Ten years ago now, my husband and I spent a lovely summer in Siena, where he was doing some studies on Dante. He was there 6 weeks and I for 5–because of a passport renewal that wasn’t delivered on time as promised and therefore I missed my original flight. Still, 5 weeks is quite a good length of time!

In Siena they have beautiful medieval buildings, great food, vibrant local culture and a good climate…well, most places in Tuscany seem that way. From our base there, we went on weekend trips to other places.

Here below is the Piazza del Campo, the magnificent medieval town square. Sienese architecture is known for its distinctive tower designs and its black and white striped stone walls.

Every summer, the piazza is the site of a very unique event in Sienna: the Palio. It is a horse race tracing back to medieval times. The event takes place twice, once in July and once in August. Large amounts of soil are placed around the perimeter of the square and pressed down to make a firm dirt track. Ten horses with ten bareback jockeys go round this course 3 times. Before the race, there is an elaborate pageant with people dressed as knights and such. Each horse represents a contrada, or city ward. Each contrada comprises residents of a certain part of the city and has its own flag and songs. At the Palio, flags of all colours are flying and being waved as members of different contrade (plural) chant their songs and stared down rivals.

The magnificent Palazzo Pubblico, technically the city hall but that seems too belittling a description, don’t you think? The 13th century Palazzo has a striking bell tower–or campanile–called the Torre del Mangia, which was built in the 14th century to rival the tallest tower of nearby rival Florence. At that time it was the tallest edifice in Italy. The Palazzo is decorated inside with amazing frescoes which are mainly secular in theme, a thing not often found in a region where so much art is religious.
Here you see the vans coming to unload the dirt. The entire square will soon be filled with people. The area with brick is where people stand and the grey areas will become the track. 
The pageant. The light blue and white flag belongs to the Onda (‘wave’) faction, to which we aligned ourselves since some friends were part of it already. People were filling the square and hanging out of windows, terraces and every possible space. 
Alas, Onda did not win but we enjoyed a nice outdoor dinner after the race out on the street. I had a poor camera at the time so did not capture the actual race in photos. 
Lastly, since this post is rather long already, I show you the magnificent 13th century Cathedral, or ‘Duomo’ of Siena. Inside are found some examples of fabulous sculpture from Donatello, Bernini and Michelangelo.  We also delighted in the beautiful Sienese School style of painting by looking at late Gothic works by Duccio and Simone Martini. The Sienese School is characterised by backgrounds entirely of pure hammered gold. You must see it in person! There are so many other things to show about Siena but I hope you enjoyed your brief glimpse. Ciao!  

My Water Lily

© Letizia Morley 2017

In the spring I had discovered a tiny water lily plant hiding under a big mass of dead leaves in a dry pond in my yard. I transplanted it to a different pond and waited to see what would become of this.  From only 4 shriveled leaves, the plant grew exponentially and soon its deep red lily pads covered the surface of the pond. I wasn’t expecting much after that but one day I woke to find that there were three flower buds. Soon they opened into what you see here–glorious! I, as a geeky gardener, was literally jumping up and down when I saw the lilies. My son and daughter were also excited and each day we went out to see them, full of wonder. Alas, now the lilies have finished blooming but my photos of them are with me still .

“Comparison is the Thief of Joy” Calligraphy Practice

© Letizia Morley 2017

Calligraphy practice again. The art of calligraphy takes much practice, of course, but is very soothing and almost meditative. I found this quote by Theodore Roosevelt that encapsulates the idea that I should be thinking almost every day. It is so true. So many discouragements in my life could have been avoided if I practiced what this says. I think the form of comparison that is helpful is comparing one’s own work to itself to notice improvements. Or sometimes you see the misfortunes of others and are more grateful for your own blessings…but I mean this in a way that is not demeaning of others or prideful of one self.

The script here is the beautiful Insular Majuscule, one used in the amazing Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels from the very early Middle Ages in Ireland, England and Scotland. The script was used as early as the 7th century. Difficult to write but very rewarding.

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Gothic calligraphy practice

© Letizia Morley 2017

A few days ago I decided to take up my calligraphy practice again in order to work on some illuminated calligraphy projects. I have had friends commission me to do such things before but I only work my calligraphy when people ask me to. Now I want to keep up the skill more regularly. Here is the Gothic Textura Quadrata script used in the Middle Ages between 1200 and 1500 AD. Very challenging to write and this practice is back from when I was just learning the script. I hope to post more practice sheets and then hopefully some finished products before too long.

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