The next best thing to travel is the anticipation of a trip. Next month I’m off to Italy for work, and for me that’s an even more exciting prospect than if I were going there on vacation. The land and light that inspired the art of the Renaissance shines on. I intend to steep myself in both.
For now, I’m cloistered in the college library, reading up on Tuscan history, pouring over bookplates of Etruscan antiquities and investigating the geology of the region. There’s a thrill that comes from cracking the covers of a book that just can’t be found in an “online” quest for information. A book holds its author in benign captivity. He or she is held in suspended animation between the pages until the reader sets them free. Though they may be long dead, they’re voice comes alive through the printed word.
Adrian Stokes wrote a book titled “Stones of Rimini,” published in 1934. He was an Englishman besot by Italian culture. He became particularly enamored of panels in the Tempio at Rimini carved by an artist named Agostino di Duccio. They are the main subject of his rather eccentric book but not what attracted me to his writing. Stokes was crazy about the qualities of Italian limestone. His praise for Agostino has more to do with the way he handled the stone than it did for his compositional skills. In Stokes’ words, “A figure carved in stone is fine carving when one feels that not the figure, but the stone through the medium of the figure, has come to life.” He bemoaned the fact that, in his lifetime, stone had lost it’s place as the preeminent building material of architecture. I fully concur with his sentiment, “…so far as stone loses its use as a construction material, it loses also power over the imagination.” I’m going to Italy to touch stone, and give my imagination a good stirring.