Thursday, March 12, 2009

Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como, Italy

In my guest post at Relyn’s blog "Come Sit By My Fire", I talk about planning my trips loosely and waiting for serendipitous moments.

On our last day of our trip to Italy in 1995, we were on a ferry boat on Lake Como on our way to Bellagio when I struck up a conversation with one of four ladies from Dallas. She told me that they had already spent three weeks with their families in a villa along the lake and now they were spending their final week with just the moms. They familiarized themselves with just about every ferry stop along the lake and their favorite outing was going to Villa del Balbianello. She encouraged us to get off the next stop, rent a water taxi to the island, and take the tour. This was our only day at Lake Como so our time was precious, and I did not read about this villa in my Italy travel books, but I could tell this lady knew what she was talking about. We only had minutes to reach consensus but we chose to follow the advice and get off at the Lenno stop.

We could see the Punta Belbianello from the water taxi.

We walked up the highly manicured garden path.

We were fortunate that a tour guide was available to give us a tour on the spot. Normally, reservations are required but we had a little more clout because there were six of us. Our tour guide spoke impeccable English and was very knowledgeable. The villa was built in 1787 for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini who lived there until his death in 1796. The two prominent towers are the campanili of the church he built. The cardinal’s upstairs chambers were connected to the downstairs apartment via a one-way door. I guess visitations were by invitation only.

The second owner Giuseppe Arconati Visconti added the loggia and improved the gardens.

They trained the ivy on the loggia to look like the snake depicted in the family crest.

In the next century the villa was owned by the Porro-Lambertenghi family. By the 20th century the property had fallen into disrepair when an American politician and military office, Butler Ames, bought and renovated the villa and the garden.

In 1974, Guido Monzino became the final resident. He was a mountain climber and explorer, who in the previous year led the first Italian expedition to climb Mount Everest. He worked with landscape architect Emilio Trabella to renovate the gardens and he filled the villa with his fantastic artifacts he collected during his 21 expeditions to the farthest and most remote places on the earth. In 1988, Monzino died and left the villa to Italy under supervision of the Italian National Trust, Fondo per L’ambiente Italiano with a stipulation that it be left exactly as it was when he lived there.

We were not allowed to take any photos inside the buildings, but I got permission to take two out the windows.

To me, the inside of the villa was even more impressive than the outside because Monzino had impeccable taste in art. He was a disciplined and focused collector who only displayed the very best. The map room contained his impressive collection of the exploration maps he acquired to research his expeditions. The library next door has more than four thousand volumes of books dedicated to alpine and polar expeditions. One room housed one of the eight dog sleds that carried him on his 1971 expedition to the North Pole. The walls of another room were covered from wall to wall with beautiful etchings of only Lake Como. Room after room had impressive artifacts from China, Africa, indigenous art from the Incas of South America and Northwestern art of the Eskimos. What I found to be most interesting was that all of his artifacts, whether they are a Tong dynasty statue or an Incan idol, had very serene expressions on their faces. I think he must have been a very kind man. He gathered the largest collection of reverse paintings on glass, many of which were displayed in the downstairs apartment he remodeled for his mother.

The surreal beauty of the setting has made this villa a popular place for cinema. George Lucas chose this location for the lake retreat in “Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones”. See how he altered the roof lines here. George Clooney and Julia Roberts visited this villa in “Oceans Twelve”, and the 2006 version of the James Bond film “Casino Royale” featured some outdoor scenes here. A print ad was being shot as we were leaving.

We took one last long look at the view,

and departed through the boat exit.

We were grateful that we received this great last-minute advice from the ladies from Dallas and did not feel any regret that our time in Bellagio was cut short.

Family crest from Wikimedia

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bouquets to Art 2008

Overall I felt the floral artists who participated in the 2008 Bouquets to Art exhibit at the De Young Museum stepped it up another notch over the 2007 entries. See if you agree.

I don’t know what the artist named the above creation, but I call it "Primitive Explosion". I find this to be a very dynamic expression of the primitive art it is interpreting. It not only repeats the color palette and structure of the artifacts, but it extends it. It looks like the flowers are thrusting forward from within like a spontaneous floral big bang explosion. It was a fantastic greeting into the hall.

One could almost believe that the painting below would have revealed the calla lilies had the canvas only been big enough or had the artist, Robert Motherwell (1915-1991), only stepped back a few yards. I like how the floral artist was able to start with an achromatic, abstract painting and complement it with color and organic elements. The addition of the ostrich egg, added in a yin yang fashion, was inspired.

The first time I saw colored floral foam offered at the flower mart, I didn’t think I could ever think of a way to use it without it looking cheesy. I am proven wrong, again; this is a great way to use color floral foam.

I found this amazing grouping of steel-grass-clad vases to be the perfect accompaniment to the soft sepia photographs in this room.

I can't explain why Michael Daigian Design's calla lilies with flax leaves work so well, maybe it's the contrast of the geometric versus the classic. Maybe it's the way the calla lily heads peak out, craning their necks, hoping to see the princess on her throne.

This floral arrangement is not necessarily the most artful, but you have to give the floral artist credit for finding a wig that so closely matches Queen Elizabeth’s hair that I fear that she is walking around in a skull cap right now.

The flower petals suspended in gel were a great means to represent the splatter in Sam Francis’ (1923-1994) painting. (Unfortunately I came later in the week and the gel yellowed already; I’m sure this display looked fresher early in the week.)

I adore how the Manzanita branch was spray painted to look like bronze here.

A very literal interpretation:

I will be attending the 2009 Bouquets to Art next week. You get exactly one guess what I'll be posting about next week.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bouquets to Art 2007

Next week, from March 17-21, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco will celebrate the 25th anniversary of their largest fundraiser, Bouquets to Art. The best floral designers all over the Bay Area are invited to design a floral creation to be paired with one of the museum's works of art. There will be nearly 150 floral exhibitions along with elegant teas and luncheons and even a formal gala night. Two of my favorite florists, Ron Morgan and Paula Pryke, will be giving demonstrations. If you are interested in floral design and you can only go to one event per year, this is the one to choose.

The remainder of this post is mostly recycled from a homework assignment I wrote in my floral design class in 2007. Our wonderful instructor, Wendy Pine, asked us to write about at least two of our favorite creations and one that we did not like. Thank you, Wendy, for making this post a breeze to publish!

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been to Bouquets to Art. I remember going the very first year that it was offered back when it was at the old De Young Museum. I clicked my heels with delight and was awed at the brilliance of marrying fine art with floral art – two of my favorite passions. My excitement for this show never waned from year to year. Each year offered new ideas, new combinations, and new interpretations; and yes, each year offered misguided creations allowing me and my friends to feel smug about our impeccable taste. This year did not disappoint us. I had to miss last year’s debut of Bouquets to Art because I was traveling, so this was my first time seeing the exhibit in the new De Young Museum building.

I have to admit that I miss the fabulous winding drive up to Legion of Honor location with the spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I miss seeing the tent set up in the courtyard signaling a very special event before you even walk into the building. Arriving from the garage elevator at the De Young comes up short. The De Young is much more spread out; in some cases, you almost have to look for the bouquets. The Legion of Honor imparted a more intimate feeling and every room was filled with flowers. Nevertheless, the show at the De Young was fantastic again.

Some of the interpretations were very literal:

I know those braids were made of plant material, but they look so close to human hair that it gave me a bit of the willies.

Some arrangements were extensions of a painting. This “tree” could have been on the other end of the courtyard and echoed the feeling of the sunlight and shadow in Albert Bierstadt’s painting.

Other arrangements conveyed the spirit of the art:

Ron Morgan's design is wonderful as always. Only he would be bold enough to use a discolored leaf as a major design element.

Posing barbed wire like a lasso in this interpretation of Frederic Remington’s bronze sculpture "The Bronco Buster" created movement and is also representative of the cowboy’s political cry “Don’t Fence Me In”. The clever use of cut branches helped create a strong line but also appeared to defy the laws of physics.

It's easy to overdo the props, but the black satin was a great a prop here because it exudes the drama of this painting byRobert Henri, "Lady in Black with Spanish Scarf", 1910.

Some of the popular works are nearly impossible to photograph without admirers filling your frame. This one was so popular that I was unable to get a photo of the accompanying painting.

I believe it was one of Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings of the San Francisco hills like this one:

Wayne Thiebaud, Down Eighteenth Street, 1980 Oil and charcoal on canvas

This arrangements has some many wonderful textures, it looks like Joseph’s dream coat. The floral artist writes:
“My intention is to create a panorama as we see it in the painting and then ---
a reminder to really see and appreciate the infinite textures, shapes, and
subtle colors in a forest.”

Some arrangements looked good enough to eat:

This interpretations of Wayne Thiebaud’s wonderful work of pop art "Three Machines" (1963)  is called "Gumballs Gone Wild":

I hope you enjoyed coming along; I wish you could have smelled the fresh fragrance of these flowers. Which were your favorites?

Flickr set here.
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