Melissa Wishart

Santa Maria e Rignana

6 weeks in Tuscany

The sensual & the spiritual

Santa Maria e Rignana Near Greve, south of Florence, north of Siena in the land of vineyards and olive groves.

My Artist in Residency ran from mid May 2016 to the end of June.

It struck me early on that Sensuality and Spirituality were two themes I wanted to explore and how they sometimes interrelate. I was surrounded by a feast of colour, wild flowers and thunderstorms. The earth was rocky and the vineyards had been carved out the soil like scarification on a body. The warm colours of the natural pigments and the sense of time as layer upon layer had been added to buildings and then eroded by the weather or disrepair.

Art was steeped in belief. The studio was a chapel and we lived in the old priest house. The confessional took up one wall in the studio. The light would flood in above the altar in the early evening and on a hot day the double heavy wood doors would be flung open as the cuckoo got going and the smell of sage, rosemary and lavender and the heat of the day over the valley could be felt. Italy is a sensuous place. The Tuscans make things the body will enjoy. They love to enjoy. Enjoying wine is an art. Cooking is an art. Feeling the sun on your skin and the smells of plants growing is natural. Catholicism and suffering are also intense. Constantly reminded by visons of Christ on the Cross that there is a dark side to it all.

Siena and Florence were on the door step. I was drawn to images in Siena where the gaze of the Madonna was unfailingly direct. This compelling and powerfully connecting gaze of a woman was interesting to me. The theme of mother as a source of love in amongst the intense suffering. Also became intrigued by the inclusion of Anne, the grandmother, in the religious paintings in Siena. The role of the grandparent. She is bigger in size in the paintings than the Madonna. Light took on new meaning. I wanted to explore it. I went down a more experimental abstract/angel route wanting to connect with something that I could not put into words.

The length of my stay was strangely biblical -40 days and 40 nights and I felt I could give myself this time in the wilderness and just see what communicated itself. 

Oil Paintings and Red Chalk


It is always fun to look through the 'unprepared' sketchbook...the collections from porcupine quills to wine labels to napkins sketched on over a cappuccino! This short video of rifling through the sketchbook is posted here