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.

Seductive Venice

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Feb 11, 2021
Venice seduces us in so many ways–with her watery, curving reflections; her hidden corners shot through with light; her disguises, her artistic creations inspired by centuries of tradition.
Casanova once walked La Serenissima’s calle and drifted down her canals, on the way to a tryst or an adventure. Let these images take you back into your own Venetian memories, your dreams and your desires. You might spy glittering glass beads through a window or sumptuous Fortuny fabrics sailing overhead. You might peer through doorways into other vistas. You might repose within the cool marble walls of a bright white church or duck your head passing beneath an arching bridge.
Venice beckons in the shape of gondoliers, maskers, artists, violinists, welcoming you to explore her secret streets and mirrored canals. Play in the shadows and in the light as it bounces off stone and water. Then meet up with your friends for an Aperol Spritz or a cool raboso. As the light closes out the day, toast to love, to beauty, to history, to Venice, grateful that we get to enjoy her charms.
(Grazie mille to Kathleen Gonzalez, author of Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps and other books celebrating and revealing Venice’s history and my dear friend Frank Yantorno for several of the dazzling evening photos.)

The Secret South of the Amalfi Coast

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Jan 10, 2021

It’s a secret. It’s just south of the tourist-packed jet-setting Amalfi peninsula.  From Naples, it’s about a 1.5 hour drive–  past Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii and Sorrento, heading to the small city of Salerno. Then you hit the “buffalo highway” where you’ll notice signs advertising mozzarella di bufalo, the very best in all of Italy. The landscape flattens a bit as farms appear on either side of the road. Tomatoes, artichokes, kiwis, figs . . . this is one of Italy’s most lush agricultural zones and a gastronomic paradise.

Welcome to Cilento, the undiscovered land south of the Amalfi Coast in southern Campania. Cilento has a rugged mountain interior and a pristine coastline dotted with fine beaches. It’s home to the temples at Paestum, the best mozzarella producers in Italy, the birthplace of the Mediterranean Diet, and a unique variety of fig called Dotatto Bianco. Also home to many of Italy’s oldest residents, the key to life here is the phrase “slowly, slowly” which may be the true secret to longevity.

Highlights:

~ Tenuta Vannulo, Italy’s best producer of buffalo mozzarella. The buffalos live stress-free lives where they receive massages and listen to Mozart in their pens.

~ The temples at Paestum, built in the 6th century BCE when this was a Greek colony dedicated to Poseidon.

~ Castellabate, one of Italy’s most beautiful, well-preserved villages.

~ Certosa di San Lorenzo in Padula, the largest monastery in Italy and an oasis of tranquility.

~ Santomiele, a confectionery devoted to Cilento figs located in the Cilento National Park; it feels like a Cartier showroom with figs and chocolates presented as though they were fine jewels.

~ Borgo La Pietraia, an agriturismo with a view framing both the Amalfi and Cilento Coasts. It’s also home to the Feast On History Food & Wine School (opening fall 2021)

Grazie mille to Danielle Oteri and Feast on History for the content of this post as well as many of its photos.  Post-pandemic, those of you in the NYC area might should consider taking one of Danielle’s fabulous Arthur Avenue Food Tours.