Archives for March 2020

A glorious celebration of love and beauty (from a notorious monk)

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Picture: Uffizi gallery

Some more musings on art during our ‘enforced incarceration’ in the coronavirus pandemic.

I noted, when taking a new look at Botticelli’s Spring a few days ago, that the first few rooms of the Uffizi gallery contain little more than a succession of crucifixions, annunciations and virgins with child, so that Botticelli’s two enormous pictures, Spring and The Birth of Venus, overpower us, in-your-face acclamations of the Renaissance at its height.

But just before you’re knocked-out by Botticelli, there is one painting of a Madonna and child that you must see. In fact, I think it’s my favourite painting in all of the Uffizi — and perhaps one of the most important in proclaiming the values of humanism and the realistic representation of people, however saintly they may be.

It is Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels, painted in the 1460s and seen in reproduction above. Absolutely beautiful, but also sensual, playful, even mischievous.

Compare this with the idealised solemn representations in the mediaeval paintings that preceded it. Mary is a beautiful and serene young woman, though perhaps saddened by the foreknowledge of her son’s death.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

And… look at the second angel, what earlier painter would ever dare hide much of an angel’s face behind the arm of the baby Jesus? Both these angels are real kids, the sort that could be found playing in the streets of 15th century Florence. The cheeky-faced angel in the foreground is my favourite.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

And… look how clever Lippi has been to make the frame of the window almost the frame of the painting.

And… look at the background through the window, a landscape painted in bold perspective, in sharp contrast to the gold monotone backgrounds surrounding earlier Madonna’s.

And… look at the sinuous, translucent drapery on Mary’s head. Botticelli was a pupil of Lippi’s and you can see where he learned the techniques.

And…

There is so much more to see in this wonderful painting. So, don’t pass it by when you are hurrying to see the Botticellis.

And what of the painter? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, Filippo Lippi was not the ideal monk! He was notorious in his pursuit of pleasure. His vows of celibacy meant nothing and eventually, released from them, he married an ex-nun.

I like this story about Lippi by Vasari in his Lives of the Artists: “He was taken into great favour by Cosimo de’ Medici, but being devoted to pleasure, he neglected his work for it. Cosimo therefore, when he was working for him in his house, caused him to be shut in, so that he could not go out and waste his time; but he, cutting up the sheets of the bed with a pair of scissors, made a rope and let himself down by the window.

“When after many days he returned to his work, Cosimo gave him his liberty, considering the peril he had run, and sought to keep him for the future by many favours, and so he served him more readily, saying that genius is a heavenly being, and not a beast of burden.”

I’m not sure how heavenly Filippo Lippi was, but his painting certainly is, and it has made him immortal.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

A magical musical moment – a sigh, a smile and Mascagni’s sublime melody.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

While we are ‘confined to barracks’ here in Italy, as the nation battles to contain and overcome the coronavirus, Lois and I have been trying to work on some creative ventures.

We are doing some research, for example, into the Italian composer Pietro Mascagni, creator of Cavalleria Rusticana, and the operatic heir to Verdi and Puccini. Lois is beavering away reading all the contemporary papers and biographies of Mascagni and I too am doing my bit!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
At the height of his fame.

Mascagni is often regarded as a ‘one-hit’ composer, gaining international fame in his 20s, but although writing another dozen or so operas, never again achieving anything quite as good as Cavalleria Rusticana. Add to that, he became mixed up with the fascists and Mussolini in the 1930s and ended up a petulant old man in a hotel room in Rome when it was captured by the Allies in 1944, and we think we have the makings of a fascinating novel or screenplay.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
In Rome 1945. New York Times archive.

But the music, as ever, is more than the man, particularly to my mind, the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana. If you’d like to see something goosebump-creating, have a look at this Taiwanese young people’s orchestra, conducted by their (older) Chinese director of music. (The orchestra is the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra and Conductor, Lim Kek-tjiang.) His sigh and smile (at the top of this report) as he leads the orchestra into the main theme of the Intermezzo (about a minute and a half in), is an amazing moment. Have a look at it at by clicking here.

It stirs the heart in these challenging times…

The Watermill‘s 2020 creative courses are still running – and we have contingency plans to ensure you will be able to enjoy an inspiring week with us this year

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

You will have read with concern the restrictions just imposed on life and travel in Italy at the moment, because of the coronavirus outbreak.

We believe that in a few weeks’ time, well before our courses season starts, the situation in Italy will be much brighter, that all restrictions will be lifted by then and that all our courses will be able to go ahead. We are monitoring the situation closely and if there are still restrictions in the early weeks of our season, we plan to offer you the same course at a later date.

We will keep in contact as things progress but, in the meantime, the Watermill and our inspiring tutors look forward to welcoming you here.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

If you haven’t already booked, give yourself a treat and a break from these difficult times and come and join us for a wonderful week in a beautiful setting, with delicious food and wine, and warm and welcoming hospitality. And don’t forget, we are also Cool and Green! All the bedrooms and public rooms have air conditioning, powered by our hidden array of photovoltaic panels, harnessing the sun’s energy to makes us self-sufficient in electricity generation. Green – and Cool!

Here’s the very latest availability on our creative courses this year. We would love to enjoy your company.

You will see below that some of our courses are already booked up, but if you are particularly interested in that specific week, please let us know. There are often cancellations and we will put you on a waiting list and let you know immediately if a place becomes available.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Our inspiring painting courses

Carl March

Carl March
18 – 25 April 2020 – one or two places left
Drawing and watercolours en plein air
To learn more about Carl and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Grahame Booth

Grahame Booth
25 April – 2 May 2020 – two or three places left
Watercolours
To learn more about Grahame and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Brienne M Brown

Brienne M Brown – two places left
16 – 23 May 2020
Watercolours
To learn more about Brienne and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Sandra Strohschein

Sandra Strohschein
30 May – 6 June 2020 – one place left
6 – 13 June 2020 – two places left
Watercolours
To learn more about Sandra and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Randy Hale

Randy Hale
13 – 20 June 2020 – two or three places left
Watercolours
To learn more about Randy and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Vicki Norman

Vicki Norman
20 – 27 June 2020 – one place left
Oils and watercolours (and other mediums)
To learn more about Vicki and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Mark Warner

Mark Warner
11 – 18 July 2020 – a few places available
Colourful Acrylics, Drawing, Pen & Wash
To learn more about Mark and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Mike Willdridge

Mike Willdridge
29 August – 5 September 2020 – three places left
Watercolour and drawing (also gouache and acrylics)
To learn more about Mike and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Rebecca de Mendonça

Rebecca de Mendonça
5 – 12 September 2020 – two or three places left
Pastels and Mixed media
To learn more about Rebecca and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Maggie Renner Hellmann

Maggie Renner Hellmann 19 – 26 September 2020 – a few places available
Oils, acrylics, watercolours and pastels
To learn about Maggie’s courses, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Mary Padgett

Mary Padgett
26 September – 3 October 2020  – one place left
Pastels (and other portable media) en plein air
To learn more about Mary and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Milind Mulick

Milind Mulick
3 – 10 October 2020 –  fully booked, waiting list open
Colourful watercolours
To learn more about Milind and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Tim Wilmot

Tim Wilmot
10 – 17 October 2020 –  fully booked, waiting list open
Watercolours
To learn more about Tim and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Our enticing knitting courses

The Watermill at Posara for painting, knitting, creative writing, Italian language, personal development and yoga holidays/vacations/retreats, Tuscany, Italy.
Louisa Harding

Louisa Harding
23 – 30 May 2020 – fully booked, waiting list open
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about Louisa and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Louisa Harding

Louisa Harding
NEW week 27 June – 4 July –a few places available
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about Louisa and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Knitting retreat

Knitting Retreat
4 – 11 July 2020 – two places left
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about this retreat, please visit our 2020 Retreat Overview Page.


Renée Callahan

Renée Callahan
15 – 22 August 2020  – a few places available
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about Renée and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Our enriching 2020 writing courses

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran

Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran
2 – 9 May 2020 – two places left
Scriptwriting
To learn more about Laurence and Maurice and their course at the mill, please visit their 2020 Profile Page.


Jo Parfitt

Jo Parfitt
2 – 9 May 2020 – two places left
Write the stories of your life
To learn more about Jo and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Our illuminating Italian language course

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Francesca la Sala

Langues Services and Francesca la Sala
22 – 29 August 2020 – still a few places
Learning Italian with the Italians
To learn more about Francesca and her
2020 course at the mill, please click here.


The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Shady and cool along the Millstream. Picture: Alistair Macfie

Brienne Brown: an endearing, talented painting teacher

Painting by Brienne Brown, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

The quotation above was one of the first things we ever heard about Brienne Brown, when we were talking to her some time ago about becoming a tutor at the Watermill. It’s just the sort of quirky piece of information that endears her to us.

Painting by Brienne Brown, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

Although, following school and university, Brienne pursued a career in science, she never lost her passion for painting, so after her children were born, she returned to become a full-time artist. She particularly loves painting en plein air. She says: “I find beauty in everyday life. Each painting reminds me of where I was, the experiences I had, the sounds, smells, and the people I met … and I enjoy sharing how I see the world.”  Brienne adds: “Painting in Italy is just a dream come true.” 

Painting by Brienne Brown, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

Brienne will be with us for her course in watercolours from 16-23 May 2020. We have room for two or three more painters on her course and their non-painting partners, too, if they would like to come). Details and links below. I have made one of those fun, 30-second Facebook slideshows showcasing some of her paintings. You can see it by clicking here. I have scattered some of the slides around this blog.

Painting by Brienne Brown, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

During her workshop, Brienne will demonstrate and explain her painting process for plein air painting, sharing some great exercises and practices that will help you become a better artist. Using strong value sketches, bold washes, and quick energetic strokes, Brienne will show you how to bring excitement into your paintings. No experience in watercolour painting is necessary, but some drawing experience is recommended.

A comment from one of her previous students: “Brienne’s workshop is great. She goes through each step guiding you through the process clearly while demonstrating her techniques and approach. I really learned a lot from her critique, as well… I would highly recommend her workshop to ANYONE, wanting to learn watercolor, beginner or advanced painter.”

Everything is included in the cost of your holiday at the Watermill: tuition, accommodation, pre-dinner aperitifs, all meals and wines (including outings to charming local restaurants) and all local transportation.

You get to Pisa, Italy, we do the rest!

Painting by Brienne Brown, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

Brienne M Brown

Brienne M Brown  – two or three painting places left
Watercolours
To learn more about Brienne and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Important note:

The coronavirus: Italy is NOT a no-go area; the Watermill IS open for business.

***Some of our guests have expressed concern about the effects of coronavirus in Italy. Lois and I are monitoring the position daily, but currently there is absolutely no reason why you should not come to enjoy your creative week with us.

The Watermill is in Tuscany, the historic Italian region whose capital is Florence. Here is the very latest advice from the official Tuscany tourism agency, based on the latest official Italian government findings and pronouncements. We produce the whole of their advice below and you can read it for yourself by clicking https://www.visittuscany.com/en/coronavirus/?fbclid=IwAR1-.-S9CoULQSL1nXDbc1A0. This was updated yesterday 6 March 20

And here is a comment from the eminent Italian lawyer Stefano Mafei, who is also a PhD at Oxford University: For my friends abroad. Italy remains a safe and fully functioning country. You may have read that Italy registered a very high number of COVID 19 cases. True, but this is because the Italian Government opted for a unique policy of mass-testing around the Country. Italy tested in the last week more patients than all the other European countries combined. You may have heard that some cities were cordoned off. True, but quarantine applies to around 0.1% of the Italian population, in two small areas south of Milan and south of Padova. Yes, some people died. But they all suffered from serious diseases before they caught COVID-19.  Statistics suggest that cases will sharply decrease starting March 10th. Please be rational and follow reliable news report on Italy, before you cancel your travel plans for 2020

Many of the reports in the press and TV and on social media are highly inaccurate and distorted, so it is important now to view the situation calmly. The statement below gives you the true facts. We will keep in touch about any significant subsequent developments.

Meanwhile we are preparing the Watermill to welcome our guests for another season of sun-filled, fun-filled, inspiring creative courses. Italy is NOT a no-go area; the Watermill IS open for business. We are looking forward to welcoming you here for our inspiring teaching, our beautiful setting, our delicious food and wine, and our warm and welcoming hospitality.

Here is the Visit Tuscany report: Updated 6 March 2020

Information on Coronavirus in Tuscany

Answers to the most important questions for anyone travelling or planning to travel in Tuscany 

Is it a risk to take a vacation in Tuscany?

Tuscany is not currently classified as an area at risk.
Tuscany and Italy have one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world.

The exceptional controls and measures that Italy adopted at the start of the outbreak in China now means that we are able to trace all cases extremely quickly, more efficiently and precisely than is possible in other parts of the world.

What is the situation at the moment in Tuscany?

There are no contagion hotspots in Tuscany. At the moment, the number of cases verified and in the process of being verified by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (National Institute of Health) are very few.

All the patients are in good health, a stable condition and have been isolated according to procedure. All of them can be linked, directly or indirectly, to high-risk zones.

Is the region accessible?

Ports, airports, stations and motorways are open and operational as normal. Transit into and out of Tuscany is as normal.

Up until the present, airports have operated as standard and no flights have been registered as being cancelled or suspended. On advice from the Ministry of Health, a policy of body temperature checks on all arriving passengers has been in force since 7 February.

Arrival and departure of public transport

Public transport is currently running as normal. For up-to-date information we recommend that you get in direct contact with airlines, maritime, bus and train companies.

Are Tuscany’s museums and attractions closed?

No. All tourist attractions are open as normal.

What precautions has the Tuscany health system taken to protect residents and visitors?

Tuscany Region guarantees its constant collaboration with the national health authorities and with the regional health offices, who are on the alert and continuously kept informed with regards to operational updates and guidelines codified at national level.

The situation is being constantly monitored by the local health authorities, who can guarantee the sanitary control of Tuscany via the adoption of actions and measures specifically geared towards prevention. Daily disinfection of regional trains and all local public transport has been intensified. In Tuscany’s airports, public spaces are being sanitised on a regular basis and handwash dispensers are available across the terminals.