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Allora! It’s The Mosaic Masterpieces Tour 2011: Rome Part 1

On 22, Oct 2011 | 6 Comments | In Et cetera | By man-admin

Waiting to get into the Ara Pacis which, alas, was closed on Sunday.

Where to even begin? The 14 days spent earlier this month in Italy were filled with revelations and epiphanies. No, really. It was that amazing. Today we will start a recap of the highlights of the Mosaic Masterpieces Tour 2011 led by Julie Richey. We will start in Rome and then move on to Ravenna and Venice. Additional photos will be posted on the MAN Facebook Page.
If we learned anything on the tour, it is that people around the world value MAN and what we do here. It was incredibly encouraging to have an artist in Ravenna say, “I don’t miss your blog or your tweets. They inspire me.” It just doesn’t get any better than that.

What We Loved In Rome

“Allora!”  You hear that constantly in Italy.  It can mean “Let’s see . . .” or “Well . . . ” or “Hokay . . .”  It acts as a sort of filler in conversations and we loved the sound of it.  Try it with me now and roll that “r” . . . Allorrrrrrrrra!

Birthday At St. Peter’s On our first morning in Rome, Mosaic Masterpieces guide (and good friend) Julie Richey rousted us out of bed. “It’s your birthday! Get up! Put on your walking shoes!” We followed instructions and 15 minutes later found ourselves here.

Photo via Wikipedia
This is why the word “awesome” was invented. And “sacred.” And “thunderstruck.” While we were searching for words to use in the moment, Richey pivoted us 90 degrees and whispered in our ear, “Look.”
Photo via Wikipedia
And we sobbed. The sweet resignation and peace in Mary’s face. Christ’s limply hanging foot that looks as if it has just stopped swaying. The size and width of Mary’s lap – a space large enough to hold the worries of the world. The luminosity of the stone – as if these beings are lit from within. You can see images of a work of the Pieta your whole life, but nothing prepares you for the experience of standing in front of the sublime.
The Spanish Steps at Twilight

Magic Time

Food, Glorious Food!

Richey did Roman cuisine proud in steering us to restaurants that offered wonderful bites of La Dolce Vita including the fabled “Alfredo’s.” The phrase heard most often within the group was, “We shan’t starve.” It’s a good thing the airlines only weighed our luggage.

Deep friend artichokes. There were never enough.

Fabbrica di San Pietro – The Vatican Micro Mosaic Studio

Our Merry Band about to enter the Vatican's Micro Mosaic Studio L to R: Bronwyn Fife, (Australia), Sanda Foncerrada (Mexico), Lesley Miller (Australia), MAN Publisher Michael Welch (Boston), Ana Foncerrada (Mexico), Jo and Tom Braun (Seattle), Lea Holland and Steve Greer (Memphis), Nancie Mills Pipgras (Santa Rosa). Kneeling: Allan Punton (UK)

Founded in the 16th Century, the Fabbrica di San Pietro was charged with creating the glorious large-scale mosaics that are found in St. Peter’s Basilica. Their centuries-old practices are held secret, so getting a tour is extremely difficult and, of course, no photos, please.

Dr. Paolo diBuono, Director of the Fabbrica di San Pietro Micro Mosaic Studio

Dr. diBuono was generous with his time and expertise answering every question, explaining and pulling out drawers filled with ancient smalti. Today, the majority of the Studio’s work is split between commissions, creating papal gifts for visiting dignitaries (one artisan pulled out a series of photos for us – “This, Bush Junior. This, Bush Senior. This, Clinton”) and restoring the mosaics of St. Peter’s including this reproduction of Raphael’s Transfiguration .

Photos via

In the photo below, you can see some of the Studio’s most recent restoration work in the bright area beneath the tondo.

Photo: Julie Richey

As Dr. diBuono was leading us through St. Peter’s we asked, “Does working here every day sometimes feel overwhelming?” “There are times” he replied softly “when you are struck by the fact that you are part of history.”
Vatican-sanctioned video of Mosaic Studio

After our time with Dr. diBuono, we explored more of the Vatican’s mosaics, including these pretty putti who grace the upper level of the rotunda.

A Basilica on Top of a Basilica on Top of a Temple on Top of a Spring: San Clemente

Lea Holland refilling her water bottle in the Courtyard of San Clemente
Nowhere was history more palpable for us than our visit to the Basilica of San Clemente. Within mere minutes you can traverse 1200 years of history.  Starting at street level, you walk from a 12th century basilica . . .

down a set of stairs to a 4th century basilica . . .

down a sort of ramp to a 1st century Temple of Mithras . . .

Photos via

that was founded at the site of a spring that still runs today. We cupped our hands and drank deeply. The water was sweet. The air was dense.

Early Christian Symbolism in Neon

We were all taken by the continuity of symbolism used in the Early Christian mosaics of Rome. The mosaics of Century Santi Cosma e Damiano set the standard for many other churches.

Such an expressive, contemporary face

Extraordinary neon colors in a tapestry-like design meant to represent the dawn.

A very "flamingoesque" phoenix.

All this was within just the first two days of the tour and we’re being selective about what we are showing here. Richey had us testing the mettle of our walking shoes, but all that exercise was a great excuse for a second cappucino in the morning.
Coming up next: We suggest a Swiffer at the Ara Pacis, stop to smell the roses in an ancient cloister, fall in love with Bernini, and meet The Devil at the Tarot Garden.
Enjoy – Nancie
UPDATE APRIL 2013:  Ms. Richey’s 2013 Mosaic Masterpieces Tour starts in Udine with a visit to the studio of Guilio Menossi (who will also act as tour guide for the glorious mosaics of Acquileia) meanders through some of the area’s most fabulous wineries and restaurants, spills down into Spilimbergo and finally lands in Ravenna where we will dance in the streets on Notte De Oro – the opening of RavennaMosaico 2013 – and visit still more amazing artists’ studios.  If this sounds like a shameless plug, it is – your Editor knows a good time when she has one.  But also be advised, she will be paying full freight for her own spot on the 2013 Tour!  To find out more (and there is much more) about the tour, go here.

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  1. Nancie Mills Pipgras

    We didn't miss it, Nelson. Stay tuned!

  2. Nelson

    If your in Rome…
    then your not far from "The Tarot Garden" of Nikki de Saint-Phalle
    don't miss it !

  3. Nancie Mills Pipgras

    I have only just begun to tell the story, George. Swooning was a daily occurrence. Next time, we want you and Nancy with us!

  4. George

    Y'all were glowing by the time you hit Ravenna – now I more fully appreciate why. Julie certainly steered you right in every way. Beautiful, evocative writing, Nancie – AND great photos in tough lighting conditions AND while you were swooning!

  5. Maureen

    I'm so jealous, Nancie! I love Rome, Italy entire, really. What a marvelous journey all of you had. And to have Julie Richey as a guide!

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