Buona Festa del Ringraziamento! It may be “Turkey Day” here in the States . . . but what better time to be grateful for the abbondanza that is Italian cuisine!
A special mille grazia to each of you for your enthusiastic support of Postcards from the Boot and my Italian cultural programs.
May your day, and the year ahead, be filled with abundance and joy.
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.
The popular expression “dog days of summer” has exactly zero to do with the effects of intense summer heat on our canine friends. Both ancient and celestial in origin, the phrase was translated from Latin to English about five hundred years ago and has since morphed in meaning—a common tendency when people don’t know the true origin of a phrase and seek some plausible explanation … perhaps it comes from a day when the weather is so hot that dogs lie around panting and acting lifeless and lazy; or a day not fit for a dog; or a day so hot even mad dogs and Englishmen can’t handle it. The phrase lives on but the original meaning has been long forgotten.
During Roman times (and back to the time of the ancient Greeks as well) there was a period when the dog star Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, rose and set with the sun. This phenomenon occurred for about forty days between early July and mid-August. The Romans thought the combination of the brightest light of the day, the sun, and what was normally the brightest star at night, Sirius, was responsible for the most extreme heat of the summer season. The star sometimes seemed to glow with other colors, and they believed its reddish radiance augmented the heat of the sun.
Geminus, a Greek astronomer from Rhodes, in 70 BCE had a more accurate view: “It is generally believed that Sirius produces the heat of the ‘dog days’ but this is an error, for the star merely marks a season of the year when the sun’s heat is at its greatest.”
Still, the contemporary interpretation of “dog days” has a certain resonance, maybe even appeal, especially in non-pandemic times when one could venture to the ball park on a summer afternoon: hot dogs anyone?!