A blog about Belgian culture in London. A blog about the arts in London, Brussels and Milan, from a Belgian point of view.

Posts from the Art in Italy Category

I know, this is a rather feeble attempt at putting a catchy title to this post. I have written about the FAI, the “Italian National Trust” before, but this time I would like to highlight one of their initiatives, which aims at protecting endangered historical, natural or artistic heritage in Italy.

The “Places I Love” census

Have you ever asked yourself which place in Italy was your favourite?  Is it a garden, a villa, a forest, an island, a bell tower, a church or a trail? Well, now might be the time to do so, as the FAI is interested in your answer for its “Places I Love” census. Simply choose a place anywhere in Italy which you’d like to see cherished and protected, and let the FAI know. With your help they’ll do everything possible to protect it.

The FAI’s “I Luoghi del Cuore” (“Places I Love”) census, which is now in its 6th edition, aims to give voice to the suggestions on Italy’s cultural heritage, in order to grant it a future. To do so, the census asks citizens to identify those places they feel as particularly dear and important and which they would like to see preserved for future generations. The appeal endeavours to protect big and small, famous or less well-known treasures that occupy a special place in the lives of those who cherish them.

The good thing is that this year, for the first time ever, voting is open to people from all over the world because “beauty has no boundaries”. So you have until 30 November to cast your vote on the Places I Love website.

Saved Locations

Thanks to the public’s support, eleven locations have been saved so far. Here below are two examples.

Mulino di Bàresi (Bàresi Watermill) in Bergamo Province

Bàresi Watermill in Bergamo Province (® Marco Mazzoleni)

Bàresi Watermill in Bergamo Province (Picture ® Marco Mazzoleni)

This mill, which is immersed in a beautiful clearing in the upper Val Brembana (a valley in Lombardy), was highlighted in the first national survey in 2003 and was subsequently acquired by the FAI . Restoration works were completed in 2006 and the mill officially reopened.

Colombaia Castle, Trapani (Sicily)

Colombaia Castle, Trapani (Sicily)

Colombaia Castle, Trapani (Sicily)

The Colombaia castle was the most referred location in the 2008 census, with 7,053 votes. The first success of “Places I Love” was to draw attention to the process of recovery of the castle, which for years had been buried under the weight of bureaucracy, and to shake the situation out of this impasse. As a result, the obstacles that stood in the way of the Colombaia’s recuperation have been overcome: the castle is no longer listed as a national property, but now belongs to the Region of Sicily, which has allocated 600,000 Euros to ensure that the building’s safety is up to standard.

Win a trip to Italy and a stay at an enchanting guest house on the Italian Riviera

To promote the “Places I love” initiative, the FAI is organising a competition in which you have to demonstrate how well you know Italy. Easy! It is quite simple: just answer a few questions about Italy, invite friends to play, recommend places and, finally, connect with your social media accounts (Twitter or Facebook). The final step is perhaps a little bit more complicated: upload a video in which you declare your love for Italy and the place of your choice.

To play, just visit

I found the quiz questions pretty easy (except for the sports section, obviously), but that’s probably because I lived in Italy for 5 years.

The prizes for players from abroad are really, really cool.

San Fruttuoso Abbey (Picture ® Flavio Pagani)

San Fruttuoso Abbey (Picture ® Flavio Pagani)

First Prize: A one week’s stay in Italy at the San Fruttuoso Abbey, which has been turned by the FAI into guest rooms, and a voucher to cover travel expenses of up to €600
Second Prize: 4 days (three nights) at San Fruttuoso Abbey and a voucher to cover travel expenses of up to €200
Third Prize: Contribution to cover travel expenses, up to €100 to be used once on for Italian destinations

From what I can see, not that many people outside Italy have taken part in the game yet, so your chances of winning are relatively high. If I were you, I would definitely play!

The below is a (chronological) record of my artistic and cultural consumption for the month of September 2012. I have yet to find a good website that would enable me to keep track of all the stuff I do and see, so at the moment this blog will have to do.

Strictly speaking, I started my cultural month in Milan, where my very much needed – and somewhat deserved – holiday in Italy was ending, with a visit to the Museo del Novecento (the “Museum of the 20th Century”).

Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, The Fourth Estate, Museo del Novecento

Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, The Fourth Estate, Museo del Novecento

Back in London, this is what I’ve been up to.

The Estorick Collection and the “In Astratto” Exhibition
In the near future I’ll write a whole blog about the Estorick, the only gallery devoted to modern Italian art in the UK, so I’ll be brief here. Last month I paid them a visit to see the “In astratto” exhibition, which explored abstraction in Italy between 1930 and 1980. I even attended a free lecture on Futurism after WWI, on the last sultry afternoon of 2012 in London – perhaps not the wisest of choices since there were so few of them…

Damien Hirst at Tate Modern
Sometimes I live dangerously: sometimes I wait until the very last day of a major exhibition to see it. Sometimes, as a result, I don’t get to see it because it’s sold out (and I forever regret the only opportunity to see two versions of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Virgin of the Rocks” together). Fortunately this was not the case, and I managed to see this major retrospective of Hirst’s work. I was happy to be able to finally form an opinion on this ex-YBA who seems to have somewhat fallen out from grace recently.

My flatmate, who’s slightly older than me, claims he liked Hirst in the nineties already, before he became super famous (Hirst, not my flatmate). Anyway, I must say I was pleasantly surprised: there were quite a few very clever ideas that made me smile or reflect.

That visit was also the occasion for a quick (probably too quick) look at the newly opened Tate Tanks.

NB: I paid reduced ticket price thanks to my National Art Pass :)

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

The Old Operating Theatre (with Love Art London)
I had never heard of this most unusual museum before my visit, which was organised by Love Art London and led by the museum’s chief curator Karen Howell. The Old Operating Theatre Museum features Europe’s oldest operating theatre and is located in a unique space in the Herb Garret of St Thomas Church.

Bring on fab atmospheric location, old medicine and apothecary instruments, and demonstration of amputation techniques in the good old times when anaesthetics didn’t exist. The Old Operating Theatre is one of the quirkiest museums I’ve seen, and I definitely recommend it, especially if you are into medicine.

“Mademoiselle Julie” at the Barbican
Back in July a friend of mine suggested booking tickets for Strindberg’s famous play, performed in French, in a French production (by Frédéric Fisbach), and… starring Juliette Binoche herself. The play ended up being the talk of the town, and I was very glad I caught the second performance.

I thought the production was quite nice, modern in an elegant way, and I liked Binoche’s performance. I found Nicolas Bouchaud as Jean less convincing (a bit stiff). Juliette Binoche’s costumes were designed by Lanvin’s Albert Elbaz, and were very chic indeed. On a side note, I would be very grateful if someone could explain to me what the silent man in a rabbit mask was representing.

Juliette Binoche in Mademoiselle Julie at the Barbican

Juliette Binoche in Mademoiselle Julie at the Barbican (© Christophe Raynaud de Lage – Festival d’Avignon)

The Magic Flute at the ENO
Together with Carmen, Die Zauberflöte is my absolute favourite opera. The English National Opera was presenting a revival of their “traditional” production by Nicholas Hytner of Mozart’s masterpiece, celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Although the staging was a bit too classical for my taste, and despite the fact that the opera was sung in English (as is customary at the ENO), Mozart’s music did the trick, as always. And it was nice being back at the Coliseum, 12 years after my initial visit – which actually coincided with my first time ever at the opera.

The Magic Flute at ENO

The Magic Flute at ENO (Alistair Muir)

Viewing of the Design Auction at Phillips de Pury (with Love Art London)
I love design, I really do. This is why I had been waiting impatiently for that particular Love Art London gig since it had been announced: a behind-the-scene tour of Phillips de Pury’s autumn Design Auction, with specialists Marine Hartogs and Meaghan Roddy. Of course I fell in love with several pieces, including these sublime Venetian pots by glass artist Yoichi Ohira.

Phillips de Pury - Design Auction September 2012

Design Auction at Phillips de Pury, September 2012

My month ended with a visit to the studio of British portrait artist Nicola Green, with Love Art London again.

The purpose of this post is not simply to list all of the cool things I saw and did last month. I would really like to start a conversation here. Have you seen any of these shows, exhibitions and museums? Did you think they were brilliant? Were you disappointed? Either way, let me know. And let me know if I’ve missed something that was, well… unmissable.

In Milan there is a house I fell in love with: the Villa Necchi Campiglio, which belongs to the FAI. Truth is, it’s the kind of house I dream of living in, perhaps in a slightly more contemporary version. As with most dreams, it will probably never happen, so I have to make do with visiting it.

I think I have seen it a total of 7 times, often bringing family and friends. I have also recommended it on Twitter and Facebook, so apologies if you’ve been following me online for a while and think I am repeating myself. But that’s the thing with love, isn’t it: you bore others to death with the object of your affection…

Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

Built between 1932 and 1935 in rationalist style by Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi, Villa Necchi Campiglio is a sumptuous residence with generously proportioned interiors and stunning public rooms. It was bequeathed to the FAI by the Necchi Campiglio family, who left it to the association in exactly the state it was when they inhabited it.

Located in very central Milan, where real estate prices reach the stars, the property boasts a large garden, a swimming pool (which was already heated in the 30s) and a tennis court. But it’s the interiors that really make my heart beat faster.

Veranda, Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

Veranda, Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

If you want to get a better idea of the house, you could watch Io sono l’amore (“I am love”), Luca Guadagnino’s utterly beautiful 2009 film, starring Tilda Swinton. It immerses you in the world of upper class Milan, and is a feast for the eyes. It follows the “adventures” of the Recchi family, who lives in, yes you guessed it, Villa Necchi Campiglio.

Tilda Swinton learnt Italian for the role, and is not doing too badly linguistically in the film. I can’t resist telling you I know the language coach who trained her (a pretty lame claim to fame, I know). That language coach is actually Russian, which comes in quite handy as Tilda is supposed to be a Russian who moved to Milan because of/thanks to her Italian husband.

The gorgeous costumes are by Jil Sander (when Belgian designer Raf Simons was still at the helm) and Fendi. The house, the clothes, the good food: everything in that movie breathes elegance.

Hall, Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

Hall, Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

If this post has enticed you to visit Villa Necchi (it should, that was the whole point of it), here is some practical information. The house is open from Wednesday to Sunday and entry costs 8€. Fear not for my wallet though: I may have visited it 7 times, but entry was for free, because I was a member of FAI. Buy a year-long membership from 39€, and visit all their properties and those of the National Trust for free (heritage galore!).

The house can only be visited through guided tours, which last around 1 hour and are usually conducted in Italian. If you are a small group, you can sometimes convince the guide to do the tour in English (a group of very persuasive friends of mine from Vienna managed to do so). Should your charms fail to operate (my Viennese friends were very charming), there are audioguides in English…

In art there are a few things which I am slightly obsessed about. In music it’s Mozart’s Requiem, in architecture art deco (think Villa Necchi-Campiglio in Milan, think Palais Stoclet in Brussels). Another of my pet crazes is sacred, or religious, art.

I particularly like the works of the Early Netherlandish (aka “Flemish primitives”) painters. I love the aesthetics and the level of details that can be found in these.

Ghent Altarpiece Mystic Lamb Van Eyck

Ghent Altarpiece or “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” – Van Eyck

That’s the Van Eyck brothers’ “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb“, which is on display in Saint Bavo cathedral in Ghent: hours and hours of delightful observation guaranteed.

Problem: most of these Early Netherlandish paintings depict biblical topics. And it is not only Early Netherlandish sacred art that I like. I am equally enthused by some other annunciations, crucifixions, etc, such as Fra Angelico‘s San Marco paintings or the Issenheim Altarpiece.

Issenheim altarpiece - Matthias Grünewald

Issenheim altarpiece – Matthias Grünewald

Matthias Grünewald’s altarpiece is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen. I was 15. I was on a ski holiday in the French Vosges (the poor’s Alps) with my family; there was no snow; we resorted to visiting the surrounding area. Fifteen years later, I still remember vividly how shocked I was by this work. Should you ever find yourself in Colmar, be sure to pay a visit to the Unterlinden Museum, where it is displayed.

Why is that a “problem”? Aside from the fact that it’s not particularly cool to like sacred art – it’s much more so to be into the other “s” art, namely, Street Art – I am myself not very religious. So my love of religious paintings made me a little uncomfortable. Why should I be so strongly attracted to them, when I don’t really believe in the stories they tell?

That’s where Alain de Botton comes in. Good old Alain: he endeavours to help you out in all areas of your life – architecture, status, travel and now, religion. The main point of his latest book, “Religion for Atheists“, is that the supernatural claims of religion are entirely false — but that religion still has some very important things to teach the secular world.

One of his chapters is entirely devoted to art. While I will not go into details (read the book!), he basically says it’s alright to like religious art, even when you consider yourself a non-believer. Amongst others, he argues that “Christianity recognizes the capacity of the best art to give shape to pain and thereby to attenuate the worst of our feelings of paranoia and isolation.”

Thank you for ridding me of my complexes, Mr de Botton: I feel I can now indulge in as many “Virgin and Child” and “Descent from the Cross” as I like.

A Bonus
for those of you who made it until the end of this post: some “cheeky” religious art…

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a baroque sculpture in the Santa Maria della Vittoria church in Rome. You can read about some interesting interpretations of Bernini’s work on Wikipedia.

Ecstasy of Saint Theresa - Bernini

Ecstasy of Saint Theresa – Bernini

I will not comment for myself, as I have yet to see the sculpture…