08 April 2019

Heraldry: l'Archiginnasio di Bologna

In which we see the decoration as a message from history.

Heraldry illuminates a stairway of the Archiginnasio, Bologna
The spectacular Palazzo Archiginnasio was built in 1563, to a design by architect Antonio Morandi, as the main campus of the venerable University of Bologna. It houses a world-famous Baroque anatomy theater and since the 1830s has been used as the civic library, preserving a vast collection of antique and modern manuscripts and rare books.  I finally got a chance to visit this winter!

* Central courtyard and loggia of the Archiginnasio  (photo)
What makes this impressive place a destination for the Ornamentalist is the heraldic decoration! Presented in every conceivable manner, the walls and ceiling vaults are encrusted with heraldic arms, which were added continuously until the late 18th century.  Some 6,000 coats of arms commemorate past students, alongside memorials to illustrious  teachers, noble patrons, and church affiliations.

enclosed gallery of the Archiginnasio with the coats of arms of past students
These heraldic devices are more than a brilliant form of decoration, they emphasize the history and international prestige of the academic institution, while their inscriptions and mottos inspire intellectual and moral elevation.  

Stairway of the Artisti, Palazzo Archiginnasio
Two grand staircases lead to the lecture halls of the upper level, which was divided between two schools: one for the Legisti (students of civil and canon law) and the other for the Artisti  (students of philosophy, literature and medicine.)  A dizzying collection of arms covers the walls and ceilings.
The honor of displaying a crest was reserved for those students elected as heads of the nationes (student organizations.) These escutcheons or coats of arms indicate the home country or city of the student, along with the student's name.

Up the stairway of the Legisti, and the Lion of Venice
The antique lecture halls were converted in the early 19th century with rows of bookcases, and now preserve the most important books of the library.  The initial collection came from the closure of the religious orders made by Napoleon. Currently this archive contains over 850,000 volumes and pamphlets including 2,000 incunabula (pre-1501 printed editions); 15,000 editions from the 16th century;  8,500 manuscripts; letters and collections of autographs; as well as prints, drawings, maps, and other materials of immense historical importance.

Sala Rusconi, a former lecture hall, begins an enfilade of library stacks full of rare and important texts.
plaster plaques with more coats of arms hang like fringe around a memorial
Parts of the palace, including the anatomy theatre, were destroyed by a bomb in WWII, but have since been faithfully reconstructed. Evidence of the damage can still be seen where painted decoration is missing, or in the in scorch marks of surviving frescoes.  In some places the names or even the emblems have vanished, but the connection to history remains.

The crests and mottos of even the unknown past students,  emanate a message of history and continuation

a dramatic passageway leading to the lecture halls







all photos in the post by Lynne Rutter
except *  by Guido Barbi.
click on images to view larger.

Archiginnasio virtual visit!













31 December 2018

The Fulton Street Sisters

In which we learn that the whole is greater than the sum of its details.

Cranston and Keenan-designed Queen Anne Victorian circa 1890 recently restored, with color design by Lynne Rutter
My work as a colorist is often more involved than simply choosing paint colors for a "Painted Lady."  
Working with the historic homes of San Francisco has given me a deep understanding of the regional architecture, and it is so rewarding when I can collaborate with people who appreciate and work to preserve that architecture.  The owners of neighboring Cranston and Keenan-designed "Queen Anne" style homes on Fulton Street wanted their sister houses to look good next to each other, and to set a precedent for the rest of the street. They knew things were missing and that they needed more than just a paint job. Both owners enlisted San Francisco Local Color Painting, and asked that their façades be restored in tandem.

Here is a "before" picture from 2016:
Before:  aging sisters on Fulton Street, hanging onto their dignity
As you can see, these sisters share the great bones they were born with. Like many grand old homes in our fair city, this pair of Queen Anne mansions endured many decades of slow neglect.  Changes in the neighborhood, deferred maintenance, hidden damage, and past expedient repairs over time, can add up to a very shaggy appearance and what looks like a really daunting project.  Praise is due to the dedicated owners who coordinated their efforts and committed considerable resources and energy to rejuvenating these beauties.

Now, here is our glorious "after" photo of 1374 and 1368 Fulton Street.
Sister houses: "Queen Anne" style Victorians with their newly restored and painted façades.  color design: Lynne Rutter

For those of you who'd like to know a bit more about how this renaissance was accomplished, read on.

1368 Fulton "before."  I stopped here at the base of the stairs and wondered, what's going on with the mismatched crown at the roofline? Also, please, don't ever paint your steps with battleship gray porch paint ~this is not your garage floor, it's your entrance.
Analysis and Research
I met with the owners of both homes to discuss what they'd like to see. Naturally, each house would have colors according to the taste of its respective owner, but as neighbors they wanted the colors of both homes to be compatible, and to be somewhat consistent as to the use of ornament and color placement.  As the houses face south, we needed to use colors that work well in full sun and won't fade easily.  But before I could finalize where those colors would be used, both façades needed some resolution about missing ornament and other carpentry matters.

1374: some areas we needed to resolve prior to painting
A Queen Anne style house, especially one built by Cranston and Keenan, tends to have a lot of ornament on its façade. Unlike many other period styles of architecture, these designs don't follow any classical rules about proportions or column height or window size. It can be extremely difficult to figure out where to put colors to complement this style of home. There is no clear "body" or "trim" as their façades are mostly mouldings and ornament. It's like the builder  pulled up with a cart full of surface ornaments and threw them on the house. 
All the same, there is a style, and details that really work, and when they are missing or replaced with undersized elements, it's terribly obvious and  can result in a lopsided or unstable appearance. So I worked up a list of problem areas I felt needed to be addressed.
 
For example, due to a code change requiring railings to be higher, each house had had its original balcony replaced with taller, fairly indifferent-looking railings.  At 1374 the rounded balcony (7) had been straightened and its bowed "clamshell" (8), no longer protected properly, began to rot. Missing ornament in the frieze (6)  had been covered over with shingles, which resulted in a shaggy, heavy-looking area over the arch.
We looked at other houses in the area by the same builders which have similar details, to find solutions. 
Even better, one of our homeowners located an archive photo that would answer many of our questions!

1374 Fulton Street, circa 1910
This amazing photo from 1910 showed us the original ornament plan of BOTH houses. I was then able to place colors for them using this photo as a guide.
To solve the issue of the modern requirements for balcony railing height, I recommended continuing the horizontal band from under the window clear across, and then adding better proportioned balusters above that. And then of course, finials or vases on top of that. And then of course some little balls atop those, so we can gild them!

Rallying Resources
It is my distinct honor to belong to a group called  Artistic License - A Guild of Artisans. It is through this guild that I met Bruce Nelson, owner of SF Local Color Painting, and many other skilled carpenters, architects, painters, and designers. Like me, most of the members of this guild could not look at that "before" photo without making a mental inventory of everything that was wrong or missing from these façades.  So Bruce recommended several members of the guild to our homeowners, to help set things right. 

Chris Yerke of Restoration Workshop mastered the restoration of the façade at 1368. Missing mouldings were custom milled and replaced, and copious amounts of ornament cast by Lorna Kollmeyer Ornamental Plaster were added where appropriate. Chris re-designed the balcony with a parapet and turned balusters, in a very pleasing proportion that seamlessly integrates with the original design. Urns were placed on top of the balcony railing of course. With little balls on top.

1368 Fulton after painting. Color design by Lynne Rutter
Local Color's team restored the old wood surfaces and painted the subtle scheme of six colors with 23.5 karat gilt details. As the house is so high from the street and faces south, some ornament was dry-brushed with an accent color,  to bring up more of the detail in the full sun.
This color wasn't a big departure from the previous scheme, which the owners liked.  But to note is the relatively minimal contrast between colors, and this was done to give the façade a more unified and and elegant look.  

Layers of wood and cast rosettes were used to recreate the ornamentation of the upper pediment
Meanwhile, next door... at 1374, new wooden window sashes were built with stained glass panels, recreating the originals in the antique photo.  Skeeter Jones of Clearheart Fine Design and Building lead the revival of this façade including restoring the curved balcony with custom turned  balusters and finials, replacing rotted wood and missing ornament, again with castings from Lorna Kollmeyer. Dozens of elements were painstakingly assembled to create the richly textured surface of the original façade.

1374 Fulton Street restored 2018. color design by Lynne Rutter

Finishing touches
Years of old paint were removed, epoxy repairs and minute details carefully prepared by Local Color painters prior to painting this six-color scheme. Some ornament was enhanced with a glaze, by painting a thin layer of color over the surface, then wiping back the raised parts to create more depth.  Finally, special details and buttons were gilt with 23.5 karat gold leaf, which adds a warm accent color as well as shimmery finesse.

1374 and 1368 Fulton Street newly restored and painted. color design: Lynne Rutter
In addition to expressing my admiration to my colleagues for their fine work, I want to express once  again my deep appreciation to the owners of these important homes, for their stewardship, and for their commitment to the beauty of our city's shared history.

 ~

Resources:
Period Revival Artisans of the San Francisco Bay Area 
Artistic License,-A Guild of Artisans


Find an archive image or learn more about your Victorian house:
San Francisco Public Library Historical Photo Collection
SF Heritage Historical Research Guide
Open SF History historical images and maps
Guide to San Francisco Architecture at the Bold Italic




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







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