Soulful, inspiring and exceptionally unique
Soulful, inspiring and exceptionally unique. Descriptions seem to fall short when it’s stupendous Tuscany we are thinking of. Eternally beautiful, the mind wanders from picture-postcard landscapes, cypress-filled dreamy lanes and delicious recipes handed down from a caring nonna to their offsprings, for a memorable meal you will treasure at length. And art, of course: not only will you find the most scenic Renaissance frescoes decorating stunning churches, countless art locations that have set the scene for eternal dreams, but art seems to have shaped the lives of all Tuscan people, its testimony a tangible reminder of crafty, clever and gifted minds. Tuscany is your ideal destination if you want to dream your nights away, and also presents you with everything Italy is known the world over for: pay a visit and you will see why this fair land has shaped the history of art through the centuries – and is still writing pivotal chapters to this day.
Driving through northern Tuscany, past the ethereal Cinque Terre and the Riviera di Levante in eastern Liguria, you know that the coast and the sea will accompany you along the journey. And yet, looking upwards, a white dash colouring the rugged, imposing mountains on the other side captures your attention: surely that cannot be snow, so close to the sea. It is, in fact, the white treasure that has captured the imagination of countless artists – and dreamers – the centuries through.
Marmo – marble – has fashioned the life of this distinct corner of Tuscany, seemingly endless rows of slabs being worked at the bottom of the valley, the poetry of this exceptional material happening higher up; there, the dust and the noise conjure up a special ballet that has captivated everyone, starting from the Romans, through to Michelangelo and all the way to Rodin, contemporary artists adding their special, innovative touch. A seemingly cold material, marble can speak to anyone sensible enough to listen to its lyrical potency: hard and heavy, but soft and gentle to the touch, marble embellishes, adorns and enriches our soul. Carrara itself is home to a stunning 188 quarries and you can experience a “hands-on” Cave di marmo tour of the quarries, to see where the poetry lies, or take up a cycling tour up to small Colonnata – home to the tasty, wafer-thin and delicious lardo di Colonnata – admiring the hard-working cavatori who spend their lives in a perilous job, yielding one of Italy’s most precious art treasures.
With its evocative name, Pietrasanta is a jewel in the superb cultural powerhouse that is the Versilian coast. A refined art town, several populations fought for its possessions, primarily because of its proximity to marble quarries – Michelangelo sourced the marble for his immortal David right here. Home to numerous refined art workshops and pretty boutiques lining its lovely historic centre, the artistic aura that permeates here provides inspiration for the many artists who chose to move here, making art their sole purpose in life.
Among them, Paola Michela Mineo shines bright. In her studio based in Pietrasanta, she offers a Human Plaster Casting experience. Learning to look at yourself as a work of art, and that “beauty lives in every person”, the artist will create a cast of you face, foot or hand. This is followed by a writing session, where emotions and sensations find space on paper.
A short hop into the main square while you wait for the plaster to dry and then you, too, will sense what makes this magic town a special one. Bringing your very own art piece back home means you will treasure the Tuscan soul at length.
History and art colour every street and every corner in Tuscany, that’s a given. Beyond the extraordinary cultural riches of bigger centres like Florence or Siena, the region is filled with lovely towns that tell their very own tale of splendour and beauty. In the tiny jewel that is Pietrasanta you will find a series of outstanding places that reinvent the quest of a museum. A case in point is the Virtual Museum of Sculpture and Architecture, located in Pietrasanta: learn about the fascinating history of marble with The voice of marble video, a virtual experience that is filled with interesting anecdotes and revelations, allowing you to sense the captivating atmosphere of a marble quarry.
Capitani Coraggiosi offers a collection of 19th and 20th century sculptures that were crafted by local artists and are on loan from the Museo dei Bozzetti (the maquettes museum), another gem in town. Hosting 700 sketches, models and drawings of sculptures, executed by more than 350 artists, the museum is also made up by foundries and laboratories, where the idea that is put on paper with the maquettes finally comes to life.
The International Park of Contemporary Sculpture, an open-air extension of the museum, sees the finished works placed into the very unique natural setting that is northern Tuscany, the sea to one side and the Apuane Alps guarding over the land.
Viewing and marvelling at stupendous works of art is a fascinating experience: imagine seeing how it all comes into shape! Starting from the finished product, by visiting a foundry you can trace a journey of the mind in reverse and go back to the original idea: Northern Tuscany is a hotbed of ideas and Pietrasanta hosts several art foundries where you can see the various manufacturing processes.
Fire and passion are the driving forces of a foundry, and seeing artists at work allows you to capture the entire development towards the creation of unique artworks. Foundries usually work with iron and cast iron or other metals that will suit the subject. Forget about large scale, mass production: working in a foundry is akin to a rite, the skill, talent and knowledge of individual workers being at the forefront of it all.
Some foundries still produce hand-made objects and follow strict procedures: overall, any object being produced in a foundry is the outcome of meticulous procedures, starting from the maquettes, among which waxing, creating the cover of foundries, cooking the item in the oven, fusion, sand blasting and glazing. Come and discover a world of expertise, knowledge and talent
In a similar way, visiting a sculpture lab will show and reveal the origin of an artwork and the processes that lead to its creation. You may see a sculptor at work, but also take part in active sessions where meeting and sharing ideas, experiences and impressions are the keywords. Called “Little Athens” in view of its many art workshops, Pietrasanta offers the chance to see many artists at work and sense the magical atmosphere that leads to the creation of tangible marvels.
Walking through the main square, Piazza del Duomo, you will see contemporary art sculptures placed skilfully against the backdrop of the beautiful 14th century cathedral. Ancient and modern live alongside, giving rise to an imaginary dialogue where art writes the script; indeed, pay a visit and it will be revealed how, in the words of John Ruskin, “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together”.
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