By Jeanne Outlaw-Cannavo
Aprile dolce incoraggia l’ucello a cantare e l’albero a fiorire.
Sweet April inspires the birds to sing and the tree to flower.
It’s spring again. The art, nature and music of Italy is bountiful with ways to showcase this season of rebirth. For those of us who experience the four seasons we can say goodbye to the gloomy days of winter, lift our faces to the sun and watch as flowers come back to life and songbirds fill the air with their sweet music.
The word primavera has Indo-European roots – “prima” meaning before, and “vas,” which evolved into the word for summer, refers to something that is burning or shining.
One of the most famous depictions of spring is the masterpiece “La Primavera” by the Italian artist Sandro Botticelli. It is thought that the work was commissioned by the Medici family, possibly created for the marriage of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco, a cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
The tempera-on-wood panel, completed around 1482, captures the glories of the season. Considered one of the great works of the Renaissance, it shows a group of mythological figures in a shady glen under a half grove of orange trees set against a light blue sky. At the center of the painting is Venere (Venus) the ultimate symbol of love. Above her is a blindfolded cupid (her son) and to the left is Mercury, the god of May. The three women on the right are the Graces who represent the virtues of chastity, beauty and love. On the right is Zephyrus, the west wind, who is about to take the nymph Chloris. After she is taken she transforms into Flora, the Spring Goddess.
There are hundrˇeds of paintings as well as many sculptures highlighting the joys of spring. One of the most noted of these is the primavera statue on the Ponte Santa Trinità in Florence, Italy. The sculpture was created by Pietro Francavilla in 1608 as part of four statues representing the four seasons. During World War II the German army destroyed five bridges along the Arno in order to stop the Allied advance. They spared only the Ponte Vecchio but during the destruction the Primavera statue was damaged. The bridge was repaired in 1958 and the four statues were returned to their places. However, the Primavera statue was not fully repaired until 1961, when her head was found buried downstream in the mud and finally rejoined with the rest of the statue.
Artwork is not the only way to enjoy spring. Nature also brings a bounty of reminders that winter is gone. Trees and flowers bloom, baby animals are born and happy birds fill the air with song. Gelsomina (jasmine), Margherita (daisies), fiori di ciliegio (cherry blossoms), Narcisis (daffodils), and Primule (primroses) are just a few of the spring flowers that delight the eyes and evoke the smells of spring. One of my favorites is verbena. The scent of this flower is particularly strong and the spectacular blooms can be enjoyed from spring through the summer, and year-round in warmer climes of Italy. In Rome the Piazza di Spagna is blanketed with blooms that provide a canvas of beauty for residents and tourists, and are often a backdrop for fashion shows and other events.
When it comes to our winged and furry friends in Italy, the sparrow is hailed as the national bird of the bel paese. You will often see them swirling through the skies in large flocks, a sight that is truly beautiful to see. The most prevalent of birds whose sounds fill the piazze and streets are the pigeons. They are masters of enticing tourists into feeding them.
La Primavera is also a time for birth for many mammals. Bears leave their dens with newborn cubs, wolves with their cubs and fox with their kits while in the fields you will often see newborn foals and kids.
If you are a fan of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, the markets offer oranges, citrons, apples and pears in early spring. In May you will be able to savor strawberries, apricots and plums. Fava beans, artichokes and fennel also come into season to flavor your favorite meals.
Finally, one cannot imagine spring without the music that fills the air in small towns and cities across the country. It may be a celebration or a festival or perhaps a strolling cantante singing popular songs. You may be lucky enough to come across someone singing traditional stornelli (folk songs) that you can sometimes hear in smaller towns.
There are several songs that are well known for their exaltation of the joys of spring. Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagione (four seasons) concerto starts with the lively sounds of spring. In 1956 Franca Raimondi won the Festival of Sanremo with her song Aprite Le Finestre (Open the Windows) while the artist Nilla Pizzi had a hit with her song È Primavera. Claudio Villa sang the beautiful Mattinata Fiorentina and Primavera Romana while in more recent years Laura Pausini evoked the season through her song Primavera in Anticipo. With today’s modern technology all of these songs and more can be enjoyed online.
Perhaps the most wonderful sound of the season is the sound of children calling out to friends and laughing as they play in the parks and squares.
So it’s time! Spring is here! Let’s take the time to truly enjoy this season as it offers a new start. Buona primavera!