An interview with Marina Calamai

Laci Coppins
October 2, 2008

Walking into to the Limonaia at Palazzo Medici Riccardi you may be surprised to see a giant cake inviting you to come inside. If you take the installation up on its offer, you'll hear a voice reciting Lorenzo de' Medici's poetry in various languages. Sound different? It is; and it's all part of Marina Calamai's latest show, DOLCEmente...RINASCImentalmente, which celebrates two seemingly unconnected themes: cake and the Renaissance. Calamai's creations bring the Limonaia's seven niches to life while giving them historical significance by connecting the dolci to the very people who created them: the Medici family and their famous friends.

Florence-born Calamai, who first began her studies in music and fashion design, started painting in 1982. Her work has been featured in shows across Italy, as well as in several food and fashion magazines.  

She took a moment to walk us through her exhibit and give us some insight into her fabulous creations.


How did you begin using cakes as the subject of your paintings?


When I was preg-nant, I had temporary diabetes and couldn't eat any sugar. That's when I started painting them. In the first painting, there were about 50 cakes, and a child is emerging from the meringue one. In fact, I painted the child some days after my son's birth. This was somewhat of a liberation for me. Apart from the joy of having my son, I could also start eating cake again!


Tell us about your creative process. For example, do you use models or forms when painting?


I use photos. I take pictures every-where I go, especially of nice displays of cakes. If I see a cake, I take a picture. I like certain types of cakes, and I find them in many different places. Sometimes, when I need a special form, color or other special detail, I bake the cakes.


Do you think about audience?


I am affected by my audience, but I am also influenced by the space in which I will exhibit. When I see it for the first time, I think about the look and feel of the place. For example, when I came into the Limonaia and saw the empty niches, I thought ‘I want to put my paintings in there.' It was very difficult, because the niches are oval and each one is different from the other. So this was the first step. As for the paint-ings, each is oil on canvas with a wonderful plaster frame. I like the contrast between the niches and the paintings. The large cake in the middle of the Limonaia, which you can actually go into, is much more contemporary than the paintings and includes a sound design. You can hear the words of Lorenzo de' Medici's Canti Carnascialeschi. We even translated the poems into Chinese and Russian.


What other objects have figured in your paintings?


I have used the heartbeat-a cardiogram, which I engraved on plexiglass very soon after the birth of my children. The first time I did this was in a round painting that represented gestation-a baby inside the womb. For me, heartbeat means emotion.


You have worked and studied in both Paris and New York. What made you return to Florence?


I returned from Paris to work. When I went to New York-where I had a wonderful experience in the Art Student League-I knew it was going to be for a certain period and I would come back. But I'm always open to opportunities.


Do you think your work is well received by the Florentine community?


I think so. There is a part of my work that is ‘easy', which is the painting and the sound design. I've also made hats in the shape of cakes, which are fun. I think my work has been well received because it's very ironic and people usually like irony.


You studied at the Lorenzo de' Medici School of Art, the Medici coat of arms is represented in the piece Crème Carmel in the Form of a Fortress, and the location for the show is a Medici palace: would you consider this exhibition a tribute, not just to the Renaissance, but to the Medici family as well?


Absolutely! I have read extensively about the Medici family and I am very interested in its story. Palazzo Medici-Riccardi was was built by Cosimo il Vecchio and Lorenzo il Magnifico lived here, hosting many parties and large buffets. Several pieces represented in the show were specifically inspired by the family: the coat of arms, the gelato with raspberry and oranges-which is an ice cream that the creator, who was a friend of Catherine de' Medici, improved by adding fresh fruit. In a final painting, I have cialdoni, which are like pancakes. Lorenzo de' Medici was a very good cook!


What experience do you hope your audience has from the Sweet Renaissance Project?


I hope they will enjoy the forms and the colors. I would also like them to think about what we could do to start a new renaissance-take this idea from the past and create new avenues for creativity.


What advice would you give to fellow artists whose focus is an alternative genre?


To continue what they are doing: if you are convinced, the best thing is to persevere.



Until October 14

Palazzo Medici-Riccardi

via Cavour 3

Tel. 055/2760340

Thursday through Tuesday,

9am-7pm; closed Wednesday



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