10 August 2018

Exterior Color: The Nightingale House

The upper bay and tower of the 1882 Nightingale House, San Francisco Landmark #47
The Nightingale House, San Francisco Landmark #47,  is named for John Nightingale, who built  the house in 1882, as a wedding gift for his daughter Florence.   I have long adored this house, ever since I moved to the city. I love the scale of it, the eclectic Victorian Gothic-a-rama style of it. 

The Nightingale House in 2008

The house had seemingly always been white: layers of post-WWII Navy surplus paint and then some, gave it a sunny cottage-like appearance.  Its longtime owner, Jo Hansen, a San Francisco artist and activist, cared for it with everything she had for over 40 years. As a young artist living nearby I met Jo a number of times. It’s still hard to imagine this city without her.

Since 2010, the new owners and current custodians of the Nightingale House have been carefully restoring it.  But by “carefully” I don’t mean living in a museum. They have researched its history, repaired its injured areas, and made it their own. 
I have been thrilled to participate in what has truly been a collaboration between me, the owners, and the house itself.  

Entry and tower after restoration and painting
We started talking about color before the heavier aspects of the restoration work had even started. Envisioning the color was not just the light at the end of the tunnel, but a step towards solidifying the intent and goals.  I asked what they were looking to say with their color scheme;  one said  “historic, important”  the other said  “gothic, unusual …  ”     Elvira may have been mentioned.
Well then, said I, let’s see if we can do both!

Rare in San Francisco, a covered entry porch, with outer pocket doors, which we painted with a faux bois finish
The curved balcony had been missing, and was recreated from a vintage photo
The color scheme I designed is for the most part monochromatic, with different shades of warm greens. The eaves are brightened with a green-gold color, and 23.5 karat gold leaf helps celebrate  some very special details.
Historic homes of this period were often painted with a medium tone body and darker trim.   I have been finding more and more, that the white trim so prevalent in the 20th century is not as appealing, especially when urban dirt accumulates on it. The 19th century style of painting darker trim can give the period architecture a lot of stability and grace.  
A favorite detail:  Gothic pendant under the bay window
Many years of work have gone into the restoration of this landmark home. Dozens of skilled artisans have contributed to its revival along with tireless effort on the part of the owners.  A complicated roof and tower was totally refitted, with copper gutters, working chimneys, and metal cresting sitting atop like tiara. Window sashes have been restored or reproduced, lead paint stripped off, missing ornament and architectural features recreated.   During some of the work evidence of the original paint color was found to be... green.

Sometimes I go a bit out of my way just to pass the corner on which the Nightingale House is perched.   

More about the Nightingale House at  Hoodline
Color Design by Lynne Rutter

I have never heard that the house was haunted, but I'd be happy to start a rumor...

08 June 2018

Underground Treasure in Venice

In which we discover Venetian Pearls and Buried Beauty 


San Simeone Piccolo, Venice, built 1738
The Maestro, as we call him, composed the first two acts of his new opera in the spare bedroom of our Florentine flat this winter. When the time came for him to take this work up to Austria to present it to the theatre, we put the electric piano in a snowboard bag (it fit perfectly) to make it easier to take on the train.
I know, it sounds glamorous, and maybe it is.

A glass bead coral necklace by Marisa Convento

I accompanied Erling and his piano as far as Venice, and treated myself a day to wander about the city on an unusually warm and uncrowded midwinter day, feeling a bit blue that I would not be staying for Carnivale this time. Feeling even bluer that I wasn't able to return to Venice with my mother, something we talked about a lot during her last year.  I was cheered and inspired by a visit with the great Impiraressa, Marisa Convento, a Venetian artisan reviving the traditional art of seed glass beading from her small shop in San Marco, Venetian Dreams.  Not just an expert beader, Mariso knows the history of her art, and the significance of its revival.  She works with vintage and antique glass beads, and has an impressive collection of the special "Pearls:" antique (and highly collectible) Murano-made beads used for centuries in trading around the world, and which have found their way back to the city, and into her skilled hands.
Marisa is one of the artisans involved with Venezia Autentica, a brilliant organization helping to educate visitors on how to have a more meaningful experience in a city being trampled by mass tourism.  While we commiserated on the fate of the artists in our respective cities, I could see that the fight to save Venice may well be won by her artists.  Who knows more about perseverance than a Venetian?  Than a Venetian artist? 

Buried Treasure
Just across the canal from Santa Lucia station is the strangely proportioned church of San Simeone Piccolo (above.)   Attracted by its impressive copper green dome, visitors might peek inside the circular nave, see the protective plastic sheet covering the ceiling, and then leave.  I personally have never seen the inside of this dome and the church under it is unremarkable. However, this church keeps a secret treasure in its crypt.  You can buy a candle from the attendant as admission, and go down the stairs.

Now, stay still, until your eyes get used to the dark. 

painted designs on the walls of the crypt
You will see, the entire crypt is covered in ornament and murals! Rough and sort of theatrical in style, the painting shows up pretty well in low light.  Most of the ornament is done with a very limited palette of yellow ochre,  red, white, and a bit of black.

Lit by a single candle, the crypt walls and ceiling are visible only for a few feet.
Crypt ceiling painted in ornament with red and yellow ochre
Yes it is well below ground, and yes it is damp and cold.  It appears to have been painted in the 18th century after the church was built,  and I have no idea if...  
darn it my candle went out and I have to make my way back to the entrance, where one little candle was left burning.    
Xe mejo on mocolo impissà che na candela stuà. (1)

A small chapel in the center of crypt, lit by a single light near the entrance
Radiating from a central octagonal chapel are corridors leading to small shrines and burial chambers, These were ransacked and ill-used during the Napoleonic period. Any records about who is buried here were lost at that time.  Any candelabra that may have been here... have not been replaced.

A mournful mural detail by candlelight
A small shrine inside the crypt with loose but effective trompe l'oeil painting
The stoning of St Stephen,  in a faux gold mosaic cartouche.*
I don't have a flash on my camera but I resort to using the flashlight of my phone a few times. 
Especially when I hear things.

Entrance to a family tomb
inside a tomb, with a yellow, black, and ochre color scheme
A tomb where the tunnels split into four directions. The trompe l'oeil grill on the ceiling mimics a real grill elsewhere in the crypt.
macabre decoration in the crypt of San Simeone Piccolo, lit by a single candle

Five months later, in Klagenfurt rehearsals have started.  In three hours I  am in Venice to see the spectacular retrospective of Nancy Genn at the Palazzo Fero-Fini, which corresponds with the opening the Biennale Architettura.   The art galleries are opening new shows, and prosecco is being poured in every doorway of the Dorsoduro.

Erling joins me for one day. I pay my respects to Tintoretto.  On our way back, I stay with the bags while Erling ventures into the crypt.

It is perhaps better if you go into the crypt alone.

(1) Venetian proverb: Better to have a lit candle stub than an extinguished candle. 

All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, 2018
except* by Erling Wold

Rattensturm a opera by Erling Wold and Peter Wagner,  13 -30 June, 2018 at the Klagenfurter Ensemble, Klagenfurt-am-Worthersee, Austria.

Churches of Venice  website in English with details on every church and its art

Venetian Dreams  Marissa Convento on Instagram
Alessia Fuga  contemporary glass bead artist

Venezia Autentica   because the more you know about Venice the more you will love it

04 June 2018

Grotesque Obsession: Uffizi Revisited

Here is a beautiful video of one of my favorite spots in Florence, featuring the grottesca ceilings in the East Corridor of the Uffizi.

Last year, while touring the Uffizi by wheelchair (being dutifully pushed by my butler)  I noticed my perspective of the ceiling was different, wider.  Erling gave me his video camera and we tried making a slow tracking shot of the corridor ceilings.  That didn't work very well because every time we rolled over a seam in the marble floor the camera jostled.

We returned, several times, and Erling shot the ceiling again using a handheld gimbal.  And then he edited this lovely video and added some music from his opera A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil.  Thank you, Maestro!

Video and music by Erling Wold
Uffizi East Corridor Ceilings   Read more about these painted ceilings in this previous post:
A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil   a chamber opera by Erling Wold

28 May 2018

Studio Visit: Paolo Bellò, Sologna, Italy

In which we are greeted by the warmest of Venetian smiles

trompe l'oeil coffered ceiling by Paolo Bellò with various rosette designs 
Stucco bas-relief in Stile Liberty by Paolo Bellò

From Venice I took the regional train to Bassano del Grappa, where I was greeted by Paolo Bellò and his wife Stefania, and two of the warmest of Venetian smiles, then on to town of Sologna where Paolo's studio occupies a prominent place on the main street.

I first met Paolo at the Salon in Lecce in 2015. At that time he was shy about speaking English, mainly because he didn't speak English. Since then, he and Stefania have been taking intensive English classes in order to better communicate with their new international friends.  Among them, the Irish painter Noel Donnellan, with whom Paolo recently formed a collaborative company called Pigmentti.  While it can be argued that studying English does not always help a person understand Noel when he gets going, both of these guys can paint, and they sure get the job done. 

The Sologna, Italy studio of Paolo Bellò features several workrooms, and a mezzanine displaying samples of work. The giant mistletoe design is for a house in Switzerland and was rendered in stucco bas-relief.

In his enormous and beautifully organized studio, Paolo treated me to a comprehensive demonstration of stucco bas-relief, one of his specialties.  

After showing me the basics of  traditional marmorino, its mixing, application and finishing, as well as ways to color it, Paolo transferred a design onto the still damp plaster using a spolvero (pounce) and some charcoal.

the spolvero transfers the design onto damp plaster
special stucco carving tools, some you buy, some you hack !

While still soft the marmorino is scratched out along the design to key the surface. New white stucco is added into the ornament areas and then sculpted using special tools.

detail of stucco being built up
Paolo Bellò sculpting detail in the stucco ornament

As the stucco hardens finer detail can be added, but all of this must be timed just so and this requires a real understanding of the material and what it can do.

Paolo Belló has worked in decoration since the age of 14. He attended the European Centre for Heritage Crafts and Professions in Venice.  Then after studying with maestro Ennio Verenini in Bassano, Paolo was invited to join the Verenini decoration company, and three generations of knowledge was passed on to him over the next 20 years. He opened his own studio in 1994.

The hundreds of sketches, samples, maquettes, and tools in the studio are a testament to the the life's work of this consummate artisan.

optional designs for a doorway: on the right, Paolo pays tribute to his favorite architect, Carlo Scarpa.
Exterior Design: sketches for two possible treatments which include ornament, color and relief stucco work.

During my visit Paolo and Stefania took me on a tour of their favorite Veneto sights: the Tomba Brion of Carlo Scarpa, and the Palladian Villa Barbaro with its Veronese frescoes that make my heart sing.   Along the way we passed  houses Paolo has decorated with fresco sundials or ornament, keeping alive the tradition of the Veneto artisans. 

Noel, Lynne, and Paolo at the Salon 2018 in Leeuwarden.*
I look forward each year to attending the International Decorative Artists Salon, where I have met so many friends and fellow artists from around the world.   This year we met in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, and I will post more about that soon!

See more of  Paolo Bellò's work on his website.

Tomba Brion by Carlo Scarpa
Villa Barbaro

photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, Sologna, 2018
except * by Stefania Bellò

19 February 2018

Ravennae Inundata

mosaics circa 535 AD,  presbytery vault, San Vitale, Ravenna
“Ostrogoths” I said, punching Erling on the arm. As we entered the Basilica of San Vitale we heard music, and I froze on the spot. At first I thought it was in my head, because that’s not terribly unusual for me, but the magnificent tenor voice was coming from small well-placed speakers which filled the entire church with sound. Not plainsong or medieval chant, but a contemporary Russian choir singing a credo. Theatrical, yes, and compelling. We soon found ourselves overwhelmed by 5th century mosaics glittering with symbolism. 
Traveling with Erling is always good in these instances because like me he has a thorough education in Christian history and further, he is fascinated with it. Lunchtime conversations may involve intense discussions about transubstantiation or the Arian heresy. 

The walls of the Basilica di San Vitale are clad in book-matched marble imported from Constantinople
In such a place where there are so many brilliant buttons for my mind to push, my brain is flooded with words and phrases.  So passed this day...
geometry... fondo oro... iota... filioque... cosmatesco... horror vacui... clean-shaven Jesus... gammdia... bookmatched marble... octagons... conventional design... the Empress... archaic symbols... peacocks... palm trees... acoustics... recycled roman mosaic... roman mosaic... opus alexandrinum... opus sectile... Persian flaw... matroneum... pulvino... space ships... eunuchs... ecce homo... consubstantial... homoousios... transubstantiation... transfiguration... schism... spaceships...  Ostrogoths...

 mosaic in the apse features a youthful Jesus and an uncountable number of gold glass tiles

The floor of San Vitale was raised and repaved in the 13th century and again in 1599 with cosmateque mosaics.  The original 5th century floor is about 5 feet below and completely under water
counting the border elements under the Justinian panel (547 AD) and shoes...

This border is of  Roman design and references the Trinity. or spaceships.
The famous ceiling of the "Masoleum" of Galla Placidia (d. 450) and an obvious Persian Flaw
Mosaic ceiling of the 5th century Arian baptistry

All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter  Ravenna, 2018

Listen: Credo Universale (youtube)  New Liturgical Chant of the Russian Orthodox Church  Moscow Patriarchal Choir with Ilya Tolmachevy Natalia Haszler

Livia Alberti - fascinating report on the restoration of the mosaics of San Vitale

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