22 December 2017

Winter Garden

The Winter Garden room an a dark winter day. photo by Lynne Rutter
Winter Solstice, on the darkest afternoon in Florence, I visited some rooms of the Casa Martelli, the refined home of a once wealthy and important Florentine dynasty.  Now a state museum, the former palace can be visited with volunteer guides, carefully avoiding areas in desperate need of restoration.  The house contains wonderful art collection in situ and many decorated rooms spanning several centuries.

The Winter Garden as they call is, is an entire room frescoed with trellises and vines under a warm sunny sky, with birds and fountains and other formal garden follies. A pair of gas lanterns indicate it was once used as a  billiard room.

trompe l'oeil topiary architecture in the frecoed Winter Garden at Casa Martelli  photo by Lynne Rutter

photo by Massimo Listri, 2009

I am not sure if I would ever have heard of the Casa Martelli had I not already been stalking following the work of the brilliant  Florentine photographer Massimo Listri, whose evocative images include a shot of the Winter Garden in its abandoned state years ago.

More from Florence soon!

28 May 2017

Églomisé Rhinoceros

Allow me to introduce you to "Albert," a name that means  both "bright" and "famous."

"Albert" a six foot-wide verre églomisé rhinoceros in rose gold, by Lynne Rutter. photo by David Papas.

Approximately two meters wide, Albert is a verre églomisé mural,  etched into gold on the reverse side of glass, and based on ( and named for)  the famous rhinoceros woodblock print by Albrecht Dürer. 
This commission came about  when my client asked for a large painting with gold or copper and maybe an animal, or an imaginary creature, and then I said well you know if I did this on the back of glass, it would be way more work and so much more expensive but so totally cool!   So of course they said yes.

the enlarged master drawing in reverse
We chose the image of the rhinceros, which Dürer created having seen only a sketch of an Indian rhino.  The folds of the skin look very much like armor.  Dürer added an extra little spiral horn on the spine of his noble beast, as well as a pattern of spots over the "armor."
My first step in creating this mural was to get to know this creature very well, through a series of drawings at large size, in reverse, as this is how I needed to etch the image.

As red gold, coincidentally known as "Albertina Gold," was being used for this piece, it was essential to work on Starfire glass, which is clear and colorless, as the color of normal glass would muddy the special rosy tone of the gold leaf.

The rhino gilt with rose gold leaf on clear glass
I gilt the rhino's body with a mirror finish,  and then began etching the design through the gold. 

etching the 23 karat rose gold
Once the body of the rhino was complete, the background was gilded with the same red-gold leaf, but with a matte finishin in a broken leaf pattern.  Additional features were then etched into it. The piece was backed with a chocolate brown paint, and then mounted in a float frame of solid walnut built by Christine Lando. 

Photographer David Papas takes Albert's fashion portrait in the studio
To photograph a mirror is pretty difficult!   My photographer David Papas created a white environment to reduce reflections in order to document this piece (see  his amazing shot in the first image above.)

Albert the églomisé rhino reflects on his new surroundings
Installed in his new home Albert is the boss of the entire first floor. At first a ghostly apparition, the details of his face and body are visible from certain angles as you- and he- move about the room.  

I love that moment when the gold locks onto the glass...

Thanks to:  
Michelina and Adrian!
David Papas Photographer
Christine Lando, artist, archival framer
Farber Art Services  expert installation
W&B Gold Leaf

09 May 2017

Studio visit: Miriam Ellner, New York

Inside the newly expanded studio of the Queen of Verre Églomisé

A collection of translucent samples in Miriam Ellner's églomisé studio
While in New York last month for Salon,  I got a chance to visit Miriam Ellner's new studio in West Chelsea.  High on the 12th floor of a converted factory,  the studio's giant windows fill the space with city views as well as plenty of natural light.

The light-filled and airy workspace in Miriam Ellner's new studio.   Indirect light fixtures are used over the work tables, which reduce the glare on the glass.
work in progress on the carpeted tables in Miriam Ellner's studio

Verre églomisé refers to gilding and painting on the back of glass.  Everything must be designed from the finishing touches working backwards to the "base." This is exacting work that requires immense skill, technical knowledge,  and at least as much planning as vision.  And it's incredibly beautiful.  

Miriam Ellner's work is astonishing in its level of craft and inventiveness. Through hundreds of commissions and thousands of samples,  she has developed techniques for creating beautiful effects on glass that have earned her an international reputation among the most distinguished design professionals as a master artisan as well as an innovator in the art of verre églomisé.  

Once reserved for mirror frames, table tops, or decorative wall panels, verre églomisé is now being used as an integral part of design rather than as a precious accessory.  Miriam Ellner has pushed that boundary throughout her career, creating translucent doors and windows, covering entire ceilings, or why not the entire room?  Although, I haven't seen her design a floor... yet.

A translucent sample with multiple layers of glass and different colors of gold leaf
Having trained as a decorative painter at the prestigious Institut supérieur de peinture Van der Kelen in Belgium in the late 1980s,  Miriam's abilities as a painter added ingenuity to her work once she took up églomisé as part of her practice. By the mid-90s she was working exclusively with glass as her medium.   In more recent years she has taken this work leaps further, using new techniques, multiple layers of gold, layers of glass laminated together; designing pieces to be translucent, or to be viewed from either side, adding layers of intricacy and indeed endless possibilities.

Each project requires many samples and an immense amount of planning and logistics.  Managing Director Wiley Kidd keeps the atelier running with aplomb.  A small team of skilled artisans help to produce the commissions.  Glass fabricators, gold beaters, and of course the architects, designers, and patrons also play a role in the creation of this work, which is in the end so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Samples from past projects in a wide variety of styles and techniques by Miriam Ellner
Design ideas are fueled by ornament of every period, and patterns from every source imaginable, and a library of books covering an entire wall of the office, "and that's not the half of it," she tells me (and I believe it, being a book hoarder an avid reader myself.)    In addition to the traditional materials used in églomisé - gold and metal leaf and paint - Miriam incorporates mica powders, glass beads, crushed abalone shell, and other unusual materials to create interesting surfaces and effects.   This in turn inspires more creative and contemporary use of the medium itself.

"Ocean Forms"  églomisé artwork by Miriam Ellner  created with numerous colors of gold leaf and layers of color (via)
The dimensional quality of verre églomisé lends itself to artistic exploration.  Miriam Ellner refers to her artwork as "moving paintings:" because of the depth of the glass and layers of gold and color, the surface changes appearance at different angles and in different light, and as you move past.
So I mean 'dimensional' in both the physical and the temporal aspect.

Miriam's design office has a pretty nice view
I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to learn from Miriam during two workshops  through the Society of Gilders years ago.  I humbly tip my most bejeweled tiara to Miriam Ellner-- Meeting this artist - and this medium-  has altered the path of my work as well as inspired my art practice.

More!  go look at  MiriamEllner.com
Miriam Ellner featured at Architectural Digest

photos by Lynne Rutter, April 2017,  unless otherwise noted
All designs featured in these images ©Miriam Ellner

23 April 2017

The Salon- Art Deco in New York City

 In which we are both humbled and inspired...

Pascal Amblard's portrait of fellow painter Sean Crosby

I just returned from New York City, where I participated in the annual confabulation of decorative painters known simply as  "the Salon."  Decorative painters from 18 different countries came together to share their work and techniques with each other and the public.  This year's hosts Arlene McLaughlin and Jeanne Schnupp, chose the theme of Art Deco, a style of decor and architecture inextricably linked with the city of New York.

The exhibition showcases outstanding examples of imitation wood and marble, murals, lettering, gilding, wallpaper design, and trompe l'oeil.  Less visible is the affinity  between these artists and the friendships developed over the years that go well beyond professional camaraderie.

Nowhere was this bond more beautifully expressed than in this mural (left) featuring a portrait of New York artist Sean Crosby painted by his longtime friend and collaborator, Pascal Amblard of France. For a number of reasons this painting had a great emotional impact on me and pretty much everyone else at the Salon.

Karl Groissenberger (Austria) tribute to the Wiener Werkstätte
Austrian painter Karl Groissenberger designed a show-stopper of a panel which celebrates the birth of Modernism in Austria from the Wiener Werkstätte, who for a time also had a shop on 5th Ave in New York. Iconic designs from Josef Hoffman and others are displayed in a blonde walnut art deco bookcase. Along with those shoes.  Those shoes I adore!

Here is but a sampling of some of the great work our international colleagues exhibited this year:

Barre Verkerke (Netherlands) faux marbre with metallic frame and lettering 

detail of a trompe l'oeil piece by Julien Gautier (France)
Exhibit showing work from Tina Davis (USA/Italy) and Lynne Rutter (USA)
Helen Morris (England)  stenciled skyscrapers!
Spectacular faux marbre and lettering by Kristoffer Hermansson (Sweden)
Cathy Chiavaro  (USA)  look closely at the cityscape
Friederike Schulz (Germany) painted a classic deco-era German wallpaper design
Petr Dashchenko (Russia) A superb tribute to Soviet-era Art Deco.
Detail of painting by Stefano Luca (Italy)
glossy book jackets painted by Valerie Naulleau (France)
A gargoyle of the Chrysler Building framed in faux bois/marbre by Gert-Jan Nijsse (Netherlands) 

Next year the Salon travels to Leeuwarden, Friesland, in the Netherlands.

photos in this post by Lynne Rutter
Many more images of this year's Salon can be found at Salon NYC 2017 on Facebook

19 March 2017

The Dream of Constantine- a modern perspective

"The Dream of Constantine" by Piero della Francesca, circa 1464 (photo: Lynne Rutter)
We made a short trip to Arezzo, pretty much just to see Piero della Francesca's masterpiece "The Legend of the True Cross" in the Basilica di San Francesco. 
This is a really staggering work telling the somewhat convoluted story of the cross and the revered wood from which it was made.  It is the only surviving grand fresco cycle by Pierro della Francesca.

For most of his career della Francesca pursued mathematics as well as painting, and was for a long time after his death remembered more as a mathematician than as an artist, having written (and illustrated) texts on perspective, geometry, and techniques for creating perspective with color. 

I kept going back to this one panel, depicting a sleeping Constantine in a perfectly centered gold tent with a cone-shaped rose-colored top, against a blue and realistically starry night sky (purportedly the first ever depicted in Western Art.) Two guards and a terribly bored servant are oblivious to the bright light emanating from the delicate cross held by a dramatically backlit angel. The soldiers are thrown into deep shadow, emphasizing the unearthly light source.

I cannot help but think how modern this painting feels, with its strong blocks of color and an abstraction that seems more 20th than 15th century.


Get obsessed with me:
~ De prospectiva pingendi  illustrated treatise on perspective by Pierro della Francesca- facsimile at the Galileo Museum, Florence.
~ In the footsteps of Piero della Francesca - follow his work through Tuscany with a special phone app.
~An interesting paper on the night sky of this painting, and the star map on which it may have been based.

13 March 2017

Studio Visit: Alison Woolley

A Florentine studio where Renaissance finishes meet contemporary design.
A circus performer flips in Alison Woolley's gilded artwork

Here I am again in Florence making lots of visits to my friend Alison's studio, on the top floor of a vintage stone palazzo filled with light and packed with samples, gilding tools, pigments, painted furniture, and at least two harpsichords-in-progress.

Long known for her  gilding work,  traditional harpsichord decoration,  and distinctive Florentine painted furniture, Alison Woolley has in recent years been expanding more into contemporary design. 
"I love nice craftsmanship and design and it doesn't matter what period," Alison tells me. "I do enjoy clean lines and I love that about the mid-century modern. Florentine Renaissance style often has clean lines, lovely large proportions, and very rich surfaces."
The juxtaposition is a harmonious one for an aesthetic shared across 600 years.

Gilding, painting, and patterns at Alison Woolley's studio
Alison Woolley's office features hand-painted walls with a mid-century aesthetic

In the design office of Alison's studio, an Art Deco style mirror hangs on hand-painted walls inspired by 1970s wallpaper designs. The bold scale of the pattern is surprisingly effective.

"The different values of the circles create a feeling of space so the pattern on the walls has made the room feel more spacious than it did before when the walls were white. I have a carefully chosen colour scheme that ties everything together."

Gilded Art Deco detail in a faux tortoise mirror frame by Alison Woolley.
A native of Toronto, Canada, Alison moved to Florence in the late 1980s, and worked for 15 years under the guidance of Florentine master artisans, prior to opening her own bottega in the heart of the artisan district.  A specialist in harpsichord decoration, Alison uses historic materials and techniques for this exacting work, which she in turn applies to furniture, textile designs, and artwork. Recently she has designed custom Italian Stencils for California-based company Royal Design Studio, as well as scarf designs for the Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo.

Her teaching studio is world-famous, drawing students and commissions from 5 different continents. 

Alison Woolley  in her studio with the Italian harpsichord case she designed for L'Opéra Royal de Versailles
sample for a French harpsichord case (L) and a gilt floral panel by Alison Woolley

Living and working in Florence for 30 years  has given Alison a life full of inspiration.  It's not just the old city, rich with historic artwork, architecture, and decoration,  but the natural beauty of Tuscany,  which has inspired its artists for centuries, and helped to create a environment that celebrates  a high level of artisanship in every aspect of life, from art and architecture to  fashion and food.

"I have been collecting photos of simple grates that I see around here. I love the idea of a craftsman who has the task of making a practical grate, 500 years ago or 40 years ago, and puts that extra thought into it to make it aesthetically pleasing. "

"Circus" by Alison Woolley  - diptych of painted and incised 22 karat gold 
Among the traditions of Florentine art is the fondo oro - the ornamented gold fields seen in the Gothic and Early Renaissiance work of the 13-15th centuries by artists such as  Duccio, Giotto, and Domenico Veneziano, which relates directly to the Byzantine work of the 11th-12th centuries.  Gilt gesso panels embossed with patterns and incised with designs celebrate the rich gold surface and serve as the support of a painted figure or scene.  These same historic techniques are beautifully integrated into Alison Woolley's decorative commissions as well as her fine art work. 

Gilt and painted finishes by Alison Woolley

You can see more of Alison Woolley's work at  WoolleyStudio.com
and check the classes offered  via FlorenceArt.net  in Florence, Italy

Lynne Rutter Studio will be hosting Alison Woolley for two classes in San Francisco:
Florentine Gilding Techniques
August 24-26, 2017
Renaissance Finishes for Contemporary Design
August 28-30, 2017

all photos by Lynne Rutter
except nº 3 courtesy Alison Woolley

04 March 2017

Arcobaleno Pigmenti

Discovering a beautiful pigment shop in Venice, Italy
An entire wall of pigment in big candy jars!
While looking for authentic artisan shops to visit in Venice, I heard about the pigment shop, Arcobaleno.   For the past 15 years or more, they have specialized in pure pigments of exclusively Northern Italian origin used in the traditional Venetian School of painting.  You can also see these colors used in the marvelous saturated stucco facades of Venetian architecture.

What pigment is used in this  brilliant red-orange stucco? 
The intersecting relationship between pigments, artist materials, spices, and medicinal herbs; the apothecary, or speziale;  has always thrilled me. I think of my own studio as a laboratory of sorts and keep my pigments in reagent jars.  Inside Arcobaleno the pigments are dispensed from huge candy jars.  We met our friend Karima, an egg-tempera painter who was also there for Carnivale, for a few minutes of pigment geekery and chatted with the shop manager. We both found the prices of the pigments surprisingly reasonable, especially as so many of them are difficult o find in the U.S.

Display of raw pigment in the window at Arcobaleno
a rainbow of glass metal-fused beads at Arcabaleno

The shop also sells raw materials for making paints, glue and gelatin for gesso and gilding, gum arabic, resins, oils, and metallic powders. Venetian-made items like glass beads, leather aprons, incense and ceramic incense burners, glass lettering pens, and unique brass hardware make this a great gift shop as well as a useful resource for people who make beautiful things.

Finding an address in Venice is not simple. An address is simply composed of the sestieri, or district, and a randomly assigned building number.  Google Maps will often get this completely wrong.
Arcobaleno Pigmenti is located at San Marco 3457 Venezia... +39 041 5236818

 Venetian pigment at Arcobaleno

17 February 2017

Grotesque Obsession: Pulchrior in Luce

In which we relive another great moment found by peering through doorways
"Pulchrior In Luce" ~   More Beautiful in the Light
Coffered ceiling with grottesca decoration by Bernardo Poccetti

Wandering along the Borgo Pinti I found the unassuming entry of an austere-looking palazzo with its giant, stud-riddled door wide open.  Flashes of a grottesca ceiling caught my eye in what is currently the entry to a hotel. So naturally  I inquired inside, and learned that it was known as the Palazzo Marzichi-Lenzi, which is the former palace of the Neri-Ridolfi family whose coat of arms is painted in the center of the ceiling.

The painted ornament is attributed to Bernardino Poccetti (1548 – 1612), also known as Barbatelli, a prolific and famous local artist whose work includes the sgrafitto decoration of the Palazzo Bianca-Cappello; the Medici Villa di Artimino; ceiling vaults of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, and the murals in the grand salon of the Palazzo Capponi. Earlier in his career he was known as a great designer of grottesche, in his later years he painted more monumental and naturalistic figurative murals. This ceiling ornament dates from the early 1580's and was beautifully restored by Gioia Germani in 2001.

With its coffered ceiling this space really looks to me like an oddly empty library or even a stripped-out studiolo. The room feels private, even more so because of the esoteric symbolism in the ceiling paintings. As is often the case this palazzo has been remodeled so many times it's hard to say where the original entry was or how this space came to be used in this way.  

The coat of arms of the Neri-Ridolfi family, presented with a double cartouche and festoons of fruit

The ceiling is made up of  almost-square as well as rectangular  coffers, all of which are slightly skewed and in some cases completely wonky, which as a painter I find to be typical in even newly-built coffered ceilings.  I found the lighting in this space to be extremely difficult, and I was compelled to return with a flash (*gasp*), in order to shoot this ceiling.

 So now, let's have a closer look at these marvelous little paintings, shall we?

"Malio Lumina" features the the stone cold glare of Medusa as "Evil Eyes"

Medusa is a familiar face in Renaissance art. In Greek mythology, the gorgon Medusa's very glance could literally petrify a man, turning him into stone, and she came to symbolize the "Evil Eye."  
Perseus set Medusa's severed and bleeding head on the riverbank while he washed his hands, and her blood turned the reeds into red coral. Thus to protect against the Evil Eye one wears or displays branches or beads of precious red coral. 

Spectacular coral piece on display at l’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence (nfs)

Red "precious" coral  (see first image "Pulchrior in Luce" above) appears a lot in Renaissance art, as the coral is not only beautiful but is reputed to have both healing and protective properties, and it is sometimes seen as a symbol of Christ's blood. Branches of it appear in treasuries and wunderkammers, portraits and altarpieces.
 (Latin geeks, please weigh in on the play on words in these two panels' mottos- Lumina vs Luce.)

"Suo Succo" - its essense
Visitors to my studio will recognize this emblem which has been tacked to my door for some years.
Each of the soffits has symbolic  imagery in the center with a latin motto, resembling the pages of an Emblamata (emblem book) owing in part to the small scale of the individual panels.  However, overall they are just pared-down versions of the same compositions used in many larger grottesche ceilings- with a central image or allegorical figure, corner elements oriented towards the center dividing the panel with an "X",   and symmetrical but not identical pairings of fantastical beasts and ornamental flora. 
Often the grottesche will echo or enhance the central element:  the coral tree is surrounded by pearls, shells, and imaginary sea-creatures;  a bulb springing to life is surrounded by birds, butterflies and garden trellises arranged in a Maltese Cross configuration.  The usual features of the grottesca style are present in masks, birds, vases, harpies and other winged creatures, little garlands and floral scrollwork.

"Tenet Usque" ~ Hold constant
A rudder held straight, surrounded by the four seasons;  the face of the sun with 12 rays, burning torches, harpies (one of which appears pregnant), and landscapes; each detail has some meaning assigned to it.

"Omnibus Idem"~ (the sun shines on) all the same
The exact meaning of this group of images, whether they all reference a particular source, or if they were designed by a scholar or philosopher, is unknown. I approach such things as a painter first and foremost, but years of studying art history tell me there is an interesting story underneath the beautiful painting. In my more recent research I was thrilled to find a detailed 2015 paper on this ceiling by renowned art historian Liana De Girolami Cheney, who clearly knows a lot more about this than I do and has some great insights, but alas, the ornament's true meaning and purpose remains a mystery for now.

"Ex Pulchris Optima Libant"~ from beauty, the best offer

"Te Ipsum" ~ (see)  Thy Self
Is it just me or would these make amazing designs for scarves? 

The Palazzo Marzichi-Lenzi is now home to the Hotel Monna Lisa

all images in this post by Lynne Rutter  2014-2017