursula’s tragic, romantic story, endowed with plenty of symbolic significance and pictorial clues to ponder over, as religious and art historians are wont to do, and have done so ever since. 
Secret messages
Was Saint Ursula heroine myth? Legend has her born wrapped in a hairy mantle, hence her name Ursula, or little bear. 

But was her story real? Or only the first Renaissance Bond Girl, like 007s sexy secret-agent, actress Ursula Andress. Was Andress named after the Saint? 

Where is Joe Campbell when you need him ... 

'Royal power over herself, and happiness in her flowers, her books, her sleeping and waking, her prayers, her dreams, her heaven, her earth...' John Ruskin: On Carpaccio's Dream of Saint Ursula, Kent, 1872

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How I Rock An Italian Morning in Under 30 Steps*


Young Lover's Bench, Santa Lucia

1) Wake up. Get out of bed, drag a comb across my head...

2) If it’s before 8:30, I think, Not bad. Considering this is Italy, and i scuri on my balcony doors vanquish all natural light.

3) Open balcony doors. Bedroom floods with glorious eye-blasting far-eastern small town Campanian mountain daylight. Squint, and smile.

4) Don't check emails because this is Italy. No one has sent one, or returned any. But depress the little wireless connection button anyway, to start the day

5) Head to the darkish kitchen, one room away, to assemble caffe' (..i scuri on my kitchen doors are never open before 10am)

6) WhatsApp pings my phone - the mocha pot now lit on the bombola stove, I go back to check who's emoticon'd me from the US in the middle of the night

7) Make it back to the kitchen in time to catch the pot before it bubbles over. Black, home-brew, triple espresso. Enjoy a few handmade biscotti too big to dunk from yesterday's visit with zia G; a domestic wiz, she whipped them up in the half an hour it took me to walk over. Hell. All the elder women here are domestic wizards - thanks to their 1930s Fascist upbringings and a very hard scrabble life.

8) Walk past my unmade bed to the balcony. It will remain unmade till I open i scuri to the street side of the house, when all the little old ladies who walk by can see that its not yet made. I worry they will think I'm not good enough. 

9) Put on morning walk clothes, a touch of lip color. Wonder if anything I put on will be approved by the very small town minds of the other ladies of the lane, the ones more my age, who probably have no such concerns in their daily routine

10) Grab a tote bag, wallet. Unlock chestnut wood doors, pull off one heavy wood scuro, head down the narrow lane

11) Come back in for sunglasses, make bed, leave again.

12) Head out, right, under the stone arch, around two narrow bends, down along the newly paved strada dei archi dei zingari to the bottom of the hill to Canio's alimentari to buy a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and some fresh ricotta. All delivered about an hour ago. Mmmmm, bread's still warm.

14) Think immediately of the very early Sesame Street episode; A loaf of bread, a container of milk and a stick of butter. The little girl's sing song voice so clear in my head, the funky neighborhood she walks to get to the bodega oddly so similar to my current surroundings...marveling, an old NY memory in even older, old Italy

15) Wonder, would any of these old time Italians know that episode too? 

Nah.

16) Think, I'll stop & pick up a half dozen fresh eggs from Antonietta down the road, if she's in. 

17) Antonietta is in. Her rambling garden with ramshackle hut is overflowing with hens & cocks grazing on organic grains & greens. She counts out 8 eggs wraps them in newspaper and I hand her my coins. She tosses a head of fresh sandy lettuce and a few plump figs into my bag, sends me on my way

18) Walk back up the hill to my two room piano di terra stone house. Pull out the long iron key to open those chestnut wood doors. Indulge myself for breakfast with what I've dubbed, what I know, is the Original cream cheese and jelly sandwich. Thick fresh bread, ricotta cheese and homemade blackberry jam, tinged with a teaspoon of grappa. Whoa.

19) Take a second triple espresso out to my balcony. Take in the spectacular view. (I can use 'spectacular' because this is the Italian countryside. Every view is Spectacular...or better. If you live in Italy and you don't have a spectacular view, you're doing something wrong)

20) Think, this ain't Queens or the LES. Smile. Though some joke (to themselves) it's the Bronx. Take a quick photo for my series 'This Mornings Balcony View'  Load to FB

21) Then, Oh yeah, it's Thursday. 

22) Go back out, head up instead of down, to the strada dei piedi for the farmer's market, where I'll first dawdle and forage for interesting objects or fabrics or maybe stash a giant antique green demijon, if found on the street, behind a pile of rubble to be picked up later - handblown yet discarded as if from some bygone era - and as I do I will be offered a large cache of these demijons by an old man with a bastone, wearing a fedora 

23) Think, how many do I have? Oh about 20 demijons now back in my grotta. Yep... Grotta. 

24) Disengage from old guy, walk on to buy a few kilos of seasonal fruits and vegetables for under 5 bucks, 2 litres of organic olive oil or light frizzante wine for under 10, be offered a pastry at the bar, or detained and cajoled by a dozen and one elders, youngsters and general locals alike...

25) Walk home. 

26) Back with my car for the demijons. A dozen in all. Old guy with bastone and weathered fedora is thinking he's duped L'Americana into hauling off his old junk from his cantina. L'Americana is shocked how nice that old guy really was and how easy it was to increase my collection. Load them into the car. Double park on via Concezione. Carry them one by one down via Fontana to my grotta, tucked in a vicoletto, up high and away from the street 

27) Demijons stored, I am finally back home to whip up a nice lunch. Pasta, with butter and fresh peas and more ricotta. Glass or two of good wine. Salad. Fruit.

28) Nap.

29) Wake an hour later, pray to god the DSL connection is good, check email, and begin Work/Read/Write/Work


So. That's how it's done - in Small Town Alta Irpinia

Can you believe how much I get done before 3pm?

*Inspired by Laura Belgray at (Jumbo) Talking Shrimp  

Thanks Laura!


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Lucia's Anticoli, Town of Madonnas

Lucia's mother, Madonna of Anticoli

90 year old  Lucia Nebel White was born into a family of beautiful Madonnas. 

  On a gorgeous late June evening, bottle of wine in hand for the dinner that would follow, we arrived.
In the studio

You'll like her, Betty says. She's Italian, she's a photographer and she lives in an old-stone studio that was once her fathers.

Now, it goes without saying this was the perfect trifecta for me - Italians, photography and old stone - Betty knew, I was an easy read. But it didn't prepare me for who I was about to meet. 

Piacera! Piacera! signorina' Lucia beamed, opening the door of her Westport kitchen, vintage paintings and photography lining the walls ... 'Forgive me dear, I am not so smooth these days with my Italian!' And I assure her that at the moment, neither was I.  

To reach her, we trekked our way lightly through an overgrown garden across a tree shaded bridge through a bramble of bushes and out onto a bright grassy clearing where high on a stone porch not unlike Italy, assorted potted flowers were in bloom...

The stone studio in Westport
         Her father was American Beaux-Arts sculptor Berthold Nebel. Her mother Maria Lucantoni - just one of a family of Italian beauties, born in Anticoli Corrado - was his model. He met her mother while studying at the Art Academy in Rome. 

 'Anticoli, you see, was known for its beautiful women', Lucia tells us. Women so classically alluring that artists studying at the Academy back then (they were mostly, perhaps even exclusively men) would flock to the town to hire, and sometimes even marry them.

 'They came from Spain, from South America, from all over the world, just for the models', she says. 'Do you know the Fontana della Naida in RomeShe was from Anticoli, and she became famous!'

 At one time there were over 55 artists studios in Anticoli. Lucia's two Aunts and cousins on her mother's side all posed as models. Pirandello and Pasquarosa  - one of the youngest & a cousin, who became a painter herself - were neighbors. They called it, the Town of Madonnas.

 As a young American photographer Lucia was a contemporary of Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen ( ! )  She confesses over a glass of wine and a caprese salad, that she narrowly missed the deadline to exhibit in MoMA's The Family of Man - a moment recalled with the faintest tinge of regret. 


'Steichen was a real stickler about submitting. I was only 3 days late. If it had been up to Stieglitz well, my Anticoli images would have made it in.'  

Lucia's B/W images of her mother's town from the late 1940s on, are as ethereal and evocative as the circle of life itself. 

Berthold Nebel in his studio
Nereid, Sea Nymph
Lucia with her book

Lucia Nebel White  has exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is in the collection of the International Center of Photography in NYC and in the Historical Society of Westport CT. 

You can also find her book My Anticoli: Town of Madonnas on Blurb.

But we hope to find her and her images in Anticoli Corrado very soon ...


Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Caprotti Caprotti - Leonardo or Salaì?



The works of Leonardo da Vinci and I are close friends.

Have been since early High School when, as a fine art student in Ms. Carlson's live model drawing classes, I trained it in to the MET along with a few other select students to study the real thing. Down the vaulted tony halls of The Metropolitan Museum we roamed. Until there she was. A study, essentially; The Head of an Italian Girl.

There would be many more. But there for the first time was the perfectly drawn portrait of a young Italian woman - on metalpoint. Curly tresses, demure expression with soulful eyes, even a pronounced overbite - I could relate. I could also dream. I was a good art student. Scholarships, fine drawings, and a Fine Art degree later, Head of an Italian Girl in some form, has been with me ever since.


Since living in Italy Sally Fischer PR in NYC emails from time to time with a chance to cover a place or an event from my POV. This time it was for the publication of an exciting new book. 


THE CAPROTTI CAPROTTI:  A Study of A Painter Who Never Was, by Maurizio Zecchini - lavishly illustrated, a subject shrouded in mystery, seemed the perfect trifecta; da Vinci, intrigue and craquelure in Renaissance Italy, and the Head of an Italian Girl; though this time it was the head of a boy. Salaì Caprotti.


The paintings presumed provenance immediately captures its new owner, a wealthy Italian supermarket mogul, who discovers upon purchase from Sotheby’s in New York, that he shares the very surname of the presumed author - Salaì Caprotti. The painting is known only as the Head of Christ and Sig.Caprotti’s immediate sense of being seduced and beguiled by this mysterious Renaissance work opens Zecchini’s book.

The Caprotti Caprotti is a portrait by a master, but who? 

With gorgeous tresses and an enigmatic gaze, the inscription reads Fe Salaì 1511 Dino - itself an enigma. The sitter we are to assume is Gian Giacomo Caprotti, an early da Vinci assistant, beloved for his sensual beauty, whom da Vinci takes on in his famed studio workshop while still a very young boy, to be groomed as an apprentice, lover? and muse. And whom he eventually nicknames - il diavolo, Salaì

But was this devilish Salaì also the creator of this master work? Did this capricious young man really have these chops? We read to find out…

Down the hallowed halls of 14th century Italy we roam, led by Maurizio Zecchini and a gathering of experts in the field of Italian Art and History; restorers of masterworks, laying out their use of modern diagnostic technology, uncovering layers of clues, over at least 5 years time, to reveal the nuances in mastery of technique, application of materials in craft and the damages of time - his signature sfumato, his generous use of ground lapis lazuli to add luster and highlights, and his understanding of the inevitable breakdown of the layers over time, known as craquelure - slowly, expertly building the case that it is all of da Vinci.


I asked Nerina Zampaglione of Don Chisciotte vineyards to read along with me. Having studied Art and Art History at the venerable Università degli Studi Napoli Federico II - founded in 1224 - I thought she might know a thing or two about the subject. She enjoyed the book and added without equivocation that Sig. Bernardo Caprotti simply has a great eye.



Written by Maurizio Zecchini, Foreward by Bernardo Caprotti.

Distributed by Rizzoli on West 57th Street.