St. Francis in Brooklyn

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014
Francis doc

The Codex 338, dated between 1224 and 1226 (the oldest existing copy) contains the writings of Francis and among these the “Canticle of the Creatures,” a work considered the first literary document written in the vernacular and a poetic and spiritual masterpiece.

By Tess Sanders

This time of year, the Brooklyn Borough Hall is ablaze in all its holiday glory. But its current display, in particular, more clearly conveys the spirit of Christmas than any number of colored lights.

From now until Jan. 14, 2015, Brooklynites and visitors can see–for the first time in this country–papers that belonged to St. Francis of Assisi. The exhibit, Frate Francesco: Icons, Words, and Images, features documents from the early thirteenth century that capture the spirit of this extraordinary individual.

The show, which originally appeared in Rome, was displayed at the United Nations prior to coming to Brooklyn. These documents have only been viewed in Italy before this year.

The exhibition is divided into three sections:

  • Icons in the documents that closely witness the historical life of Francis
  • Words relating to the life of the saint
  • Images in miniatures portraying him in various ancient contexts
One of the most moving documents from the show is the illuminated Bible, which depicts St. Francis' union with God. The illustration of the saint remains vibrant for all viewers who want a reminder of all the good that can be done in this world.

One of the most moving documents from the show is the illuminated Bible, which depicts St. Francis’ union with God. The illustration of the saint remains vibrant for all viewers who want a reminder of all the good that can be done in this world.

St. Francis’ virtues of compassion and connection are more important than ever nearly one thousand years after he lived. Francis sacrificed his life and wealth in service of the poor, and his commitment to his fellow man transcends all religions.

At the recent opening reception, his spirit was in the air.



Tomie dePaola

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
Tomie Christmas Books

Author and illustrator Tomie dePaola captures the magic of Christmastime.

When my daughters Emma and Tess were six and four, we met Tomie dePaola at a book signing in Oakbrook, Ill., for his then-latest release, Jingle, the Christmas Clown. The girls were shy about meeting the artist who had created Strega Nona and The Art Lesson, classics in our home library. They were hanging back, half-hidden behind bookshelves.

Staying behind when their circus moves on, a young clown and a troupe of baby animals put on a special Christmas Eve show for an Italian village too poor to celebrate the holiday.

Staying behind when their circus moves on, a young clown and a troupe of baby animals put on a special Christmas Eve show for an Italian village too poor to celebrate the holiday.

Tomie not only graciously autographed Jingle but also signed the well-loved copies of his The First Christmas pop-up book and Merry Christmas, Strega Nona that we had toted with us.

Tomie was born in 1934 into an Italian-Irish family in Meriden, Conn. An artist from a young age, he has written and/or illustrated more than 250 books and has received every major children’s book award including the Newbery Award, the  Caldecott Medal, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Of his works, I can only say, they make me smile inside. As a writer, I relate to his narratives, which are wise to the universal foibles of human nature. Since I’m not versed in art, I’ll quote illustrator Beth Gismondi on what makes Tomie’s illustrations unique.

“Tomie is known for his distinctive, deceptively simple style: bold outlines, washes of bright color, and very linear compositions. However, as many illustration students soon realize, simplicity is anything but easy to achieve. Tomie has a full mastery of his technique and characters when he works in his minimalist line-and-wash style. He can indicate a facial expression in four lines! Every mark counts, and there is no way to hide a mistake when working in translucent washes of paint.”

You can read about Tomie’s life and art on his Website. To order autographed Tomie books, visit Morgan Hill Bookstore in Tomie’s hometown of New London, N.H.

What Tomie book do you love the most?

Pazzi Chapel Restoration

Thursday, November 20th, 2014
Commissioned by the Pazzi family, the Chapel

Ornate sculpted rosettes, terracotta cherubim roundels and the colourful tin-glaze terracotta by Luca della Robbia decorate the interior of the Pazzi Chapel loggia. It is built in pietra serena, a grey sandstone that, by its very nature, tends to crumble over time.

By Walter Sanders

Many fortunate lovers of Renaissance art journey to Florence, but few get to the splendid Pazzi Chapel—one of architect Filippo Brunelleschi’s 15th Century masterworks–part of the complex of the Basilica of Santa Croce. If you have been to the Pazzi recently, you may have noticed the façade is in need of some repair. After 650 years, who wouldn’t need a little touch up?

The video in the Kickstarter campaign launched by the nonprofit Opera di Santa Croce paints a loving portrait of a jewel. The Opera is seeking donations to match the 50 percent of the funding it has already raised.

I’ll focus on what the Pazzi Chapel means to me. I first experienced it as an art history master’s student. Viewing it from the courtyard, I was underwhelmed. The façade looked severe, and a little top heavy, with the illusion of the tall porch and cupola being supported by impossibly spindly columns.

But there’s something transformative about entering the Chapel. I felt serenity, order, cool spatial integrity. I was amazed how hushed the interior was, muffling clamor from nearby Piazza Santa Croce. And, over time, I learned to love the façade.

I worked inside Santa Croce, at the Scuola del Cuoio (The Leather School), and lived just off the square. Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel became integral aspects of my daily life. In some respects, the Pazzi Chapel became a personal escape, a calm island. I needed only to look at it to feel the peace.

Sharon and I met in Santa Croce, and four years later married there. No, not in the Pazzi Chapel but in the Medici Chapel in the adjacent sanctuary of the Basilica.

The Pazzi means a great deal to us, and we are helping to support the renovation (#crazyforpazzi).

Do you have a Pazzi story? Share it here and please consider a contribution to help restore this Renaissance treasure.

Tuscany Tours 2015

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Is 2015 the year for your Tuscan dream to come true?

Escape with SimpleItaly to the private Villa Pipistrelli!

Few experiences are as memorable as sharing time and a spectacular destination with an intimate group of friends, colleagues, or grown-up family.

This intimate curated adventure is all about cultural immersion, relaxation, and good times. You’ll feel as if Villa Pipistrelli is your home because you’ll unpack once and “move in” for a week of wonders . . .

Pecorino cheese-making demonstration and tasting.

Olive oil comparison blind tasting.

• Watercolor painting class.

Pasta making session and tasting.

Wine estate tour with tasting.

• Magnificent medieval Siena—home of the Palio—and a private tour of the Brucco contrada with author Dario Castagno.

• Outing to the stunning hill town of Montepulciano.

• Presentation on the restoration of Villa Pipistrelli conducted by antiques expert Susan Pennington.

• Lavish buffet breakfasts and gourmet evening meals prepared by a private chef at Villa Pipistrelli.

• Free time to explore Montestigliano, the 2,500-acre Tuscan estate on which Villa Pipistrelli is tucked away.

• Social time with author Jennifer Criswell and other English-speaking experts on the culture, cuisine, and lifestyle.

Click here for the full itinerary to make 2015 the year for your Tuscan dream to come true!

Four week-long itineraries are reserved for you to choose from:
April 11–18, 2015
April 18–25, 2015
October 3–10, 2015
October 10–17, 2015

Little Shop in Florence

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
Just off the luxury goods trail in Florence, Sandra's little shop beckons with hidden "treasures."

Just off the luxury goods trail in Florence, Sandra’s little shop beckons with hidden “treasures.”

Ferragamo didn’t need to open its Salvatore Ferragamo Museo just for me. I approach all the luxury goods temples—Prada, Roberto Cavalli, Bulgari–on Florence’s stylish Via Tornabuoni with a gaze-in-awe-but-don’t-touch reverence. Owning these baubles is not for me but I can admire the artistry as I would the masterworks in a museum.

So, imagine my surprise on a blindingly sunny morning in April when I wandered a few footsteps east of the Salvatore Ferragamo Museo on peaceful Via B. SS. Apostoli to discover a shop called Sandra.

Gorgeous globe artichokes fresh from Sandra's garden.

Gorgeous globe artichokes fresh from Sandra’s garden.

At 41r, tucked into a street level space no wider than a train car, Sandra was honoring her store motto: “di tutto un pò un pò di più” (a little of everything and a little more). Surrounding the entrance were crates of fruits, vegetables, braids of garlic, copper pots, painted wooden plaques, bunches of dried flowers. Sandra said she had plucked the artichokes from her garden that morning.

Stepping over the threshold was like entering a time machine back to Florence of 30, 40, or 50 years ago. On the shelves and from the ceiling were household items, oils, vinegars, herbs, jewelry, collectibles, petite chandeliers. Every centimeter offered a new treasure.

Sandra occupied the space behind the glass refrigerated display case at the back. It was stocked with salume and formaggi, no doubt to fortify serious Sandra shoppers who might want to inspect everything on the premises.

Wild fragolini and their hybrid cousins.

Wild fragolini and their hybrid cousins.

I wondered to myself how Sandra could afford the rent in this alta moda area given the price points of the merchandise. As I paid for my lovely little olive wood mortar and pestle and fragolini (tiny sweet wild strawberries—the only strawberries that would have been in a Florence market 30, 40, or 50 years ago), I said a silent “grazie” to Sandra for having di tutto up pò.

Sandra, Via B. SS. Apostoli, 41r, Firenze, (055) 28.34.10