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