Discovering the art of Pietrasanta
Of the many highlights that Mr. TWS and I enjoyed during our stay in Tuscany, one of our favorites was learning about the rich art culture of Pietrasanta, a town near the Versilian coast (Tuscany’s Riviera) in the foothills of the Apuan Alps.
In the company of our expert local guide and Tuscany travel consultant, Serena Giovannoni, we strolled among intriguing public art, watched artists at work on their creations, saw the nearby quarries where the area’s famous pure white marble is sourced, and enjoyed the beauty of Tuscany.
The precious marble
Although familiar with Michelangelo’s masterpieces and lucky enough to have seen a few in person, I didn’t know that in the quarries of the Apuan Alps near Pietrasanta he procured the fine marble for his sculptures. On our drive on winding roads above Seravezza just a few miles from Pietrasanta, we got a direct view of one of them cut into the forested hillside. Imagine back in the 16th century how difficult it must have been for Michelangelo and others to get their marble from hillside to workshop.
Also on our drive through the foothills to Pietrasanta, Serena took us to a unique art school where student artists were working with hammers and chisels to sculpt their masterpieces from marble slabs obtained nearby, inspired by the gorgeous scenery of the mountain vistas.
In the town of Pietrasanta, we visited a marble sculpture workshop where we carefully stepped around dusty slabs of gorgeous marble recently removed from the quarries to watch the activity of the artists. Religious works for churches were being created alongside statues for other venues.
I’ve seen the familiar LOVE sculpture below in several other places in my travels, but I’ve never seen one while it is a work in progress.
Pietrasanta public art
During our afternoon in the city center of Pietrasanta, it was easy to understand why it is known as “Little Athens” and “City of the Artists” and why it is home to many Italian and international artists. The city exudes a passion for art with galleries and public art exhibits being key elements of the historic center.
Entering the city center at Piazza Duomo is a feast for the eyes with public art on display in the square. Prominent are the sculptures (shown here and in the photo at the top of the post) by Polish artist, Igor Mitoraj, who set up a studio in Pietrasanta in 1983 and contributed several works to the city.
Among the fashion boutiques and cafes on on Via Garibaldi, Pietrasanta also has numerous galleries showcasing contemporary Tuscan artists. Although we didn’t visit the Museo dei Bozzetti on this visit, I’d like to return to see its extensive collections of over 600 sketches and models of the sculptures of more of 300 Italian and foreign artists, including Fernando Botero (whose bold sculptures we previously saw in Maui in art installations at the Grand Wailea Resort).
A lovely symbol of art and peace in Pietrasanta’s public art is Porta della Pace (Doorway of Peace) at the end of the main street in town.
The mosaic master: Piero Giannoni
A highlight of the afternoon was a personal visit with Piero Giannoni, a master mosaic artist who gave us a very warm welcome. During a walk-through that he graciously provided, his passion for his craft was evident as he spoke of completed projects and described the project in progress on a large open area on the floor of his studio. Working seven days a week to meet orders but also to fulfill his love of the art itself, he is clearly committed to his craft.
We watched Piero and another artist in his shop cutting, polishing, and placing each individual piece of glass. His many artistic accomplishments are diverse and include mosaic portraits for celebrities such as fashion designers Giorgio Armani and Roberto Cavalli as well as large mosaic art pieces that adorn churches and secular venues around the world.
Mr. TWS and I particularly appreciated the mosaic representation of “The Kiss” (below left), a favorite Gustav Klimt painting.
My day was made when Piero selected a large sampling of colorful glass mosaic pieces and gave them to me — it was a special treasure and a great souvenir.
The art of a Pietrasanta villa
Driving from the city center about four miles into the Versilia hills above Pietrasanta, we reached the beautifully restored 18th century Villa Sant’Andrea for a tour by the owners and Serena, who upon request provides wedding planning and concierge services for guests. Its baroque style with beamed ceilings, extensive manicured gardens, and decorative frescoes seem a perfect fit to the theme of art in Pietrasanta.
The building itself is stately and elegant and the panoramic vistas of the towns below on the Versilian coast are dramatic. The villa embodies a much more Mediterranean Riviera ambiance than that of more well-known Tuscany images of rolling hills dotted with vineyards.
As we walked through the stylish living and sitting rooms, large kitchen, eight spacious bedrooms, and seven baths, we admired the fine furnishings, marble and ceramic tiles, and the fine art. Particularly impressive are the frescoes, some of which are shown in the photos of the villa’s interior below.
Villa Sant’Andrea is ideally suited for large gatherings and special events accommodating up to 20 people. A private consecrated chapel is appealing for weddings and other celebrations. We could easily envision being part of a large group of guests at the villa and relaxing around the pool followed by cocktails on the terrace to enjoy the stunning views.
Beyond the villa, the location is convenient for visiting Pietrasanta and the coastal town of Viareggio, enjoying the beaches of the Versilian coast (nearest beach is 6 km away), a golf course in Forte dei Marmi, and important cities of Tuscany such as Lucca, Pisa (also the nearest airport), and Florence.
Art travel tip: Viareggio and La Citadella di Carnevale
Serena had a surprise for us before the end of our tour with her — a visit to nearby Viareggio (where there are many Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings to admire) and La Citadella di Carnevale, a property with 16 huge hangars where floats for the very popular annual carnival in Viareggio (to be held during February in 2016) are made and stored. The floats are amazing and in the photo bottom right you get a sense of their size. The largest floats can take five months to build and can be as wide as 20m and as tall as 14m. During open hours, you can stroll around the grounds and visit the workshops.
Grazie to Serena Giovanonni, Villa Sant’Andrea, and EsteVillas for hosting our day discovering the art of Pietrasanta.
Take a look at the EsteVillas website for details, more photos, and booking information for Villa Sant’Andrea and other properties in their collection.
Do you enjoy new art discoveries when you travel?
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Love the Sculpture by Igor Mitoraj in Piazza Duomo and the view from Villa Sant’Andrea – it would be a fantastic wedding venue.
Absolutely fantastic! I would love ti visit Pietrasanta, especially because I love Mitoraj’s works so much! We have a couple of them in Poland but it is never enough to watch these beauties! I remember a street exhibition 12 years ago in Poznan and that my husband bought me an album with his works. We were lucky enough to get his autograph! Oh yes, this would be on my top list of places in Italy I wish to visit. Thanks Cathy for such a wonderful post and pictures!
What an amazing post Cathy! In my travel, I love to visit artisans and artists in their workshops. It gives me a better appreciation of the the effort involved to finish one of their works. Also, is a great way to learn how traditional arts and crafts are being conserved. I would love to do a tour similar to your.
Such gorgeous rooms – and views – at Villa Sant’Andrea. And I can’t believe I’ve never even heard of Igor Mitoraj; such eye-catching, thought-provoking works of art. Keeping my eyes open for this sculptor from now on.
All I can say is…Wow!
As a former gallerist, I’m very inspired and heartened to read this post, Cathy, to see how intertwined art is in daily life in Pietrasanta. It feels like such a supportive and nurturing environment for creative types. It makes me feel very warm inside. Thanks!
Great post! Pietrasanta is a magical place!
I am fascinated by sculpture. I cannot begin to believe how these artists create such amazing pieces. Years ago I read a great biography of Michelangelo (I don’t remember the title)and his early days of sculpting and learned a little of the history.
Wow, what a cool place. There are so many things to discover in Italy, we might never be able to explore them all. Doesn’t mean we can’t try though, right?
This looks really nice! Of course the villa looks dreamy, but also Pietrasanta looks like it might be worth a visit sometime – I’ve never really considered it before.
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