Postcards from Italy
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Spello's Infiorata

The world is filled with forms of temporary art, from intricate sand mandalas which blow away in a matter of days and chalk paintings which won't survive the next rainstorm, to monumental works of land art made to erode over decades. But perhaps the most evanescent art form in the world is both created and destroyed in less than 24 hours in a tiny hilltop town in Umbria: the Infiorata.

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Each year on the night preceding Corpus Domini (the ninth Sunday after Easter), almost 2 kilometers of the steep and winding main corso of this Medieval town is carpeted with colorful works of art made with flower petals. Though there are simple geometric designs along the borders and linking one work to the next, the central compositions are stunningly detailed, using dozens of different types, colors, and sizes of flower petals and greenery to create works which rival paintings in their complexity. The flower petal carpets are completed by dawn, and just hours later destroyed as the Corpus Domini Procession passes over them after High Mass.

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore
(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore
(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Between the moment when the final petal is placed and when the Bishop's first footsteps pass over the works, a jury judges the compositions, each of which is carried out by a separate group ranging from local parishes and youth groups to charity organizations. Though the infiorata dates back to 1831, the first competition wasn't held until 1962, and from that year the winning group, often under the guide of a commissioned artist, is awarded the honor of holding the bronze statue of Roman poet Sesto Properzio, said to have been born in Spello in the first century BC, for the next 12 months.

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though the work goes on from Saturday afternoon and through the night to 7:00 am on Sunday, preparation behind the scenes begins months beforehand. The flowers and greenery used in the floral compositions are gathered from the surrounding countryside, and, if dried, must be dried in the sun. Some material used is finely chopped - though it is forbidden to pulverize the petals or use any other organic and synthetic materials - but most is left in its original form. The varying textures and layers of the whole leaves and petals and the finely chopped, dried accents used for the fine details give the compositions an almost three-dimensional effect.

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

On Saturday afternoon, the final preparations are made. Scale outlines of the works, which have been designed and executed on a smaller scale on paper in both color and black and white over the preceding months and weeks, are sketched directly onto the asphalted road with chalk, masking tape, and often large sheets of paper divided into a paint-by-numbers sort of pattern. Each section of the outline is given a number, which corresponds to dozens of numbered boxes and crates of prepared petals and leaves. Large protective tents are set up over each composition to protect it for the next few hours from wind and rain, and, if the latter is forecast, sandbags are laid down to channel the water away from the works.

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

As the sun sets, teams of workers begin to assemble and create their compositions. Younger workers are tasked with the less detailed geometric borders and decorative motifs, while the more experienced work on the central, more detailed and painstaking sections. As the night wears on, the streets become crowded with curious visitors who come by in droves each spring to watch as the designs begin to take form; many will then return early the next morning to catch a glimpse of the final product before the procession passes by.

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The compositions, which always have a religious theme appropriate to Corpus Domini, are immense, measuring at least 12 metres for a “quadro”, or single scene, and at least 24 square meters for a “tappeto”, or floral carpet with repetitive geometrical motifs, and often small platforms are set up on the edges so that the public and, more importantly, the jury can view the entire composition from above. Though it's always interesting to stop by during the evening and participate in the festive air surrounding the preparation of the Infiorata, to fully appreciate the artistry and skill involved, you'll have to set your alarm for dawn on Sunday morning...but it's worth the early start to see these true works of art in all their fleeting glory.

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

infiorata-spello-umbria-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Related posts:
Traveling Between Rome, Florence and Venice: Stopovers to Round Out Your Trip
Perugia
Walk in the Paths of St. Francis and St. Clare in Assisi


Contributor: Rebecca Winke

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