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Painting Italy: An Artist Profile

Tuscan Hills, a painting by William F. Renzulli

The beauty of Italy has inspired countless artists through the years, including ones who live here in the United States. Today, I am profiling artist William Renzulli, who was moved to paint his ancestral home Castelnuovo della Daunia in Puglia after a family reunion visit in 2008 and who will soon be headed to Bologna to paint that city’s gorgeous medieval lines and curves as well as the landscapes of Emilia-Romagna. Continue Reading →

How To Make Bolognese Sauce

Here’s a great way to bring Italy home – learn how to make Bolognese sauce! There are dozens of instructional videos out there, including this recent one from Epicurious.com. But two of the best I have found – that adhere to the original ingredients and techniques from Italy – come from Mario Batali, the Italian-American chef who used to have a fantastic show on the Food Network, and from ItalianFoodNet.com, an Italian language website devoted to food.

It’s fun to see Mario and Chef Alessandro preparing the ragù. I’m definitely inspired to make my own!

Chef Mario Batali’s Bolognese Sauce

Ragù alla Bolognese fron ItalianFoodNet.com

Photo by Carpe Feline

Abruzzo’s Beffi Triptych

Beffi Triptych from Abruzzo

Beffi Triptych from Abruzzo

In the wake of Abruzzo’s devastating earthquake of April 2009, many companies and countries have pulled together to aid the tremor-stricken region. The other day, while visiting the National Gallery in Washington, DC, I learned that this aid has been extended to the art world.

Since June 15, 2009, the National Gallery’s grand rotunda has been the home of the Beffi Triptych, a treasure from the National Museum of Abruzzo. The work is on loan “in gratitude to the United States for being among the first to offer assistance to the region after the earthquake and as testimony to the Italian commitment to restore fully the cultural heritage of the region.”

The triptych is quite a beautiful site, and I’m delighted that people in the U.S. are able to see this masterpiece on such an exclusive stage. However, I should also point out that while much of Abruzzo’s art has found a home, some tent cities still exist outside of L’Aquila. Let’s hope the Italian government – or another generous entity – is able to provide these people shelter before the cold really sets in.

Photo from the National Gallery website

Italy at Home: Renaissance Rivals in Boston and Valentino Everywhere

No time or money to plan an Italy vacation right now? Here’s another installment of what we call “Italy at Home.” Here are two things you can put on your calendar.

If you’re in Boston, head to the Museum of Fine Arts where the show “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice” is underway. A recent review by Holland Cotter of the New York Times said “You can pretty much kiss goodbye, at least for now, the prospect of more exhibitions like [this one]. Transatlantic loans of the kind that make this show the breathtaker it is are a big drain on strapped museum budgets. Boston was lucky to partner with the Louvre on this project, but such masterpiece gatherings are likely to be rare in years to come.” The exhibit runs through August 16. Get your tickets now.

Another Italy-related show may be coming to a theater near you beginning March 18. Valentino: The Last Emperor, a documentary about legendary fashion designer Valentino Garavani played to huge audiences at various film festivals (Venice, Toronto) all last fall. Cinemas in New York will begin screenings on the 18th, followed by Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. You can follow the film on its own Facebook page to see if more dates are added.

Why Gelato? Why Not!

A lovely scoop of chocolate gelato

If you’re like us, then any time of the year is a good time to think about and eat gelato. This is exactly the premise of a new website called WhyGelato.com.

Owned by PreGel America, a subsidiary of a gelato company from Reggio Emilia, WhyGelato.com wants to be a “gelato-inspired resource for anyone and everyone interested in gelato and looking to learn more about the delicious frozen treat – including where to find and enjoy it.” You can learn more about gelato, its flavors, and how its made, as well as where to find the nearest gelateria in the U.S. and Mexico. If you’re so inclined, you can also share your gelato stories from around the world.

Yeah, it’s a corporate site. But we like the potential it has to bring together all the gelato resources from all over the world. Expressing your love for gelato on a t-shirt, however, may be overkill.

Leonardo’s Notebooks Come to the U.S.

Leonardos Notebooks and Drawings Are Coming to the U.S.

Leonardo's Notebooks and Drawings Are Coming to the U.S.

For the first time ever in the U.S. – at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, no less – Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings and notebooks from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin will be on display. To say this is a huge deal is an understatement. In fact, this is the first time that all the pieces of the collection have been shown together outside of Turin.

Included in the exhibit, explains AP, is Leonardo’s “Codex on the Flight of Birds, an 18-page notebook which had never been shown in the United States. Thick magnifying glasses are available for visitors to truly get a sense of the detail Leonardo packed into the drawings, some of which are nearly complete and others that seem like quick doodles.”

The Birmingham show will run through November 9. After that, the drawings will head to San Francisco where they will be displayed from November 15 through January 4, 2009, at the Legion of Honor. As there is only one Leonardo in any permanent collection in the U.S. – Ginevra de’ Benci at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC – this is truly an exhibition you don’t want to miss if you are stateside this fall.

Bernini Up Close and Close To Home

Bust of Costanza Bonarelli by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

If you’re not taking a trip to Rome, the former stomping ground and site of many works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, don’t fret. Approximately 57 of the Baroque artist’s marble sculptures will be on display at the Getty Museum through October 26.

The highlight of the show, according to David Littlejohn in his Wall Street Journal article Living, Breathing Portraits in Marble from Bernini, is the bust of Bernini’s mistress Costanza Bonarelli.

“A sensuous bust of Bernini’s mistress Costanza Bonarelli is the most compelling work on display. The wife of one of his studio assistants, Costanza apparently shared her favors between Gian Lorenzo and his younger brother, driving the sculptor to violent fits of jealousy. But when he carved this instant, breathless image — for his own private devotion — he was clearly in thrall to her charms. Costanza is caught as if unaware, her chemise falling open over a very touchable breast, her eyes staring in shock and desire, her hair in lusty disarray, her ripely curved lips slightly open, revealing a bit of tongue.”

Other “portraits” in the exhibition include busts of Pope Urban VIII (Bernini’s primary papal patron), Pope Clement X, Cardinal Richelieu of France, and other European leaders. While the preview of some of the busts online may not astonish, I can assure you that viewing a Bernini up close will. Consider it homework before your next Roman vacation.

“Rome 1960″ Book Presentation

Earlier in the summer, we wrote about David Maraniss’ new book Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World. If you read the book and loved it or put it on your reading list, then you may be interested in attending a book presentation with the author.

On September 10 at 6:30 p.m., the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of Washington, DC, and the Embassy of Italy will host the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and DC native for a discussion of his latest page-turner. If you’d like to go, you must RSVP to [email protected] or by calling 202-518-0998, ext. 1.

Another book talk coming up from the IIC will be with Eleanor Herman, the author of Mistress of the Vatican. The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope.* That discussion will take place on September 24. Contact the above e-mail or phone number for more info.

*Update: This book presentation has been cancelled. To find out about rescheduling or other events, contact the e-mail address above.

La Cucina Italiana Recipe Contest

A luscious soup recipe from the recipe archives of La Cucina Italiana

A luscious soup recipe from the recipe archives of La Cucina Italiana

I’ve mentioned before that blogging, especially this blog, is a labor of love. But, occasionally, the gods of the blogosphere shower you with interesting opportunities, such as one I recently got from Alex over at Blog from Italy.

Alex and the U.S. version of La Cucina Italiana magazine (a title I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog) are going to sponsor a recipe contest this fall and I’m going to be one of the tasters/testers!

Details are supposed to appear on the La Cucina Italiana site tomorrow (September 5). Stay tuned!

Renaissance Florence According to Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

I was browsing a bookstore on the Upper East Side yesterday when I saw that one of the store employees had highlighted Salman Rushdie’s new work The Enchantress of Florence. Yes, the Nobel-prize winning author of Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses is now trying his hand at spinning a tale about Florence during the time of the Medici and combines this story with settings in India and the near East. Here’s a short clip from Michael Dirda’s review in The Washington Post (this review is also on Amazon.com):

Set during the 16th century, The Enchantress of Florence is altogether ramshackle as a novel — oddly structured, blithely mixing history and legend and distinctly minor compared to such masterworks as The Moor’s Last Sigh and Midnight’s Children — and it is really not a novel at all. It is a romance, and only a dry-hearted critic would dwell on the flaws in so delightful an homage to Renaissance magic and wonder.

In these languid, languorous pages, the Emperor Akbar the Great dreams his ideal mistress into existence, a Florentine orphan rises to become the military champion of Islam, and a black-eyed beauty casts a spell on every man who sees her. Other characters include Machiavelli and Botticelli, Amerigo Vespucci, Adm. Andrea Doria and Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a. Dracula), not to discount various Medicis and the principal members of the Mughal court of Sikri, India. The action itself covers half the known world: the seacoast of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the battlefields of the Middle East, Renaissance Italy and the newly discovered New World.

Yet whatever the locale, The Enchantress of Florence is bathed throughout in Mediterranean sunlight and Oriental sensuousness. Its atmosphere derives from the Italian Renaissance epic, especially Ariosto’s magic-filled Orlando Furioso, and from such latter-day reveries of Eastern splendor as Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (which features Marco Polo and Akbar’s grandfather Kublai Khan).

Here, then, is a gorgeous 16th century that never quite was, except in operas, masques and ballets.

Could this be the summer’s big beach read?

Tuscan Wine Picks

One of the pleasures of visiting Tuscany is having the chance to drive the fertile hills of wine country, sampling reds and whites along the way. Most travelers really only think of Chianti, a mini-region within Tuscany, when thinking about Tuscan wine. But another vino hotspot is Montalcino.

Montalcino is the home of Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s most celebrated vintages. According to this month’s Tasting Notes newsletter from Epicurious.com, Montalcino produces other tasty wines, too. One of Epicurious’ resident wine gurus Leslie Sbrocco particularly likes products from Castello Banfi, a wine estate and luxury inn just outside of Montalcino.

While the inn looks enticing, you don’t have to go all the way to Tuscany to enjoy Castello Banfi. You can buy many wines by the bottle or case from the winery using their online store. Or, you can check your local wine seller or wine.comicon for Castello Banfi reds and whites.

By the way, in case you didn’t know, food site Epicurious is a great resource for wine lovers, as well. Sign up for their Tasting Notes newsletter or visit the site to watch tasting videos. For more on Tuscan wines, check out this recent article on the Top 5 Affordable Super-Tuscan Wines by Linda Murphy. The article also includes links to recipes for the perfect wine and food pairings.

“Palladio” in DC

As part of Italy’s celebrations of the birth of architect Andrea Palladio, born 500 years ago this year, the Italian Cultural Institute and the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC, are hosting a free screening of “Abitare Palladio,” a documentary about the man and his works. The film will be shown tomorrow April 4 at noon in the National Gallery’s East Building Auditorium. For more info, check out the IIC website.

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