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From Illyria to Italy, Part 5: The Colours of Rome

Campo dè Fiori, Piazza della Rotonda, the Via del Corso and the Lungotevere. The names of Rome’s russet coloured streets resonate with the same romantic euphony which make the city unique. Uniquely ancient, with the potency of history bleeding from every crack and cobble; uniquely passionate, its tempers flared by the heat and its vivacity for living played out in its food, its art, and in its attitude. Roma. Even the name’s mellifluous voyage across the tongue recalls a thousand stories of Emperors and Popes, Michelangelo and Bernini, pomp and glory, ascent and fall.

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Rome has an energy which infects and conquers. It’s tiring for sure, manic in places, rammed full of tourists and trying to cross its roads is frankly a deathly pursuit. But who cannot be seduced by the smell of freshly ground coffee wafting through the streets; by the fashionista ragazzi slowly wafting through the strada of Spagna with their newest accessories on show; by the slowly melting gelati, the magnificent marble fountains and the restaurants spilling out onto Piazzas with their red Vichy tablecloths and mountains of spaghetti.

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But perhaps above all things, Rome is a city of art. On every corner, at the centre of every square, and in even the smallest of chapels, there sits a masterpiece whose magnitude marks out an entire chapter in the pages of art history. Rome is for art what Manhattan is for skyscrapers. A living museum with an astonishing collection at every turn.

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So when we eventually made it from Croatia to Italy, from Split to Rome, we drunk in the infectious atmosphere of Rome like someone devoid of water after a week in the desert. We went to galleries, we went to cafes, we even endured the coach-party crush of the Vatican Museum. But our favourite pursuit was simply to be in Rome. To wander the streets and let the city wash over us, tantalising each of the senses in turn. Smell: a rich creamy coffee propped up at the bar of the Tazza d’Oro or outside the illustrious Caffe Greco. Taste: dinner by candlelight on the Via Condotti. And for our eyes, the simple feast of colour which adorns every street and building. It is this palette of colour, the terracottas and ochres, deep sanguine red and golden custard, which is the focus of this post. A collection of photos which need say nothing more than narrate the story of a city whose heart is worn so explicitly on its multi-coloured sleeve.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Inspired by my surroundings: Paseo Mallorca 1

I cannot help but be inspired by my surroundings. How could it be otherwise? Not only do I live in Mallorca, one of the most beautiful islands in the world, but in its capital in Palma. There, I live on a riverside street so loaded with leafy trees, radiant palms and majestic cypresses, all flourishing at the exact level of our windows, that I feel as though I am perpetually installed within a luscious jungle. Our street, the Paseo Mallorca, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful residential spots in town. Lined with apartment blocks making the most of the stunning views, as well as hotels and a panoply of restaurants spilling out onto the streets Paris-style, it reminds me of the enviable upmarket apartment blocks lined up along Hyde Park in London, or Central Park in New York.

But even more appealing than the greenery running along the Paseo Mallorca is the river running down the middle of it, all the way down the hill, past the ancient city walls, and out into the sea. While the river is rarely running rapidly (we are somewhat happily devoid of regular rainfall), the presence of water, and the natural accompaniment of ducks and other birds, adds a real sense of tranquility to the area. And where there is water, so too there are bridges, and here they are as elegant as the ancient city centre to which they lead.

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Paaseo Mallorca 1 (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

So for my latest set of paintings, I have taken the simplicity of my interpretative abstract style, and adapted it to the landscape genre, something which I think works well, especially when layering up different colour planes of trees and architecture. This first painting is of one such bridge crossing the river of the Paseo Mallorca, with the ancient walls of Es Baluard, the contemporary art gallery, glowing in the sun on the left. However for me, the stars of this painting and its real protagonists are those incredibly graceful cypress trees which for me give the Paseo the glorious character it exhibits.

But this is just one view of this wonderful street I call home. I guarantee that more will swiftly follow.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

My travel sketchbook: Hvar

I’ve already described those dying moments of a creamy honey-coloured sunset when we sat in the perfectly picturesque port of Hvar, the indulgently exclusive little island off the coast of Croatia, waiting for our ferry to take us back to Split. The ferry arrived late, a fact which might have caused vexation were it not for the opportunity it provided for the commencement of a new sketch in my trusty travel sketchbook. That same enthusiastically filled moleskin book was mercifully one item which the woefully incapable lost luggage services of Vueling did not have at their relentless disposal, and constantly, deprived of my paints, I was at least able to sketch out the most significant and happy episodes from our trip.

The beauty of Hvar Town’s little harbour, looking over to the Italianate cathedral of St Stephen’s, was one view which could not go unaccounted for as I embarked upon my last sketch of the trip. Here is the result, hoping as ever that in its creation and subsequent sharing, I can relive with you a little of those special moments of our brief Croatian summer.

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Hvar (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

From Illyria to Italy, Part 4: The island of Hvar

I’d heard of the island of Hvar before I even knew about Split. With its uniquely mild climate, art treasures, beautiful beaches including many hidden spots on its panoply of little adjacent islands, and fields full of scented lavender, the island is well known to be one of the jewels of the Adriatic. However, as the luxury yachts have gradually started to make themselves at home in its crystal clear waters, the island has slowly become a haven for the well to do, and the island is quickly earning itself the reputation of the St Tropez of Illyria.

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The proximity to Split of this rather difficult to pronounce island made it a must-visit destination on our Dalmatian adventure. Taking a catamaran full of enthusiastic backpackers from the sulphur-scented port of Split (somewhat off putting so close to breakfast) we reached Hvar in just over an hour of calm(ish) sea travel. First impressions were very good. The quayside of Hvar Town seemed to exhibit all of the characteristics of a Riviera style cafe-lined promenade, with pristinely pruned and plucked palm trees perfectly lined up alongside carefully maintained Venetian-style palazzos.

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Evidently characterised by the influence of its past Venetian rule, when the island was a key stop-over point for Venetian merchants returning from the Orient, Hvar Town bears all of the hallmarks of its cultivated past, including one of the first theatres ever built in Europe, and the splendid little Cathedral of St Stephen perfectly located with a sprawling piazza before it, and a rolling green mountainside behind.

Set around a natural harbour, the town was one of those places whose aspect improved from every angle. Walking around the port, a picture-postcard view could be enjoyed from across cerulean waters peppered with colourful fishing boats, or from small shady gardens set alongside the Renaissance Civic Loggia characterised 15th Century Venetian Gothic windows. Up a steep staircase, past one of the town’s monasteries, the views improved yet further, as appreciated from the heights of the Napoleonic Fort which casts a protective fatherly glance across the town from the steep hills rising up behind it.

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We only had a few hours between ferries to enjoy the island, and in reality we kept ourselves limited to the treasures of Hvar Town. And while from there, we may not have run amongst fields of fragrant lavender, nor enjoyed the unspoilt beaches of the island’s craggy coastline, our brief acquaintance with Hvar was nonetheless one of the highlights of our trip to Croatia. Tranquil, elegant and unpretentious despite its natural attractiveness, Hvar Town felt as exclusive as the French Riviera but without the hype. And while the quaint beauty of the Town was evident at all times of the day, I think you would have to go far to beat the town at sunset, as the sun turned a milky honey hue. In that calm meditative light, we were at serious risk of missing our ferry home, as we sat on the quayside slowly contemplating the facade of St Stephen’s turn a rich honeycomb gold, and ancient walls of the Arsenale a warm ginger.

Alas the ferry came, and we returned to the welcoming lights of bustling Split. But oh how I could have stayed in that moment forever.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

My travel sketchbook: The Iron Gate

Having left the seaside and retreated back within the ancient solid walls of Diocletian’s Palace, it was always a pleasure to enjoy the very active café culture which is so prevalent in Split. High quality restaurants and laid back bars alike spill out onto the ancient cobbled restaurants where once the Emperor Diocletian himself might have reclined back on a couch to drink a cup of Zinfandel wine (the famous Croatian-born grape). Despite the excellence of their food, Split’s eateries are far from pretentious. Rather, Split is alive with an atmosphere of the bohemian, a resolutely relaxed happiness which is underpinned by a plethora of live music performances from one business to the next. I will always remember one evening sitting in a cosy wine bar, funnily enough called Zinfandel, where live music was being played. Suddenly some girls started dancing to the music out in the street, and their energetic vivacity for life spread like wild fire. Within seconds the rhythm of the night had spread, and practically the whole restaurant and much of the nearby street too were dancing with strangers, inhibitions completely set aside. It was a magical moment.

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The Iron Gate (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Anyway, I digress. One day, heading back to the city from the beach, we stopped off in one of the spiritual hearts of the city, the Pjaca, or People’s Square, which was the first inhabited section of the city set just outside of Diocletian’s Palace. With all of the beautiful renaissance palaces which can be found in the square, the visitor is rather spoilt for choice in terms of the views on offer from one of its many cafes, but perhaps the best of the lot is the view afforded of the Iron Gate. One of four gates (Golden, Silver, Iron and Brass) which mark the four original entrances to Diocletian’s heavily fortified palace complex, the Iron Gate is one of the most distinctive, with its addition of a famous Renaissance clock characterised by its 24 digits instead of 12.

I loved this view, for all its layered complexity. Arch laid upon ancient arch, the renaissance bell tower of St Theodor, and the Venetian style palace overlapping the lot… it all made for a wonderful sight, and a clear requisite of my travel sketchbook. So sitting at a cafe I made a start on this sketch. Made with pen on paper, it’s a quick capture of a view which remain active in my mind for a long time.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

From Illyria to Italy, Part 3: The Riva and the Water

There is such a glorious panoply of architectural treasure to consume the mind in Split in Croatia that you would be excused for forgetting that the city lies on one of the most beautiful coastal stretches of the Adriatic sea. With an archipelago of little islands dotted all along the horizon as far as the eye can see, and a skyline of imposing mountains backing up the city, Split’s coastal views are stunning whichever way you look, no more so than from the Riva, the city´s bustling seaside promenade. The Riva stretches along the southern facade of Diocletian’s palace, and exhibits the laid back, chic French Riviera essence which no doubt remains a left over of the era of Napoleonic rule in Croatia, the time of its construction.

Today the Riva is arguably one of the centre points of the town, and although it is not a place to dip into the sea (not least because of the fairly off-putting smell of sulphur which pervades the area – apparently owing to the natural supplies of the mineral in the area, said to be one reason why Diocletian set up home here), it is certainly a place to stroll, sit on one of many flower-fringed benches, and take a coffee or a cocktail in crowded cafes squeezed into every inch of the pavement space.

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Beyond the Riva, Split does have its fair share of beaches. Living in Mallorca, I am somewhat spoilt when it comes to the choice of paradise beaches, and compared with those, we found Croatia’s offerings to be all a little hard underfoot… we discovered either beaches constructed from concrete, or others made naturally from stones. Nonetheless, few could deny the beautiful cerulean waters nor the warm clean currents which finally enticed us into the sea. They may not be sandy, but these beaches are popular… I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a crowded beach in my life!

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

My travel sketchbook: Diocletian’s Mausoleum

The fact that Vueling, easily the most incompetent airline in the world, lost my luggage throughout the entire course of our holiday to Croatia and Rome meant that I was travelling paintless, and brushless – something of a desperate state of affairs for an artist seeking inspiration abroad. Mercifully I had packed my trusty travel sketchbook in my hand luggage, and as though in defiance of the airline’s ineptitude, I set about sketching with even more gusto than ever.

So having completed my first sketch of the view from our room in Split, I moved onto the next without so much as a breath between turning the page, and I didn’t need to go far to find another inspirational view. In fact by turning my head about an inch, I was able to enjoy, a mere two metres away from the bell tower of St Domnius, this incredibly antiquated, beautifully decadent landscape of ancient Roman columns being hit by the long shadows of a sunny Split morning.

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Diocletian’s Mausoleum (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

The ancient walls and the freestanding colonnade alongside them are today part of St Domnius Cathedral, but at the time of their construction, almost 2,000 years ago, comprised the mausoleum building at the centre of Diocletian’s Palace where said emperor was destined to live out the afterlife. Despite now housing the Christian centre of Split, the Roman origins of this miraculously intact building are highly evident. Draped with shadow and exhibiting all the signs of their age and glorious past, I found this small corner of architecture both captivating and inspiring. Hence why I rushed to sketch it. Take that Veiling!!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

From Illyria to Italy, Part 2: Muzeji Ivan Meštrović

Day two of our holiday in the beautiful Adriatic city of Split on the Croatian coast, and scandalously, it started cloudy. Panic stricken at the lack of blue skies, our first question to our hotel receptionist, after choosing a hearty dish of fresh pancakes for breakfast (a recurring gym-body busting pattern I might add) was to ask what we could do in such weather. For culture vultures like ourselves, she recommended the Muzeji Ivan Meštrović, that is the museum of the renowned Croatian sculptor, a fine cultural beacon in the city where he made his name.

The sun had actually come out again by the time we walked along Split’s sunny promenade and made it to the museum set within the lush leafy suburbs of the city. But just as well, or we might have missed out on enjoying the exteriors of the museum which are every bit as stunning as the inside. Surrounding the impressive facade of the perfectly imposing museum building (I tried to find out the history of the building… to me it looks like a fine palace from the Communist era, but it’s hard to tell exactly when it was built) were gardens bounteous in dancing lavender, aromatic pine trees, and a ground scattered with a bed of pine needles, and the best surprise of all, baby little tortoises!

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Much charmed by these garden residents, we almost forgot what we had come to see, however the various sculptures created by one of Croatia’s most renowned creatives led us up through the garden, and into the museum itself. Born in 1883 in the small village of Vrpolje, Meštrović completed his artistic training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he fell under the influence of the art nouveau era, and debuted in the first Secessionist exhibition.His work quickly became popular, even with the likes of Auguste Rodin who is reported to have declared Meštrović to be the greatest phenomenon among sculptors and, with characteristic modesty, an even greater sculptor than he was. This early popularity sewed the seeds of his career success, and the sculptor was soon exhibiting internationally as well as setting up home in the city of Split.

His success in the city was not enough to guarantee his safety during the Second World War, and after a brief spell in jail in order to prevent his escape from Croatia, Meštrović eventually secured himself a visa via friends in the Vatican and in Switzerland, emigrating to the US where he was to remain for the rest of his life, unwilling to live under communism. However upon his death he remembered his country, leaving a legacy of some 400 works to Croatia, many of which today form the collection of the Meštrović museum.

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What struck us as we traversed the lofty space of this palatial museum were the viscerally real emotions the sculptor managed to capture in sculptures made of plaster and bronze. In the faces of Christ, or Mary, or in the portraits he made of friends, you are struck by an intensity of emotion, as though metal could talk, or scream, or cry. There is a sensitivity to these sculptures which is truly hyperreal even though, with their elongated heads and exaggerated features, there is a very painterly, interpretative aspect to the works.

We didn’t know the work of Meštrović before our hotel suggested we visit the museum, but as the days in Split continued we started to notice the presence of his work all around the city. And enjoying those works both in his museum, its gardens and in stunning locations in and around Split, it was not at all difficult to imagine why the city has adopted Meštrović as its favourite adopted son.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

My travel sketchbook: St Domnius detail

It’s been far too long since I last opened up the pages of my now almost full travel sketchbook. But who could possibly resist the lure of the ancient Roman bricks and the Medieval buildings piggybacking onto the remains of Emperor Diocletian’s palace which form the central foundations of old town Split. And that very same view was one we became well accustomed to, as staying in the incredible Antique Split Hotel, we benefitted from a hotel room which looked directly onto the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, and more specifically the iconic St Domnius Cathedral which is built on the ruins of Diocletian’s mausoleum.

More than any other building, the bell tower of St Domnius marks out the landscape of Split, distinguishing the city from the other smaller towns along the Croatian coast. From a distance, the bell tower is a delicate, multilayered construct which ascends in a series of cake layers narrowing in size. From up close, it is even more exquisitely detailed, and it is one such layer of details which was the focus of my first sketch, drawn directly from our hotel bedroom.

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Detail view of St Domnius Cathedral bellower, Split (pen on paper, 2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Now back at home, I miss those moments when, with the windows wide open, I was able to stare in amazement at the incredible views before us, while low flying swifts accompanied by gentle sketching with their harmonious call. It is a moment which comes back to me the instant I open my sketchbook. It’s a true treasure-trove of memories to be long cherished.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

From Illyria to Italy, Part 1: Diocletian’s Palace

We’ve just got back from a Roman adventure, a trip back in time some 2 millennia, both in terms of the cities visited, and the antiquated service received from Veiling airlines who lost our luggage on the first day (but more about that vexation another time). For our double-dose city tour took us from the ancient Roman ruins which form the centrepiece of the beautiful Croatian town of Split, to both the ancient and the modern manifestation of the Roman world in the city of Rome herself.

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So first let me sweep you over along the graceful Adriatic coast, to the coastline of Croatia littered with an archipelago of dalmatian spotted-islands, stopping at Split, one of the most splendid cities of old Illyria. The city has an illustrious history, but the man who truly placed it on the map was Emperor Diocletian who, attracted to the city because of its naturally occurring sulphur springs amongst other things, constructed a vast palace complex in the city to which he retired in 305AD. It is that very palace, still incredibly well preserved, which sits at the centre of today’s modern but manageably sized city. However unlike the standard Roman ruins sitting apart and cordoned off in most modern cities, these actually form part and parcel of daily life, since the Medieval city was actually built on, and expanded within, the old palace remains.

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Thus it was that in around 615AD, long after the collapse of the Roman Empire, refugees from Salona settled in the palace, gradually building within its walls, and changing the fabric of its interior. Such is the history which gives Split it’s inherently unique character – a city of ancient cobbled stones, Roman pillars and ancient temples coupled with superimposed Medieval houses, early-Christian churches and later Venetian-gothic touches.

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This architectural medley is the focus of this first post of photos from my holiday in Split. Staying bang in the centre, with the most incredible views onto the Cathedral of St Dominus which itself was built on the old sight of Diocletian’s mausoleum, we were ideally situated to make the most of this UNESCO protected marvel. With its hodgepodge of styles, bustling narrow streets, and Roman columns, archways and temples at every turn, the city made for an easy photographic target, as this small selection of a very large collection of photos suggests.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

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