Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Art of Fresco part two: practising fresco

 the art of painting fast

In a small street in the Oltrarno (the area on the other side of the river Arno from Piazza della Signoria, Florence's Left Bank, so to speak), in the artisans' territory of Borgo San Frediano you will find an interesting workshop called Accademia d'Arte San Giovanni where many of the arts which made Florence famous are taught and practised to this day. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blackbird Days

I giorni della merla 
The days of the blackbird

the female blackbird is in fact brown

In Italy, 'blackbird days' are three days at the end of January and the beginning of February, reputed the coldest in the year. The popular belief is that if they are indeed very cold, spring will be early and warm; if they are mild, spring will be late and colder...This is a bit of country lore I have heard locally in Chianti too.

Various folktales are associated with the so-called days of the blackbird hen - merla being feminine, this is a female of the species. The simplest and most pleasing could be narrated just so:

In the beginning, all blackbirds were as white as snow and prided themselves on their plumage. One day in the cold heart of winter, a mother blackbird and her chicks sheltered in a chimney for three frozen nights. When they emerged on the first of February, they had turned as black as soot. From that day forward, all blackbirds were black.

(This works better in Italian where blackbirds are called merli, which has nothing to do with the Italian word for black..) 

a white blackbird: perhaps this one did not hide in the chimney

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Art of Fresco part one: Masaccio, the Brancacci Chapel

ancient technique, new approach

Masaccio probably had several hours (at most a day's work, in any case), to paint this head of Saint Peter in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. Note the fine crack running around his neck, the top of his tunic and the edge of his yellow mantle: this crack is the edge of the giornata, the area of wet plaster that apprentices would have prepared for the master painter to cover in one day. Is it not extraordinary that, presumably without major alterations, this beautiful, expressive face was painted rapidly, and under pressure?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Winter Daybreak

Red sky in the morning

January 2014
These were the pre-dawn views southeast towards Radda at around 8 o'clock, taken a few days apart. 
No special effects in the camera-work, but plenty in the sky.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Walls, walls, walls

The Stones of Le Ripe

Originally at Le Ripe the farmers laboured over many winters to build terraces up the slopes so that they could better work the flatter land that resulted. As you wander around the part of the farm that was cultivated and grazed you happen upon odd sections of ancient wall, some crumbling, some hidden under rampant growth, some concealed by earth, moved during recent building renovations.

old wall uncovered after who knows how many years
a well-preserved original drystone wall which has become a feature

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Return of the Wolf Part Two

Wolves again?

At the end of December 2012 during our big snow-in, wolf paw prints were sighted near the village of Lucarelli below Le Ripe.

In the first days of 2014, the carcass of a mauled and half-devoured roe deer was found down by the Pesa river, very close to the village. Locals say the killing is unmistakable: only wolves or wild dogs leave half a carcass in that state.** The next day the remains of the deer had been dragged closer to the river and devoured some more.

canis lupus lupus, Eurasian wolf

Methinks the Wild is closer than we reckoned.  
Yet, if the deer population were controlled in this way it would seem part of the natural order of things.

capreolus capreolus, roe deer
**It has been pointed out to me that the deer may have died on its own and been devoured and dragged by foxes: this is a possibility of course, but the wolf story is so much more   exciting, I think I shall stick with that for now. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Winter Wood Work

 Wood Clearings

We have been absent on and off from Le Ripe for the past two months but Paolo and his helper have been hard at work, continuing to clear the northwestern section of the (extended) garden. Paolo likes to refer to this converted area as parco or parkland.

before - a wilderness