This September I led a painting group on an ‘agriturismo’ twenty minutes south of Florence. As well as painting around this farm, which produces exceptional, organic olive oil, wine, grappa and vino santo, we took two day-long visits to Florence and one to Siena. The trip is documented in an eight minute video on youtube “A Painting and Cultural Tour in Tuscany and Liguria 2010″ which you may access here.
I arrived in Florence five days before the painting group. I stayed at a pensione in Piazza Santo Spirito which is one of the few areas of old Florence that maintains a vestige of its original character.
Early mornings I worked on my first painting standing in front of the homeless who slumbered in their sleeping bags alongside the church under the disapproving gaze of its priest. ‘Tutti in piedi! E tempo di lavorare!” (Up on your feet! It’s time to work!) he shouted one day – an exhortation which had no discernible effect.
The open air market in the square offered fresh fruit and vegetables. Evenings tourists and Italians patronized several restaurants while the homeless, adding a commedia dell’arte flavor, squabbled around the fountain . Young students across from the expensive restaurants crowded the charming little ‘aperitivo’ ‘ Pop Cafe’ .
There are views of Florence which transport me back to 1967-68 when I lived in a little attico behind the Palazzo Vecchio. I would pass over Ponte alle Grazie and look back at the city center from across the Arno. Because it is associated with so many memories this view continues to resonate strongly with me.
In those days I would continue out of the city and climb the steps past Piazzale Michelangelo on my way to paint in the fields. I would often pause to savor this view (below).
On this visit, my student Daniel Altman and I spent two afternoons painting here. The first afternoon rain accompanied by thunder and lightening added drama to the scene, and to our experience of painting it!
On the ‘agriturismo’, where we all stayed for two weeks, the courtyard in front of our accommodations (of which a corner is discernible in the bottom of this painting) served as our outdoor studio. It offers a number of fine views of vineyards, olive groves and hilltop towns.
We also ate breakfast, lunch and some dinners out here.
I have often hiked this road past our farmhouse to other subjects like abandoned farmhouses, chapels among the cypress and breathtaking vistas.
But we found beguiling subjects without even leaving our rooms!
From Tuscany I accompanied two of my students to Portovenere in Liguria which is a two and a half hour drive north-west of Florence on the Mediterranean. The name Portovenere derives from the fact that there was originally a temple to Venus where this 12th century church of St Peter (below) now stands. The church appears to have succumbed to it’s pagan antecedent: it serves, almost exclusively, as a site for lavish weddings.
There is a decidedly Venusian flavor to this port. The colorful fishing boats, charming alleyways that climb its steep slopes, alluring artisan, fashion boutiques and fine restaurants like Da Antonio seduce the senses. After busy, warm days, an evening dip in the calm, blue-green water that is set aside for swimmers along the quay was a welcome balm.
These waters also conveyed me on a spellbinding journey to the Cinque Terre. Seas permitting, there is regular ferry service from Portovenere. The five lands live up to their reputation. But they struck me as incredibly fragile clinging precariously to the steep, unstable cliffs. And I wondered if the current avalanche of tourism might eventually bear their delicate terraces and precipitous towns down into the oblivion of the blue-green waters…
I am planning further painting trips both to Tuscany and to Liguria. Contact me if you are interested in participating. I will soon post dates and details in my ‘ Classes ‘ section of this website.