Swept Away in Sardinia

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Jan 15, 2022

Sardinia beckons with its crystalline blue waters and sun-soaked beaches, dramatic rugged landscapes, eclectic cuisine, and gentle, gracious people.  It’s also a mysterious island filled with much to discover reflecting its unique history and geography.

Though the island is now part of Italy, Sardinia produced a culture distinctly its own over the last two millennia. The ancient Nuragic people were its first inhabitants, as far back as 1500 to 460 B.C., and their presence can still be felt in the 7,000 conical “nuraghe” megaliths they left behind.

And the island’s relative isolation has resulted in the development of native vegetation as well as animal species, such as the white donkey of the Asinara.

For those seeking distinctive gastronomic experiences, Sardinian food and wine offer culinary treasures galore. With over 1,100 miles of coastline and an abundant mountain interior, Sardinia features marvelous seafood (what would you expect, given its name!), rustic specialties like roasted pig, and unique breads and pasta preparations, including fregola – a cross between grain and pasta with a nutty flavor and texture all its own.

Moreover, Sardinia is known as one of the five locales in the world with the highest number of centenarians – those living 100 years or more. Why?  In truth, there is no definite answer to this question. Some scientists believe that the secret lies in distinctive local DNA; for others, the answer relates to a lifestyle of pastoral simplicity along with Sardinia’s cuisine which epitomizes the healthful Mediterranean diet.

Another thing I especially love are the hundreds of murals, virtual open-air museums, that express Sardinia’s unique cultural identity, customs and traditions, daily life and even political discourse.

Renowned for their poignancy and immediacy, the murals found in the town of Orgosolo, painted in the 60’s, reflect the artistic verve of a group of feuding anarchists.

I hope this whets your appetite for Sardinia as you dream of and begin to plan a post-Omicron sojourn exploring the many cultural and natural glories of the Boot.

Eye of the Woman

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Mar 6, 2021

March is International Women’s Month, International Woman’s Day, March 8th, known as Festa della Donna in Italy, is when women of all ages celebrate each other with flowers, wine and torta mimosa. This is a special tribute to three trailblazing Italian women painters of the 16th and 17th century whose determination and prodigious talents were irrepressible. Their masterful works and legacies have only just began to be recognized.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 -1656) is the most celebrated female painter of the 17th century. She was born in Rome, the eldest of five children and only daughter of artist Orazio Gentileschi, under whom she trained. Artemisia’s earliest signed and dated painting, ‘Susanna and the Elders,’ what completed when she was 17. A year later Artemisia was raped by the painter Agostino Tassi, an acquaintance and collaborator of her father’s. An infamous public trial ensued in 1612. Tassi was found guilty and banished from Rome, though his punishment was never enforced. With her reputations in tatters, she moved to Florence to start anew. She would go on to work in Venice, Naples and London, for the highest echelons of European society, and enjoyed considerable success in her own lifetime. Without the support of a wealthy husband she would nonetheless became a painter to dukes, princes, cardinals and kings, she was the first woman admitted to Florence’s prestigious Accademia del Disegno. Finally, after years of obscurity during Artemisia is now “hot”.  Now finally, she is receiving the recognition she always felt she deserved. “The works,” she once declared, “will speak for themselves.”

Daughter from a minor noble family from Cremona, at age 14 Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) convinced her father to place her in the studio of the most renowned local artist not as an apprentice. unthinkable for an aristocratic girl, but as a paying guest where she studied for three years.  She focused on portraiture, an acceptable activity for a respectable aristocratic woman; initially portraying her siblings, her parents and herself. Her proud father actively promoted Sofonisba’s work by giving away her drawings and paintings as if they were calling cards. He boldly sent Sofonisba’s sketch of her little brother bitten by a crab to 82-year-old Michelangelo who was so impressed with her talent that he began sending her his own drawings to copy or rework as exercises. Her work was eventually brought to the attention of King Philip II of Spain who was in search of both a court artist and lady-in-waiting for his new child bride of 14. In Sofonisba he found both. She moved to Madrid spending nearly 20 years at Court and later moved to Genoa where she married a younger Nobleman and lived out her life continuing her painting.

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614) of Bolgona was 20 years younger than Sofonisba and also blessed with a supportive father. Known for her portraits as well as mythological works, Lavinia is regarded as the first female career artist in Western Europe; her family relied on her to” bring home the bacon.” Her husband was her agent and a stay-at-home dad raising their eleven (!!) children.

Features images are from Wiki-Commons and other public domain sources.

Fatti a Mano . . . Celebrating Italian Maiolica

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Dec 10, 2020

As the holidays approach, let’s celebrate Italian ceramic artisans who continue to joyfully create functional objects of beauty that are “fatti a mano” — made by hand — amid the challenges of the pandemic.  Feast your eyes on some of the marvelous works and varied styles of the leading ceramic artisans in Italy today . . . from the cities of Faenza, to Montelupo, to Siena,  to Castelli to Palermo.  The works of these artisans are available in the United States exclusively through Biordi Art Imports located in San Francisco’s historic North Beach.