During the Renaissance in Italy, the ruling classes expressed their power by filling their palaces and castles with art. It must have had the same impact as virtual reality and Oculus Rift today: the new sciences of perspective and realism opened up illusory spaces and became a talking point throughout the courts of Europe. The trend contributed to the country’s vast artistic heritage and the artworks can be discovered in their original locations or in museums.
One of the attractive things about art in Italy is that it is still very much part and parcel of everyday life. Many local trattorias have walls almost completely covered by local paintings, often given by the artist as payment for a square meal. But there are many other higher-end locations that perpetuate the concept of art as part of everyday life.
A good example is Caffè Florian, founded in Venice in 1720, frequented by artists of the day such as Canaletto and Guardi. Every year, the management asks a contemporary artist to reinvent one of the café’s interior spaces, and so over the years it has developed an extensive collection. Part of it can be viewed at Florian in Florence, where a fair number of works from the collection are shown, by important contemporary artists and photographers including Fabrizio Plessi, Gaetano Pesce and Gianni Berengo Gardin. Florian’s fine culinary arts are accompanied by fascinating visual art.
Also in Florence is a venue which will be of interest to art-loving ‘fishion victims.’ Fishing Lab is a restaurant with interiors preserving some Medieval frescoes that include the earliest authentic image of Dante Alighieri. Down in the basement, you reach archaeological excavations that have uncovered remains of Ancient Roman remains. Whether you are there for lunch, dinner or aperitif, don’t miss a visit to the Private Cellar.
In historical times, the patrons of art were the ruling classes. Today, art has become one of the ways in which companies with a well developed social commitment give something back. In Milan, Campari has long had connections with art, commissioning posters from contemporary artists, and now with a fascinating gallery at their headquarters in Sesto San Giovanni, in the northern suburbs. Galleria Campari is housed in a 1904 Art Nouveau building, refurbished by architect Mario Botta, and it includes a multi-media experience with fascinating contemporary installations. For a taste of the Campari heritage in central Milan, don’t miss Camparino in Galleria, in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. You can sample the classic aperitivo Campari Soda in interiors featuring lovely Art Nouveau mosaics.
Gallerie d’Italia in Piazza della Scala, Milan, is a spectacular art gallery, and the café provides a modern setting in which to take a break during the visit. Exhibitions this season include the new generation of Slovakian artists (8 September-23 October), and Canaletto and Bellotto (18 November 2016-5 March 2017).
There are a few hotels where Italy’s contemporary art can be savoured by both guests and the public at large. ‘WOW Windmills of Energy’ is an installation by Simone D’Auria on the exterior of the Ferragamo Art Gallery Hotel in Florence, and the artist’s work can also be seen inside.
Lastly, there are some modern architectural projects in Italy that give you the feeling of being catapulted into a dimension that is a world apart from everyday life. Architect Massimiliano Fuksas has designed a series of villas for the Is Molas Golf Resort in Sardinia, with the objective of creating ‘sculptures for living.’ In his own words, the concept “consists of working with the elements, the erosion of wind… in this project, man returns to living in inhabitable sculptures that are the new form of design, surpassing boxes and cages. They are the expression of freedom.”