La Festa della Mamma

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May 11, 2024

Mamma is cherished in Italy and has always been the bedrock of the family. Mother’s Day — La Festa della Mamma — was “officially” recognized in Italy in 1958 about fifty years after it was established here in the States. A parish priest began the now annual tradition in the Umbrian hilltown of Assisi in 1957, with surrounding towns joining the celebration of Mamma and her unconditional love. The local festa was so popular, La Festa della Mamma was immediately adopted all across Italy. But even before then a special day for mothers — Giornata Della Madre e del Fanciullo — “The Day of the Mother and Child” had been celebrated in December.

Not surprisingly, images of the Virgin Mary with her son are among the most beloved in Christian art. Devotion to Mary in her dual role as the human mother and a divine being reached its peak in the 14th to 16th centuries, creating tremendous demand for mother and child depictions. The term Madonna is Italian for “my lady” and was conferred as a title of respect or high rank, but came to be synonymous with the mother of the holy child and with tender representations of the two.

This slideshow features 32 Madonnas by Italian artists such as Raphael, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea della Sarto, Luca della Robbia, Bellini, Tiepolo and Barocci from major museums, including those in Washington DC, London, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, Dresden, St. Petersburg and New York (The Met), as well as the Walter’s Art Gallery in Baltimore, the Vatican Museum, and Michelangelo’s exquisite Madonna from The Church of Our Lady in Bruges.

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Happy 2,777th Birthday Roma

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Apr 21, 2024

The Eternal City— timeless yet ever-vibrant—commemorates its mythical founding each April 21st marked by elaborate parades, theatrical performances and historical re-enactments showcasing the rituals of ancient Rome. Better known, when in Rome, as Natale di Roma, these special festivities (a 3-day affair) speak to the city’s multi-millennia legacy as a cradle of Western civilization.

Today’s “Postcards” serves as an homage to the singular city of seven hills once known as Caput Mundi—Latin for “head of the world.”

Few civilizations have left as indelible a mark as that of ancient Rome. The streets of the city are paved with history and myth that still invite to take a journey back in time to a civilization whose scale and ambition seem almost superhuman: the imposing grandeur of the Colosseum; aqueducts that snake like arteries; and roads that extend like a sophisticated nervous system, all emanating from Roma.

Roman architecture is an eternal wonder. The Pantheon, more than any other structure, transcends its materials to make a statement both of grandeur and grace. It speaks to a civilization whose combined practicality and design genius redefined space and defied time.

The Rome of Christendom attests to another great history and awe-inspiring spiritual venture. At its center is St Peter’s Basilica, with its double colonnade and an elliptical piazza in front and bordered by palaces and gardens. It is the largest ecclesiastical structure in the world, the fruit of the combined genius of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo and Bernini

In the seventeenth century, Rome became the ultimate testament to Catholic majesty and triumph as expressed in all the arts. Baroque architects, artists, and urban planners so magnified and invigorated the classical and ecclesiastical traditions of the city that it became for centuries afterward the acknowledged capital of the European art world—not only a magnet for tourists and artists but also a font of inspiration throughout the Western world.

Today Rome’s particular vibrance derives from how the city’s multi-layered illustrious past and fashionable present so harmoniously coexist in its fascinating and varied neighborhoods that attract young and old the world over.

From the Centro Storico areas such as Campo Marzio to Prati and Monti, and from the Trastevere, now one of Rome’s most beautiful and beloved neighborhoods, to the Testaccio, for diehard foodies, Rome hums with a unique vivacity.

Off the tourist radar is the fantastical Art Nouveau Coppedè District located just north of the city center. Its fountains and villas were designed solely by Gino Coppedè who drew inspiration from ancient Greek, Baroque, Medieval, neoclassical, and Gothic styles—a milestone of eclecticism—well worth an afternoon of exploration.

For the past three decades Natale di Roma has been celebrated by the Gruppo Storico Romano, a historical dramatic society that re-enacts battles, gladiator fights, costumed processions, Roman rituals and displays of ancient theater and dance. The theme of this year’s Natale di Roma festival is Regina Viarum, a reference to the Appian Way—the “queen of roads”— for which Italy is currently seeking UNESCO World Heritage status.

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La Primavera è Qui

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Mar 24, 2024

La primavera—can there be a more delightfully pictorial or euphonious word? Derived from two Latin roots: primus meaning “first” and ver meaning “spring” (as a verb “spring” means to well up, leap forth, and to come into existence) and the verb has become a noun that describes the cycle of nature it characterizes. And it sounds as full of life as the season itself.

To celebrate spring’s arrival let’s take a close look at the painting, The Allegory of Spring, by Sandro Botticelli which, like his Birth of Venus, has become a beloved icon of Western art. The work depicts a group of mythological figures in a garden and is an allegory for the fecundity of spring.

Reading the painting from right to left, the biting March wind Zephyrus, depicted as a bluish male creature with aggressively puffed cheeks, kidnaps wood nymph Chloris, the maiden with flowers springing from her mouth. He then “marries” her and transforms her into the deity Flora, represented by the the flower-crowned figure in a delightful floral-patterned frock scattering the flower petals.  The elaborate scenery has been shown by botanists to contain over 500 identified plant species and about 190 different flowers. Clustered on the left, the Three Graces in diaphanous sheaths dance in a circle watched over by Mercury, who holds a staff to usher away the clouds and guard the garden—providing a spiritual balance to nature’s fecundity on the right. Somewhat set apart and above the others, but very much at the heart of all the springtime activity, is Venus (looking a bit like a Blessed Virgin Mary), goddess of love and harmony. Above her is Cupid, her son, and behind him the limbs of the fruiting orange grove form an arch gracefully framing Venus, providing a privileged position to serenely preside over the garden and beckon us to join in the celebration of la primavera.

About 140 years later Antonio Vivaldi, composer, conductor, and virtuoso violinist composed his best-known work—a series of  4 violin concertos titled Le Quattro Stagioni, The Four Seasons.  The first, “La Primavera”, is the most well-recognized and best loved piece of classical music in the world (with the first bars of “Spring” rivaling the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony).

And Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance, is delightfully abuzz with chirping birds and ablaze with colors this glorious time of year. Florence is also the birthplace of Dante, the world’s greatest poet and author of The Divine Comedy. He chose to write his magnum opus in the vernacular rather than Latin and is celebrated as the Father of the Italian Language and revered as national hero on the order of George Washington. Countless Italian cities have erected statues of him or named streets or piazzas after him. And most recently March 25th (this Monday) has been recognized as Dantedi and a national day of celebration of Dante and his towering legacy.

Happy Dantedi and may these early day of la primavera fill you with hope and joy!

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