A little glimpse of Italy in Northampton

By Sophia Liao

(Matt Blackwell/Flickr)

The Alumnae House at Smith College, situated at 33 North Elm St. in Northampton, is currently housing Elisabetta Franchini’s temporary “Facades of Italy” art exhibit. Visitors enter the stunning Georgian building through a portico with Doric columns, turn left to the first floor and there they can find the Alumnae Gallery. The Gallery houses several alumnae artwork shows each year. Franchini’s exhibit is scheduled to run until April 14.

From a young age, Franchini participated in drawing, design and painting classes. Born to an Italian father and American mother, she grew up surrounded by the Italian language and tradition in her household and visited Europe several times before college. A Smith graduate herself, she spent her junior year abroad in Paris, France before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in art history and French literature. Franchini often turns to her European travels for inspiration in her work, and is especially fond of the Italian countryside and urban architecture.

My first impression upon entering the gallery was of the rich tones that Franchini used in her paintings and prints. Her ability to capture sunlight drenching the Italian landscapes lent a feeling of eternity to quaint scenes that demonstrate the grandeur of Italy without compromising the details. The presence of people in her works is rare and it becomes evident that the exhibition is Franchini’s love letter to Italy and not an impersonal summary of the Italian experience through just any stranger’s lenses.

To tour the gallery was to step into Franchini’s shoes and realize which parts of the country she loved enough to reproduce on canvas. Much of the living quality in her work manifests in nature and not in people; the sun is constantly shining, vines consume buildings and flowerpots spill over in bounty at the market.

Her black-and-white etchings are also meticulously detailed and juxtapose nature with Italian architecture. To demonstrate Italy’s rich history, Franchini portrays worn facades with exposed brick, which also serve as reminders that the past undergirds much of what captures our popular imagination today.

Here are some of my favorite pieces and a fair warning: After viewing Franchini’s works, you just might be tempted to book the next flight across the Atlantic to wander the sprawling Italian countryside with only the sun’s movements to keep track of time.

“Portofino Marina”

This limited edition print is one of the few works that features people in them. Still, the people do not have distinct facial features and the focus remains on the colorful buildings and sidewalk café by the marina. It is easy to imagine the people grabbing a quick bite before spending the rest of their afternoon lazily drifting on the iridescent water.

“Lemon Tree”

The lemon tree and topiary are drawn in exquisite detail in this black-and-white etching. It was almost disappointing to have to imagine the colors of the fruit and skies after the colorful expression in her other pieces.

“La Scalinatella”

 In the distance of this limited edition print, cliff houses overlook the Mediterranean while in the print’s foreground, winding stone stairs lead the way to lower elevations. The serenity and beauty of the Mediterranean is captured best in this one of Franchini’s works.

 “5 Roman Chairs”

Five different artfully-crafted wooden chairs are placed side-by-side. Four of them have missing cushions which leaves their owner with freedom to redesign and reupholster the furniture to their personal liking. The piece inspires the notion of creativity, individuality and personal experience. After all, the recurrent theme in Franchini’s art seems to be that there is a little bit of something for everyone in Italy.

Sophia Liao can be reached at [email protected]