Seggiano

Our drive to Seggiano took a little longer than anticipated with our satnav, Holly, determined to take us through back lanes before doing circuits of the same mountain village a few times. The scenery was spectacular but we did wonder if we would ever find our way out.

Finally ignoring her, we chose to follow the reliable road signs and soon had the medieval village in our sights.

We parked the car at the edge of town and lingered a while, absorbing the breathtaking vista across rolling Tuscan countryside.

Wandering up Viale Santa Caterina, we arrived at Piazza Umberto and spotted the perfect place for lunch.

Despite our convoluted journey, we were too early for meal service so we set off to explore the village.

Seggiano is renowned for its extra-virgin olive oil, produced with the native olive cultivar grown in the region, Olivastra Seggianese. It would have been fascinating to visit the olive oil museum but it was closed. Instead, we followed Via Indipendenza,

passing Chiesa di San Bartolomeo. Built in 1216, the church has been remodelled several times and little of the original remains.

At the end of the road, we retraced our steps

and returned to Piazza Umberto.

The 18th century Chiesa di San Bernardino da Siena is also known as the Church of the Company of Corpus Domini, dedicated to the Body of Christ. The interior is rather unassuming as far as Italian churches go but there are some beautiful paintings, a 14th century Madonna and Child and a reliquary that belonged to St Bernardino himself.

Still too early for lunch, we ordered coffee and a biscuit at Antico Borgo to await the magic hour of mezzogiorno e mezzo (that’s 12.30pm).

The restaurant was amazing, entirely carved out of stone and the meals were delicious but I will tell you about that another time. We returned to the car and one last look at the magnificent panorama

before continuing our adventure at Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri. From there, we could appreciate the magnitude of the town and realised we had covered a very small section.

Basilica di Santa Margherita

Remembering our first visit to Cortona and the strenuous postprandial walk to the top of the town, we opted to drive this time to explore the magnificent Basilica di Santa Margherita.

A church was built on the site by the Camaldolese monks in the 11th century, dedicated to St. Basil, but was damaged during the sack of Cortona in 1258. Efforts led by Margherita di Cortona resulted in the church and adjacent convent being rebuilt in 1288. The interior is spectacular.

There have been many alterations over the centuries, the large rose window of the façade is one of the few remaining original features.

A marble depiction of Saint Margaret and a chapel commemorating the Cortonese war dead are to the side of the main aisle.

The most impressive display is above, with vibrant ceiling frescoes and stained glass windows presenting impossible angles.

Margaret lived the last years of her life in a small room at the back of the church until her death in 1297. She was buried in a wall of the chapel of St. Basil and her remains were transferred when a larger church was constructed in 1330. Her body is now displayed in a silver casket at the main altar.

Canonized in 1728, Saint Margaret didn’t have an enviable portfolio, being the patron saint of the falsely accused, homeless, insane, orphaned, mentally ill, midwives, penitents, single mothers, reformed prostitutes, stepchildren and tramps.

Beyond the rooftop of the neighbouring convent,

the vista across Lake Trasimeno and the Val di Chiana once again took our breath away.

artists of Il Giardino

There are fifty four artists represented at Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri, a sculpture wonderland set in the Tuscan countryside. I thought we had done a credible job of covering the ground but, on reflection, we only discovered half of them. It doesn’t matter, what we did see was astounding. Eva Aeppli was born in 1925 in Switzerland and, after her studies, moved to Paris. Around 1967, she started concentrating on textile life-size figures, creating sewn heads that refer to the planets. If you look closely, the stitch lines can be seen on the bronze casts of the Astrological Signs group.

The gold faces of The Planets represent the positive aspects of the Moon (in silver), Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, Neptune and Uranus

while the negative aspects, responsible for the sinful facets of human beings, are expressed in A Few Human Weaknesses. From left to right, these are Sloth (Moon), Envy (Mercury), Lust (Venus), Pride (Sun), Wrath (Mars), Gluttony (Jupiter), I seem to have missed Avarice (Saturn). Again, the heads were originally sewn and the texture of the silk fabric can be seen on close inspection.

An attempt to glue the figures rather than sew them wasn’t very successful. Two of the failed pieces were used as scarecrows in Eva’s vegetable garden while others were used for airgun target practice. One of the heads, collapsed and shrivelled, has been cast in bronze and embedded between two branches of an olive tree. Although it seems to be watching the passersby, the empty eye sockets see a world on The Other Side.

The three Greek goddesses of vengeance and retribution, known as the Erinyes or Furies, represent the negative aspects of the so-called invisible planets Neptune, Pluto and Uranus.

Ars Moriendi (Latin for ‘The Art of Dying’) by Italian artist, Giampaolo di Cocco, comprises three sculptures that represent life-size elephant bodies in various stages of decomposition.

Katharina Duwen’s Refuse from the Bronze Age relates to the subject matters that interest her most: traces of the past and relics of civilisation. Various items lie together as if on an illegal dump site, made of bronze they contradict the notion of putrefaction and decay. In the future, this evidence may provide useful information to archaeologists about the everyday lives of a past culture.

Not only is Angelo Maineri a maestro of sculpture, he has been responsible for the care and maintenance of the Giardino since 2016. He has melded bodies of steel and cement, seemingly weightless yet grounded, with the twisting branches of a tree for Chlorophilia – Rooted Life. He describes the work as, “humans, destroying nature, are yet dependent upon it and cannot escape it.”

When Daniel Spoerri was invited to propose a sculpture for the slopes of Vesuvius, he immediately thought of a drawing by his friend, illustrator and satirist, Roland Topor who died in 1997. The crouching woman intently watched a handful of small balls rolling from her lap (I’m not absolutely convinced of this anatomical description). The Vesuvius project was abandoned and Mamma muntagna, the Neapolitans name for their volcano, was sculpted in stone for the garden by Simone d’Angiolo.

A tower of old harrows and ploughs, wedged in amongst each other and screwed together, is titled Monument to Settledness. The artist, Arman, was well known in the sixties for his accumulations of several objects of the same kind such as milk cans, hairslides and bottle caps. These agricultural machines are the insignia of soil management and are stuck, immovable and useless, while the sound of modern agricultural machines can be heard in the surrounding hills.

Amongst the olive trees, sixty geese run in the direction of Seggiano, pursued by three extremely threatening, oversized and masked figures with drums. French artist, Oliver Estoppey has included a boy standing off to the side holding a goose under his arm, perhaps protecting the bird from the Day of Wrath.

An interesting figure that appears like a piece of wood is, in fact, bronze and is carefully attached to the wall of the villa. The Pisser served as an artist shower during a sculptors’ symposium in Freiburg in 1977 and Daniel Spoerri retrieved it from storage for the Giardino with artist Alfonso Hüppi’s consent. The refreshing stream of water usually emitted from the woman was absent on this day.

A connecting link between the distant past and modernity is seen in Two Steel Lenses, One Leaning Tower and Five Geode. The installation, by Jürgen Knubben, consists of two lens-shaped steel constructions lying next to slate stones of similar shape and size, known as geodes, that are around 180 million years old. The leaning tower resembles the obelisks used in Egypt around 2000 BC as cultic stones to honour the sun god.

Daniel Spoerri wanted an iron sculpture by his Swiss friend, Bernhard Luginbühl for the Giardino. Peasant Monument comprises ploughs and parts of agricultural machines, symbols of power, and the exaggerated verticality is a symbol of fertility.

Over the course of a year, Josef Pleier visited the Giardino several times to make measurements and calculations regarding different positions of the sun. The holes in his basalt column, Sunstone, direct the gaze to certain points on the horizon where the rising or setting sun can be seen on the day of the winter solstice (21st December), the equinox (23rd September and 21st March) and the summer solstice (21st June). The opening at the top is the point of true midday when the sun is at its zenith in the sky (and it’s not 12 noon).

Pavel Schmidt has an interest in the phenomenon of kitsch, in particular replicas of popular sculptures. Do Not Open Before the Train Has Halted (Venus and David Between the Buffers) features kitsch figures of Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Venus that he blew up and then glued the fragments together. They have been placed on railway buffers arranged in the form of a cross, gazing in opposite directions.

Austrian artist Erwin Wurm became famous for a series of One Minute Sculptures where he poses people in unexpected relationships with everyday objects. Sewn together at the waistband, the pant legs of Doppelhose seem to be fidgeting in the air.

The Gordian Knot is a legend associated with Alexander the Great, the untying of an impossibly tangled knot often used as a metaphor to describe an intractable problem. German artist Till Augustin created a series of sculptures with this title, two of which are presented atop pillars each side of the path. The cables were pressed together under huge pressure and then cut so that the inside of the twisted rope is visible, giving the impression the knot could spring apart at any moment.

In a hollow in the Giardino, elaborate iron constructions topped with reddish-brown, bell-shaped heads reach 4-6 metres into the sky. Luigi Mainolfi’s mushrooms symbolise The Fertile Earth in these towering species.

The bronze figure of Banzai! Banzai! Banzai! was inspired by a small sculpture standing on Ay-O’s desk when Daniel Spoerri visited him in New York. A few grains of rice placed in the boy’s mouth would traverse the short digestive tract and exit from the rear. This impressed and amused Spoerri and he asked Ay-O to produce a life-size version for the Giardino where Banzai! wishes happiness, success and good health. I didn’t realise at the time but for those wishing to see the little fella “in action”, little bags of rice are available at the reception desk.

Roberto Barni’s figures in Continuo are positioned mid-stride on a seesaw in permanent equilibrium. The title is a contrast to the musical term, Continuo, meaning a constant accompaniment provided by the bass instruments. The men are blindfolded, a typical element of Barni’s works, perhaps in order not to disappoint their illusion of progress.

Italian Luciano Ghersi describes himself as a ‘hyper-textile hand-weaver’. The chairs of The Fakirs’ Meeting are woven with barbed wire, a comment that they would be a good seat for the government which, in Italy and elsewhere, should not be able to sit back in comfort.

The Cake Dream, created by Rosa Roedelius using aluminium and clay, is accompanied by a few lines:

What remains is the cake dream

What was or will be, trivial

Floating above the water

Living things grow from it

Standing on a viewing tower taking in the ambience of the landscape, The Visitor by Esther Seidel looks out over the labyrinthine wallpath. But is he really observing it or only seeing images inside his head?

Flying Buttress is one of the many installations by Mauro Staccioli found in public spaces all over the world. Viewed as a fragment of an archway, the large steel construction establishes a link to the motto of the Giardino, Hic Terminus Haeret and to Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries and transition.

Famous ballet dancer, Daniel Nijinski was legendary for his high leaps from a standing position. A photographer captured the moment when, at an advanced age, he leapt unexpectedly for one final time into the air. Artist Non Vital based his sculpture, Daniel Nijinski Superstar, on that photograph and he is appropriately suspended high above the ground.

Yoko Ono is famous for many reasons, one of them being her contribution to art. The first iteration of Play It By Trust was exhibited in 1966 and since then has been represented in various sizes and materials. The all white interactive chessboard functions as a metaphor for the futility of war, eliminating the colour-based opposition of one side versus another. Beyond a series of initial moves, the game is doomed to failure.

Cortona revisited

We fell in love with Cortona on our first trip to Italy in 2014 and, even though it was a two hour drive from Montepozzo, we just had to revisit. Yes, it is another Etruscan hilltown but from an elevation of 600 metres, the panorama across the Val di Chiana and Lake Trasimeno is breathtaking.

The alluvial valley covers 2,300 square kilometres and is home to the Chianina cattle, the largest breed in the world and one of the oldest. The beef is sold at premium prices by approved butchers and you will pay handsomely for Bistecca alla Fiorentina in any ristorante.

The Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie was built on the site of a former tannery where, in 1484, an image of the Madonna and Child, painted on the wall of a basin used for tanning leather, began to perform miracles. Because of the steep terrain and presence of a stream, the building wasn’t completed until 1525 and the original icon is still visible on the high altar in the church.

We made our way along narrow stone streets

to Piazza della Repubblica, the centre of the city since Roman times. There was so much to take in around the piazza; gorgeous shops, medieval architecture and sunshine.

We enjoyed coffee & pastries while being serenaded from the steps of the Palazzo Comunale. The town hall was built in the 12th century on the ruins of the Forum of the Roman City and was extended in the 1500s.

Pietro Berrettini was a 17th century Italian Baroque painter and architect. Although he worked mainly in Rome and Florence, he was known by the name of his native town, Pietro da Cortona.

We wandered around Piazza Signorelli

before exploring the shops along Via Nazionale

and celebrating our purchases with an Aperol Spritz in Piazza Garibaldi.

We retraced our steps to lunch at Caffè degli Artisti, seated in the street we savoured our surroundings as much as the food.

Starting with bruschetta, we decided on ravioli with butter & sage, pici with cream, porcini mushrooms, sausage & truffle sauce and pici with walnuts, gorgonzola cheese & pear.

Reluctant to leave, we returned to the car and drove to the top of the town to see Fortezza del Girifalco and the fascinating Basilica di Santa Margherita but that is another story.

Il Giardino

After lunching in the beautiful town of Seggiano, we just had to visit nearby Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri. The Swiss artist created the sculpture park in the early 1990s and it opened to the public in 1997. Set among 16 hectares of rolling Tuscan countryside,

there are now 113 installations scattered seemingly at random. Even with map in hand, I think we missed quite a few. There are too many works to cover in one post, with 54 different artists represented, so I will firstly cover those by Daniel Spoerri himself. The adventure begins as soon as we leave the ticket office

with an oversized cup atop an antique capital standing on the lawn.

The Cup

A baking oven has been constructed in the style of a Trulli, a traditional dry stone hut from the Puglia region of Italy. Five smoke stacks, modelled on a family of tailors dummies, have been added so when the oven is in use, fine smoke flows from the heads.

Trullo – Smoke is Coming From My Head

Daniel Spoerri is best known for his snare-pictures, a process where a group of objects, such as the remains of a meal along with the table setting, are fixed as they are and transformed from a horizontal plane to a vertical one. There are two snare-pictures cast in bronze at the garden. Luncheon Table in All Eternity is suspended on the exterior wall of the restaurant, Non Solo Eat Art, while Eternal Breakfast, complete with bread and eggs, complements it on the adjacent wall of the estate villa.

Many of the sculptures feature ordinary objects used in unconventional ways. Remnants from a foundry form the face of The Bersagliera, a sharpshooter who seems to have received a few shots herself, awaiting visitors outside the restaurant.

A Flower Bouquet made from mirrors, a variety of rods and a chestnut roasting pan is arranged in a flattened bucket.

The artist was invited by Acquedotto Santa Fiora to create a Golem, a human-like being from Jewish folklore usually made from clay. They gave him parts of water supply systems including old pumps, valves and sieves and Acqua Golem was born.

One of the first installations in the garden, Unicorns – Navel of the World, is on the site where, according to legend, the village of Seggiano once stood. There is now a spectacular view of the town on the opposite hill. The long horns protrude from horses skulls and are held by gloves like lances leaning towards the centre of the circle.

The inspiration for Damocles’ Rose Bower Walk came from a trip to England where Spoerri sketched a pergola comprising a row of interwoven sickles. Roses and Jasmine will eventually grow over the framework.

Marble slabs depicting the last meals of twelve famous women are mounted on a wall, an unusual monument to Marie Antoinette, Hannah Arendt, Hildegard von Bingen, Tanja Blixen, Madame Curie, Marlene Dietrich, Isadora Duncan, Mata Hari, Frida Kahlo, Cleopatra, Empress Elisabeth of Austria and the goddess Leda.

Eight gaunt Nightmares appear from the shadows and I am pleased to say I have never encountered anything like these in my sleep.

The scary theme continues with the four bronze cast skulls guarding Gorilla Bridge

and the macabre totem of Skull Tree.

The title of You white? You black? comes from the merging of two figures where the African and European heads have been switched.

In a shady, wooded area, a Marble Table is set with movable pieces that are work samples from a studio in Carrara. The table is supported by cast bronze scraps rather than ordinary table legs.

Next to the table, a twisting column holds up a small golden head which appears to grow out of a flower bud. Renaissance is dedicated to the Sicilian town of Gibellina which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1968.

At the rear of the restaurant there appears to be a pile of old slippers, the kind that are made of felt and handed out at palace tours to protect the floors. No entry without slippers pays homage to artist Joseph Beuys who frequently used felt in his work.

The villa, where Daniel Spoerri lived for a long time, has been divided into four spacious holiday apartments all with fabulous views of the garden.

The Chain Heap is just that. Spoerri saw the mass of iron chains hanging in an Italian scrap merchant yard and had them transported to the garden where he augmented the collection. The result is reminiscent of a chieftain or medicine man decorated with fetishes.

Something you don’t expect to find in a sculpture garden is a meatgrinder, however, Spoerri finds the diversity of form of this piece of kitchen equipment astounding and intriguing. The 3 metre high Meatgrinder Fountain was sans water on this day but I imagine it would be quite a spectacle.

The same kitchen appliance has been combined with hat models for Warriors of the Night, a small battle-scarred army rising up from a pond.

Five life size mannequins lie distorted in a ditch, reminiscent of mass gravesites as humans destroy other humans. The Mass Grave of the Clones isn’t exactly uplifting, though, as the artist explains,
“Over and over again, the Giardino shows us dark sides, for without these there could be no beauty”.

The Labyrinthine Wall Path is based on a pre-Columbian Neolithic cave drawing, altered slightly to create a labyrinthine form, it was then ‘drawn’ on the meadow using a low wall. The cosmic union of Mother Earth and Father Son is symbolised by representation of a hermaphroditic creature with a phallus and breasts.

Tintin-Elefant is so named due to its similarity to the spherically headed hero of the Belgian comic series Tintin by Hergé. Obviously, the hoseline nose contributes to the second half of the title.

When Spoerri’s good friend Roland Topor died in 1997, he felt there should be something to memorialise him at the garden. Topor was a satirist and illustrator and so Spoerri selected a drawing from which to create the sculpture that is The Eccentric Reader.

Skull Chapel verified Spoerri’s fascination with the cadaver’s cranium. The collection housed in the chapel includes Tibetan monks’ skulls, two mummies’ heads and monkey skulls.

There are so many more incredible sculptures at Il Giardino, they will be featured in a later instalment.