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Posts from the ‘Sicily’ Category

Cassata Siciliana

Following hot on the heels of my last Sicilian sketch, today the final curtain falls upon my Sicily series with this, probably the best showstopper I could conceive in dedication to a holiday so rich in inspirational sources – my latest painting, Cassata Siciliana. 

Measuring some 100cm squared, it’s the largest painting I have completed in a long while and utterly dedicated to the joyful colours, textures and landscapes of South Eastern Sicily. Both its name and its central theme revolve around Sicilian desserts, more particular the Cassata which, in both its sponge-cake original and the ice cream alternative is a dish typical of the island comprising different layers of chocolate, pistachio, ricotta and candied fruit, all representing the wealth of Sicily’s locally available produce. Taking inspiration from that multi-layered dessert, I sought to paint a scene of Sicily made up of layers of squares and outlines, colours and textures, all of which combine to represent a jovial Sicilian scene, a town piazza at its centre, and the tables and chairs and striped awning of a gelateria dominating the scene.

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Cassata Siciliana (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Whether it be the little ice cream cart on wheels, or that other famous Sicilian treat – the cannolo – proudly sat upon a marine-striped building, this is a painting dedicated to the joy of sunny afternoons filled with chatter, happiness and above all things, dessert. But it is also a homage to the beauty of the Sicilian landscape, whether the baroque brilliance of its cathedrals – such as this reference to the yellow-stoned magnificnetly-domed cathedral in Noto – or the natural scenery which characterises the island, in particular the startling shadow of Etna which defines Sicily.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

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My Sicily Sketchbook: An Aperol in Taormina

Just when it looked like the Daily Norm’s Sicily series was at a close, I have a few final hurrahs to add to the collection, in the form of Sicily inspired artworks, naturally. The first is this one, a further page of the second volume of my trusty travel sketchbook, which was started in Catania and went with me along my travels across the south east of Italy’s most inspiring island. This sketch depicts the Piazza 9 Aprile in the bustling little hilltop town of Taormina.

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Drinks on the Piazza 9 Aprile, Taormina (© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, 2017, pen on paper)

Given its reputation as the Capri of Sicilia, Taormina is a town aptly peppered with plenty of boutique designer stores, baroque embellished houses and a panoply of cafes, their tables spilling out onto the black and white chequerboard pavements. It was in one such café that I began this sketch, an aperol spritz appropriately placed on the table before me, while around us, street musicians provided the perfect accompaniment to a wonderful afternoon moment. But the aperol did not last long, and soon enough we were off to dinner. The completion of this sketch had to wait, therefore, until many weeks later back in a decidedly less Sicilian UK… hence its delayed publication on The Daily Norm. But as they say, better late than never…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

The Sicily Series | Part X – Baroque Round-up

From Catania to Noto, and all the lavishly decorated theatrical towns in between, Baroque was a huge feature of our Sicilian adventure, and very much characterised the look and feel of South Eastern Sicily. Yes, of course modernity has crept in, placing its often ugly stamp around these towns of baroque splendour, but Sicily is no Manhattan, and for the most part it is the ancient architecture which continues to dominate, even though it is often tired, dilapidated and a mere shadow of its former self. This, I think, is the true essence of the Sicilian Baroque: complete over the top theatricality while bearing all the signs of age and weathering which is a side effect of the harsh climate and the poor economic conditions which still dominate in the region.

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For me, nostalgically romantic as ever, it is this battered and broken appearance which gives the Sicilian Baroque its charm, furnishing it somehow for my perception of what the Mediterrananen aesthetic should always look like. Fascinated, I took a lot of photos, as the elaborate lines and fantastical detail of the baroque flourishes became more and more over top. While, throughout the Sicily series on my blog, you will already have seen many of these, I thought I would end this Daily Norm trip to Sicily with a final round up of the many baroque splendours on show.

So let me indulge you in the beautiful Baroque of Sicily, in the abundance of putti (cherubs) and swirling clouds that offer the promise of paradise. Gaze in wonder as life-like statues of the apostles and the saints appear to come to life upon their baroque stage-set, and be dazzled by the plethora of intricately carved balcony corbels, each displaying its unique take on the ultimate Sicilian decoration, as angels and demons, animals and even house owners are rendered in stone and set at the base of palace balconies where they can be best admired from the street below.

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Sicily is characterised by its food and its people, by its climate and its architecture, but chief amongst its influences are the tectonic actives and that ever dangerous volcano, Etna, which have so often caused havoc on the island. But with disaster comes beauty, and were it not for the great earthquake of 1693, Sicily might never have been presented with this opportunity to redesign itself in the baroque style. Today we cannot help but admire this aesthetic all the more, both for its fortuitous advent, but also in the knowledge that its fragile foundations may be rocked again one day when the powers below the earth decide its time to stir again…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

 

The Sicily Series | Part IX – Momentous Modica: the Churches and the Chocolate

Modica, the momentous mountainous town lying somewhere in the craggy landscape between Ragusa and Noto, was the last visit of our multiple Baroque exposure during just a few days in the south of Sicily. Who knew that there could be such a concentration of putti and angels, of curling stone foliage and grandiose capitals, all to be found in comparatively tiny towns heavily overshadowed by these architectural masterpieces. But just as Noto had been notable for its golden yellow consistency, Ragusa for its hillside spectacle, and Ortygia for its elegance on water, Modica impressed us with the sheer magnificence of its churches, and for the unique quality of its famous chocolate.

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Modica, like Ragusa, is a town clustered around several steep hillsides before filling, in a dense mass of stone coloured houses and richly decorated public buildings, the lower town below. It is so tightly packed into and around the natural valley carved into steeply sloping hillsides that Modica is almost like shanty towns of South America, only much richer in its decoration. For amongst this swathe of little stone houses are two spectacular churches which just take the breath away. The first, the Chiesa di San Pietro, is framed by a series of fully lifelike, wonderfully detailed statues which line the grand staircase leading to its vast iron doors and another ridiculously over the top facade comprising an opulent broken pediment and rusticated pilasters. But if this church was to win the prize for its excesses of sculpture, the church of San Giorgio would carry away the award for theatre. For sat atop of sweeping soaring multi layered staircase, this masterpiece of the baroque is like the hotly anticipated starlet descending onto the stage from on high, a veritable wedding cake sitting abreast a multi-tiered display stand from which she demands the respect and astonishment of all who come before her.

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But Modica is not just a place which is inspiring for the eyes. The tastebuds will get a good tickle too. For Modica has another defining feature too: its chocolate which, usefully in this climate, never melts. Reticent to indulge too heavily (this was the end of the holiday after all, and the pasta carb-count was already at an all time high), we were nevertheless dragged into the chocolate dream that Modica presents so well by a very charming shop keeper from whom we had bought a parking voucher in his Pasticceria Frisby on the Via Vittorio Veneto (n.38). Generous to the full, he not only allowed us to taste the uniquely granular chocolate, but took us out to his kitchen and showed us how to make it too. Comprised essentially from bitter dark chocolate heavily sweetened with a coarse sugar which is not allowed to melt (hence the grainy texture) and various dried ingredients to make different flavour variations, the resulting chocolate paste is essentially banged into shape in a series of traditional moulds before being set in the refrigerator, traditionally wrapped and sold.

Learning the trade: Chocolate making in Pasticceria Frisby

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In that chocolate shop, we had our share of banging the chocolate, of tasting the various stages (pure bitter chocolate not to be recommended) and generally enjoying the utmost hospitality of this wonderful shopkeeper and his wife. Of course we left their store with far too much chocolate at frankly stupidly cheap prices. But above all things we left with a warmth in our heart founded on the great kindliness shown by those two chocolatiers. We arrived to Sicily thinking it would be a hard land full of mafiosi and moody islanders. We left touched by the hospitality we had been shown, and determined to return to this island of plenty.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

The Sicily Series | Part VIII – Ortygia of Syracuse, the Venice of the South

The legend of Ortygia had come to us through the bathroom. Not that this should be misread as something smutty. For Ortigia the brand of timelessly elegant bath products, room fragrances and soaps is today one of the most prestigious purveyors of bathroom accessories on the market, with stores on Marylebone High Street and Sloane Square in London alone. And while the company, which hails from Sicily and whose packaging awash with leopards and palm trees is the very essence of the Il Gattopardo period, spells it’s name with the Italian ‘I’ it is otherwise the perfect ambassador for this equally stylish stunning little city in Sicily.

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Ortygia is more of an island than a city, connected to the bigger city of Syracuse by two narrow bridges. With few cars, plenty of picturesque narrow streets, and surrounded on all sides by the sea, Ortygia has often been called the Venice of Sicily and it’s not difficult to see why. For in place of Florian’s cafe are a host of cosy little eateries with pale striped cushions, blue glass and understated elegance. In the place of ancient treasures sacked from Constantinople you have multiple ruins dating way before the roman times and literally peppering the streets (the incredible ruins of the Temple of Apollo being the first to greet you when you cross the bridge). And instead of Saint Mark’s the main Duomo of Ortygia is a masterpiece mix of the most ravishing Baroque with an ancient Athenian temple.

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For me the Cathedral (not to mention the dazzling showpiece square surrounding it) is undoubtedly the highlight of Ortygia. With its elaborately decorated marble facade, the Cathedral shows but one face of an indelibly rich history which oozes from within. For one walk inside and you find an ancient interior not characterised by the Baroque at all. Rather the Cathedral is essentially a remanifestation of the ancient Temple of Athena which has always stood on this spot. It is not just built on the same foundations but is actually constructed over and amongst the original ancient columns which made up the temple. All they have done is filled in the space between the columns, put a roof on top, and that marvellous facade at the front. The effect is to receive an incredible immersion into the most ancient of civilisations, and really gain insight into what a temple back in the times of Ancient Greece would have been like.

Alas we could not spend too long in Ortygia. The sun bounced down on those ancient palazzos and that fine white marble which dazzled all around, and as the afternoon drew on, temperatures rose in unison. We therefore escaped to the air conditioning of our car and the promise of a prosecco back in Noto. But we left Ortygia with a real sparkle in our eyes, and, naturally, a little complementary purchase from its world renowned cosmetics store.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 Sicily Sketchbook: Cattedrale di Noto

It was the evenings in Noto that we enjoyed the most. Strolling down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele with the sun sinking straight ahead to the West lent an ephemeral golden light to the time of the passeggiata stroll, touching people’s heads with a radiant halo, and reflecting wonderfully across every shiny surface, each café table top, ice cream kiosk and resplendent baroque building.

From the first of these euphoric evenings onwards, we found ourselves a local haunt. The Chiosco della Cattedralle was a cafe sprawling out of an old fashioned gelato kiosk which benefitted from an unrivalled position in front of the sweeping staircase leading up to Noto’s Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. Appropriate, give the name, that I should feel so comfortable there, although my partner was likewise a fan – for there we could enjoy the best affogato al caffe in town, while the prosecco packed a mean punch too.

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Cattedrale di Noto (Pen on paper, ©2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

So with affogato, prosecco, a book (for Dominik) and a sketchbook (for me) we would hang out each evening in front of our favourite cathedral view, and it was in those delirious moments of complete calm that I set about sketching the marvellous vista before us. Of course being baroque, the facade of Noto’s cathedral is pretty much as complex as they get, and there was no way I was going to attempt to capture it all. Contenting myself instead to a small portion of the mighty facade, I created this work, a sketch which remained mercifully free of drips of melted affogato, but which nevertheless retains for me the beautiful spirit of those golden summer evenings in one of the most beautiful towns in Italy.

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Sketching in Noto…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

The Sicily Series | Part VII – Rocky, Resplendent, Regal Ragusa

It was a fair old drive from Noto to Ragusa, although the fact that our satnav tried to turn us right into a mountain ravine did not help. But when we arrived we felt a little disappointed. Sure, it had a grand looking cathedral and some nice-ish streets but what was it worth the near-death experience on the journey? It was only when we sat down at a local cafe, coffee needs predominating, that I opened my Baedeker and realised that Ragusa is actually a town split geographically in two. And we were in the wrong bit. For the real star of Ragusa, and well worth the fuss, is Ragusa Ibla, its ancient town, built on a steep hilltop across the other side of a rocky mountain valley which splits the town in two.

Of course we were parked on the wrong side of the divide, but the walk at least offered us the best possible vistas of Ragusa Ibla: a cluster of houses and churches which appear to defy gravity in their precarious positioning upon the steep slopes of the hill, and which collectively takes the breath away for the sheer feat of this human intervention upon the Sicilian landscape.

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There were many steps down to the crevice which carves Ragusa in two, and many slopes within the old town itself, but the climbing and panting and general opposition to the heat was both a necessity in this car-defying town, and a very useful mode of calorie consumption. It came, after all, just before our arrival in the Piazza del Duomo, where lunch next to a deliciously somniferous trickling fountain provided me with the star dish of the holiday as far as I was concerned: spaghetti with local Bronte pistachios, hard pecorino cheese and gamberetti. Washed down with a little local Etna wine and heaven descended, and that was before the typical ricotta desert of cannoli deconstructed into a mass of creaminess and crumbling texture.

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Stamina recovered, we were able to discover the quaint nature of this beautiful town, another with its fair share of fairytale like Baroque brilliance but on a somewhat more compact scale. Walking the narrow streets provided an inescapable exposure to wafts of garlic and pistachio, and to the perfume of herbs drooping from pots crammed onto wrought iron balconies. Some streets were so narrow as trigger maze-like disorientation. Others gave way onto stunning vistas, such as the great glass dome of the Cathedral of San Giorgio which rises above the old town, or the views across the arid mountainous landscape.

But for all those views, and the indelible beauty of Ragusa Ibla, gosh how we bemoaned its location as we made the hike up hundreds of steps, in full 30-something degrees of heat, back to our car parked in the other half of the city. But as we all know, it’s the inaccessible places that are often the greatest gems, and that was certainly the case with the treasure of Resplendent Ragusa.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

 

Sicily Inspires: Baroque Suite at the Palazzo Trigona

I cannot agree with those who say it is unimportant where you stay on holiday. “It’s only where you sleep” they proclaim, while bedding down into a threadbare hostel with more cockroaches than fellow guests. For me, the accommodation acts as a kind of spinal cord of a holiday from which all other experiences branch off; it is the place where the real rest takes place, those moments of marvellous contemplation, and where you can truly feel at home in a strange city. So for me where you stay on holiday is very important, all the more so because these places so often inspire me to paint.

Having started making gouache illustrations of hotels and hotel rooms back on my 2015 honeymoon, I have carried on the tradition in places such as Granada, Rome and Marrakech. And Noto in southern Italy was never going to be an exception, especially when we saw the splendour of the suite in which we found ourselves at the Palazzo Trigona Suites, just next to Noto’s iconic cathedral.

Noto is a city awash with baroque detail and architectural grandeur, and so it felt appropriate that we would be housed in a room which exhibited wonderful high ceilings, a stately black and white chequerboard floor, and all number of design flourishes befitting the period. Such was the grandiosity of the room that we took to playing baroque classical music whenever we were in situ, and against that erudite background I sat down to create this gouache painting.

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Baroque Suite at the Palazzo Trigona (gouache on paper, ©2017, Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Featuring the understated tones of grey and gold which made up the room’s design, as well as that wonderful floor and accompanying furniture, the highlight of the painting is the room’s view, looking onto the Chiesa Madre di San Nicolò Cathedral, the side profile of which dominates the piece. It’s a work which feels very different from my illustrations which have gone before it, which seems about right. After all, there’s no place quite so magnificently, baroquely, like Noto.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

The Sicily Series | Part VI – Noble Noto, treasure of the Baroque

I had heard much about Noto, the small town in the South Eastern corner of Sicily, before going. In fact the promise of a radiant Baroque treasure so intact that it has been granted UNESCO protection was what persuaded me that this would make the perfect base for the second half of our trip to Sicily. Yet as we approached the town, nerves started to take over. Not only were the surrounding landscapes devoid of civilisation, but the immediate outskirts of the town were anything but baroque. However there came a point when we crossed the brow of a hill and suddenly the landscape transformed; when what stood before us was an urban panorama which literally dazzled. Here was a horizon peppered with cupolas and embellished roof tops, with extravagant decoration and exquisite carvings. But above all things one imbedded with glowing tones of a creamy honey coloured yellow. This was the notorious Noto to which all the guidebooks had referred.

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Built in the early 1700s almost entirely in one go when the former town of Noto was destroyed by an earthquake, the Noto we see today is inherently characterised by the baroque fashions which dictated its construction. The result is a town almost perfectly intact in its baroque splendour. Every building is elaborated with architectural flourishes, with putti and angels, with classical columns and vast sweeping staircases. But while the Baroque of Catania is darkened through the use of Etna stone, Noto’s constructions are luminescent in their creamy vanilla yellow turning a deeper shade of gold.

Thus the town glows and dazzles like a jeweller’s window or an architectural showroom from another century. But beyond its obvious splendour, it is a town which feels alive with a spirit of recreational indulgence and amenable sociability. As the sun descended each day, the swallows would swoop through the air, and the temperatures fell to a more bearable level. In this moment, Noto’s principle Corso Vittorio Emanuele would become  a veritable magnet to residents and tourists alike.

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As the great caramelised sun descended, the stone of Noto transformed into a heavenly shade of creamy ochre, and the best way in which to enjoy la bella vita was to sit in sidewalk cafes, sip on an affogato al cafe or drink a sparkling prosecco. Reclining back in the evening sun, the great silhouette of Noto’s grand spectacles warming the eye, it was truly possible to bask in the town’s reflected glory, and to become as resplendently baroque as the ravishingly theatrical town itself.

 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

The Sicily Series | Part V – The views that put Taormina on the map

Despite the chic which characterises the burgeoning boutique-lined streets and bustling café-filled piazzas of Sicily’s Taormina, the attraction which really put the town on the map was in situ long before the fashionistas took up residence. For the picture-postcard undisputed highlight of Taormina is its ancient Greek Theatre, a stone semi-circular auditorium which benefits from a stunning altitude which gives its stage the most enviable of backdrops of the sea, the coast and the magnificent silhouette of Mount Etna beyond.

Taormina’s Ancient Theatre

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Imagine the scene: a balmy summer’s night, a bustling old theatre, a chorus of masked greek players performing Antigone or Media, and beyond, the silhouette of Etna, cloud slowly smoking from its crater like a wise old onlooker smoking a pipe in the distance. Yes your bottom might be a little sore from the stone seats, but imagine the view, and the naturally occurring brilliant acoustics which somehow manage to transport the voice of the actors on the stage to the very highest seat, despite there being no speakers nor modern day technological intervention. Sadly our trip to Taormina’s theatre did not coincide with one of the festivals when this magnificent theatre is put back to use, but that did nothing to dispel the magic of the place which was omnipotent across its ancient structure.

But the ancient theatre is not the only place from which Taormina’s trademark views can be enjoyed. From the Municipal Gardens, crafted as they were by Florence Trevelyan along another ridge of high hillside, the views of Etna and the coast are uninterrupted, and delightfully framed by the bounty of cypress trees and pines, flowers and topiary which fills the happily verdant gardens.

The Municipal Gardens

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Taormina’s location is undoubtedly the reason for its historical roots and its current popularity, and views are by far the town’s most ravishing feature. But ultimately it’s the happy combination of history, views, boutique shopping and café-culture-comfort which makes the town such a pleasure to visit. After all, what better way is there to contemplate a view than with an aperol spritz in one hand, and a few bags of shopping in the other?

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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.