Spello, Umbria medieval gem, entices right from your first glimpse as you pull off the highway:
Spello enchants for its medieval architecture, a splendid Renaissance fresco, recently discovered Roman mosaics, and stunning flowering backstreets:
But when exploring Spello, you simply can’t miss seekng out local artists and artisans, linking past artistic traditions to the present.
And as recent tour guests discovered with me, the goal of one of Spello’s most famed local artist is precisely that: to emulate Italy’s past artistic techniques and traditions in works he is creating today.
A stop at the bottega of artist Elvio Marchionni was a highlight of a recent tour with this California group. In his stone-vaulted gallery, our group met Elvio and met his art.
All of us were fascinated by Elvio’s works on display in this gallery – and even more fascinated as he explained the technique (and I translated) of his unique works, which he calls “strappi” (that is, objects which are torn or ripped) for he often paints on the plaster salvaged from the walls of abandoned rural buildings.
As Elvio explained, “I continue the story written by whoever has plastered the wall. And so, I tear out a page of the past, and on it I continue the story.” Elvio is emulating the work of past fresco artists while also preserving the crumbling plastered walls of countryside farmhouses which he and assistants will “detach” and then affix to canvases for paintings.
Although this video is in Italian, you can see the start of the creation process of Marchionni’s strappi: the detatching of sections of old plaster from abandoned rural buildings.
Elvio once said in an interview, “On the plastered walls, I see macchie di colore (“spots of color”) that have crossed centuries of time. I detach the plaster and take it to my studio to observe and contemplate what is before me, letting the colors and forms suggest to me what is already there – and speak to me.”
As Elvio says, “I continue the story written by whoever has plastered the wall. And so, I tear out a page of the past, and on it I continue the story.”
Elvio’s extraordinary strappi “stories” backdropped our group as Elvio talked to us about his art….
..and Doug and Joan purchased paintings done by Elvio on antique paper..
….and Susan as well:
We then all walked across the street to the de-consecrated San Michele Arcangelo church (restored after the 1997 earthquake), now also the studio of Elvio and seat of the Elvio Marchionni Fondazione (Foundation), as a sign on the side wall indicates:
Inside, Marchionni splendors:
In the former presbytery of the church, Elvio pointed out a recent commission for a Foligno church, the Ascension…
Another commission – a painting of the Virgin and Child with St. Clare of Assisi – hung on a wall nearby:
Dave and Doug were intrigued by strappi paintings leaning against a wall:
Here are other examples of Elvio Marchionni’s strappi which he has kindly given me permission to share:
Elvio’s artistic range also includes silk-screen printing…and this one below was presented to Pope Francis by Elvio himself as a gift:
His artistic skills include low reliefs as well:
And what a privilege for us when Elvio invited us into his home/studio across from the church:
His art filled his living space, including beneath the table…
…and on the table itself:
And yet another surprise was in store: Elvio showed us with pride books he had illustrated…
…including the early 16th century epic poem of Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso…
…and a biography of St. Francis of Assisi:
Before we left, he autographed for each of us books about his work:
Art critic Fabio Lazzari has written extensively on Marchionni’s art, terming his creations “the pages of a diary where Marchionni has skillfully written his personal emotions of a dream that has become true. The emotions of discovering guided the soul of the artist. The discovery is not to be seen as an arrival point but just the stage to rest and collect the strength to go on to new horizons.”
Not far from the home/studio is Spello’s church of Santa Maria Maggiore, best-noted for the splendid early 16th-c. fresco cycle of Renaissance master Pinturicchio.
And above a Baroque altar just to the left of Pinturicchio’s Renaissance fresco masterpiece hangs a contemporary masterpiece: of Elvio Marchionni.
And logicamente, we all stopped to pay tribute.
See Elvio Marchionni has he seeks plaster for his strappi
Read about – and see – the Pinturicchio splendor in Spello’s Church of Santa Maria Maggiore