Many artists dream about painting in Italy. Now, as retiring baby-boomers are increasingly taking up “brush and pallet knife,” more than ever, painting in Italy is the “thing.” Every day, a new “Artist’s” tour of Italy crops up in travel sections of the newspaper and on the Internet. But there still remains a majority of artists who prefer to “go it alone.” They are independent in their artistic styles, and prefer to be independent regarding their travels in Italy . This blog intends to target these free spirited artists who still need guidance to the best places to paint, especially those idyllic gems that are little known and less traveled. Certainly, independent travelers who are not artists will also benefit from this blog.

With a few exceptions, this blog is not a guide to restaurants, lodging, rental cars, or shopping, (except for art supplies.)

Sprinkled among the posts are: my paintings, and a few Italian proverbs and poems written by notable Italian authors for whom I work as a translator.

Please visit my website to view my original art:


Giclee prints of my paintings, ranging from greeting size to poster size, can be purchased at:


Friday, January 29, 2010


If you enjoy painting fountains, a visit to Viterbo will easily quench your passion. Enclosed within a triangle of sturdy walls, Viterbo retains a magical medieval air. The medieval district of the city is an almost intact 13th century quarter with towers, steep houses, raised walkways, outer stairs, and mullioned windows. The 12th century fountain in the appropriately name Piazza Fontana Grande is a good place to begin. Another paint-worthy fountain can be found in the inner courtyard of the Palazzo dei Priori. In Piazza della Morte a 13th century fountain fronts the loggia of St. Thomas that houses the Museo delle Confraterite. Please do take time out to visit this museum.
The lion is the symbol or Viterbo, and if you didn’t know that before arriving at the city, it would only take about a three minute “look around” to figure it out. Lion statuaries adorn fountains, carved lion heads embellish doorways, wrought iron shaped lion sconces grip streetlights, and lion friezes abound in restaurants and bars.
Outside the city walls, at Porta Fiorentina, there is a lovely public garden for plein air artists to enjoy.
If Viterbo doesn’t fully satiate your desire to paint unique fountains, take the road toward Vignanello and then turn off up toward San Martino al Cimino. As you pass through this high village, you may want to stop to view, and or paint, the excellent view of Lago di Vico. Continue the circular tour around Monte Cimino until you reach Soriano where you can paint the extraordinary fountain at Palazzo Chigi. The next stop is Bagnaia, where you can visit the Renaissance palace, Villa Lante, which stands above the village and is surrounded with a park that is a masterpiece of landscaping. It contains a superb Italian garden with fountains that include an excellent Lantini fountain. After you have completed this circular loop, drive around Lago di Vico to Ronciglione to paint the fountain of unicorns by Vignoli.
If painting all these fountains leaves you thirsty, don’t despair. Each village has enotecas where you can buy local wine. These are also great places to buy cheeses and panini to snack on while you paint.

Monday, January 18, 2010


What artist wouldn’t be inspired to paint in the “playground of ancient Roman emperors?” Tivoli, located 20 miles east of Rome, is this idyllic location.
Horace wrote: “So numerous were the villas here that the Tiburtine soil no longer has any plough land.” At that time, none of the 3 villas that today form Tivoli’s principal attraction had been built.
Cardinal Ippolito d’Este of Ferrara believed in heaven on earth. In the mid-16th century he ordered Villa d’Este built on a hillside. The gardens below the Renaissance villa dim the luster of Versailles.
You enter at the front of the villa; yes, there is a charge, but the best things in life aren’t ALWAYS free (unless you’re a child under 17 years or an adult over 60 years). After a visit inside the villa -- you will want to view the paintings -- begin the descent down a series of terraces and flights of steps, flanked by cypress, to the spacious gardens.
Pack light. All those descending steps must sooner or later be climbed back up. On your way, there is ample room to set up on these terraces and paint lilies, gargoyles spurting water, torrential streams, and waterfalls. I think the prettiest fountain is the Fontana del’Ovato that was designed by Ligorio. Nearby is what some deem the most spectacular achievement – the hydraulic organ fountain with its water jets facing a baroque chapel. And certainly, Bernini’s Fountain of Glass and Ligorio’s Fountain of Dragons are both paint worthy. When you get to the promenade, and after you’ve caught you breath, both from the steps and the spectacle, you will face the dilemma of where to set up amid the 100 spraying fountains! (I told you it out-shines Versailles.) The whole system of fountains, with its playful sculptural forms, is designed to please the eye and delight the senses.
If you’re still wearing your socks, that is, if the vision of 100 fountains hasn’t already knocked them off, the rhododendron-filled garden will surely leave you scalzo (barefoot).
Less than 4 miles from Tivoli you’ll find “The queen of villas of the ancient world,” otherwise know as Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa) that was built between the years 118-130. Of all the Roman emperors dedicated to La dolce vita, it was the globetrotting Hadrian who spent the last 3 years of his life in the grandest style. A patron of the arts, a lover of beauty, and a dilettante architect, Hadrian built one of the greatest estates in the ancient world and filled a good portion of its acreage with recreations of the architectural wonders he’d seen on his many travels. He erected theaters, baths, temples, fountains, and gardens all bordered with statuary. Unfortunately, as was always the case with such opulence, barbarians, popes, and cardinals mercilessly looted the villa in subsequent centuries and carted off much of the marble, statuary, and mosaics. Fortunately, their voracious lust to acquire finery that was not their own was not fully satiated, and enough of the fragmented ruins remain for us to evoke a complete picture. If your imagination isn’t working to its full capacity, there’s a plastic reconstruction at the entrance that offers a glimpse of what the villa used to be. There’s also a museum on site that contains some of the items excavated.
You are allowed to set up throughout the acreage, but use good sense. If your easel impedes foot traffic or blocks major photo ops, you might not simply be asked to move, you could easily be refused to set up anywhere else on the premises. My advice is to ask at the ticket counter where you can set up. Another option would be to forget the easel, sit on one of the numerous stone benches, and use a laptop pochade box.
I rarely give hotel advice, but if you’re aching to spend a few days painting in this region, I highly recommend the Albergo Ristorante Adriano. This mini villa sits in a lush, peaceful setting just a few steps from Hadrian’s Villa. The views from the guest rooms are amazing and the food is divine. In good weather, you can dine al fresco on their lovely terrace and imagine yourself an honored guest at Hadrian’s table.
I mentioned 3 principle villas. The 3rd villa is Villa Gregoriana. While Villa d’Este takes your breath away with its man-made glamour, Villa Gregoriana relies on nature for its shock and awe. Pope Gregory XVI built the gardens in the 19th century. At one point on the zigzag walk carved along the slope, you can look out onto Aniene, the most panoramic waterfall at Tivoli. The trek to the bottom on the banks of the Anio is studded with grottos and terraces that open onto the ravine. Any landscape artist worth his or her weight in brushes will find paint-worthy vistas at any of the multiple belvederes. One word of caution, the views are like Sorrento’s sirens, they will lure you -- in this case down, down, down. Keep in mind that at the end of the day you must return up, up, up, and believe me the climb back is brutal.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Anagni holds a special place in my heart. It was during a time when I was doing research for a novel, which included a character that was an artist skilled at intarsio (the art of inlaid wood), that we visited Anagni.
To my surprise, and great pleasure, we stumbled across the studio of Tarsie Turri. We weren’t able to meet with Mastro Carlo Turri, whose tarsie have been purchased by kings, popes, galleries, and museums worldwide, but happily Carlo’s daughter, Rita, gave us an in-depth tour of their workshop/gallery that has been in the same location for over 30 years. We thought it fitting that the studio is housed in the medieval center of Anagni, since intarsio is an art form relating back to the Renaissance period.
The procedure involved in this work consists of joining and fitting thin pieces of natural wood (which vary in thickness from 5 millimeters) in various shapes and essence onto a surface, and thus, forming a certain design or scene. The wood is not tinted; the tonality of color is extracted from nature. Consider the difficulty we artists face when we paint a still life with multiple folds and shadows in the tablecloth. Now imagine composing that same still life out of paper-thin shavings of wood! I highly recommend a visit for both artists and art lovers. The location, Via Vittorio Emanuele 11, 291 is easy to find, as it’s the main road that runs the length of the town.
After you visit Tarsie Turri, your artistic juices will be bubbling over. Stay on Via Vittorio Emanuele 11 until you reach Piazza Cavour, which offers a killer panorama over the neighboring hilly countryside. The piazza is a painter-friendly location to set up. Pizzerias and bars that circle the picturesque little square offer enough nourishment to keep you painting for hours. It’s also a fun location to smooze with other enthusiastic artists set up throughout the piazza.
After you leave Anagni and are heading back toward Rome, stop at Palestrina. This medieval hillside town is situated on the slopes of Monte Ginestro and overlooks a wide, picturesque valley. Palestrina is notable for its Fortuna Primigenia. At one time the greatest pagan temple in the world, this Temple of Fortune, once spread over the whole area of the medieval town. If you enjoy painting architecture, the town abounds with narrow streets, often stepped, and remains of ancient town walls.
Do not miss the drive up the hill to Palazzo Colonna-Barberini to view the Nile Mosaic. The mosaic is a well-preserved ancient Roman work, considered the most remarkable one ever uncovered. The mosaic details the flooding of the Nile, a shepherd’s hunt, mummies, ibises, and Roman warriors, among other things.
The museum is open until an hour before sunset, so if you time it right, you can leave the palace and have time to set up you easel just in time to capture the burnt sienna sunset over the valley far below.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


If Rome’s energy begins to overwhelm you, but you still have an extensive list of “must see/paint” locations to visit, don’t despair, or worst -- toss in the towel. Take a break and head for the hills.
In this case, I’m talking about the Alban Hills where the enchanting landscape is varied, with cascading vineyards and olive groves. The region is called Castelli Romani (Roman Castles), because castles that originally belonged to popes and Roman patrician families are scattered across the slopes of the Alban Hills.
You can begin in Frascati, which is only about 13 miles from the city. Yes, that’s the same Frascati that you see printed on labels of wine at your local liquor store. Certainly, those bottled wines are delicious, but don’t forget, imported wines are required to contain nitrates. If you need a reminder about nitrates: they are those nasty preservatives that keep hotdogs from going all green and gooey for at least 100 years. At Frascati, you can visit a cantina where the wine is served, nitrate-free, direct from the casks. Many Romans drive up on Sundays just to drink the vino. And after all, “when in Rome...”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sending you to Frascati so you can spend the day sampling wine, although that can certainly be a part of it. I’m recommending this lovely hill town as an idyllic location to set up and paint.
In the heart of Frascati, on Via Massala, is the Villa Aldobrandini, whose garden containing grottos, yew hedges, statuary, and splashing fountains is a wonderful place to set up. The gardens are only open in the morning and are free to visit, but you must first obtain a free pass at the Azienda di Soggiorno e Turismo located in the adjacent Piazza Marconi.
My recommendation is to paint at the gardens in the morning and then visit the Cantina Comandini right off Piazza Roma. The Comandini family will take you on a tour of their wine cellar where you can take reference photographs for future paintings. Oh yeah, and you get to taste their golden white wine that is guaranteed to make you swoon. This is not a restaurant, but they sell fresh panini that you can munch on the way to your next destination. If you’re wondering, no, I don’t get a kickback for each glass of wine or sandwich sold; I’m just crazy for their wine and their fresh mozzarella panini.
About 3 miles from Tivoli you’ll come to the ruins of the ancient Latin city of Tusculum. Here you’ll be rewarded with one of Italy’s most panoramic views that extend as far as Rome. There are numerous convenient spots to set up and paint this incredible spectacle: my pick is from the top of the acropolis hill. At some point, drag yourself away from your easel and visit the amphitheater that dates from about 1st century BC. And not to be missed is the famous Tusculanum, (Villa of Cicero).
On you way back to Rome, you may be tempted to stop and indulge in another glass or two of Frascati vino. Be careful. The Polizia Stradale (State Police) are in abundance throughout this region, and driving while intoxicated, even just a little, will get you in more trouble than I have space to write about.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


How much time should you budget for an excursion in Rome? The Italian writer Silvio Negro said, “A lifetime is not enough.” If it’s to be a painting excursion, I say, “Two life times are not enough.” After you’ve toured the obligatory heavy hitters, i.e.: Trajan’s Forum, Caracalla’s Baths, the Colosseum, Hadrian’s Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo, Via Appia, Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna, and the Vatican, it’s time to get down to the business of painting. Back in March, I wrote about my penchant for painting the back streets of Rome. Here are a few of my picks if you prefer not to stray off the beaten path, but still seek a variety of subjects that differ from the norm.
The Villa Borghese is the largest and most beautiful public park in Rome. Impeccably maintained, the park covers approximately a four-mile perimeter, which is more than enough trees, flowers, shrubs, ponds, fountains, and statuaries to keep even the most persnickety plein air artists satisfied. Be sure to bring some water and munchies: Panini, cheese, and fruit can be purchased near all park entrances. Depending on the weather and the time of year, drinks, ice cream, and snacks are sold within the park, but don’t count on it, go prepared.
If you’re not an early riser, be one for at least one day to capture Rome’s silhouette at dawn from across the Tevere (Tiber) at the Gianicolo (Janiculum Hill). With a sky fringed with mauve, the vivid and unforgettable images of bell towers and cupolas are well worth delaying that cup of morning “Joe.”
Rome purists unanimously concur that the Trastevere District is the most authentic Roman district in the city. Some call it a “city within a city.” I call it the most picturesque area of the city and ripe for painting. The architecture is as replete with humorous touches as the dialect of the inhabitants. An artist’s biggest dilemma is deciding where to set up within its charming narrow and irregular streets and its pictorial squares. When in doubt, begin at Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. Chances are, as soon as you get your easel set and your palette dotted with paints, a helpful Roman will attempt to lure you to a “special spot.” No, he’s not trying to snare you into a back ally with designs on your wallet and watch; he’s simply making an effort to show an artist (Romans, like all Italians, hold artists in the highest esteem) the best location to get the best angle with the best light. Trust him, follow him, and paint Rome as it was intended.
Try to plan your excursion into the Trastevere District on a Sunday. That way you can include time at the Porta Portese open-air flea market that is held each Sunday from 8am until 2pm. This sprawling market offers great bargains: In addition to the usual clothing and household stalls, you might find anything from termite-eaten Il Duce wooden medallions to pseudo-Etruscan hairpins. And there are bountiful flower stalls with enough flowers to honor each fallen Roman soldier since 300 BC, and fruit and vegetable stalls that are stacked with the most colorful produce imaginable. If you’re a portraiture or caricature artist, the assortment of human subjects, both buyers and sellers, is inexhaustible.
If you prefer to paint a more traditional market scene that is encircled within a piazza, you’ll find none finer than the flower and vegetable market at Piazza Campo di Fiori. Get there early, as the vendors usually close their carts around noon and you shouldn’t miss this explosion of colors. If you enjoy bartering, a quick colored pencil sketch can always be traded for a loaf of bread still warm from the ovens and a kilo of grapes cut ripe off the vine.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Italian Poetry / PRIMO GENNAIO by Luciano Somma

In “January 1st” Luciano Somma carefully selects a minimum amount of words to create a maximum punch for this thought-provoking poem.
You can find Luciano Somma at:

Nella poema “PRIMO GENNAIO” Luciano Somma sceglie attentamente la minima quantità delle parole a creare il massimo pugno per questa poema stimolante.
Si può trovare Luciano Somma a:

Ancora stordita
da tanto frastuono
la notte sbadiglia
perchè è già domani.
Avrà il volto nuovo
quest'alba che spunta
neonata speranza
d'un anno sereno?
Laggiù all'orizzonte
Io vedo una luce
più intensa e più chiara
sarà forse inganno?
Soltanto chimera?
Oppure aria pura
è questo l'augurio
per tutti quaggiù
Vogliamoci bene
la vita è una sola
teniamola cara
vivendo in amore
Con tutte le razze
da veri fratelli
sarà un'utopia?
Può darsi, chissà!
Luciano Somma

Still dazed
from so much racket
the night yawns
as it's already tomorrow.
Will it have a new face
this sunrise that awakens
newborn hope
for a peaceful year?
There on the horizon
I see a light
powerful and radiant
Will it be a fraud?
Only illusion?
If not, this greeting
is a pure manifestation
for everyone on earth
to love each other
life is unique
we hold it dear
living in love
with all races
from true brothers
will it be utopia?
It's possible, I wonder!
Pamela Allegretto Franz (translation)