by Linda Cioni, Villa La Pietra – NYU Intern, Scuola di specializzazione in Beni storico-artistici, University of Florence, with Francesca Baldry, Collection Manager
“In casa sua ciascuno è Re” (“A man’s home is his castle”) (fig.1). Maybe this proverb best represents the period of confinement we have been living in over the last several weeks. Surrounded by our dearest objects, the interior of our home can take us back to a 15th century Florentine dwelling, as Villa La Pietra does, where certain objects among the paintings, sculptures, and furnishings collected by the Acton family stimulate our curiosity and invite reflection.
In the “Saletta delle Grottesche”, there is a unique Table from the 18th century (Fig.2), with a scagliola inlay top, displaying a figurative anthology of Italian proverbs and sayings, including the famous “Chi dorme non piglia pesce” (literary “Those who sleep don’t catch fish”, but in English: “The sleeping fox catches no poultry”), which invites us not to spend this period of quarantine passively in complete leisure, but to take advantage of our free time so we can come back to our work rested, of course, but also stronger and enriched (Fig.3).
At Villa La Pietra, proverbs point to other works of art in the collection. On the stone frieze of the fireplace – in one of the rooms where the Acton family entertained their friends – one can read the motto “NEQ NVLLI NEQ MVLTIS AMICVS” derived from the Latin verse Neque nullis sis amicus neque multis (“Do not be a friend to none, nor to too many”) from Hesiod (Fig. 4). We can understand its meaning all too well in the present context. Living without being able to see friends can seem unpleasant, but this distance from our normal social lives also allows us to deeply rethink our relationships, and to understand which relationships we value most.
The theme of friendship is also represented in the 18th century print known as “Donna che à molti Amici, à molte lingue mordaci” (“A woman who has many friends, has many biting tongues”) (Fig.5). This is part of a series of etchings that are preserved in some of the private rooms on the second floor of the Villa, taken from the Raccolta di quaranta proverbi toscani illustrated by the Florentine painter Giuseppe Piattoli (1743-1823). This series was engraved on bronze by Carlo Lasinio (1759-1838) and published in two editions in 1786 and 1788 by Niccolò Pagni and Giovanni Bardi in Florence. To the second edition, which contains scenes laid out horizontally, belongs the etching “Tutto cede alla Beltà” (“Everything yields to Beauty”) (Fig.6), where a young woman dressed en chemise reclines half-naked on a lit de repos (daybed). She is reading love letters that the young man in tuxedo to the right is offering her. The kneeling man has set his weapon down on the ground, and is completely entranced by the sight of her. On the left another gentleman has abandoned his occupation and sits on the volumes, which usually absorb his interests. He offers the woman what looks like a distaff and a spindle. Art and beauty will save us, even in this difficult moment. The underlying inscription (the so-called ‘quatrain’) helps us correctly understand the scene: “Virtù non vi è che alla beltà resista, non bastano contro lei le dotte carte. Non severo Caton, non crudo Marte e in vecchio petto maggior forza acquista” (“No Virtue resists to Beauty, erudite papers are not enough to protect you in her presence. Nor Caton or Mars resist, and in the old age attraction becomes stronger“). The series illustrates glimpses of the daily life of nobles and the lower classes in Florence at the time of Pietro Leopoldo di Lorena, including customs, traditions and lifestyles that are no longer our own, but do contain valuable lessons for the present: “Sono i proverbi di esperienza figli, e sono all’opre altrui scorta e consiglio” (These proverbs are experience’s sons, and can serve as a reserve of advice and counsel). The proverb “Corpo satollo non crede al digiuno” (Fig. 7) (“He whose belly is full believes not him who is fasting”) denounces the blindness of those who live in abundance and are not aware of the misery of others. It is, in short, an invitation to think about and to act in solidarity with others, especially nowadays.
With this virus, an entire generation of grandparents, our historical memory, are leaving us along with an irreplaceable void in their wake. A cultural as well as emotional heritage risks being lost forever. Perhaps learning and reading the proverbs, or popular sayings, contained in this short article can pay homage to them. “Col tempo e con la paglia maturan le nespole” (Fig. 8) (“Time and straw make medlars ripe”) is another old saying. We need to wait, therefore, but not impatiently. Things will repair themselves and all will be well in time.
Images 1, 2, 3, 8 – Tuscan Workshop, Table with Scagliola Top, 18th century, cm 76 × 133 × 68 (29 15/16 × 52 3/8 × 26 3/4 in.), Villa La Pietra, Saletta delle Grottesche
Image 4, Fireplace, late 19th century reconstruction, pietra serena stone, cm 243 × 253 × 32 (95 11/16 × 99 5/8 × 12 5/8 in.), Villa La Pietra, Sala del Caminetto.
Image 5, Carlo Lasinio (1759-1838) from Giuseppe Piattoli, Donna che à molti Amici, à molte lingue mordaci, 1786, etching, cm 30.5 × 22.5 (12 × 8 7/8 in), Villa La Pietra, first floor.
Image 6, Carlo Lasinio (1759-1838) from Giuseppe Piattoli, Tutto Cede Alla Beltà, 1788, etching, 32.5 × 41 cm (12 13/16 × 16 1/8 in.), Villa La Pietra, first floor .
Image 7, Carlo Lasinio (1759-1838) from Giuseppe Piattoli, Corpo Satollo non crede al digiuno, 1788, etching, cm 32.5 × 41 (12 13/16 × 16 1/8 in.), Villa La Pietra, first floor.
– P. D’Ancona, Due libri di disegni popolareschi di Giuseppe Piattoli, pittore fiorentino del secolo XVIII, in “L’Arte” 1909, pp. 261-68.
– A.Forlani Tempesti, I contadini della Toscana, Milano 1970, pp. 7-10.
– P. Cassinelli Lazzeri, Carlo Lasinio: proverbi e folclore, in “Antichità Viva”, XXXII, 1993, 2, pp. 24-29.
– Eadem, Carlo Lasinio: incisioni, catalogo della mostra, Firenze 2004.
– V. Di Piazza, Carlo Lasinio, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, LXIII, Roma 2004, pp. 803-806;
– C. Pazzini, È meglio un uccello in gabbia che cento in aria. Proverbi figurati nell’età dei Lumi 1786-1788: incisioni di Carlo Lasinio dalle collezioni della Uguccione Ranieri di Sorbello Foundation, catalogo della mostra, Perugia 2005.
– V. Baldi, 1765-1790. Appunti di storia del costume in Toscana durante il regno di Pietro Leopoldo attraverso le stampe di Giuseppe Piattoli, in “OADI”, 11, 2015. http://www1.unipa.it/oadi/oadiriv/?page_id=2276#footnote_2_2276
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– E. Da Rotterdam, Adagia (1533) 2017, ed, a cura di Lelli E., n. 2537.