John Singer Sargent often supped at Il Palmerino with the villa’s owner, his childhood friend, English author Vernon Lee (Violet Paget). In the early 20th century, they were among the many members of Florence’s so-called English colony, who frequented this country house-turned-cultural center, on the Fiesole border. Sargent’s well-known portrait of Lee, now at the Tate, was a conversation piece he painted in just a few hours and dedicated “To my friend, Violet”. This fast-and-furious rendition is not typical of Sargant’s technique, however, since the British painter was a top exponent of the sight-size method, a laborious process that lies at the heart of Il Palmerino’s current exhibition, Portrait Dialogues, on show until April 22.
The exhibition brings together three emergent painters—Sam Bordley, Emily Rogers and Lydia Chapman—strong from their years of study at Charles H. Cecil Studios, a historic atelier in the Oltrarno, where the sight-size method is daily bread. The method, adopted by Titian and a plethora of Baroque masters, is by no means a far cry from one of Leonardo da Vinci’s own truisms: “When you draw from nature, stand three times as far away as the object you are drawing”.
Sitters from the Oltrarno district, now immortalized on canvas, each sat for Bordley, Chapman and Rogers for an average of five six-hour days each. To understand the skill of this age-old painterly tradition, we can draw on the observations of Sargent’s process by one of his own pupils, Julie Helen Heyneman: “To watch the head develop from the start was like the sudden lifting of a blind in a dark room. Every stage was a revelation. For one thing, he often moved his easel next to the sitter so that when he walked back from it, he saw the canvas and the original in the same light, at the same distance, at the same angle of vision.”
Florence in the Making. Artisans and artists in the Oltrarno and beyond
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Florence in the Making is a photographic journey, further illustrated through ‘snapshot quotes’ from interviews led by author and project coordinator Linda Falcone, as 21 of the project’s protagonists reflect on the values they find most indispensable to their creative process.
To capture the essence of their creative process, 14 women photographers, from the award-winning photography association, Il Cupolone, took to the town, from March to June 2022
The issue of perspective is not just a technical question, in Portrait Dialogues, however. These contemporary portraits are artfully displayed in “symbolic” conversation with 18th-century women artists, Angelica Kauffman and Violante Siries Cerroti. Portraiture, it should be noted, was a genre of paramount importance for women artists through the centuries, second only to self-portraiture. The show is part of the Oltrarno Gaze programme, organized by The British Institute of Florence and Il Palmerino Cultural Association, thanks to a grant by the Advancing Women Artists Legacy Fund. To participate in closing night festivities: email@example.com
At 6pm on April 21, in a live-streamed Workshop Walkabout, international artisans share their take on the neighbourhood’s age-old practices and modern-day flair. Creative People in Florence founders Sara Amrhein and Anna Rose will lead a three-pronged virtual studio visit, spotlighting Oltrarno bottegas. Tucked inside a medieval tower-building, just off the Ponte Vecchio, we’ll find Joy Franklin’s jewellery studio, A Thousand Joys. The artisan’s love of historic ornament and ancient cultures gives rise to contemporary pieces in gold, silver and precious stones. “I’ve had my studio in the Oltrarno for five years,” says Franklin. “I’m often inspired by historical ornament from many cultures and the neighbourhood offers a lot of inspiration for my pieces. A doorbell, a gate, a bit of church. I try to work with antique detail and historical sentiment.” Italian-Canadian artisan Erin Ciulla will discuss traditional bookbinding tools and techniques, and tell the story of how she became owner of the historic workshop, Il Torchio. “Throughout the centuries, the workshops and bottegas in the streets of San Frediano, Santo Spirito and San Niccolò have advanced minor arts and artistic handicrafts, making the traditional Florentine craftsmanship unique and highly sought out,” Ciulla explains, putting Il Torchio into context. From the Oltrarno, we’ll move to the Tuscan countryside and the private studio of Scottish potter Kirstie Mathieson, specialized in wheelwork and slabbing techniques. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org
This spring’s Oltrarno Gaze coincides with the opening of The British Institute of Florence’s new space for contemporary creativity, SOTTO al British. This street-side venue beneath the library and cultural centre will host several Oltrarno Gaze events, including a Saturday morning hands-on introductory workshop, called Pulp and Primroses, on April 30, 10am to 12 noon, curated by Creative People in Florence, on the art of paper-making, using recycled paper, natural materials and dried flower details, with Oltrarno-based artisan Gigi Echevarria, from Gigetta Floral Slow Paper Studio. The focus? How to process materials to create interesting natural textures so that participants can start paper-making at home with artisanal techniques. Admission costs 15 euro and materials are included. To participate: email@example.com