Frescoes draw the viewer aloft into the domed ceiling of the Bascilica di San Marco in Milan. Photo: Henry Lewis
Italy, we love you!
Your extraordinary wealth of art and architecture dazzles our senses and ignites even our most latent sense of historical curiosity. Your heavenly cuisine provides all the sensual pleasures a lonely traveling soul could possibly desire. You’ve produced some of history’s most distinguished and intellectually gifted artists and scientists, from Leonardo da Vinci to Galileo Galilei, as well as showing us a woman’s view of life in the early 17th century through the work of the fascinating female painter Artemisia Gentileschi.
As residents of Italy’s northern Lombardy region – and its capital Milan – suffer under the local strain of a global pandemic, it seems fitting to present a tribute to some of my favorite places.
Milan, the country’s northern industrial, financial and cultural metropolis, is often quickly dismissed by travelers who rush through on their way to more popular attractions in the northern cities of Florence and Venice, or on to see the ancient sites of Rome and Naples in the south.
I LIKE Milan. It’s a vibrant, interesting city that feels authentic. At the same time, it holds enough treasures – from meticulously detailed Renaissance churches to great works of visual art – to satisfy even the most jaded traveler.
The Milan Cathedral–Spectacular
Every evening light is still visible in this view of the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) which commands the surrounding Piazzo del Duomo, and is the city’s most popular gathering spot. The Candoglia marble used on the building’s exterior constantly changes color, slowly taking on magical hues as the light changes from dawn to dusk. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Piazzo del Duomo from the rooftop of the Milan Cathedral. Photo: Henry Lewis
My journey to learn the secrets of mosaics began while I was working in Los Angeles in 1990. At the time, a contemporary revival of mosaic art was taking place in LA due to its creative vibe, great number of artists and the dry Mediterranean climate which is perfect for the preservation of outdoor mosaics.
I began creating my own mosaic works as I delved more deeply into the materials and techniques used in producing traditional mosaics, an art form that stretches back to ancient Greece and Rome. Like any poor artist, I collected materials wherever I could afford–asking inside retail tile stores and dumpster-diving near design centers. Having always had an affinity for the beauty, luster and durability of tile, I fell in love with this medium as a means of creative expression.
Byzantine mosaic artists built upon the mosaic traditions of ancient Greece and Rome. Two gladiators (c. 1st century CE) are depicted in this mosaic from the Roman archaeological site of Kourion on the island of Cyprus. Photo: Henry Lewis
Humanity has long been preoccupied with building towers that give the illusion of reaching the heavens. The Biblical story of the tower of Babel is one of humankind’s earliest recorded attempts to construct a way to access these celestial heights.
Ancient cultures such as the Sumerians, Egyptians and Mayas built complexes that featured towering structures which were used for ceremonial purposes and as astronomical observatories.
The term ‘skyscraper’ was first coined in the late 19th century to describe buildings over ten stories high which were being constructed over steel frames in Chicago and New York.
Today, cities all across the globe are recognized by these phallic spires that mingle with the clouds, projecting a sense of economic dynamism on the one hand, while on the other, thumbing their noses at the natural world.
Above all else, skyscrapers are symbols of wealth, power and humankind’s domination over nature. Just as contemporary global cities jostle for the superlative of having the world’s tallest building, ancient cities used building height to project a similar sense of strength and dominance.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, the city of Bologna, in what we know today as northern Italy would surely have deserved the title of the world’s skyscraper capital. While the number of tall structures in medieval Bologna is still a matter of debate, most reputable sources estimate there were at least one hundred towers dotted around this bustling city.
Artist’s conception of Bologna as it might have looked in the 12th and 13th centuries with its scores of towers spread across the cityscape. Photo Credit: : https://www.cineca.it