From the awe-inspiring drama of the Dolomites to the rolling, verdant plains of Tuscany to the turquoise Amalfi coast, Italian scenery is breathtakingly beautiful.
Why do our holiday snaps sometimes fail to do these scenes justice? We may not have professional cameras and technical capabilities, but there is something further lacking. Have you ever noticed that a painting of a landscape, or an art photography shot, can capture some of the emotion you felt when you were there? Tuscany Now compares photos of Italian landscapes with painterly renditions of the scene. What do you think? Do they capture more?
Civita di Bagnoregio in Viterbo
Civita di Bagnoregio is an Italian hill town in the province of Viterbo. It perches over a canyon (the Tiber river valley) in which wind and erosion play away the crumbling earth. Founded by the Etruscans more than 2500 years ago, today the only access point is via footbridge – probably why the Civita di Bagnoregio has maintained its old-world (Middle Age!) charm.
The linocut above, by Malgorzata Stanielewicz, suggests the cold isolation which must plague the Civita di Bagnoregio through the winters. With an ever-dwindling population (it reportedly falls to 12 people during winter), Stanielewicz captures the unavoidable isolation of this Etruscan hill town, which is slowly succumbing to erosion. The cold and somewhat melancholy monochrome of the print echoes the town’s exposed isolation mountaintop location, and its slow and unavoidable decay. The photo highlights the great mountains that surround this precarious town. Do you think the print tells you more than the dramatic photograph that captures the same view?
Cinque Terre, La Spezia
Cinque Terre is on the Italian Riviera, sitting on the Ligurian coast, comprising of five villages. As part of both the Cinque Terre National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Cinque Terre’s towns are made up of careful building into the steep cliffs. The famously vibrant colours which plaster the houses in the Cinque Terre are reportedly so that the fishermen from the villages could spot their house from out at sea!
This portrayal of Cinque Terre (the village of Manarola) by Stoyan Lechtevski, showcases this vibrancy, injecting a pastel freshness. As opposed to the medieval ochres captured in the photo, these pastel shades help to suggest the cooling sea breeze playing across the waterfront. Though a photograph can capture changing colours throughout the day, this shot captures sunset, so injects a further ochre element into the town, making it perhaps duller than it might normally seem to the naked eye. Lechtevski’s Impressionist painterly technique illustrates a central, vibrant town where sea and sky merge, ill defined at the edges of the painting, along with the suggestion of a green hillside. The painting is about an animated village by the sea, it seems, not about the surrounding landscape itself. This is echoed in the photograph – much of the town turns inward towards itself, ignoring the Mediterranean Sea which surrounds it. It is not dusk here, but daytime, though the colour palette suggests it is not scorching hot.
Lake Como, Lombardy
Lake Como, one of Italy’s beautiful Northern lakes, is the third largest in Italy. It is over 400m deep, making it one of the deepest lakes in Europe! Famed for its beautiful surroundings, Lake Como has been the retreat for the rich and famous since Roman times (George Clooney is a current infamous inhabitant).
The renditions above, capturing towns on the coast of Lake Como are strikingly similar – Dai Wynn really has worked from the landscape in front of him to create his painting. Focussing on the small town of Tomo, Dai tells me that:
The steep mountains on either side of narrow Lake Como leave little room for roads and houses on its shores, so travellers to the tip of the peninsula at Bellagio have the choice of a terrifying horn-blaring bus trip on a narrow, winding, single-lane road cut into the cliff face, or a relaxing ferry ride on the relatively calm waters of the lake.
This painting relives the day when two Australian tourists slumped exhausted on a Lake Como ferry after their white-knuckle ride on a Como to Bellagio bus.
One would never know what terror lies beyond those tranquil waters and sleepy villages.
However, again, he has taken the heat out of the hot blue sky we see in the photograph, and has used a watercolour wash to give a classically romantic feel to the image. He brings the distant town around the bay into sharper focus in this shot, making the lake seem more populated than it may seem in the photograph. This makes the landscape personal, intimate and familiar.
Though Florence has so much to offer (the city is set in the most beautiful Tuscan countryside, as well as boasting the astounding Duomo and the Uffizi gallery), the Ponte Vecchio is a stand-out piece of architecture which every visitor must see (partly because they’ll want to visit the rest of the city, on the other bank of the river)! We have a wealth of beautiful properties around the area; many of the new villas in 2014 are in Tuscany. Micheal Jones’ vision of the Ponte Vecchio is a modern take on an ancient piece of architecture. This bridge has stood across the River Arno, in Florence, since Medieval times.
Micheal, interestingly, focuses entirely on the bridge; you wouldn’t even know the structure spans an expanse of water, in an internationally famous city. Micheal told me:
It reflects my desire to simplify a complicated subject matter into a pattern of ambient colors and textures, while exploring the movement and rhythm of the motif, and retaining the recognizable characteristics of the location, much in the manner of Monet and Cezanne.
With such a simplification of forms, even the water of the Arno itself becomes a solid pattern of reflected color.
Micheal’s colours echo the Ponte Vecchio’s shades, but the reds are more vibrant and the blues more striking. He plays with perspective, making the bridge an exciting dimension on an otherwise flat backdrop, suggesting the Ponte Vecchio to be the star of the surrounding scenery. The photo, however, makes it clear that the Ponte’s purpose is to cross the water. Does this take emphasis away from this piece of architectural history?
Kasia Pawlak‘s abstract rendition of “Vicolo”, an Italian alley, expresses the extreme temperatures of an old Italian town, its stones warm and crumbling in the summertime. She told me that she had strayed from the colour palette of the Puglian scene in order to allow abstract expression.
Where the surrounding buildings give shade, this cool relief is suggested by Kasia’s shadowy blues, whereas we can see the raging summer temperatures suggested by the red, fiery wall opposite. With the sun on it, the right side of the painting expresses an August in Italy, where the temperatures soar, so the pace becomes sedate and peaceful. Though Pawlak paints an alley without inhabitants, the colour at the various windows suggest life going on behind and within the buildings. Where the photograph illustrates an empty space with crumbling Italian colours, Kasia’s fiery shades suggest the town’s vibrancy as well as the temperatures. The burnt umber authentic colours of the buildings in Puglia, standing against the fierce heat and near to the waves, can be seen running as a theme in our Puglian villas collection.
Venice, La Serenissima, is the jewel of the lagoon in the north east of Italy, and needs no introduction. The city is built on wooden piles, which have defied decay for millennia. Known for its many canals, its gondolas and its masks during February’s Carnevale, there are so many images synonymous with this great city. Tracy Florance’s photo provides a nice contrast with Jennifer Young’s painting; both illustrate the famous gondolas of Venice, as they bob on the canals and rios. Both pieces illustrate Venice’s dependence on its waterways.
Young’s painting highlights what is synonymous with the beautiful Serenissima; the gondolas and canals! She shows the charming decay of the buildings, but there’s a sense of modernity in the people gathered on the bridge – they seem like tourists, not locals, as they gaze at the gondolas going by. The shadows from the buildings creep across the canvas, illustrating the way that Venice’s corti, calli and campi can be shrouded in shadow as the sun soars overhead.
Tracy’s shot captures a clear spring morning, where the crisp colours of the lagoon stand in contrast to the rising sun on the horizon. San Giorgio Maggiore and its campanile, the belltower that twins Saint Mark’s, stands at the far end of the island of the Giudecca. Tracy’s photo shows the real proximity of Venice to other islands in the lagoon (most especially the Giudecca) where Jennifer’s painting shows a concentration on the inner waters of the island itself. Both visions capture the timelessness of the island, with the gondolas which have served the island for centuries, but Tracy’s lamp post, which stands in the focal point of her shot, shows a Venice which is at least loosely tied into this century, and Jennifer’s group gathered on the bridge hint at the masses of tourists who crowd the island daily.
What do you think? Can a picture paint a thousand words? Does the paintbrush somehow capture something more than photographic representations of reality? Stoyan Lechtevski, Micheal Jones, Dai Wynn, Kasia Pawlak, Tracy Florance and Jennifer Young have all been kind enough to contribute to this piece. For further details on the artists and how to acquire their artworks, please click through the hyperlinks on their names.