Anne's Blog

Van Gogh in Rural Umbria

Date: January 23, 2019 - categories: , , , - 9 Comments

Actor Willem Dafoe’s comment about the Van Gogh  film  “At Eternity’s Gate” (at the Golden Globe awards) struck me:  “It really deeply affects people because it changes how you see things. It deals with perception.”
Pino and I saw the film the other night near Assisi and it truly did impact how I see things: I was out the next morning on our land looking at simple objects around me with a new eye, struck by their beauty.  And before I saw the video of Dafoe’s comments.
I took photos to send to my artist brother Tom, a Van Gogh appassionato. Pino and I both thought often of Tom while  watching the film.
Recalling the scene in the film where Vincent paints his boots, I took photos of Pino’s boots.
I remembered the scene where Vincent paints tree roots.  I think the branches of the centuries-old oak near our house would have inspired him:
…or perhaps one of the olive trees?
…and certainly the  beauty of the massive wine barrel Peppa gave us, decrepit now but still standing (barely) would have caught Vincent’s eye:
I truly looked for the first time at wine flasks we have around.
I’d never really observed the hand-done rope work used to protect the upper part of those giant wine flasks:

Nor had I noticed the lovingly hand-caned bases on one flask, topped now with a jagged crown, the glass neck broken. And I looked with a new eye at our battered and blackened copper pots lined with a filmy green patina.   Years ago, they had dangled over the coals in our farmhouse fireplace, filled with water –  our only source of  hot water in those days:

Under our portico and now holding our firewood is an old bigonza (Umbrian dialect  – in Italian, “bigoncia). These wooden barrels held harvested grapes heading to the wine cellars from  the vineyards on the old farm carts.
When we moved to the land in 1975,  the farm cart of Gianetto (who had worked our land and built our farmhouse) was at the back of the house behind the massive oak..  Sadly, we left it there.  Outside, prey to the elements.  Only a wheel remains. I had to photograph its beauty for brother Tom, artist;
Our three children Keegan, Mattia and Giulia had played in that cart as children..
and you can see the simple beauty of it in this photo of Keegan (1980):
Van Gogh painted cats, a crab, rabbits, peacocks, a horse but I don’t think he ever painted dogs.  I wonder if this scene might have inspired him?

I think our goats could have inspired, too:

I started to seee simple objects in our home with a “Van Gogh eye,”  Like the old flatirons with flaking wooden handles (once filled with coal for ironing) sitting on our fireplace hearth:
Nearby were the wooden shoes made for me by the village shoemaker in Oostzaan Holland in 1969, the backs chipped off.. Van Gogh had painted boots and clogs.  My wooden shoes might have inspired…?
… and perhaps also the  old handmade coffee grinder, wooden surface scratched:
…or the pigne, precious gifts of a rural neighbor, Natalia.   In the pigne, lentils, borlotti beans and other legumes once simmered slowly in the hot coals of the fireplace.
When a pigna cracked, the grandfather or father of the rural clan mended it with chicken wire in an intricate weave.
 Isn’t this pigna a work of art?
…and beauty, too, in the battered copper pots hanging on our kitchen wall (bought years ago from an ironmonger on Corfu and carried in my backpack back to Rome).
Persian pewter plates join them (from our family trip to Iran years ago) as well as la mezzaluna given to Pino by an elderly neighbor when he worked  in Milan in the early 1970’s. That beloved cradle knife is antiquity – and well-used by us.
The oak beams and terracotta tiles  on the ceiling  (restored by Pino) frame the copper and pewter art “installment”:
I even looked at a garlic bulb in a Deruta maiolica dish with a new eye:
I was hoping for a scene in the film of Vincent painting his sunflowers. There wasn’t one.  My brother Tom had done a beauty years ago:
I do not know who owns it now (I wish we did).
I wrote Tom about the film and the scene of the painting of the boots.   He replied that he had painted a pair years ago:  the work boots of our brother, Doug:
Vincent, Tom, mille grazie for the lesson in seeing the beauty in the simple objects around us…
Click here for more on Tom’s art.
See one of aTom’s Perugia paintings at the top of the Perugia tours page
 on my website.


  • Janet Eidem says:

    This is such an inspiring post Annie. I’ll be looking for the movie too. Be well.

  • Sarah C Walters says:

    Ah, the beauty of the Alagna fortress against the rest of the world and also, of time. Brava, Annie!

  • Sarah, you are DUE for another visit soon here at the “Alagna fortress”!

  • Janet, mille grazie for your note – and when are you two coming back to Umbria? Please do let me know..grazie!

  • Louise says:

    Anne, I am so inspired by your photos and writing and most of all, having the privilege of being in your beautiful home to admire all this beauty you created, collected, cherish, and have captured to share with others. Such a special place. Love Tom’s work too – great talent.

  • Louise says:

    Anne, this is my favorite article! I love what you have written and especially love all the photos. When we first arrived, I was stunned by the exquisite beauty of all your special items displayed in and around your home. I know this has, and will continue, to inspire many. Thank you!

  • Louise, I so appreciate your comments above and Pino and I have so enjoyed having you, your daughters and Dawn with us for the month here in our Umbria countryside apartment. We will miss you and our goats, donkeys, dogs and cats will miss the daily interaction with all of you!
    Tornate presto!

  • Jane Beckwith says:

    Dear Annie
    This post will inspire my students, as it has me.
    To have walked in these grounds, dined at your table, even used the Mezzaluna last year to help make pesto. Enjoyed Peppa’s “small” meals – all blessed memories inspiring a longing for future repetition of all these experiences.

  • Thanks to each for your comments…so very appreciated..
    and sorry I had not replied sooner !

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