Recently, I had the joy of running a painting course in Umbria for a group of visiting artists whose tutor had been injured days prior to leaving. It was a great opportunity to meet new people, get outside and paint and impart some of my own particular thoughts on painting.
The event was organised by the Civitella Ranieri Foundation and was based in the fabulous, 15th century castle near Umbertide. This location is perfect for artists, perched high above the old town with expansive views of the Umbrian countryside.
This time of year the weather is somewhat unpredictable so we had studio based exercises on the cloudy, windy days and trips out, painting au plein air on the sunnier days. Here, high above the Asino Valley, we spent our time capturing the hills, woods and fields before us. A couple of days later we followed this with a drive into the beautiful hill town of Montone, where the students painted the buildings of the town.
Art in Umbria
The highlight of the week, for me, was visiting the Archeologia Arborea just outside of Citta di Castello. This is a tree museum, where they care for over 400 native fruit trees, grape vines and wild flowers. It’s a lovely peaceful place to sit and paint but sadly the weather was against us on the day we were there. Despite this, it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip with Isabella, the owner, explaining the history and importance of the orchard.
All in all the week proved to be an inspirational success for everyone, with students picking up new skills and experiences along with unforgettable memories of the Umbrian countryside.
If you are interested in a painting course or guided au plein air trip to study the landscape of central Italy, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
Greenhouse of Eden 35 cm x 35cm
The Medieval Greenhouse of Eden plays on the same ideas as the other room paintings in this series. It uses a 13th century style, with its weird perspective and limited palette to create a modern image in a Medieval way.
It takes inspiration from my neighbour’s banana tree, the florist over the road and the tall umbrella pines that populate the nearby park.
The facade is drawn as a front-on elevation linked to multiple vanishing points throughout the painting. The idea is that viewers are forced to use other depth cues in order to create a three-dimensional view. This ultimately gives the painting a topsy turvy feel.
Blurring of the images behind the glass windows, overlapping, size difference and aerial perspective all give depth and three-dimensions to the painting. The blue sky and verdant green background, orange ochre tiles and red pots create a spacial effect and make the conservatory stand out.
Like an M. C. Escher etching, the viewer believes and disbelieves in the same breathe. You can see the depth in one moment and then are unable to the next. This is how one-eyed people see the world, through a series of snapshots that on occasion don’t add up but then with a twist of the head, all make sense again.
If in the 13th century Ismail al Jazari had had the opportunity to design a cigarette lighter, I feel sure his painting would have looked something like this.
He would have incorporated a sealed pot to hold the gas and somehow tied down a piece of flint. There would have been a cog that when turned could adjust the height of the flame and the whole mechanism would have been put in a decorative box.
As with the previous machines, I’ve used the phonetic alphabet to give the painting an air of mysticism. The strange symbols and the addition of the mathematical formula for a burning match gives it a real sense of this being a scientific document.
Prints, postcards and mugs of this fascinating Medieval Lighter are available from my on-line shop.
Carrying on from the modern landscapes in a Medieval or International Gothic style and the contemporary saint avatars, I have started a series of medieval instruction manuals.
I discovered the 12th century, Arabian polymath, artist/inventor, Ismail al Jazari’s works and have taken them as a starting point. Al Jazari produced a manuscript book detailing 100 different machines that people could make. These included fountains, clocks and musical machines.
Using the format and devices Jazari created I am producing drawings of modern appliances in his medieval style. This includes strange spiky cogs, flaming furnaces and water wheels, all linked up to power and operate my machines.
Al Jazari’s Manuscript
Al Jazari’s designs also contain Arabic lettering and symbols to explain the working of his creations. Not speaking Arabic and not wishing to write complete nonsense I decided to use the phonetic alphabet to annotate my drawings. This gives it a mysterious feel but is also legible if you know how pronunciation is written.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the first design is a coffee machine. Obviously water flows from the tank on the right, into the boiler and is pumped up into the filter from where coffee drips into the cup. If you have any ideas that you’d like me to try out please add to the comments section. 🙂
Prints, postcards and mugs are available of the wonderful Coffee Machine from my on-line shop.
Continuing with the modern emoji saints, here we have St Emygdius. Born in Treves, Germany, he converted to Christianity and made his way to Rome. On route he performed a number of miracles and cured the sick, as a result the pope made him a bishop and packed him off to Ascoli Piceno.
When Emygdius arrived the governor, Polymius, offered his daughter’s hand in marriage and tried to get him to worship Jupiter. Instead Emygdius converted her to Christianity, incurring the governor’s anger, who then had him beheaded. St Emygdius simply picked up his head and walked off into the hills, where his followers built an oratory.
When, in 1703, Ascoli Piceno was spared destruction during an earthquake, people put it down to the hand of Saint Emygdius. He has ever since been invoked against the effects of earthquakes and is always shown holding up a crumbling building while dressed in his episcopal robes.
Other saints in this series – St David, St George, St Andrew, St Patrick , St Michael and St Francis
This forms part of the modern emoji saints series. The idea that if Byzantine or Early Renaissance painters were working now, how would they have portrayed religious topics. As emojis, obviously.
So, if you’re looking for an angel to take your battles to the enemy, Saint Michael is your guy. He is often pictured as a warrior angel, fighting the foes of heaven. In Revelations he takes on Satan and wins, there are also paintings of him defeating serpents and dragons.
Attributes of the saint
St Michael is fully equipped for the task and is shown wearing armour, carrying a sword and spear with his banner attached. He also is depicted holding the scales of justice, where the lives of sinners are in the balance. Tradition has it that the colours associated with him are Royal purple and cobalt blue, this accounts for his colourful attire.
The archangel is a popular figure as patron saint, he is the protector of Jewish people and guardian of the Catholic church. The people of France, Germany, the Ukraine, Brussels, Kiev and Dumfries. Enforcers also look to St Michael, so police officers, the military, paratroopers, firefighters and paramedics call upon him. Strangely enough, so do grocers and the sick.
Other saints in the series – St David, St George, St Andrew, St Patrick, St Francis
St Cosmas & St Damian
The two brothers, Cosmas and Damian came from Arabia. They were Christian physicians who freely administered care and relief to the sick of the area until their martyrdom in Syria, in 287 AD.
When arrested and tortured they proved pretty indestructible, surviving hanging, crucifixion, stoning and being shot at with arrows. Still they refused to recant their beliefs, so the Prefect of Cilicia ordered the pair beheaded.
The brothers are most often depicted together surrounded by medical paraphernalia. Due to their healing skills they have been adopted by physicians, doctors, surgeons, dentist and veterinarians as their patron saints. St Cosmas is usually associated with physicians and is depicted holding a pestle and mortal, while St Damian is normally shown holding some form of remedy.
Other saints in this series – St David, St George, St Andrew, St Patrick, St Michael and St Francis