Icons & Talismans

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Process images

Underground in Cripta del Crocefisso, Ugento

Here I am next to a13th Century fresco that inspired my work for Icons & Talismans exhibition in Boston. The fresco is located in an underground crypt/chapel used by Crusaders centuries ago. The entry to the carved-out-of-rock chapel is located in a field that's on the side of a rural road. The exposed outside building, where you enter, looks like a farmer’s storage shed. The devotional space is accessible through a barrel-vaulted staircase.

Ceiling: Cripta del Crocefisso in Ugento, Italy.

Once you’ve made your way down the steep steps, you can't help but to admire the low ceiling. It's covered with paintings of Crusaders’ shields–alternating the patterns of the black cross symbol of the Teutonic Knights and the red cross symbol of the Templars. Also painted on the ceilings are stars, plants, and real and imaginary animals, such as a Gryphon and a large Hydra from Greek mythology.

Cripta del Crocefisso in Ugento, Italy.

There are four areas of frescos. Some are more damaged by moisture and time than others. Visits to the Cripta are by reservation, which isn’t that difficult but speaking Italian helps. Contact the Ugento Archeological Museum a day before you would like to see the wall paintings.

(Records indicate human presence in the surrounding area from at least the fourth century B.C. Cripta del Crocefisso is located on the Via Sallentina, a route of the Messapian and Roman ages that connected Otranto to Taranto.)

Underground Byzantine Crypt in Grottaglie

Another underground Byzantine crypt in Salento that contributed to my research is located in the ceramicist town of Grottaglie. Mimmo Vestita discovered the treasure under his property while remodeling his garage. In order to see these remarkably intact wall paintings, you call Mimmo. I believe he shows the discovery to visitors June through August.

Saint Barbara, Grottaglie

Inside the Grottaglie crypt we saw a beautiful Saint Barbara, similar but perhaps a bit more animated than the Saint Barbara in Casaranello.

Saint Barbara, Casaranello, Church of Santa Maria della Croce

For the past handful of years, I have been tracking down Byzantine frescoes and Crusader hideaways in the Salento region of Italy, with the intention of making monotypes inspired by the imagery and the journey. The Saint Barbara (who appears everywhere in Puglia) in the marvelous Church of Santa Maria della Croce is perhaps my favorite. Her bindi, extravagant jewelry, nose ring and countenance are simply gorgeous to behold.

Printing at MASS MoCA

After researching the pigments and technique used by Byzantine traveling fresco artists, I invited the knowledge, images and feelings to guide my hands. I worked in the MASS MoCA print shop.

Making Byzantine Cats
Cartapesta and gouache

The delightful cats on the ceiling of Cripta del Crocefisso in Ugento are godparents to this pair of cat sculptures. Using the Byzantine colors and cartapesta technique from Puglia, I created "Moshe and Maria" for the Icons & Talismans exhibition. They now live in my house.

Cupola, Church of Santa Maria della Croce

In the center of the exquisite starry vault is a cross made of gold tiles. I often use this clean color scheme when printing and painting.

(Church of Santa Maria della Croce boasts very ancient origins and probably dates back to the 5th-6th century.)