Monday, 18 September 2017

Come Back to Sorrento

Come Back To Sorrento

We landed in Rome and travelled down Italy to just north of Naples where there is the birth place mozzarella cheese, pizza and the little town of Caserta with its palace built by the king of Naples.  The king's instructions to Vanvittali, his Dutch Architect, were to build a palace that would be bigger and more beautiful that Versailles.  The building has over 1,200 rooms and is a lesson in Italian good taste and style. I have never seen ceiling paintings so full of vibrancy.  I chose to copy this gilded Angel because it has so much to teach me.

From the front of the palace a pond runs for over two kilometres up into a craggy slope, along the way there are interludes for fountains and sculpted fish from whose mouths the water gushes into pools where sleepy carp swim.

Alas our half day visit was much too short to really see everything let alone give me time to make many drawings.

Later in the day we arrived at our villa in Sorrento which was the Ground floor apartment in conspicuously aristocratic house perched on a rock overlooking town.  It was built in 1889. This is a view of the driveway to the back entrance

In the garden we could drink wine in the cool September air whilst looking across the bay of Naples towards Vesuvius and Capri.

Sometimes we were visited by a feral cat with stripes on its legs that asked us for food and slept on Michael's bed.

The first days in Sorrento were cold, wet and windy, but it did not matter because we went on drives along the cliff hugging coast roads to Almalfi.  The rain and mist made the views very beautiful but gave me little opportunity to make many drawings other than this one small sketch of a grotto in a rock crevice high above the mountain clinging town of Positano.

One of the best excursions was to Paestum which is an important archaeological site that boasts three of the best preserved Greek temples in the world, lizards scamper over the ancient stones and there is a scattering of lovely trees across the hundreds of acres of ruin.  There is also an excellent museum that needs hours of attention and an ancient church.  

Towards the end of our stay the days were long and warm and I could walk the streets of Sorrento with my drawing pad.  Tasso Square is the small main square, on one side is a view that looks down the cliffs to the port below (I made this drawing on my last visit in 2015).

On the other side of the square is a statue of Torquaot Tasso

and in the area there are traps with elegant ponies waiting for tourists.

Around the square are several restaurants, Caf├ęs and narrow alleyways full of boutiques selling lemoncello and hand made gifts.

Because the space is so limited the narrow roads get jammed with gridlocked cars through which scooters scuttle too and fro.  Scooter culture is a lot of fun to watch.  I only had time for one drawing

Unsurprisingly I spent more time making sketches of the lovely young women that sit with their boyfriends serenely sipping coffee and eating lemon cakes in the shade of palm trees and umbrella pines, 

and there was the added distraction of so many skimpily dressed teenagers,

which means one hardly notices the old men

For me the town is paradise because I can spend a lot of time in the churches where I can draw carved sculptures of Angels and Madonna's.  The theme of Madonna has always been a favourite subject for me, it has every challenge an artist wants; there are the problems of constructing the dynamic relationship of two bodies in space, expressing their relationship and the ephemeral  beauty of the moment.  Then there is the likeness.

In one church I found a black Madonna adorata  holding a handkerchief because she is weeping after the death of her son

When you start looking you find the Madonnas of Sorrento are very busy, every church have her doing different things.  Here she is blessing a little girl who has a sash with Sorrento written on it.

People come from all over the world to be married in Sorrento.  This Madonna is Julie Burge who came from Liverpool to attend her friends wedding.


It is a common site to find brides doing a tour of Sorrento posing with their new husbands in the doorways of Churches. This is how I met Terry and Emma Harkin who were also from Liverpool, I wondered if perhaps they were Julie Burge's friends.


When the Madonna is standing there is the extra problem of distribution of weight and balance 

This is a sitting German Madonna

The male Madonna is a theme rarely seen in Christian iconography.  This is a pity because the way fathers bond with their children is particularly subtle and beautiful subject, such as Georgia sleeping on her father's shoulders.

Another artistic test are children's faces.  Over the last two years I have put a lot of effort into understanding how they are different from adults faces, this is another drawing of Georgia

and these are studies Adele, a Russian child whose family now live in Milano

On the last day, as I was making my way to draw a Madonna in a church Mami had told me about, I met Angarina a Romanian Gypsy I had given money to the day before, she smiled at me and I could not resist to stop to make some drawings of her. 

Angarina was the most beautiful looking mother I saw in Sorrento

Her child was delighted that I had stopped and together they subjected me to the full force of Gypsy charm and cunning.  Whilst I made my drawings Angarina extracted money out of me with stories of her four starving children, meanwhile her happy child raided my bags for pencils and paper, pole danced round my legs and helped her mother beg of money from passing tourists.    As it was the last day I gave her one of our smart hessian Two Bad Mice bags, her child seemed to adore my gift and I helped them transfer their things from a battered carrier bag but as soon as my back was turned my gift was put in the bin and the plastic carrier bag was retrieved.  I ended up giving them a bone china mug which seemed to be an ideal replacement for the broken plastic cup they had been using to collect money and we parted friends.

Mami's church was preparing for a big society wedding, inside the church a small orchestra were playing music and a opera singer practising Ave Maria.  Instead of drawing the "dead" Madonna Mami had told me about I found myself sitting on the steps drawing the guests as they arrived.

The bride arrived in a black car and slipped into the church to sounds of Vivaldi, I had no time to draw her dress in detail, all I can say is that it was perhaps the most lavishly beautiful I have ever seen.

As I lingered  listening outside to the ethereal music coming from within a guest emerged with his child.

Danilo told me the bride's family came from near Naples, the bride was called Roberta.

My last moments in Sorrento were spent looking through the great church doors and down the nave to where Roberta and her husband were being blessed in front of  a huge cross flanked with six foot high Altar candles, and above it all and gazing down and blessing their future was one of their glorious carved and crowned Madonnas, it seemed a fitting end to my short stay. 

You will probably have noticed from my account that I get to know the people I draw, this is intentional.  On the one hand I always avoid people who pose or ask me to make drawings of them, on the other hand even when my subjects are across a crowded space they always pick up that I am sketching them.  It is very rare that they seem to mind and they mostly come to see what I have done.  I have learnt that it is good to conceal my scruffy disposition and dress up a little, my pink jacket and white hat did not look out of place at Roberta's wedding and the official photographers made me an object of extra interest in their photographs.   I expect one day Roberta will wonder to herself who this strange uninvited guest was, fortunately I have Danilo's email address and I rely on him to explain my unexpected occurrence. 


Caserta :
Paestum :

Villa Castenello

The villa we stayed in has four double bedrooms and costs about £200 per night.  There is so much I still want to do on the Almalfi coast and I am already planning my next trip!

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