The Marvelous Works of Rossana Petrillo

A painting by Italian artist  Rossana Petrillo

A painting by Italian artist Rossana Petrillo

The marvelous work of Rossana Petrillo first struck me when I was wandering through an art gallery in Ravello (see Blog Post: Romantic Ravello and Lacing Wars). There were several of Rossana’s large paintings on the wall and I loved the gentle, round women, in elaborate hats and gloves, calmly enjoying a fairy-tale atmosphere, indifferent to the occasional Lilliputian men who appeared floating around the painting.

Painting by Rossana Petrillo hanging on the wall of her studio in Caserta, Italy. January 26, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Painting by Rossana Petrillo hanging on the wall of her studio in Caserta, Italy. January 26, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

I am not an art expert, but there was something that reminded me of the works of Italian painter Modigliani in the long, slender necks, and something Botero-esque in the roundness. I particularly liked the use of rich damask fabric.  The gallery owner explained to me that the artist painted directly on the damask cloth.

Paintings by Rossana Petrillo lean on the walls of her studio in Caserta, Italy. January 26, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Paintings by Rossana Petrillo lean on the walls of her studio in Caserta, Italy. January 26, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

The advantage of being a journalist is you feel you can find anyone and ask them questions. I left the gallery and told my husband that I wanted to find Rossana Petrillo and learn more about her work.  I wrote her an email and she wrote back and taught me a new work in Italian, “lusingata”.  She said she was “lusingata” (flattered) by my interest and would love to have me visit her studio in Caserta.

The train to Caserta leaves you smack in front of  Reggia di Caserta — the gigantic palace of the Bourbon kings built in 1750s as an imitation of Versailles.

The Reggia di Caserta, the Palace built by the Bourbon Kings in Caserta Italy in an imitation of Versailles.

The Reggia di Caserta, the Palace built by the Bourbon Kings in Caserta Italy in an imitation of Versailles.

It is breath-taking in its size — apparently it has 1200 rooms, 34 staircases and vast gardens that stretch for 3 kilometers. Little did I know there would be a link between this magnificent palace and the artist I was to meet.

I emerged from the station to find Rossana waiting for me.  She is small with sparkly blue eyes and short grey hair which she says she occasionally covers for fun with long blond, red or brown wigs that she buys at an American market in Naples.

Italian artist Rossana Petrillo in the courtyard of her home in Caserta, Italy. January 26, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Italian artist Rossana Petrillo in the courtyard of her home in Caserta, Italy. January 26, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Rossana took me to her studio and I stepped into a whimsical land of voluptuous women with valentine lips, elaborate hats, floating hot-air balloons, and mini men.  Rossana immediately got to work with her paints brushing busily at the long neck and adjusting the heart-shaped lips of a woman and adding masking tape to separate parts of the painting.

Rossana Petrillo painting in her studio in Caserta, Italy. January 26, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Rossana Petrillo painting in her studio in Caserta, Italy. January 26, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Rossana explained to me that she started painting when she was 14 and attended a “liceo artistico” – a high school for future artists.  She went to university to study architecture but dropped out to continue her other work.

A ceramic bust made by Italian artist Rossana Petrillo. Photo by Rossana Petrillo

A ceramic bust made by Italian artist Rossana Petrillo. Photo by Rossana Petrillo

She has always had an interest in textiles and has incredible manual dexterity.  She has worked making gold jewellery, fancy leather hand bags and continues to work as a sculptor making ceramic statues.

These little male figures by Italian artist Franz Borghese inspired the figures used in the works of Rossana Petrillo

These little male figures by Italian artist Franz Borghese inspired the figures used in the works of Rossana Petrillo

Rossana says her work was inspired by the 20th century Italian artist Salvatore Fiume and that her inspiration for diminutive male figures comes from Italian artist Franz Borghese.   Later in the day, as she took me up the staircase of her home that is lined with her paintings covering a wide variety of styles that she has used over decades, I could see hints of Gauguin, Degas, Van Gogh, and Chagall.

In her studio it was hard to miss the shelves overflowing with pieces of damask silk fabric.

Pile of Damask Silk fabric on shelves in Rossana Petrillo's studio in Caserta, Italy. January 28, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Pile of Damask Silk fabric on shelves in Rossana Petrillo’s studio in Caserta, Italy. January 28, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Her first paintings were on canvas but then an upholsterer friend in Caserta suggested she try painting on damask silk fabric. The Caserta area has a long tradition of silk fabric production.  The Bourbon Kings had a taste for fine silk cloth and in the 1780s created a “Silk Weaver’s Royal Colony” in the nearby area of San Leucio (Now on the UNESCO World Heritage list) to provide silk fabrics for the royal family. Rossana’s husband explained to me that the Bourbon King Charles and his son Ferdinand attempted a “socialist experiment” letting the silk workers run their own community with their own set of laws.  The Bourbon Kings brought in the most modern equipment of the day for the silk production and built homes for silk workers.  They studied techniques used by the best damask making artisans of the day who were in France. Although the factories are now open as museums, the area has remained a center for high-quality fabric production.  Rossana’s husband said local companies have provided fabrics for The White House, The Kremlin and Buckingham Palace.  Rossana’s friend and art lover Francesco Cicala, of the famous Cicala Fabric makers in Caserta, provides Rossana with the fabrics she uses in her paintings.

After leaving her studio, Rossana took me up the road towards San Leucio, but we stopped at her home and entered through a green wooden door to a fabulous courtyard filled with orange trees.  Inside her home, her husband and two sons were preparing a delicious meal with fresh vegetables from their own garden, local mozzarella di bufala and ricotta, pasta with mushrooms they had gathered and an exquisite local red wine. The walls of their home were filled with Rosanna’s paintings, giving the place a warm and cheerful atmosphere.  As I dug into the pasta and sipped the red wine, I felt as though I might be in a Petrillo painting myself, all I needed was a damask silk dress, some gloves and a puny man in a top hat.

A painting by Italian artist Rossana Petrillo

A painting by Italian artist Rossana Petrillo

If any blog readers are interested in seeing some of Rossana Petrillo’s paintings, here is a list of galleries in Italy:

Ravello: Le Petiti Prince, Via San Francesco 9

Rome (Trastevere neighborhood): Pavart, Via dei Genovesi 12

Chieti: Galleria Trifoglio Arte, Piazza Gian Battista Vico 6,7,8

Cortona: Arte Nocchia Cortona, Via Nazionale 61

Civitavecchia: La Pace di Nocchia, Via A. Cialdi 3/D

Or if you aren’t in Italy, you can check out Rossana’s website:

www.rossanapetrillo.it

Studio: Via Ricciardi 53, Caserta

Cell Phone: 333-377-8549

 

 

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

15 Comments

  1. Cristina
    2014/01/30

    Trisha, they look really lovely. I’m of a mind of buying some. Heh! Good job discovering this. A break from all those scandals :)

    Reply
  2. Alan
    2014/01/30

    . . such a nice style – I’m reminded of the British ‘postcard style’ artist Beryl Cook who pokes humerous fun at plump ladies with an incredible eye for detail.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/01/31

      Wow! I’ve never heard of Beryl Cook but I just checked out some of her stuff on internet. What fun. She is also similar to the Colombian artist Botero. She also has more of a sense of humor than Rossana. I love the way she is poking fun at the old ladies. Rossana’s painting have the fabulous damask and are more whimsical, but there is definitely a similarity there. Thanks for introducing me to Beryl Cook.

      Reply
  3. Gwen Thomas
    2014/01/30

    Her paintings are LOVELY! Next time I am in Rome, whenever that will be, lets be sure to visit one of these galleries. I am with Cristina, I would love one of her paintings for my study wall!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/01/31

      I will definitely take you to the gallery in Trastevere the next time you are in Rome. I also want one on my wall and have told Rossana I am going to visit her again with my husband with the intent to buy one.

      Reply
  4. Michelle
    2014/01/30

    How delightful! Thanks for introducing us to her! And I must say, you’re awfully well-versed for a non-expert :)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/01/31

      I certainly don’t feel well-versed. I found that when I moved to Italy after marrying an Italian that a lot of American/British/Australian women married Italians because they had already had an interest in art history, Italian history and literature. I was completely ignorant of all of the above (and had been hoping to work in South East Asia as a journalist). It is taken me 20 years to be able to converse at a basic level with Italians about art. As I proudly mentioned in another post I now know the difference between a Caravaggio and a Canaletto (and it is not just a couple of consonants). Piano Piano. (I am still hopeless on Dante and Virgilio). But aside from art history, Rossana’s works were immediately, instinctively appealing to me, for the women, the gorgeous damask fabric, the fairy-tale world, and I love the tie to the Bourbon kings. I find her paintings engaging while also being relaxing and inviting.

      Reply
  5. Nancy Rockwell
    2014/01/31

    Another amazing post. I love these paintings, and they remind me of the artists you mention, too. And then your journey to meet her, and that palace – 112 rooms, my mind boggles! – I find myself curious, and wanting to know more, and grateful for the image of such a lovely family, treating one another with such harmonious kindness. They must have their human moments, but it was a lovely glimpse you gave us. Thanks, and I agree about this being a break from the scandals. The range of your blog is so refreshing and always engaging!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/01/31

      Thank you Nancy — I am a bit all over the map with my posts but there are so many things I am interested in, and so many other things that I am doing for work, and I cannot resist writing about nearly all of them.

      Reply
  6. Miranda
    2014/01/31

    How very interesting and beautiful Trisha. It brings a bit of Italy to us downunder

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/01/31

      I glad you like them Miranda. I love Rossana’s whimsical world.

      Reply
  7. Velia Littera
    2014/02/13

    Dear Trisha, we loved Your article on Rossana Petrillo’s art work and her serroundings. We also love her glamour and romantic style!! Come and visit Pavart Gallery in Rome we will be glad to meet You.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/02/14

      Thank you! Rossana is wonderful and I will come visit your gallery in Trastevere. A presto!

      Reply
  8. domenicacooks
    2014/03/28

    Ciao! What a discovery ~ both Rossanna Petrillo’s paintings and your blog, which I found through a link at Paola’s blog, Italy On My Mind. I enjoyed this post and look forward to reading through your archives. Also I really like that photo of you outside the AP building in Rome. I was an intern there back in the 80s when Dennis Redmont was bureau chief. Cheers, Domenica

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/03/31

      Thank you so much Domenica. Aren’t Rosanna’s paintings wonderful! I love them. Ah, you did an internship at AP Rome back in the 80s…wow, those I think were the good old days when the company had much more money and a lot more staff in Rome. Now we are down to the bare bones. I hope it changes again, I am optimistic. I also worked for years with Dennis Redmont before he retired. He really made a name for AP in Italy.

      Reply

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