Naming the dog on my plate

Renaissance was not just an age of genius painters and sculptors working for the very rich, but a period when art – via designer tableware – found its way into relatively modest houses as well.

Today, souvenir shops in Italy are stacked floor to ceiling with clay pots and plates painted in two or three “typical” designs that anyone who has spent a week there becomes allergic to. I suspect the painting is done by machines, or rather printed to look painted.

Here’s a typical representative:


Renaissance designs were much more varied.

2014-07-24-5498This 15th century dog is graphically a thing of the 20th century.

And the blue wild boar is simply irresistible:


IKEA  and modern printing technologies have almost exterminated handiwork individuality: even if there’s some hand-painted tableware in the house, it’s not used, but stored. This is sad, for a plate with an individually perfect or flawed drawing can liven up even a most boring dinner. Just imagine a set of plates with the dogs, with which having a tiny individual difference. They could even be given names.

PS The jug and plate come from a museum in Prato, a place few tourists have ever been to, even though it is just 30 km from Florence and Tuscany’s second largest city. 


To sample stuff in this blog, click on About at the top: there’s a collection of links to some of my best or typical posts. There’s an Art & Fun shelf if you feel like in need of a laugh.

Inner Lid of a Cassone with Cupid and Reclining Venus, c. 1440-45

Brides, knights, and pet dragons

Marriage traditions… Some of them have been around for centuries, some have died away, some are forgotten, and some are fondly remembered, but not practically applied. The white dress, bride bouquets, or the waltz dance are cute, harmless, and absolutely impractical.

But for most of human history is was vice versa. Marriage traditions were often horrendous, dangerous, and very pragmatic.

There was a tradition among Tibetan mountain tribes that a bride must have sex with at least four perfect strangers (people not from the village) before marriage was allowed.

As strangers were a rare occurrence in Tibetan villages, her father would set up a tent beside one of the major roads, with a special sign welcoming passersby to help the bride in bringing her marriage date nearer by having sex with her. Finding four strangers who wouldn’t be monks could take weeks.

It was a simple solution to a genetic problem: the tribes would wither out without an inflow of fresh genes,  a possibility to which many Royal houses that wiped themselves off the face of the planet could testify.

There was a time in Russia when its population declined to a dangerous low in the 17th century. Peasants would try to marry single women who were already pregnant, and it didn’t matter from whom. Pregnancy was a sign she could bear children, so the risk of staying childless after marriage was minimised. Two centuries later, suicide became the only option for a “soiled” woman.

The need to survive shaped most nuptial traditions that today we consider cruel, inhumane, or outright crazy.

Medieval Europe was not much better.

A love union was a lottery jackpot: people suspected it existed but had never personally met anyone who’d win it.

For girls, engagement at 8, followed by marriage at 14 was the norm, with horrible maternal mortality rates because of pregnancies at that age. Dowry negotiations had to be completed prior to engagement, which had a higher status than marriage.

Museums and galleries across the globe proudly exhibit the Renaissance cassone, a beautiful vestige of that epoch. It was a chest, given to the bride as a storage for all or some of her dowry. The richer was the family of the bride, the more elaborate the cassone’s design.

Morelli-Nerli cassone, 1472 at Courtauld Gallery, London

Morelli-Nerli cassone, 1472 at Courtauld Gallery, London

Besides a purely utilitarian purpose, a Renaissance cassone often had a moral function as well. Its front side was painted with a story that should remind the bride of her duties and obligations as a wife.

Renowned Renaissance masters would happily pick up cassone’s painting job, as it was the only way to paint something different from religious themes commissioned by the Church. Having secular fun with reclining nudes before the genre was invented by Giorgione in 1510 was not an opportunity to be missed. Look up the photo of a nude that opens this post. It dates back to 1445.


Back to brides, though.

In the 15th century girls wanted chivalrous knights to fight for their hand. Not that much different from the 21st century, isn’t it? St.George was an exemplary saint marrying vanity with celestial glory, so many cassone panels had him represented.

My favourite is the one from Sforza castle in Milano, a 15th century piece:

2014-07-26-5536It is not as elaborate as those coming off the richest families, but it is remarkable for its story:


A young lady went out to walk her pet dragon. She called it “Pinky” because of its tender pink breast , which she loved to tickle to light a candle. This always awed her girlfriends, who felt both fascinated and frightened. She’d tell them, “Pinky never fires at people!” but they wouldn’t believe.

After a series of fires caused by irresponsible dragon owners (two castles, and five villages were destroyed) the king issued a draconian decree on dragon-management. It required dragon owners to never let their dragons off the leash, to have them properly muzzled on public roads (even if transported caged), and at all times to carry a bucket of water to prevent an accidental fire.

News travelled slow then. The young lady was not aware she was breaking two out of three laws until the moment she met a knight who was a dragon-care inspector. The knight stabbed Pinky on sight, introducing himself as, “I am George. Saint George”.

Now, what does this story tell a young bride?

What lesson does it teach her? 

Share this story with your friends, perhaps, they might have a version!

Cycling striptease as a survival strategy

I am not an avid window shopper, but I like throwing an occasional stone look into a well-dressed window hoping to see a reflection of local culture in its design.

This bicycle repair shop (while not technically a window) gives an interesting insight into Italian interpretation of the Dolce Vita phase of art history.


This image is an icon of a modern girl whose looks turn heads; it is reproduced live all over vacation hot spots in Italy.

These girls do turn heads and twist necks. The public response would usually include lust, envy, and disdain in roughly the 4:4:1 proportion.

I can understand lust and envy, for this is something very difficult to control by the mind. But scorn, pity, condescension?

These women are not escort girls trying to seduce a sugar daddy: they have already secured one, a proud summer resident of a Forte dei Marmi villa, whose only problem in life is tax police agents secretly recording Ferraris’ and Maserattis’ license plates to back-check if their owners’ tax forms show they can afford the luxury toys.

These bikers are dressed to kill, but murder is not on their mind. Their objective is to get an adrenaline boost when men look at them with desire, and other women go green with envy.

Arrogance towards them is wrong. Not because it is judgemental. Everything’s judgemental in this world. It would be UNKIND.

Come to think of it, what would you do if you realised your success is due to your young body and silky skin only? I mean it’s like feeling oneself to be a new luxury leather travel bag bought by a successful gentleman… So making people look at you, desire you, envy you – and not your/the bag’s owner – is the only way to stop being a leather bag, that is to get a purpose of existence.

It is emotional and moral SURVIVAL strategy in a society, caramelised by glamour, which in its turn is propagated by sophisticated men and women who then look upon their victims with contempt. Now, that’s UNFAIR.

My resume is, enjoy the show, and give them the looks they want, even though you may feel neither attraction nor envy.


Is Italy a dream destination to send feminist ideas on vacation? if you are Italian (and if you are not), and happen to read this blog, tell me what you think and feel about the cycling striptease trend.  

Answer to Art Quiz #3: bald man crucified

I am very grateful for the joking or thoughtful, or wondering comments to my Art Quiz post, but here’s the correct answer to my questions, “Who is that?” and “What is this crucifix all about?”


Yes, this is Jesus Christ. And no, this is not his bald and beardless version, venerated by a heretic cult. As much as I would like to agree with Boryana that this is Kate Moss, crucfied for her role in making consumerism a glamorous affair, this is not her voodoo doll. And no, this is not Eve (even though the figure’s anatomy is accurately noted as not exactly male by Rivera)

This is a dummy crucifix. Before it was taken out from the church’s treasury, it was implanted with real hair to max out its impact on the congregation of believers. The black dots on the sculp and the chin are holes to which strands of hair were attached.

This tradition existed in Italy from the 14th till 17th century.

This particular crucifix dates back to the end of the 15th century.

This is a simple, effective, and impactful solution to poke the public below the ribs, isn’t it?


IMG_0617 - копия

Plucking the berry of her innocence on a raspberry bush

Time’s getting slower,
My summer’s over.
I’m at my best:
Relaxed, sun-bathed.

A year of slaving
And daily shaving
Awaits, awaits,
awaits, awaits…

Thank God for digital photography that makes it possible to conserve summer the way my grandma conserved apples, strawberries, and black currants that were reminding all of my family there was a summer at times when freezing outdoor thermometers were knocking on their respective windows hoping their owners would let them inside.