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We’ve come to the Fondazione Magnani Rocca in Emilia Romagna to see an exhibition of work by Italian traveller and artist Alberto Pasini (Busseto 1826 – Cavoretto 1899).
Pasini is best know for his magnificent depictions of the orient. With superb draughtsmanship and expert use of tone and colour, he captured the dazzling light, dry scorching heat, and vast prospectives of Persia. But he was equally at home with the smaller scale intimacy of a city street, a courtyard or dusty camels resting by the wayside.
The story of his beginnings as an orientalist is a fascinating and unexpected one. In 1855 Pasini was invited to participate in a delicate French diplomatic mission to the Middle East. The mission’s objective was to draw the Shah of Persia away from the influence of Russia. At this point the words deja vu probably come to mind. How little things change!
Pasini’s job was to document what was to become one of the most adventurous diplomatic missions of the 19th century.
On returning to Europe in 1856, Pasini elaborated his sketches into large scale paintings and exhibited in Parisian salons. These works were to become an important point of reference and source of inspiration for orientalist painters in the years to follow.
Ragazza: Sono molto fiera di Pasini perché è di qua, come lo sono anch’io, ed è conosciuto in tutto il mondo!
Whilst I’ve been admiring a delicate yet decisive pencil sketch, a somewhat ‘exotic’ looking girl has sidled up to me. Apart from her fashionable modern apparel, she could almost have stepped from one of Pasini’s paintings.
Geoff: E’ la prima volta che vedo i disegni di Pasini, a parte sull’internet. Sono bellissimi.
Ragazza: Io amo Pasini, sto provando a dipingere anche io!
Geoff: Ah sì? Che bello! A me sono sempre piaciuti gli schizzi. Mi piacciono la semplicità e l’immediatezza. Mi fanno sentire come se io ci fossi.
Geoff: Io mi chiamo Geoff.
Ragazza: Piacere, sono Barbara.
Geoff: Ciao Barbara.
Barbara: Quindi, di dove sei?
Geoff: Sono inglese, ma abito qua in Italia da tanti anni.
Barbara: Amo la lingua inglese, parlo anche lo spagnolo, e ora sto imparando anche il russo.
Geoff: Il russo! E perché?
Barbara: Mi serve per lavoro. Sono ortopedico a Reggio Emilia e siccome da noi c’è un sacco di gente dall’est ho deciso che mi tornerebbe utile parlare il russo.
Serena and Anthony are looking at sketches on the other side of the gallery, so we wander over and I introduce them to my new friend.
Barbara wants to practice her English, so we chat together in a mixture of English and Italian, which is quite the norm for us because Anthony is also bi-lingual.
Having consumed Pasini’s lines and colours with our hungry eyes, we begin to think of our equally hungry stomachs.
Geoff: Barbara, vuoi fare un picnic con noi? Abbiamo i panini.
Barbara: Mi piacerebbe tanto, ma devo scappare perché mia mamma mi aspetta per pranzo.
Geoff: Che peccato! Comunque, vieni a trovarci a Pontremoli, okay?
We exchange numbers and hugs, Barbara heads out to the car park, and we make our way to a shady bench beneath the spreading umbrella of a gigantic cedar. When we’ve finished our sandwiches we wander over to the fountain, which we find filled with dazzling water lilies, glittering goldfish, and emerald green frogs sunning themselves on the lilly pads.
It’s about 36° Celsius, but the air, brimming with the scent of tree resin and dessicated herbs, is dry and pleasant to breath. Going back into the villa, with its dim light and air conditioning, is like plunging into a chilly pool. I feel sleepy though, it’s time for my habitual pennichella, but there’s still much to see: Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, and Morandi, probably my favourite Italian artist, are included in the outstanding permanent collection of La Fondazione Magnani Rocca.