2007-2014, 39″ × 100″ , 53″ × 100″, 39″ × 100″.
Fabrics: silks, cottons.
Techniques: hand applique, hand quilting, cathedral windows .
The fifty flower compositions of the triptych “Flowers of the Mind”, are inspired by the frame of the “Adorazione dei Magi” painting, known as the “Pala Strozzi”, commissioned by Palla Strozzi to Gentile da Fabriano for the family chapel in the Church of Santa Trinita in Florence.
Gentile da Fabriano was a painter who worked in Florence between 1420 and 1424. He is universally recognized as the master of the so called “International Gothic”, that is the artistic and cultural development that was popular throughout the European courts be- tween the end of 1300 and the beginning of 1400 when the taste for elegance and discrimination was predominant in an environment made even more precious by the virtuosity of miniature codices, the tri- umph of gold, the attention to precious fabrics in women’s dresses, and the rediscovery of Nature.
And it is this last aspect that prevails in the richly carved frame in wood in the painting of Gentile da Fabriano: in the 36 niches of its pillars, instead of the usual representations of the Saints, we are surprised by ”a world in miniature of very fresh and lively variegated and colorful vegetables” (F.Marcelli). For sure Gentile da Fabriano was aware and had been studying those “tacuina sanitatis” (latin word for “block notes”) that he had brought with him from Lombardy, while he painted “ with perfect attention to particular shapes, colors and shades, allowing also for variations on the theme, poetical licenses, where the fantasy is called upon to fill the lack of precise botanical comparisons”.
I discovered the flowers of Gentile da Fabriano in a book on Renaissance Art in Florence, as I was looking at a detail of his painting, the iris, which is also the symbol of the city. In a backward (and very humble) way to the one of the great um-brian maestro, who so meticulously reproduced with his brushes the fabrics of his time, I began to recreate with fabrics his painted flowers letting his brushes guide me through his world of petals, buds, branches, fruits, and leaves of every kind and shape. At times I got surprised by the “hidden” details of the painting or I got excited when I could use that very special fabric whose color and texture could render so well those painted shapes.
As it happens with most of my quilts, I never count the hours spent on the making of them; if I had done so, I would have probably been scared by the amount of work required for each project. What I know is that I have been learning while on the making, as I gradually entered into the unknown intricacies and mysteries of the vegetar ian world. My only other quilting experience with flowers, were the ones for the border of “Dentro de la Cerchia antica” quilt; but reproducing on fabrics those ceramics flowers by Luca Della Robbia was a minor effort compared to the ones painted by Gentile da Fabriano! During the seven years spent on the project, I refined more and more the techniques through the use of a wider range of fabrics that would add to the transparency and luminosity and through the folding of the fabrics in search of three-dimensionality.
To evoke the opulence of the golden layers of the painting, I used a golden dupioni silk, with changing hue violet reflections to give light and contrast to the black velvets of the monofora, and I then added a hand quilted motive of squares in diagonal with rosettes in the center. To complete the flower sections, fourteen more smaller compositions fill in the same number of cross shaped monoforaes.
They are easily recognizable by the difference in style compared to the ones of Gentile da Fabriano. In fact they are a selection among the more then 190 different species of plants painted by Botticelli in his “Primavera”. (1482-1485). Botticelli too took great care in the painting of the plants, although the researches spotted some contradictions between the leaves and the corresponding flowers, as if the painter had been doing a sort of collage with the plant specimens that he had at hand or pictured in the “tacuina sanitatis”.
From the “textile” point of view, the flowers of Botticelli, compared to the ones of Gentile da Fabriano are even more intricate and detailed to achieve but, being the last ones to complete for my collection, I had acquired enough experience not to be easily discouraged!
The 50 flower compositions are here connected to the “flowers of the mind” of the greatest mathematicians of all times in a total of 28 blocks: in the first eight blocks of “Flowers of the Mind I” there are illustrations about classical Greek Mathematics, such as Pitagora’s Theorem and others that are part of our first classes in math together with other theorems and problems that have led to new branches, such as the problem of the duplication of the cube; in the next twelve blocks of “Flowers of the mind II” there are represented some of the great achievements of Mathematics from the Medioevo up to the nineteenth century; the last eight blocks of “Flowers of the Mind III” are about Fermat Last Theorem, Poincare’s Conjecture (both of which have been lately solved) and six still open “one million dollars” problems of the Millennium of the Clay Institute.
The above choice does not have the pretense of being in any way exhaustive of all of Mathematics, nor could it ever be possible in just 28 blocks! On the contrary, the idea is to just give a glimpse of the many “flowers” of Mathematics just as the flowers here rep-resented are no more then a tiny section of the existing ones in Nature. Regarding to Mathematics my choice was based, apart from the ob-vious criteria of content, also on the visual effects of the pictures representing certain theorems, concepts and problems. From this point of view it was easier to choose from the Greek Mathematics, since most of the problems of 2000 years ago were geometrical, easy to illustrate (for example in the Euclid Books), while for the rep-resentation of the seven Problems of the Millennium I had to rely on illustrations that are just symbolic of the problem.
A special mention to the border that runs around the three quilts flower blocks: it is made of 1004 cathedral windows of square and rectangular shape of silk (which by the way was the only material that would allow for such a construction for its extra light prop-erties, compared to the final tiny dimensions of each single unit). For learning this technique, so versatile in its many variations, (that goes beyond the usually squared shaped cathedral window), it was most helpful the book by Lynne Edwards: “Though the Window & beyond”.
I am planning to write a book with detailed photos and explanations for each one of the 78 compositions of the “Flowers of the Mind” triptych.