Friday, June 10, 2011


Pears from Sant'Anna
James Aponovich
oil on board, 8" x 6", 2011

Often, inspiration for a painting arrives by a rather roundabout way in the creative process.

Study: Two Pears, Sant 'Anna
James Aponovich
Pencil on paper, 3.5" x 2.5", 2010

A case in point is this tiny sketch I drew in the garden of the Monastery of Sant'Anna in Camprena, in Central Tuscany. The moment of influence occurred inside the Dining Hall of this ancient place and it was of a most peculiar manner.

View of the Abbazia Di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Tuscany

The story begins about five miles north of Sant'Anna at the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Set in the barren, rocky Crete Senese, south east of Siena.
Founded in 1319, Benedictine monks in their white habits continue to live and work at the Monastery repeating a rhythm of life that goes back almost 700 years.
The order commissioned Luca Signorelli of Cortona to paint a cycle of frescos in the Great Cloister depicting the Life of Saint Benedict. After completing only 9 of the 36 alcoves, Signorelli backed off and left the job. My theory is that he was offered a more prestigious and might I say, lucrative gig in Orvieto, but that's just an artist's guess. Anyway, a wacky Sienese artist by the name of Giovanni Antonio Bazzi was brought in. Bazzi was one of the original Bad Boys of art history. The monks nicknamed him "Il Mattaccio" ( the Buffoon). Otherwise he was called "Il Sodoma". Apparently he had a taste for "beardless boys" in his studio. He also kept as pets, badgers, squirrels, apes, marmosets, crows, etc. He must have been tough to live next to.

Il Sodoma
Self Portrait with Badgers
The Great Cloister
Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Here stands Mr. Bazzi himself. The Nobleman's cloke that he wears was given to him by the Abbot after it was left at the monastery by a rich novice.

Il Sodoma
Great Cloister, Monte Oliveto Maggiore
View down the east wing

Sant' Anna in Camprena, Tuscany

At around the same time Il Sodoma was commissioned to paint
the Refectory ( Dining Hall) of the nearby Monastery of Sant'Anna in Camprena, just north of Pienza.

Sant'Anna in Camprena
Interior of the Refectory

Here I was, standing in the Refectory and as often happens Beth and I were totally alone. It was quite an experience to be standing in front of these masterpieces where they have been since their creation, but to be alone! No guards, no people with headphones listening to recordings.
Believe me, you will find more people standing in front of a local gelato stand... be it!

Il Sodoma
View of Grotesques

Back to' The Pears'. What struck me was when I was leaving I was drawn to the painted decorative friezes on the sides of the door. Literally they were right in front of my nose. These are called grotesques and they originated when Italian artists during the Renaissance traveled to Rome to see the newly excavated "Golden Palace" of the Emperor Nero ( another Bad Boy). They were taken aback by the splendid painted decoration executed in a flat two-dimensional manner. Mythical beasts and exotic floral forms meander over the surface. In my painting I wanted the leaf forms to dance above a slightly humanized pair of Tuscan pears.

So, my little painting was:
Inspired by Il Sodoma
By way of Nero
There in the garden of Sant' Anna

Who would have known?

copyright 2011 James Aponovich

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