Arlecchino Newsletter

Vol. 2 Issue n. 04
December 01, 2000

~~~          A free bi-weekly newsletter of 164 subscribers
~~~          on the discussion of topics related to
~~~          the made-in-Italy products, to the Italian way of life
~~~          and more generally to the Italian style.
~~~          supported by Studiosoft at
~~~          Marco Piazzalunga, Publisher
~~~          Vol. 2, issue #04, December 01, 2000

Dear friends,

we resumed with much vigour and enthousiasm the publication of extremely interesting articles for all those who love the made-in-Italy style.
In this issue I wish to draw your attention to an exhibition dedicated to Giotto now open in Florence, and to the lively Portaportese local market in Rome.

Your tireless moderator,

Marco Piazzalunga

                       IN THIS ISSUE

New Topics on Fine Arts in Italy/Europe (2)

1) Giotto today
     by Francesco Poli

2) New Frescoes Unearthed Near Pompeii
     by Associated Press

New Topics on Italian style (2)

1) Porta Portese in Rome: The Street Market Par Excellence
     by Raymond Wells

2) Passages and Promenades: "La passeggiata"
     by Civilization Magazine

New Topics on Italian handicraft works of art (2)

1) Italian Jeweler Featured at Smithsonian
     by Frank S. Costanza

2) Alessi plans to open first U.S. store in San Francisco
     by Tara Duggan

New Topics on Italian/European antique & collectibles (2)

1) What Really is an Antique?
     by Bob Brooke

2) 18th Century Jewelry
     by Tara Maginnis


-----====(* FINE ARTS IN ITALY & EUROPE *)====-----

Subject: Giotto today

FLORENCE, Italy, November 16, 2000 - As part of its Jubilee 2000 celebration, the city of Florence has inaugurated a wonderful exhibition dedicated to Giotto, the first since 1937. Brought together in the rooms of the Accademia are a significant number of panels, as well as fragments of frescoes, painted by the master himself or by his workshop. Curated bym Angelo Tartuferi together with some of the most renowned Giotto scholars, such as Luciano Bellosi, Giorgio Bonsanti, and Myklos Boskovits, the exhibition provides an opportunity to admire and directly compare several of Giotto’s most important works, as well as some of his lesser-known or recently attributed works, from museums and private collections in Europe, and in the United States. Sadly, some of the great masterpieces are absent from this show (probably because they cannot be moved due to conservation concerns), such as the Louvre’s Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata (signed Opus Iocti Florentini), or the Crucifix from the Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini. The exhibition has also provided the perfect opportunity to direct public attention to other of Giotto’s works in various locations around the city, in particular the frescoes in the Cappella Bardi and the Cappella Peruzzi in Santa Croce, the Ognissanti Madonna in the Uffizi, and the bell-tower of the cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore. And certainly many visitors will have decided to extend their itineraries by visiting, or revisiting, Giotto’s frescoes in Assisi and in the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padua. But what does Giotto’s work mean to us today? From what cultural background and with what standards of taste do we look at great artworks of the past in general? There are, in effect, artists of such great importance to the history of our civilization that their work has taken on a sort of absolute value. Ironically, this often prevents a true aesthetic assessment of the work that is free from excessive reverence, or even from a kind of fetishistic obsession that arises from our thoroughly entrenched cult of the masterpiece.
On the one hand, it is true that the majority of people tend to base their interest in art on a few, stereotypical notions (the must-sees of popular tourism) or else on exhibition-events that are thoroughly hyped and completely controlled, resulting in an experience that is culturally passive. On the other hand, and at the opposite extreme, scholars of the Old Masters have a tendency to place great importance on questions of philology and attribution, with the consequent risk of remaining stuck in their highly specialized world even when attempting to write more accessible texts for exhibitions such as this one of Giotto.
Giotto’s extraordinary importance, which even his contemporaries recognized (we need only think of Dante’s famous verse), is due to the fact that between the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries, he was a key figure in a radical renewal of pictorial language that moved beyond the Byzantine style (to which his teacher, Cimabue, still adhered) toward a more realistic key, a shift that represented a prelude to a modern, humanistic vision.

Francesco Poli


Subject: New Frescoes Unearthed Near Pompeii

POMPEII, Italy, November 16, 2000 - Frescoes nearly 2,000 years old have been unearthed near Pompeii in the remains of what experts say may have been an ancient luxury hotel.
The frescoes were painted shortly before the A.D. 79 volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii, the ancient city's art superintendent, Pier Giovanni Guzzo, said Monday.
One of the best-preserved portrays Calliope, the Greek muse of epic poetry, against a vivid red backdrop. Others depict Erato, the lyre-playing patron of lyric and erotic poetry, and Urania, the muse of astronomy.
The paintings adorn the walls of a building about 2,000 feet outside the walls of Pompeii, by the side of a modern highway linking Naples and Salerno. The building, discovered in 1959, is believed to have been a hotel with thermal baths.
There were no excavations at the site between 1959 and 1999, when an extension of the highway was announced. Archaeologists then were sent in.
The archaeologist in charge, Salvatore Nappo, said the luxurious building suggests Pompeii was at the peak of its wealth when it and everything around it was buried in lava and volcanic ash.
The frescoes are undergoing restoration.

Associated Press

-------=======(* ITALIAN STYLE *)=======-------

Subject: Porta Portese in Rome: The Street Market Par Excellence

ROME, Italy, November 18, 2000 - If you are touring Trastevere in the Eternal City of Rome and you have a few hours to spare on a Sunday morning the place to head for just has to be the colorful, vibrant, flea market along the stretch of Via Portuense from Porta Portense to the underpass that leads into Piazza della Radio.
Although there are many open air markets in Rome, the Mercato di Porta Portese - to give its official name - is arguably the best patronized and the most famous. It's rumoured that celebrities like Gina Lollobrigida are often to be seen shopping in this haggle - happy bazaar.
Stalls stretch for several miles in this ocean of bric-a-brac and bargain mecca which opens at sunrise, when the air in Rome is at its most appealing.
This open-air bazaar offers anything and everything you could ever want. New, second-hand, third-hand or just downright old its all here at Porta Portese where its de rigeur to bargain, bargain, and bargain some more but remember the stall holders know their stuff inside out. Veteran shoppers at this flea market say the starting point for the likes of antiques are around double what most of the stall holders expect. Even if you not into bargaining its fun to watch how the experts do it.
Like many of the other street markets in Rome, the Porta Portese attracts more than its fair share of ambulanti - roving vendors - who travel from market to market with a barrel loud of factory rejects and leftover stocks after the sales season. Dating back to the late 1940's this shopping haven, sprawled along the banks of the Tiber, is about a mile long and is so huge it is very easy to get lost in.
The best entrances are Viale di Trastevere and via Ippolito Nievo and if you enter from the latter you will find the numerous vendors and dealers in
antique furniture, Asian carpets, cane work and mirrors. Appearances in this granddaddy of Rome's flea markets can be a trifle misleading for quite a few of dealers who give the impression of being on the verge of starvation, are actually very well - traveled entrepreneurs who import directly from places like Turkey, India or China.
Quite a number of the vendors at Porta Portese are African and Arab peddlers from Somalia and the Maghreb and they are joined by Russian and Iranian refugees and others offering exotic goods for sales when their funds are low. In this part of the market there are antiques galore - and more than a few instant fakes - oriental carpets and attractive kilim rugs (sold out of the trunk of the car that travels to Turkey every two months to bring them).
Carry on southward and the focus is more on glass, ceramics, African sculptures, cheap clothes and leather goods. As you continue to make your way through the stands you will be amazed at what's on offer! The list is endless. Spread-out are countless thousands of odds and ends: old prints war medals, radios, books, coins, stamps, matrioshka dolls, marble busts of Mussolini, Russian furcaps, more etchings, live birds and even newly born pups for sale. There are also numerous objects and fun junk whose precise purpose is open to guesswork.

Raymond Wells


Subject: Passages and Promenades: "La passeggiata"

ROME, Italy, November 22, 2000 - From the ancient Romans to today's cell phone-toting centurions, Italians have always savored the perambulatory pleasures of the passeggiata.
The dance starts at dusk. Every evening, the natives--men, women, and children--leave their houses and assemble in the square to enact an age-old ritual, an intricate pattern of footsteps that binds together their community, advertises the power of their clans, and perpetuates the ancient mating rituals of the youths and maidens.
These particular natives aren't wearing grass skirts or brandishing tribal totems. They are more likely, in fact, to be wearing Armani suits and carrying cell phones. The daily ritual is called the passeggiata, and it's a custom nearly as embedded in southern Italian culture as the eating of pasta. Rarely discussed by natives or described by anthropologists, it is--like all the honest, not-for-the-tourist-trade rituals that persist in our deritualized world--so deeply rooted as to be almost involuntary, almost unconscious.
The passeggiata is not a dance in the literal sense. But to call it a "stroll," as the word is usually translated into English, is to ignore everything but the walking. I first discovered the passeggiata a few years ago in Sciacca, a fishing town on the southwestern Sicilian coast. In a stately baroque piazza, with the Mediterranean on one side and the city hall--its lower story jammed with cafes and pizza shops--on the other, the townspeople would turn out, dressed to the nines, and walk, up and down, up and down. The whole square couldn't have been much more than a hundred yards long. And the townspeople, most of them, had been pacing these same worn stones every day of their lives since they were old enough to put one foot in front of the other. Still, they seemed to take undiminished enjoyment in the act--or not enjoyment, perhaps, but rather an emotion somewhere midway between pleasure and duty. When they reached the end of the piazza, they'd turn smartly on their heels and walk straight back to the other side--turn and repeat, dozens of times in an evening. I never noticed how odd it all was until an American friend came to visit. When I brought him out to the piazza, he stared in amazement at the passing procession: the matrons and teenagers, the courting couples, the children scampering underfoot. "Where," he asked, "are they all going?" Wherever they were going, they haven't gotten there yet. I recently returned to southern Italy, and I found that the nightly dance has continued into the age of e-mail and cell phones. And not just in the small towns, either.
Perhaps the loveliest passeggiata I found was in the ancient center of Naples. Here, the tangled maze of alleys and tunnel-like byways is split right down the middle by a thoroughfare: long, narrow, and perfectly straight. It is as if some upswelling of Vesuvian geology had struck a lateral crack straight through the city.
That street is called Spaccanapoli--literally, "split Naples"--and has been one of the city's main avenues since Roman times. Walk down it on a winter evening, as I did: The shops are mostly closed, but the street is crowded; figures loom up toward you suddenly in the near-Calcuttan blackness beneath the palazzos that tower on either side. Often, you hear people before you see them: friends greeting each other, parents calling to their children, the banter of teenagers. And surprisingly often now, these conversations--when you glimpse the talkers--turn out to be held via cell phone, even when the talkers are within a few dozen yards of each other: "Yes, Gianni, I'm passing the Bar San Domenico right now ..." The Italian love of gadgetry hasn't killed the art of conversation. Rather, it has simply opened up a new dimension for it, a wormhole in space and time that the ever present flow of talk slips comfortably through.
Every ritual has its geographic variations. The passeggiata in Rome these
days is really just a shopping circuit: down the Via Condotti (Armani, Gucci, Bulgari) to the Via Babuino (Missoni, Kenzo), then up the Corso, the same route on which the emperors took their triumphal processions. Today's Romans, with Zegna or Prada jackets thrown casually over their shoulders in place of purple capes, carry themselves no less like conquerors.

Civilization Magazine

------=====(* ITALIAN HANDICRAFT WORKS OF ART *)=====------

Subject: Italian Jeweler Featured at Smithsonian

Washington D.C., November 23, 2000 - An exhibition featuring more than 250 years of jewelry recently opened at the National Museum of Natural History here.
The exhibition, "Buccellati: Art in Gold, Silver and Gems" features works manufactured by the renowned Buccellati family and coveted by royal families and the rich and famous. The centerpiece of the display is the Smithsonian Cup, a delicate piece made from agate with intricately engraved yellow, white and rose gold and set with pearls. The Phoenix brooch, the body of which is made from a rare, 236-carat pearl mounted in white and yellow gold, will also be on display. The exhibition features a wide variety of jewelry and other items, all of which are hand-made using old-style tools and manufacturing techniques. The majority of the 75 jewelry items are from the private collection of the Italian design firm. The exhibit closes Feb. 25, 2001.

Frank S. Costanza


Subject: Alessi plans to open first U.S. store in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, November 29, 2000 - Bay Area fans of the Italian company Alessi's modern eclectic tabletop and housewares products are in luck -- the Italian company chose San Francisco for its U.S. flagship store. Due to open mid-December on Sutter Street near Union Square, it will be the first free-standing Alessi store in this country.
Giovanni Alessi founded the company in 1921 in Omegna, a small town in
Italy's lake region known for a centuries-long history of fine metal craft work. The company started out producing handmade tabletop objects and
housewares in copper, brass and nickel.
Under the leadership of Alessi's son Carlo in the postwar years, the company began mass production using stainless steel. In the '70s it started working with internationally acclaimed designers, with the goal of bringing good design to everyday objects.
Alessi's products certainly aren't affordable for everyone, but having even
just one -- such as Anna G, a colorful wine opener in the shape of a girl with a skirt -- can bring a little thrill to quotidian life.
This year's fall/winter collection stars Swiss architect Mario Botta, known in these parts for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Called Mia and Tua (pictured above, $120 and $129), the stainless steel carafes have the elliptical shape that shows up in much of Botta's work. The pieces are Botta's first foray into housewares design.
Alessi's flagship store will be located at 424 Sutter St. (between Stockton
and Powell streets), San Francisco.

Tara Duggan


Subject: What Really is an Antique?

LONDON, November 22, 2000 - To anyone who browses antique shops these days the question "What is an antique?" seems to have many answers. Side by side with ancient-looking furniture and. old- fashioned china, browsers may find ruffled pink glass and souvenir spoons, no older than themselves. The problem bewilders not only buyers but dealers, too.
In 1930 the U.S. Government ruled that objects had to be at least a 100 old to be classified as antiques, so they could be admitted duty free into the U.S. But that was a legislative tax decision. Since then antiques have often been defined as objects made before 1830.
In Europe, items as recent as that seem quite young. In contrast with a classic Roman head, an 18th-century chair is modern. Antique shops in European cities are often called "antiquities" shops. Except for Indian relics and a few Spanish buildings in the Southwest, the oldest American antiques are but 300 years old.
Yet Americans experience the same contrast in their shops. To a New Englander who knows the pine furniture of Pilgrim days, a Victorian sofa doesn't seem antique. But in Nebraska or Oregon it does, because it represents the earliest furnishings in the region. The age of antiques seems to vary in relation to their environment. And so the perception of "What is antique?" changes from region to region and one part of the world to another.
Americans often count among their antiques items made by machine as well as those wrought by hand. Most of these are later than 1830. That date does, however, serve as a dividing line between the age of craftsmanship and the machine age.
Legends grow on antiques the way moss grows on trees. As a family heirloom is passed from one generation to the next, its history takes on added flourishes. A spinning wheel made in 1820 becomes the spinning wheel brought over on the Mayflower. A bed of 1840 becomes a bed George Washington slept in.
But while the personal associations of heirlooms add to their interest, they
can't be relied upon to place their date and source. Not every old piece has a pedigree or a maker's mark or label, but every one has characteristics
that identify it which make it valuable to someone else. The secret of where and when and by whom it was made is in its material, its design, and its workmanship. So an antique is what the collector knows or perceives it to be. Nothing more.

Bob Brooke


Subject: 18th Century Jewelry

NEW YORK, November 29, 2000 - The 18th Century was a period of great change for the manufacturers of jewelry, for at the turn of the century, a Venetian Lapidary named Vincenzo Peruzzi invented the 56 faceted brilliant cut for stones which is still used today. It replace the duller 16 faceted Mazarin cut of the previous century and launched diamonds to the forefront of jewelry design for the next 100 years. Metal work receded into the background almost completely and metals were used exclusively as inconspicuous back settings for diamonds.
The most popular shapes for jewels were bows and floral designs. Stylized bows were used on brooches, necklaces, earrings, and rings.
Diamonds were used to the almost total exclusion of other gems until the 1750’s when color in jewelry enjoyed a revival. To meet the increased demand for white stones in the first half of the century, paste, rock crystal, markasite, and cut steel were employed with increasing sophistication. These alternatives to diamonds were soon produced with such good quality that it was entirely respectable for royalty to wear them. Cut steel was especially popular because of its practical wearability for ordinary day use on shoe buckles, knee buckles, and buttons.
The 18th Century also introduced several new forms of jewelry, the most typical being the corsage, a kind of diamond stomacher. It was in use for court dress for the whole middle part of the century. Another innovation, the aigrette, consisted of a spray of diamonds and was usually worn over the right ear on the hair. However, the most interesting development was the chatelaine, a piece of everyday jewelry worn by both men and women.
Suspended form the waist, it was used to carry watches, seals, needle-cases, keys, scissors, and penknives.
After the French Revolution, neoclassical motifs became popular in jewelry all over Europe, and the style-setting French in their republican mood shifted into Roman revival styles.

Tara Maginnis


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