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:


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.

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