December 9, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Fall snapshots

By |2023-11-02T00:19:40+01:00November 2nd, 2023|Letters from San Francisco|
Botticelli's "The Annunciation," 1490-1495.

n San Francisco, autumn began on a melancholy note. The passing of Senator Dianne Feinstein has been marked by many a somber ritual. It was here in San Francisco, as a mayor, that Dianne Feinstein commenced what would be a long career in politics. Later, she went on to become an important member of the U.S. Senate. Many in San Francisco recall the assassination of her predecessor, George Moscone, in 1978. With the death of Moscone and the change in power, it seemed to many that the city became less imperial.

Senator George Moscone was a tough Italian-American, proud of his paisano roots, and he ran the city with a certain amount of force. Traces of that time remain. For example, October is “Italian Heritage Month” here, and memories of Moscone resonate with the many events commemorating his legacy as a bold Caesar-like leader.

In the wake of the long pandemic, the San Francisco Italian Heritage Parade returned to the streets of North Beach, celebrating the contributions Italian-Americans have made to the wider American culture. Held annually in October since 1868, the event, with its procession of marching bands, colorful floats, vintage cars, and costumed participants, attracts visitors from around the world.

Verdi’s popular opera, “Il Trovatore,” conducted by Eun Sun Kim, was one of two masterpieces of Italian classical music to come to The War Memorial Opera House. This production was widely acclaimed by international critics for art and mainstream publications. The second Italian opera, Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” (November 19–December 9), is being co-produced by director Daniel Slater and associate director and choreographer Tim Claydon. The story itself takes place on the Italian Riviera in the 1950s.

The San Francisco Italian Heritage Parade, with its procession of marching bands, colorful floats, vintage cars, and costumed participants, attracts visitors from around the world.

Our city’s performing venue, the War Memorial Opera House, built in the Doric style, has a sober beauty which serves its purpose well — its purpose being to commemorate the soldiers of the First World War.

However, San Francisco is hardly a place where war is widely celebrated. Indeed, when Wagner’s bellicose “Lohengrin” was staged here this fall, the opera company made this statement to the audience: “We present Lohengrin at a very difficult time in the world, including the conflict in Israel and Gaza and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The drama of Lohengrin has inherently militaristic underpinnings, and that theme is explored more fully in this production. The personal journey of the protagonists takes place against a backdrop of a society undergoing a gradual militarization. As we present this story of a society pulled into militarized conflict, we reflect on the millions of people currently living through such a reality. And we hope that this production, even in a small way, contributes to the dialogue about how humanity breaks the cycle of war and finds a lasting peace.”

Finally, November brings a major fine art exhibition to our Legion of Honor, which, for the first time, draws together the complete graphic output of one of the world’s most famous artists. Running from November 19, 2023–February 11, 2024 “Botticelli Drawings” presents the works of the renowned Renaissance artist.

A quintessential artist of the Italian Renaissance, Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli, has had an enduring influence on contemporary culture, from art and design to dance, music, fashion, and film. Known for some of the world’s greatest paintings, from “La Primavera” (1477–1482) to the “Birth of Venus” (1485–1486), Botticelli has inspired the likes of artists Andy Warhol, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Cindy Sherman, among others. He was an expert draftsman, creating drawings that underlie and animate his greatest compositions. And yet there has been no major exhibition dedicated to Botticelli’s art of drawing until now.

Having Botticelli’s whole output, gathered from various galleries across the globe, on display offers a rare opportunity to explore the artistic process behind such renowned works as “The Adoration of the Magi” (1475–1476), reunited here with three preparatory designs.

A prolific portraitist, he made a practice of drawing from life, one that would become an artistic standard in Renaissance Florence and beyond. Yet despite the centrality of drawing to Botticelli’s work, less than three dozen confirmed drawings by the artist survive today. The hardships he experienced later in life, including penury and the decline of his workshop business, may have led to the loss of the vast majority of Botticelli’s graphic output.

About the Author:

Patrick Burnson worked for The Rome Daily American and the International Herald Tribune early in his career. Using the pen name of Paul Duclos, he is the author of the novel “Flags of Convenience.”