I am happy to announce that I will be opening a teaching atelier in my new studio in Florence, Italy. A wide range of study options will be available to students of all levels.
Full time study is organized in a classical atelier environment emphasizing a personalized development made possible by a concentrated class size: maximum enrollment of 4. An interdisciplinary approach is encouraged. In addition to the standard curriculum, students will have opportunity to pursue artistic anatomy, composition, sculpture and printmaking.
Throughout the year, short courses, weekend classes and workshops will explore specific historic techniques such as: sight size oil portraiture, fresco painting, pastel painting and portrait sculpture. Visiting internationally known figurative artists will be invited to teach workshops as well.
The space is quite special. It is purpose built 19th Century historic studio constructed for the Florentine painter Michele Gordigiani. His famous pupil, Giovanni Boldini also worked in the same space where students will complete their projects under natural north light.
For more information please visit my course page here.
My interest in the classical world has finally been put to good use. Several years ago I did several posts about antique Roman presence in Benevento. One of which concerned the theater. It can be found here.
Dr. Rüdiger Gogräfe, who maintains a fantastic website about antique theaters, is using some of my photos for his site. The site is called Theatrum and it can be found here. The Benevento page can be found here. Please visit the site. It is a wonderful resource. A bit of a warning: the site is in German.
My other posts about Benevento are about the Arch of Trajan, found here and the museum, found here.
These are a couple of recent paintings that I finished while in Florence. They were both painted from life. The Young Architect is a portrait of a friend of mine, Antonis. He had just recently graduated from University. In the background I included a sketch from one of his projects. It is a kind of allegory of creation in which the design slowly comes out of the mist of the mist of his imagination. Photos of paintings never tell the whole story. A camera only sees a painting from a single distance while many works have different aspects at a variety of distances. From 3 meters back one reads the whole picture, but the detail and info in the background is barely legible. As one approaches the painting the true expression of the eyes and the drawing in the background come into focus.
His expression, that seems more severe from afar, softens as you get closer. The determination of purpose falls into an uncertainty about the future.
The next picture is titled The Slavic Girl. In this work I wanted a dynamic pose to express vigor, inner strength and a bit of aloofness. Unfortunately, the blouse and shawl do not read well in the photo.
This painting was selected as one of the 100 finalists for the ACOPAL competition. ACOPAL is the America China Oil Painting Artists League. It is a recently founded association dedicated to opening an artistic dialogue between the States and China. A very good idea. You can see my painting and the others here. Please feel free to give it a rating and leave a comment.
An archeological tour of Benevento would not be complete without visiting the Museo del Sannio that is currently housed in the abbey complex of the church of Santa Sophia. It sits in at the heart of the historic center.
Sannio (Samnium in latin) is the italian name that refers to the original name of the region before Roman conquest. The Samnites were a fierce mountain tribe that were quite violent. So much so that archeological sites of the area show a notable lack of civic activity during the 5th century BC during the expansion of the Sannite domain. Ethnically related to the Umbrians, the Samnites proved to be a constant problem for the Romans. Even after their eventual defeat in 290 BC, the Samnites continued to side with the enemies of Rome whenever the opportunity did arise. The fact that a category of gladiator was referred to a Samnite attests to thier fighting prowess.
The museum’s collection is quite comprehensive. It traces the local development from the late bronze age up until the medieval era. However the wealth of its pieces date to the Roman era. At the entrance of the museum is the Lapidarium, full of tomb markers. It is interesting to note that a large percentage of them are for couples. You can see the in the above photo several examples.
The displays are well organized. But like many Italian museums the labels and written explanations are sparse and quite random. The Egyptian cult of Isis was very popular in Beneventum and below is a photo of some of the statuary that remains.
The Imperial period left the strongest imprint on the town. Below is a statue of the emperor Trajan. It was believed to have been incorporated in the famous triumphal arch which also bears his name. The statue of his wife is very nice as well. There are also numerous fragments from the arch preserved here as well.
The collection continues with the Longobards and the Christian era. However it is difficult to escape a sense of melancholy after leaving the Roman section. The primitive art that follows reveals a complete collapse of culture that accompanied the disintegration of the Roman civilization. The sensitivity to proportion was obviously lost.
In addition to the Arch of Trajan, Benevento has a very nice Roman era theater worth visiting.
Up until the end of the Republican Era, Roman theaters were temporary wooden structures. It was Pompey, inspired by the Greek example at Mytilene, who constructed the first masonry theater on the Campo Marzio in 55BC. Although based on greek prototypes, the Roman form differs in several important aspects. While the Greek theater was built into hillsides or sloping terrain, the Roman version was generally a freestanding structure.
Also the strict hierarchal nature of roman society is revealed in the changing function of its elements. The open space between the seating and the stage, the ‘Coro,’ was reserved for the chorus in the Greek theater. In the Roman version temporary seating was placed for the magistrates, senators, knights and other important types in a precise order according to their importance.
The theater follows the typical semicircular plan and was constructed in brick and stone. A good part of the structure remains and the site is full of decorative and architectural fragments. A Baroque church was built into the building and consumed about 20 percent of the left stage and seating. In the recent past the theater was adapted for contemporary use as you see in the modern seating and temporary stage in front of the Scaenae Frons, or permanent backdrop that is a feature of all Roman theater buildings.
The niches once displayed statues and the rest of the Scaenea Frons was richly decorated with columns and other architectural elements. The site behind the theater is full of marble columns, capitals and sculptures. As you can see below:
Within this row there are some real gems. There are a series of draped figures that were of the magistrates. These officials often hosted the theatrical performances, or ludi scainici. They would often commemorate themselves with marble statues that would be placed in one of the many niches. Below is photo of an example:
Also among the fragments are some wonderful reliefs of masks. In highest form of classical Roman theater there were three types of scaena: tragedy, comedy and satire. All the actors were male and wore different color masks and costumes to indicate particular characters. Brown masks were for the masculine and white for the feminine. The color and form of the clothing would show age and social rank.
By the Imperial era, the range of theatrical entertainment expanded beyond the original elaboration of religious festivals. Women were included in the shows, but on the whole, the actor was not considered a respectable profession. However some actors did become quite famous and wealthy. A certain Lucio Aurelio Aupolausto Menfio was commemorated with statues in various cities in Italy.
It is quite fun to walk around and try to piece together all the little pieces and imagine the splendor of the original building.
Some of the marble facing has been reinstalled to give an idea of how one of the entrance halls might have been.
Several of the mosaics have been removed and mounted on panels to preserve them. Why they are left outside, who knows.
Unfortunately, the whole site is in a state of disrepair and quasi abandonment. The scaffolding and construction barriers are everywhere. But there are no workers. Italy is going through a difficult time economically and its patrimony is the first to suffer. Budget cuts and changing priorities of contemporary culture have literally left monuments like this one go to weed.
On the way back to Matera from Florence I recently stopped at the town of Benevento. Originally called Maleventum(bad winds) it was one of the chief Samnite cities before the eventual Roman control. It was an important crossroads of Southern Italy and a series of important battles were fought there throughout the ages. Common legend has that the name was changed to Beneventum(good winds) after a the greek king Pyrrhus was defeated in a major battle nearby in 274BC.
The town is full of wonderful archeological remains, one of the most important being the Triumphal arch of Trajan. It was erected in honor of his many accomplishments, including the conquest of Dacia(the former Yugoslavia), by the senate in 114AD.
It is nearly intact. Only several of the reliefs have been removed and are apparently in the British Museum.
The main inscription is a dedication to the emperor. The numerous reliefs show is various civic and military successes. Flanking the inscription on the west facade are 2 scenes Trajan in accepted by the gods. There are some very beautiful sculptures on the arch, like the figure of the Danube below:
In addition to extending the empire to its greatest limits, Trajan was a admirable administrator as well. He created the ‘Institutio Alimentaria’ from his personal wealth to feed and care for poor children. It was instituted in the same year that the arch was constructed, 114AD. Below is a relief representing that:
The following detail represents the submission of Dacia. It has one of the better preserved portraits of Trajan on the Arch.
Apart from the antique remains, Benevento is a lovely town to visit. The historic center is well preserved despite the heavy damage it sustained during the bombardment of WWII. Post-war Italian architecture is pretty dreadful. One only has to look a contemporary church that one passes on the way to the center to see how easily a culture’s aesthetic soul can be lost.
A culinary tip: Pasta with asparagus tips and pancetta is a local speciality and definitely worth trying.