The Simple Luxury

On a recent trip to Bologna (2016), I found myself drawn into the halls of the Municipal Building, tempted by a brochure I had read that suggested there was some beauty to behold inside the imposing stone edifice. Some limited signage indicated an upstairs gallery: up a steep gradated stairwell, the kind that allowed for horses at one time. I was rewarded for my curiosity: In a small room adjacent to the large galleries (whose walls and ceilings are covered with masterfully painted murals – scenes of bravery, triumph and honor), I found the work of the artist Wolfgango. Here were impressive tondo works on wood depicting large-scale drawings of fruits, flowers and vegetables. Each tondo, a season – its native ingredients presented in a kind of swirl, as if dancing. Here, the simplest of subjects were esconsed in a white halo: the humble garlic clove, the slice of melon (still with its seeds), the rosebud, a mushroom. The artist’s magnificent detail makes the subject – which, despite their floating without roots or bowls, can be categorized as still life – both tangible and idealized. These plants and buds are not for consumption yet, but for just this moment, for our adoration. Wolfgango, who created these works in his late years, passed away in early 2017. 

Wolfgango. Autumn, 1993. Pastel on wood. 175cm diameter.

While his message may not have been at all political or connected to world events, his paintings evoke a deep gratitude for ingredients that are common if not staples in most Italian kitchens. Not all kitchens can claim such abundance – in fact, certain starved regions might view Italy’s natural resources as the terrain of sheer paradise. 

Please enjoy this edition of Italian Journal focused on the yields of Italian gastronomy: where culture and food intersect.