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The Basilica of San Francesco is a late Medieval church located in the center of Arezzo, Tuscany, dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. A single-nave building designed in accordance to the practice typical of  mendicant orders such as the Franciscans. The Basilica mostly owes its fame to the  cycle of frescoes depicting the Legend of the True Cross, painted by Piero della Francesca between 1452 and 1466. The theme of the frescoes derives from the popular 13th century book The Golden Legend, dedicated to the lives of saints: the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified is said to have been made of wood from the Garden of Eden. This work demonstrates Piero della Francesca’s advanced knowledge of perspective and color, his geometric orderliness and his skills in pictorial construction. 

The fresco is divided into different episodes, two of which are dedicated to the Queen of Sheba: The Adoration of the Wood and The Meeting with King Solomon. According to the legend, the Queen of Sheba worshiped the beams made from a tree, and informed Solomon that the Savior would hang from that tree, and thus dismember the realm of the Jews. This caused Solomon to hew it down. The delicate use of shades of pink, red, green and blue, together with the harmonious layout, transmit a sense of  peace which enhances the work’s spiritual purpose. The distinctive palette has inspired the Italian practice Opere Varie in the creation Fresco, a series of objects commissioned by Nero Design Gallery in Arezzo for their latest exhibition – Lightness.

Opere Varie is the creative corpus of Alessandra and Matteo, Italian duo of artists and architects. The practice was conceived in Venice, when Alessandra and Matteo met during their studies at Iuav. It was then established in Brussels, in 2017, after an intensive sojourn in the Flemish city of Gent – where the dim light, dull landscape, unforgiving weather and Medieval architecture somehow fuel contemporary design. In 2019 the practice moved to Milan, where the duo is currently converting a small industrial factory in the area near the famed Fondazione Prada (Milan’s new creative hub) into a home-studio. Alessandra and Matteo’s practice influences their lifestyle, or vice-versa: the couple also designs and produces its own clothes, which show some clear Flemish avant-guard references. 

When working on a new project, Opere Varie analyses the cultural heritage of the geographic area where the work will be displayed – sometimes they are inspired by local architecture and art, sometimes by the local mentality and lifestyle. Fresco originates from Piero della Francesca’s frescoes in the Basilica of Saint Francis, which also happens to be right next to Nero Design Gallery. Each object collects the shades of color of the frescoes – pink, green, red, light blue and beige – and through several manual castings it crystallizes in resin and natural pigment. The volume is worked by hand to give it the appearance of a semi- transparent stone. Primarily an aesthetic work, embodying Opere Varie’s artistic contamination but also the ongoing trend of translating design into art. A tiny hole on the side of each object can accommodate the stem of a flower, somehow reconnecting Fresco with the original functional purpose of design. 

Bookbinding Conti Borbone, Milan, dates back to 1873. For centuries, the Conti Borbone family has been a point of reference for luxury production, creating decorative objects and adorning the homes of all the most prestigious families in Milan: Borromeo, Elkann, Garavoglia, Dompè, Gancia an Mentasti. Companies such as Prada, Etro an Bottega Veneta send their customers to Conti Borbone in order to have their leather goods customized. The core business however is still the binding of books – from antique publications to coffee table editions – and the clientele is a culture-loving one who acknowledges the value of printed words. Hybrid minded Marcello Pirovano, with his background spanning from product design to digital, participated to Lightness by collaborating with Bookbinding Conti Borbone, using precious marbled paper form their archives in order to create a series of masks and totems which pay tribute to Bruno Munari’s research on Travel Sculptures from the 1950s. Pirovano defines his work as ‘light by definition’, in terms of both specific weight and purpose: just like Munari’s sculptures eventually had no other purpose than decorating squalid looking hotel rooms, Pirovano’s masks and totems are simple aesthetics, enhanced by the unusual combination of old materials (the marbled papers) and new technologies (laser cutting). Once again design pushing the boundaries of art by exploring the functional value of beauty. Pirovano named this collection Ciapapulver, a Milanese word for ‘object which has no other use than collecting dust’. 

Iris Roth is a ceramic artist and interior designer, graduated with a degree in Art History from Goldsmith’s College in London. Growing up in a family of artists, she developed a passion for non-conventional lifestyles and creative use of living spaces. Originally from Germany, Roth is now based in Milan, where she lives in the North-Eastern part of the city known as NoLo. Once an impoverished neighborhood, NoLo is today a cultural melting pot with a community feel that defies both the city’s old bourgeois soul and its modern hip vibe. Roth feels part of the neighborhood, she connects with its inhabitants and shares her courtyard with other artists. Relationships and social environment play a key part in her practice, she works with local craftsmen and her interiors are soulful and intimate. The choice of objects, furniture, and solutions, are a heritage of her bohemian childhood and her travels around the world. Roth herself seems to come from all over the world, she might be of German origin but she could just as likely be a Kalbelia gypsy or an Andalusian gitana. In her private home, objects have a fluid collocation based more on their aesthetic than on their function – space and light create a timeless and peaceful sanctuary, a philosophy that is also reflected in her work. 

In 2015 she designed the interiors of the renowned bar and co-working space Otto in Milan’s Chinatown, a venue that ultimately reflects the city’s current need of creativity and community. Roth discovered her love for pottery at a young age, while watching her father sculpting in his atelier. Her ceramics combine elements of style drawn from traditional Italian craftsmanship with more contemporary design. The 13th century Persian poet Rumi believed that “the wound is where the light enters you”; inspired by these verses, Roth responded to Michele Seppia’s invitation to participate to Lightness by creating Fragile Beings, a limited edition of ceramic vases and a bowl with irregular shapes, each with a crack that somehow reminds of an open wound. A series of containing objects, but also soft and feminine dynamic figures – ‘dancers’ she calls them, whose beauty is enhanced by their illuminated wound. Roth cracked the ‘wounds’ herself. Women who gave birth through c-section carry a large scar at the center of their bodies for their entire lives: a cut, done manually in order to allow birth. I have one myself: from that ugly wound, done in a rush to save both mine and the baby’s lives, my child was born.

Born in 1542, Isabella Romola de’ Medici was the daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Eleonora di Toledo. She was raised and educated in a humanist manner at her father’s court in Florence. To secure a relationship with the powerful Roman Orsini family, her  father arranged her marriage to Paolo Giordano I Orsini when she was 16. On the 16th of July 1576 Isabella died unexpectedly at the Medici villa in Cerreto Guidi. According to her brother, the Grandduke Francesco de’ Medici, this occurred while she was washing her hair in the morning. However, the official version of events was not generally believed: according to inside information, Isabella was strangled by her husband in the presence of several named servants. Most historians assume that Paolo Giordano killed Isabella in reprisal for carrying on a love affair with his cousin, Troilo Orsini. A portrait of Isabella can be found inside Casa Vasari – the family home of Italian artist Giorgio Vasari in Arezzo, today a museum richly decorated with frescoes and housing a priceless collection of Mannerist paintings. A delicate feminine beauty with an earnest look: the fragility of her condition as a woman in times of social disparity didn’t prevent her from pursuing her passion. 

Nero is an historical and contemporary design gallery, founded in 2005 by interior decorator Michele Seppia. From the beginning, the gallery chose to focus on important names in the field of Italian and international modern design. Today it explores the territories of contemporary design and art by collaborating with leading and promising names on the current scene. Lightness announces itself as the first chapter of a new annual exhibition format, as Seppia himself explains: “I’ve been thinking for a long time about an annual appointment with a specific theme to be realized in the gallery, involving more designers. I would like this to become an annual event, an opportunity to be able to confront new issues and new designers“. The concept plays on the double meaning of the word  itself – lightness as in not heavy and lightness as in not dark. All the participating designers were given the freedom to express the concept in whichever way they preferred.  The list of designers and artists involved in this first edition includes: Opere varie, Duccio Maria Gambi, Marcello Pirovano, Iris Roth, Pietro Russo, Laura Sattin, Alizarina Silva, Studio Pepe featuring Andrea Ferrari and Michele Seppia himself. 

Lightness / A new perspective on exhibitions

Nero design gallery announce Lightness, the first chapter of a new annual exhibition format.

Lightness opens in Arezzo on Thursday 28 November 2019.