Buon San Valentino ~ Happy Valentine’s Day

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Ciao, I Miei Amori ~

It’s February already, and thoughts of love are circulating through my mind. Red hearts, candy kisses, chocolate cupcakes with pink frosting, and romantic cards seem to pop out at me everywhere I go. I love Valentine’s Day because, as a typical woman, I love romance. What could be more heart-pounding than to imagine yourself as Audrey Hepburn in ‘Roman Holiday,’ zipping around Rome on a Vespa behind Gregory Peck? Or embracing over a laugh at the Mouth of Truth? Then again, there’s the movie ‘Three Coins in the Fountain,’ about three young secretaries from America who meet in Rome and toss their coins in the Trevi Fountain, wishing for a return trip to Rome. Romance is in the air as each one is pursued by a handsome suitor.

William Shakespeare put the city of Verona on the map with his tragic love tale, Romeo and Juliet. Written in 1597, the story takes place in the 1300’s among two warring families who refused to live in peace together. Sadly, it took an ultimate sacrifice to create a bridge for reconciliation.

It is in Verona that you can visit the balcony where Romeo approached Juliet. In the story, with a sigh of adoration, he calls to her…

“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east and Juliet is the sun!”

Lovelorn, he continues…

“See how she leans her cheek upon her hand

O that I were a glove upon that hand,

That I might touch that cheek!”

Words to swoon by!

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The city of Verona is famous for love. It is a medieval town built around the meandering Adige River just a few hours from Milan and Venice. Founded in the first century B.C., it is famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers in his play Romeo and Juliet. There is a 14th-century residence with a convincing balcony overlooking a courtyard which claims to be Juliet’s House. In fact, countless letters addressed simply to Juliet, Verona, Italy stream constantly into the city. Volunteers take it upon themselves to respond to these letters which are mostly from those troubled in love. Valentine’s Day in Verona is quite spectacular and guaranteed to leave you dreaming of your own thrilling romance.

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Verona is also known for its huge first-century Roman amphitheater which currently hosts concerts and opera performances. According to famous travel guru Rick Steves. “Over the centuries, crowds of up to 25,000 spectators have cheered Roman gladiator battles, medieval executions, and modern plays — including Verona’s popular summer opera festival, which takes advantage of the arena’s famous acoustics.” Read his enlightening article about Verona as the City of Romance.  

I hope you take some time for romance this month and pamper your sweetheart or if you are alone, pamper yourself. Love is in the air… L’amore è nell’aria

Have you been to Verona? Spent some time in Italy during Valentine’s Day? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below.

The Painter and the Peasant Girl: Raphael’s Mysterious Love

Margherita Luti
La Fornarina, the baker’s daughter

Her dark-eyed beauty and peachy hued porcelain skin could turn the head of any man. Margherita Lute, the daughter of a Roman baker, appears to have stolen the heart of Raphael himself. She is depicted in several of his paintings, including the Madonna cycles. But his one masterpiece, La Fornarina, leaves several clues as to his relationship with her. There is no doubt that she was his mistress, but recent discoveries question whether they were betrothed or even secretly married.

La Donna Velata
La Velata–same lady?

The story of Raphael and Margherita is one of the most intriguing and romantic love affairs of all time. It all began one day when Raphael happened to catch sight of her at the outdoor fountain by her house in Trastevere, west of the Tiber River, washing her feet. He was smitten by her dark beauty and graceful ways, and wasted no time in pursuing her. As with Romeo and Juliet, these two lovers each came from an entirely different social status. She, a peasant girl, could not engage in a public display of affection with the unrivaled prestige of Raphael. Yet even under intense and consequential circumstances, they continued to nurture their romance secretly.

Raphael Santi
Raphael Santi

Raphael Santi, born in 1483 in Urbino, was known as the “Prince of Painters.” As a young man of great artistic abilities, his expertise took him straight to the top. He became a master painter at the age of 17. Leonardo da Vinci became a mentor and father figure to him while Raphael was painting in Florence. He was soon commissioned to paint fresco cycles for the Vatican, eventually becoming Pope Julius II’s chief architect in 1514. Some of his well-known fresco’s include The School of Athens, The Triumph of Religion, and The Liberation of St. Peter.

Giorgio Vasari, art historian and author of “The Lives of the Artists,” writes that Raphael could not focus on his painting at the Villa Farnesina when he was separated from her, so it was arranged that she be reunited with him and available to him at all times. The paintings were about love and marriage, and it has been speculated that the friend who commissioned Raphael to paint, Agostino Chigi, may have arranged a secret marriage for them.

The Villa Farnesina is a Renaissance suburban villa in the Via della Lungara, in the district of Trastevere in Rome, central Italy. The villa was built for Agostino Chigi, a rich Sienese banker and the treasurer of Pope Julius II.

Raphael and Margherita by Ingress
Raphael and Margherita 1814 by Ingress

Art restorers have recently discovered a ruby ring on the third finger of her left hand that had been painted over in an attempt to blot it out. Raphael was engaged to another woman of high standing, Maria Bibbiena, but against his will. Consequently, if the truth of the ring became public knowledge, there would have been a scandal. The consequences could easily have bankrupted Raphael and his school of painting as well as losing his commission at the Vatican. Most likely one of his students realized the risk after Raphael’s death and took action by painting over it.

According to the experts, such a ring would be highly improbable on a woman under usual circumstance, even for a courtesan who was heavily bejeweled. Margherita wears a blue ribbon around her arm that has Raphael’s name etched in gold. In the background of the 1520’s portrait are myrtle and quince, symbols of love and marriage. A costly pearl broach hangs from her headpiece that a woman would usually wear only on her wedding day.

Margherita Lute, The Bakers Daughter
La Fornarina, the bakers daughter 1518-20

Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

In early 16th century Renaissance Italy a nude model would have been rare to come by, so it’s likely that the couple shared a very close intimacy. In the painting, Margherita is gazing coyly yet affectionately at someone, her mouth forming a soft and knowing smile. She places her hands suggestively over her body, the fingers of one hand pointing toward the blue ribbon on her arm. Sensuality, tenderness and eroticism emanate profusely from her being.

Giorgio Vasari described Margherita as “the woman whom Raphael loved to his death.” When Raphael passed away, his body was placed to rest in the Pantheon in Rome. Sadly, it is Maria Bibbiena, to whom he was publicly engaged, who is buried next to him. Raphael provided enough money for Margherita to live a good life. Yet she chose to join a monastery in Trastevere just a few months after his passing. Like Romeo and Juliet, the untimely death of one cast the other into an eternal retreat.

Raphael immortalized his beloved in dozens of his major works. La Fornarina, the baker’s daughter, lives on as the great love of his life.