Looking Down in Italy

Faculty Guest Blogger: Christine Medley

Christine Medley: Last summer I took a trip to Italy with a large group of artists, designers, Marywood students and alum and friends. Rome was our home base, but we also took day trips to The Vatican, Florence and Spoleto. We visited incredible churches with our heads towards the heavens, sore necks and dizzy, looking up in amazement at the architecture, frescoes, paintings, gilding, stained glass, mosaics and over the top adornment. But just as beautiful were the floors.

The first place I really took notice of the incredible marble and glass patterned work was in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome (or better known for the story of Our Lady of the Snows). This basilica was a visual overload and each chamber was more incredible than the last and looking down was just as rewarding. The floors were designed in by the Cosmati family, the leading Roman family of marble craftsmen who created the geometric decorative inlay designs during the 11th and 12th centuries. The designs derived from the Byzantine Empire and are referred to as Cosmatesque.

I discovered more Cosmati floors that same afternoon when we walked a short distance to visit the Basilica of St. Clemente. I noticed the floors in St. Clemente were cut up and repurposed materials especially where it contained carved text and it was cut up in smaller pieces. Photos are not allowed in St. Clemente, so I can’t share those floors, but they are clearly Cosmatesque and that was confirmed with a postcard I found in the gift shop.

Later that week, a small group of us went to visit Bob Schweitzer in Spoleto, about an hour and ½ out from Rome by train. Bob was the curator for the Maslow Collection at Marywood and retired a couple of years ago and now lives in Spoleto. He gave us the most amazing and informative tour of Spoleto, including the Duomo. As soon as I walked in, I noticed the Cosmati floors. The Spoleto Duomo was built and rebuilt by using materials from ancient Rome. Bob likened it to being the Home Depot of the times. If you needed some pillars, run down to the ruins and pick out a few. The church was rebuilt in the 12th century, the floor remained from the previous cathedral that was destroyed by an emperor.

One interesting design on the Duomo floor was a bronze plaque. Of course, I was immediately drawn to this because it was a crow. The marker says SEPVL FAMIL D’OR’S, which appears to be from a Roman family name, Sepullius. SEPVL appears on ancient Roman coins associated with Caesar and other funerary markers, but I haven’t been able to figure out its actual meaning. I decided I want to do a relief print of the design, so I created an edition for the Marywood Print Guild. The print is a two-color linocut with the plaque wording letterpress printed. (You can see the print in person in the Kresge Gallery, located in the lobby of the Insalaco Center for Studio Arts at Marywood University. Opening is Oct. 5, 2019.)

Other notable places to look down include the mosaic floors in The Vatican and even the pavement such as the curved cobblestone outside of St. Clemente or the fancy pavement in Spoleto. It’s hard to imagine the time, energy, and skill involved to create something for us to walk on.

To learn more about Christine Medley, visit crowdesigns.com

 


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Marywood University art faculty continuously develop their own aesthetic visions through personal and commercial creative projects. Many have shown their work in regional, national, and international exhibitions. In addition, several have published articles, books, scholarly papers and online training courses, and many have been featured in numerous publications, including Artists Magazine, Art in America, Fiber Arts, Ceramic Monthly, Metalsmith, American Craft, Print, Communication Arts, Photoshop User, Layers, AIGA Eye on Design, and Step by Step.

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