For centuries, bigwigs have paid for paintings, having their portraits slipped in beside the saints for posterity while average locals filled in anonymously for color.
In Pisa, land of the leaning tower, the Archbishop monsignor Alessandro Plotti and Friends of Pisa Monuments and Museums Association recently decided that it was time for tax-paying citizens to participate, once again, in art.
Public casting sessions were held to find the 250 average Giovannis who will strike a pose for a fresco cycle recounting the life of Pisa’s patron saint, San Ranieri. The 160 sq. meter opus (about 1,700 square feet) will decorate the church of St. Vito, where the protector of travelers is said to have died in 1161.
Naturally, there a few roles set aside for notable locals. Newspaper editor Francesco Carrassi will star as the monk who converts a barely 19-year-old Ranieri from music-loving scamp into a penitent, hairshirt-sporting holy man, played by Pisan actor Roberto Farnesi. (A familiar face for Americans used to admiring him as the drool-producing chef in English-language Barilla ads).
Other cameos include fencing champs Salvatore Sanzo and Simone Vanni while boxer Dario Cicchello will help row a boat with the saint inside ashore; the mayor, Archbishop, culture councilor and head of the “Friends” association have already started posing.
It’d be kind of nice to see the odd bluetooth ear piece or cell phone for a touch of modernity, but artist Luca Battini has assured that he’ll produce a classical fresco, using only traditional techniques.
Locals will be wearing vintage, if not properly ancient, garb used in two Franco Zeffirelli films (loaned by costume archive Fondazione Cerratelli, headed by the director) namely Romeo and Juliet (1968) and Brother Son, Sister Moon (1972) on the early life of St. Francis of Assisi.
The painting process will take three years, the fly-on-the-wall would like to know how frenetic modern types fare in those endless, silent sittings.