Wedged in one of the narrow streets inside the walls of Barga, Italy, is a 17th century home – Casa Cordati.
It was once known as the “red house of the Grand Duke”, because Grand Duke Leopold ii of Tuscany slept there.
This amazing, historical building offered accommodations for part of our group as well as a workshop space. The first time Dana walked me through the streets and we stopped at the massive wooden front door, it was surreal.
This will really be our “studio” for the week?
This building has been owned by the Cordati family since the 1970’s. Prior to that, it was split into apartments and rented spaces. One of the rooms was used as an art studio by Bruno Cordati since the 1940’s and his family later occupied an apartment there before owning the entire home. Giordano Cordati, Bruno’s grandson now calls this building home, manages it, and is working on renovating the dilapidated rooms.
I wanted to share a little history, since it’s not just a typical home. It’s a centuries-old mishmash of apartments and rooms that have evolved over time. It’s now part home, part rooms-for-rent, part museum, and part art gallery.
If you ever find yourself in Barga, you can tour parts of the building for free or can pay €1 for a guided tour and entrance to the art studio/terrace with incredible views of Barga and the surrounding mountains. (Dana explained that most people in Barga have some sort of side-hustle like guiding tours, hiring buses for groups like ours, renting out rooms, etc.)
The foyer gives a sampling of what lends more life and intrigue to this building than anything else. Even more than the history and the architecture, it’s Bruno Cordati’s paintings that will have you leaning in and meandering from room to room to see more.
Bruno’s art, especially his paintings of women, is captivating.
(I realize there is a sign in my picture that says “no pictures allowed”, but we had permission from Giordano to take pictures to share.)
Even though the artwork is the star for me, that doesn’t minimize the incredible old beams lined with dental molding, stone steps smoothed from time, the arches at each landing on the steps, hand painting on the interior doors, shuttered windows, and the soft gray trim that runs throughout.
At the top of the stairs, to the left, there is a museum, of sorts…
A glass-front cabinet, which I was completely in love with and wanted to steal, was filled with Bruno’s paint palette and other painting supplies.
Original artwork lined the walls and antique furniture filled the spaces, perhaps capturing how the rooms were furnished when Bruno lived there.
The dining/keeping room connects to what was once the kitchen…
Paintings lean against the old tiled range…
…and pamphlets fill the stone sink.
An adjoining room is staged as a sparse bedroom.
Again, the life given to the room comes from Bruno’s paintings.
I can see why an artist chose this building. The way the light falls through the windows is perfectly suited to paint.
There were so many times I had to stop and take a picture of something, so I could try to capture it on a canvas when I got home.
The large room called the “concert hall” was our meeting room.
It’s a room that’s been used for art shows, intimate concerts, maybe even town dances, for hundreds of years. I walked around in it one morning when it wasn’t bustling with the other women from our group and tried to carefully observe all of the details and imagine all of the events that may have taken place in this room.
The place dripped with a creative vibe. Inspiration seemed to hang in the air, left by all of the artists who have displayed their talents here. Even the sagging shelves, crooked sconces, and exposed wiring seemed to enhance that feeling instead of detract from it. This place isn’t about a perfectly decorated room with all of the modern amenities. It’s a place that has been thoroughly broken in like a good pair of leather boots.
Creativity doesn’t have to be hunted and pinned down in this room, because it’s already been absorbed into every corner and cranny. It will whisper to you if you are quiet enough. It will land on you if you are still enough.
I think we all felt it as we painted and worked on a few pieces in this room. It was work, but not the kind that sapped energy. It generated it.
And up yet another flight of stairs are some rooms for rent (which I didn’t take pictures of, because our group occupied them)…
…and an attic space that stores more of Bruno’s work.
I had a moment alone in this space, among the stacks of paintings, and I felt a heaviness for Giordano and the responsibility he has resting on his shoulders. Not only is he maintaining and rehabilitating an ancient building and all of the history it holds, but he is caring for his grandfather’s legacy as an artist. Both are a weighty undertaking.
And he is doing most of the renovation work himself, which, as you can imagine, isn’t a simple, straightforward DIY project.
Something as simple as the floor is built in layers – a wood-planked subfloor, followed by about 8″ of packed dirt, and finally bricks laid in a herringbone pattern.
Up the final flight of narrow stairs, there is a terrace…
This was Bruno’s studio later in life and his artwork spilled onto the walls in loose frescos. It almost looks like he was painting studies on the walls, testing things out before committing to them on canvas.
(Thanks to John Batten for the photos of this place. I forgot to bring my camera up there!)
In the terrance you can feel the age of the building. The room has a give and a sway to it and Dana even warned that Giordano didn’t want more than six people up there at a time. I scanned the room, counted eight bodies, and quickly descended the steps.
The second time I was up there, it was only with three other people and I felt like I needed to walk lightly.
The view from the windows is spectacular, though…
…and the light hitting the frescos on the walls is truly magical.
It was an honor to work and teach in this home for a week and to know that pieces of furniture our group painted with MMS Milk Paint are now a small part of such a long and rich story.