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Siena la conchiglia di Venere


If all roads leads to Rome, then all roads of Siena leads to Piazza del Campo. To celebrate this marvelous square, famous all over the world for its Palio ‒ a horse race where horses and their riders represent ten of the seventeen contrade (city wards) and fight harshly and often unfairly ‒ I wanted to entitle my photo album “Siena: Venus’ seashell”.

As everyone knows the square has the shape of a seashell and so it reminded me immediately of the famous Botticelli’s painting where Venus rises from the sea on a big seashell. To underline the particular shape of the square I used a photo of a well-known Vicenzo Rustici’s painting. This had been painted many years ago insomuch as it is entitled Bull hunting in Piazza del Campo (its original Italian title is Caccia ai tori nel Campo di Siena).

The contrade (city wards) are seventeen: the citizens talk about them gladly but the ones that I have heard more often are Istrice (contrada of Crested Porcupine), Civetta (contrada of Little Owl) and Lupa (contrada of She-Wolf). A funny detail: many years ago a mix of caffeine and sugar, called beverone (mash), was administered to the horses before the Palio.

The square is surrounded by beautiful buildings such as Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) with its famous Torre del Mangia ‒ it takes more than 106 steps to reach the first terrace and then many others to reach the top, so approximately 400/500 steps: how it is hard to see Siena! ‒ and Cappella di Piazza, the white marble chapel of the square. Among the others city marvels there is Fonte Gaia: its water flows for more than 30 km, from the hills behind Siena to the spring. It was named “Gaia” (which means jolly) by the citizens because they were so glad to have clear water at the right centre of their square.

I focused my attention mainly on the famous square but the town centre reveals many other marvels such as Loggia dei Mercanti, Logge del Papa, the great cathedral and its baptistery, and in fact U.N.E.S.C.O. declared the city centre of Siena a World Heritage Site.

During my stay in Siena, as my hotel was far away from the town centre, I had the opportunity to talk with many taxi-drivers. You won’t believe me: they are so cultured and they know so well about the history of their city (plague, conflict between Guelph and Ghibelline etc.) that, after the first shock, I started to interview them: what a font of knowledge! On the cab I went out of the city centre and I saw nice blocks of houses, their roofs and their colours.

In conclusion, I want to talk about the women of Siena. Many smiles, curiosity for my work, beauty and charm. Thank to Siena, to its taxi-drivers to its women that walk through the shops with distant eyes, derisive or interested in being immortalized by my camera lens!

Sito web: www.mariapiaseveri.it


Maria Pia Severi’s art photography addresses Italian and foreign places, spaces, landscapes and horizons, developing a new research of photography techniques and stylistic expression. Her creative and intuitive inspiration leads to a particular selection of objects: architectures, squares, roads, settings, that have captured her interest and influenced her emotional sphere.

The lines of the visual journey match her life course to some extent. She shoots photos on and on, following her emotions and pathos, and assembles evocative mosaics and compositions. Severi’s work is a research focused on urban and extra-urban landscapes, on one side, and, on the other side, on female portraits and the female universe at large, that plays the starring role in Severi’s photography.

The artist’s shots reveal the pleasure of telling, as we see from the everlasting and enchanting magic coming from the places and people that she has captured, avoiding the idea of immortalizing them in a common way. Her re-elaboration and transfiguration reveal an intimate, personal and original mark, dominated by lack of clearness and an evanescent and fluctuating atmosphere, between truth and fiction, dream and reality, where the oneiric and imaginary components stimulate the spectator’s imagination offering him many interpretation keys.

Severi is not interested in re-producing the surrounding reality in a common and conventional way, which is an intrinsic quality of the traditional and academic idea of photography. In fact, Severi uses the camera lens as a special instrument, as a filter for interpreting the reality by using original effects and producing unusual images. Colours add value, strength, dynamic energy and vitality to the narrative language at large.

«When photography knows itself as a communication tool, a pure, simple and effective way of understanding the reality, it opens up endless expressive possibilities, that go beyond the purely technique sphere and reach the emotional sphere». Severi seems to follow this statement: she considers photography as a strong “medium” to convey and melt many artistic and conceptual influences in a harmonious and synergic fusion. Her photos seem to have been inspired by great teachers such as Mondrian and Duchamp. It is an unpredicted photographic “formula” led by spontaneous and instinctive impulses and by an irrational factor which goes beyond sophisticated techniques and experimental research. Behind any single photo, there is always a particular mood, a specific situation, a mental statement, a feeling, which leads the beginning of her inspiration.

She doesn’t want to propose a convenient and ordinary vision of reality, instead she wants to show the uniqueness of what is facing her at that time, even if it is not perfect, and gives it a subjective and private dimension according to a noble register. Touching lightly the oneiric dimension, the final effect becomes almost surreal; and, in the reality, the surreal photographer is magic because his shots hold an endless magic.

Elena Gollini - art curator and journalist