Art is a part of daily life in Italy

Italy was a place where art was part of daily routine. It was in the fabric and facades of the buildings and in the way towns and villages.  Aestheticism was instinctive, a common trait, as if it were one of the senses. Artfulness was ubiquitous, from the wrapping of one’s purchases in a shop to the arrangement of food on a plate.

The most common word in the language appeared to be bella, which prefixed everything from the morning espresso to the design of a dress. Great effort – and great importance – was placed on how things looked. Tuscany’s landscape was the ultimate expression of this. It was the view that travellers dreamt of, composed who knew how by diverse hands over centuries.

It even smelled wonderful, of clean air and woodsmoke, of rosemary and new leather, of frying garlic and pungent parmigiano.

Taylor, Alan F.. Appointment in Arezzo: My Life with Muriel Spark (Kindle Locations 859-865). Birlinn Ltd. Kindle Edition.


How do I love thee, let me count the ways. Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband in Florence.

The Casa Guidi, as we see it today, has the same number of rooms and the same plan as it was when the Robert and Elizabeth Barret Browningrented it in 1847. The Brownings lived here happily for many years, and Elizabeth died there in 1861.
The Brownings took two years to furnish the apartment, buying at high cost one or two precious pieces such as the golden mirror of the living room, while most of the paintings and other furniture was found in small Florentine shops.




In restoring the property, the Landmark Trust and Eton College tried to maintain the original atmosphere, preventing the apartment from   looking like a museum.

There are currently some paintings and furniture that belonged to    both the Barrett family and the Browning family and that have been   generously donated to Casa Guidi, but overall the furnishings remain similar to those of the 19th century. The walls and ceilings in the  living room and main bedroom and the ceiling of the poet's studio    have been restored with the original colors of the period. All doors and fireplaces are original.

After the poet's death, the Commune commemorated her life placed an  inscription on the door (composed by Niccolò Tommaseo) according to  which her poetry had created a golden ring that binds Italy and      England.


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When you think of Dante, do you think of Longfellow too?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) was an American poet and educator whose works include “Paul Revere’s Ride“, The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. He was also the first American to translate Dante Alighieri‘s Divine Comedy.
Longfellow spent several years translating Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. To aid him in perfecting the translation and reviewing proofs, he invited friends to weekly meetings every Wednesday starting in 1864. The “Dante Club”, as it was called, regularly included William Dean Howells, James Russell Lowell, Charles Eliot Norton and other occasional guests. The full 3-volume translation was published in the spring of 1867, though Longfellow would continue to revise it, and went through four printings in its first year.

He was also important as a translator; his translation of Dante became a required possession for those who wanted to be a part of high culture. He also encouraged and supported other translators.

Is Longfellow’s translation of Dante the best?


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s translation finds a new champion in Joseph Luzzi, in “How to Read Dante in the 21st Century” in the online edition of The American Scholar:


… one of the few truly successful English translations comes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a professor of Italian at Harvard and an acclaimed poet. He produced one of the first complete, and in many respects still the best, English translations of The Divine Comedy in 1867. It did not hurt that Longfellow had also experienced the kind of traumatic loss—the death of his young wife after her dress caught fire—that brought him closer to the melancholy spirit of Dante’s writing, shaped by the lacerating exile from his beloved Florence in 1302. Longfellow succeeded in capturing the original brilliance of Dante’s lines with a close, sometimes awkwardly literal translation that allows the Tuscan to shine through the English, as though this “foreign” veneer were merely a protective layer added over the still-visible source. The critic Walter Benjamin wrote that a great translation calls our attention to a work’s original language even when we don’t speak that foreign tongue. Such extreme faithfulness can make the language of the translation feel unnatural—as though the source were shaping the translation into its own alien image.


Longfellow’s English indeed comes across as Italianate: in surrendering to the letter and spirit of Dante’s Tuscan, he loses the quirks and perks of his mother tongue. For example, he translates Dante’s beautifully compact Paradiso 2.7

L’acqua ch’io prendo già mai non si corse;

with an equally concise and evocative

The sea I sail has never yet been passed:

Emulating Dante’s talent for internal rhymes laced with hypnotic sonic patterns, Longfellow expertly repeats the s’s to give his line a sinuous, propulsive feel, which is exactly what Dante aims for in his line, as he gestures toward the originality and joy of embarking on the final leg of a divinely sanctioned journey. Thus, Longfellow demonstrates the scholarly chops necessary to convey Dante’s encyclopedic learning, and the poetic talent needed to reproduce the sound and spirit—the respiro, breath—of the original Tuscan.

Read the whole essay here – it’s fairly short and very interesting.

Muriel Spark in Italy

Remembering Muriel Spark

Writer and late-in-life Tuscany dweller

Alan Taylor
FEBRUARY 5, 2018 – 10:00

It was by chance, not design, that Muriel Spark went to dwell in Tuscany. Nothing in her past suggested she was the kind of person who would embrace life in the countryside. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1918, she had lived mostly in big cities—London, New York, Rome—until she settled in the rambling, dilapidated, 14th-century rectory 15 or so kilometres from Arezzo owned by her friend, the artist and sculptor Penelope Jardine. In the beginning, Spark flitted between her base in Rome, a palatial palazzo, and the Val di Chiana. In time, however, she discovered that she preferred living among vineyards and olive groves than in clamorous streets clogged with traffic. Most importantly, it was a place that was conducive to work, where there were few interruptions and demands on her time could be managed.

Muriel Spark in 1957, the year her first novel, The Comforters, was published.

She was then in her fifties and an internationally fêted writer. Having always thought of herself as a poet, she did not publish her first novel, The Comforters, until 1957, at the relatively late age of 39. It was both a commercial and critical success, and praised by the likes of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene who, like her, were converts to Catholicism. Four more novels swiftly followed. As witty as they are profound, they established Spark as one of the great writers of her generation. It was with her sixth novel, however, that she became a phenomenal bestseller.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which drew directly on her Edinburgh upbringing and schooling, was published almost in its entirety in a single issue of The New Yorker. It was subsequently made into an immensely popular, Oscar-winning movie in which Maggie Smith—who was voted best actress—starred as the enigmatic, eccentric, elusive Miss Brodie. The enduring appeal of The Prime allowed Spark to determine her own future and where and how she wanted to live.She was then in her fifties and an internationally fêted writer. Having always thought of herself as a poet, she did not publish her first novel, The Comforters, until 1957, at the relatively late age of 39. It was both a commercial and critical success, and praised by the likes of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene who, like her, were converts to Catholicism. Four more novels swiftly followed. As witty as they are profound, they established Spark as one of the great writers of her generation. It was with her sixth novel, however, that she became a phenomenal bestseller.

Italy had been on her radar since childhood, thanks to her favourite teacher, Miss Christina Kay, who was clearly the model for Miss Brodie. It was Miss Kay, for example, who would not hesitate to divert from the subjects she was supposed to be teaching to tell her young charges of her holidays in Italy, of her admiration for Mussolini and his fascisti, and of her love of the Renaissance artists, in particular Giotto. “We ought to be doing history at the moment according to the time-table,” she remarks to her class of impressionable girls. “Get out your history books and prop them up in your hands. I shall tell you a little more about Italy. I met a young poet by a fountain. Here is a picture of Dante meeting Beatrice—it is pronounced Beatrichay in Italian which makes the name very beautiful—on the Ponte Vecchio. He fell in love with her at that moment.”

Muriel Spark in Arezzo in 1986, photo by Sophie Bassouls
For Spark, the appeal of Florence and its Tuscan hinterland was multifarious. She loved the art and architecture, the simplicity of the food and the ubiquity of wine, and the stunning landscape. From the window of her study she surveyed a scene that looked natural but had in fact been sculpted by human hands. Her favourite time of the year was from autumn through to Christmas. With Penelope Jardine at the wheel of their Alfa Romeo, she liked to visit places new and familiar, thinking nothing of motoring the length of Europe to visit a cathedral or gallery.

I got to know her in 1990 and whenever I visited we would spend long days touring the surrounding town and villages or calling on her many friends who lived in Florence, Cortona or Arezzo. Near where she lived was the castle-hamlet of Gargonza, one of the many places to claim an association with Dante. She never tired of what is known as the Piero della Francesca trail, especially the village of Monterchi where Piero’s wonderful fresco Madonna del Parto was to be found, and the bijou town of Sansepolcro, where his Resurrection has pride of place in the local museum.

Muriel, as I now knew her well enough to call her, was smitten by the understated culture of such places, by their quiet ambience and slow and civilized pace. Lunch was an unhurried affair. Once, in Sansepolcro, we were seated next to a table of American tourists, one of whom kept looking over at Muriel. Eventually, she summoned up the courage to leave her companions and approach us. Politely apologising for interrupting our meal, she asked if she could have the pleasure of being in the company of Muriel Spark. Muriel smiled and told her to pull up a chair. Another carafe of wine was ordered and an already jolly lunch became even jollier.

It was often said in the British press that Muriel was reclusive. Nothing could have been further from the truth. She simply liked solitude. All she required was peace in which to get on with her writing. In Tuscany she wrote some of her greatest novels, including Loitering with Intent, A Far Cry from Kensington, Symposium and Aiding and Abetting, which takes as its inspiration the mysterious case of Lord Lucan who disappeared into thin air after murdering his children’s nanny whom he had mistaken for his wife. Muriel’s final novel, aptly titled The Finishing School, appeared in 2004, two years before her death at the age of 88 in Villa Donatello, a private hospital in Florence. She was writing almost until she drew her last breath. She is buried in the cemetery of the tiny village, Oliveto, surrounded by vines and olives, and within sight of the house that was her last home.


Appointment in Arezzo: A Friendship with Muriel Spark is published by Polygon. Available on Amazon.

Rose Elizabeth Cleveland

A first lady in Tuscany

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Bagni di Lucca, a spa town not far from Lucca, was much loved by foreigners, some of whom were passing through, while others