Raffaello Sanzio, better known simply as Raphael, enjoyed a meteoric career. Handsome and the consummate gentleman, Raphael was famous both for his artistic skill and his charismatic personality. From his beginnings as a local painter in Urbino and later Florence, Raphael skyrocketed to “stardom” in Rome, ultimately becoming the city’s most sought-after artist. Raphael’s untimely death at the age of 37 while at the height of his powers only solidified the legend of his extraordinary talent. 2020 marks the 500th anniversary of his death. A majestic retrospective of his work took place in Rome this summer to commemorate his extraordinary body of work which you can view on YouTube.
Best known for his exquisite madonnas, Raphael was an artist whose range spanned from paintings of all sizes and drawings in chalk and ink, to elaborate fresco cycles, tapestry designs, and architecture. He was also a designer, taste-maker, entrepreneur, team builder (supervising a workshop of over 50 artists), and visionary. His work is notable for its elegance, grace and ingenuity. How does one paint the concept of philosophy or divine grace?
Raphael did such things with sprezzatura (the appearance of effortless genius), a concept popularized by his close friend, Baldassare Castiglione, in his Book of the Courtier.
The world’s first art historian (also, a bit of a gossip), Giorgio Vasari attributed Raphael’s death, on Good Friday 1520, to an excess of amorous activities . . . he was quite the lady’s man. The shock of his death reverberated throughout Rome. Raphael’s body lay in state in his studio under his final finished work, the Transfiguration, before being interred in no less an exalted site than the Pantheon.
“For one ravishing moment Italy appeared.”
– E. M. Forster, Room With a View
No place on the planet can rival Italy’s sensory abundance, cultural richness and passionate people. There is just something about “the Boot” that entices us, seduces us, romances us and engages every aspect of our being: the body, the mind, the heart and the soul.
Perhaps this is why when you step off the plane your step lightens and your spirits soar . . . and, regardless of one’s ethnicity, your “Inner Italian” blossoms forth. The “Inner Italian” is that irrepressible part of all of us that falls in love most easily and is the most expansive, expressive, spontaneous and joyful.
La Bella Italia inspires us, as it has inspired artists, dreamers and travelers alike for centuries, with its iconic cities, rolling vineyard-covered hillsides, dramatic coastline, charming medieval hill towns, sun-soaked and history-drenched islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Capri, Elba and Ischia – not to mention being a the ultimate “paradise found” for passionate foodies, lovers of art, architecture, history, opera, shopping, and so much more!
Let Italy’s special “alchemy” – its magical lightness of being – fill you with joy and wonder and take you away . . . even if it’s just in your imagination and heart for now. We all long to travel to Italy; let’s hope soon we can all return.
A special mille grazie to my friends who have contributed photos this year: Frank Yantorno and Ciclismo Classico, Biordi Art Imports, Allison Scolo of Experience Sicily, Karen La Rosa of LaRosaWorks and Danielle Oteri of Arthur Avenue Food Tours.
Europe entered the Baroque period at the turn of the 16th century. In January of 1693 Sicily endured an catastrophic earthquake that changed the Eastern side of the island forever. As the trembling earth quieted, many towns and villages faced the challenges of re-building or, in some cases, moving the entire town and starting over. Hence, Sicily entered the Baroque era in a MAJOR way.
Sicilians, so dramatic, exuberant and “baroque” by nature, embellished the architectural ideas from the north to create a style that became known as Sicilian Baroque. Elaborate balconies, curvilinear facades, and ornate relief work were created with gargoyles, cherubs, animals, mermaids and heads with uniquely expressive faces and personalities.
With its ubiquitous honey-colored tufa stone, the town of Noto is known as the Stone Garden. Bathed in sunlight throughout the day, its buildings look like spectacular sand castles. The architect Rosario Gagliardi did much work throughout the Noto Valley. One of Galgiardi’s masterpieces is the majestic Cathedral of San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla. It became the model for rebuilding in the entire southeastern part of Sicily. Another influential architect was Giovanni Battista Vaccarini who worked principally in Catania, rebuilding the Cathedral of Saint Agatha on what was originally a Roman site. The Palazzo Biscari, Catania’s most important, took 100 years to reconstruct after the earthquake.
In 2002, the entire Val di Noto, including the towns of Noto, Modica, Ragusa, Scicli, and Catania, received a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Such dazzling fanciful beauty — the by-product of a natural disaster — proving once again that Italians really know how to make limonata from limoni! And, Sicilian Baroque architecture is just one of the fascinating components of Sicily’s delicious layer cake of complex cultural history.
Many thanks to Karen La Rosa of La RosaWorks Sicily Tours & Travel for this informative post and many of the featured photographs.