The Alphabet of Art & Antiques – Italian style! A is for…

The 2023 San Francisco Fall Show will celebrate La Dolce Vita – the quintessentially Italian approach to the “good life”. We will indulge in the pure pleasure of appreciating and collecting art, antiques and design. From Botticelli to Bertoia, from Fellini to Fornasetti, from Schiaparelli to Sottsass, La Dolce Vita is all about poetic beauty, breathtaking art, groundbreaking design, exuberant colors and refined materials. We’re breaking it down alphabetically… A is for:

Sofonisba Anguissola (1532 – 1621)

Sofonisba Anguissola was a (female!) Italian Renaissance painter born in Cremona to a relatively poor noble family. She received a well-rounded education that included the fine arts, and her apprenticeship with local painters set a precedent for women to be accepted as students of art. As a young woman, Anguissola traveled to Rome where she was introduced to Michelangelo, who immediately recognized her talent, and to Milan, where she painted the Duke of Alba. The Spanish queen, Elizabeth of Valois, was a keen amateur painter and in 1559 Anguissola was recruited to go to Madrid as her tutor, with the rank of lady-in-waiting. She later became an official court painter to the king, Philip II, and adapted her style to the more formal requirements of official portraits for the Spanish court. After the queen’s death, Philip helped arrange an aristocratic marriage for her. She moved to Sicily, and later Pisa and Genoa, where she continued to practice as a leading portrait painter.

The Game of Chess (or Portrait of the artist’s sisters playing chess) Sofonisba Anguissola from 1555. Anguissola was 23 years old when she painted it.

Guiseppe Arcimboldo (1526 – 1593)

The job of a renaissance court portraitist was to produce likenesses of his sovereigns to display at the palace and give to foreign dignitaries or prospective brides. It went without saying the portraits should be flattering. Yet, in 1590, Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted his royal patron, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, as a heap of fruits and vegetables (see detail below). With pea pod eyelids and a gourd for a forehead, he looks less like a king than a crudité platter. Lucky for Arcimboldo, Rudolf had a sense of humor. And he had probably grown accustomed to the artist’s visual wit. Arcimboldo served the Hapsburg family for more than 25 years, creating oddball “composite heads” made of sea creatures, flowers, dinner roasts and other materials.

Arte Povera

The Arte Povera (literally “poor art”) movement took place between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s in major cities throughout Italy and above all in Turin. The word “poor” here refers to the movement’s signature exploration of a wide range of materials beyond the traditional ones of oil on canvas, bronze, or carved marble. Materials used by the artists included soil, rags and twigs. In using such throwaway materials they aimed to challenge and disrupt the values of the commercialized contemporary gallery system. Among the leading Arte Povera artists were Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Living Sculpture (detail) by Marisa Merz, 1966, aluminum and enamel

Gae Aulenti (1927 – 2012)

The Italian architect and designer Gae Aulenti will forever be best remembered for her work with museums, in particular her 1980–86 renovation of a Beaux Arts Paris train station to create the galleries of the Musée d’Orsay. Aulenti — whose first name, short for Gaetana, is pronounced “guy” — should also be recalled for her tough intellectual spirit and for working steadily when few women found successful architectural careers in postwar Italy. After she graduated from the Milan Polytechic in 1954, Aulenti opened an architectural office. She also joined the staff of the progressive architectural magazine Casabella, whose editorial line was that the establishment, orthodox modernism of Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus, had outlived it usefulness. When their movement for fresh approaches to architecture and design received a sympathetic hearing, Aulenti found patrons — most prominently Gianni Agnelli, of Fiat, who later employed her to renovate the Palazzo Grassi in Venice for use as an arts exhibition space. Commissions for showrooms and other corporate spaces brought Aulenti to furniture and lighting design. Her lighting pieces in particular are an artful grace note in the career of a woman who believed in strength.

Gae Aulenti’s Pipistrello lamp

Aventurina – also sometimes termed “avventurina” or “adventurina”
The art of precipitating copper deposits in glass was a closely-guarded secret which developed in the 17th century. The root of the word is sometimes wrongly ascribed to “avventura” (adventure), rather than the correct “ventura” (fortune or chance), but both give a good idea of the skilled nature of producing consistent pieces.