Enlightened Engraver

Much has been made in the Bagni di Lucca area of famous visitors from abroad. Indeed, the commune’s foundation, which curates cultural events, is named after the famous sixteenth-century French traveller to the area, Michel de Montaigne.

The Val di Lima, however, has produced its own galaxy of important locals who have contributed extensively to human knowledge and artistic pursuits. For example, Granaiola is the birthplace of noteworthy composer and madrigalist, Nicolao Dorati (1513-1593), who was commemorated in an important conference in the parish church there in 2012, by Prof. Gabriella Ravenni and Bruno Micheletti, an event which was followed by an exquisite organ concert of Dorati’s music played by the area’s finest organist, Enrico Barsanti.

I have already written about the extraordinary local character of Pancio da Controne, subject of another conference in 2013, who ended up as the King of England’s physician at Eltham Palace London, in my post at Longoio.wordpress.com. It was, therefore, with some interest that I attended a symposium on yet another local star I’d never heard about, the Abbé Bartolomeo Nerici, given at his birthplace of Crasciana.

Crasciana is one of the highest placed and most splendid villages in the Val di Lima and it’s worth going there just to enjoy the superb views it offers and walk through the picturesque fan-tail layout of its streets.

Why was Nerici important? It’s because he engraved the Lucca edition of the most famous document of the age of enlightenment, the “Encyclopedie”, brainchild of Diderot and precursor of the French revolution and the modern age.

After Prof. Cherubini’s, Michel de Montaigne’s foundation’s president’s, and Mayor Betti’s welcoming words the conference kicked off with a paper by Bruno Micheletti (of the Bagni di Lucca’s Historical association) on the life and importance of Nerici. This was followed by a detailed look at the types of illustrations Nerici produced, from both the Encyclopedie and other spheres, such as portraits and views, by Sebastiano Micheli.

The last paper was a revealing commentary by Bagni di Lucca’s chief librarian, Angela Amadei, herself a Crascianian, on the building in which the conference took place, Crasciana church, which is full of gorgeous artistic treasures bearing witness to the former importance of this village, a staging post on the road between Val di Lima and Val di Nievole.

It’s significant to realise that in many respects Nerici was sticking his neck out when he contributed to the Encyclopedie. Rather like those prohibitions in translating the Bible into English which provoked the burning of Ridley and Latimer in 1555, many of the encyclopaedist were in danger of their lives when they decided to present the state of contemporary world knowledge without reference to religious censure or superstitious beliefs. Part of the beauty of their work is revealed in the illustrations and Nerici was a great engraver with an acute eye for detail and accuracy. In Crasciana church there were several examples of these engravings, including one of a flea and another of Machiavelli, and these were placed on the left aisle of the church in contrast to the beautiful silken priestly vestments from the church’s own cupboards exhibited on the right aisle of the church, almost as if to present two contrasting world views.

A strikingly executed recital on the magnificent 18th century Agati organ by now-nationally recognised Enrico Barsanti concluded the proceedings with pieces ranging from anonymous eighteenth century Luccan composers through a delightful item constructed on the cuckoo’s notes (with added bird effects by filling certain organ pipes with water!) to the great JS Bach himself.

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At the end of the proceedings, Bagni di Lucca’s cultural supremo Dr. Valentino gave a warmly applauded vote of thanks to all participants.

In the golden evening sunset of the year’s longest day we made our way home visiting yet more attractive places such as the old Pieve at Sala and an abandoned castle.

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I find it extraordinary that I was warned about descending into local provincialism by abandoning the great metropolis of London and coming to live in the Val di Lima. Geographically remote the area may be, but the richness of its monuments, the learning of its historical and contemporary figures, the Claude Lorrain-like beauty of its landscape and the seeming endlessness of the discoveries I make every day I live here must give the lie to those who imagine that to stay here must affect one’s instinctive curiosity and ability to learn.