Sunday, June 24, 2012


We went to the small Umbrian hill town of Spello earlier this month to experience the infiorata there—profuse but short-lived art in the form of flower-petal mosaic pictures (quadri) and carpets (tappeti) laid out on most of the piazzas and narrow streets.  It is the culmination of months of planning, from developing designs and growing the flowers needed to create them to gathering teams of infioratori to spend a night on their hands and knees painstakingly “painting” with petals, seeds and leaves.

Although created for the religious festival of Corpus Domini, the infiorata is also a competition among breathtaking floral creations.  The materials must all come from plants—fiori, flowers; petali, petals; folie, leaves; semi, seeds; baccelli, pods—and though most are freshly cut, some pastel shading comes from dried petals.  When we arrived Friday evening we found small groups clustered around open cantina doors and in small piazzas all over town industriously pulling petals from bright yellow ginestra blossoms (Spanish broom), cutting feathery wild finocchietto (fennel) into dark green threadlike snippets, making confetti piles from red garofani (carnations), and plucking margherite (marguerite daisies) of several colors.  Some designs use as many as 70 different shades and textures.  We came upon the group shown below cutting up finocchietto, and they gladly accepted Cinzia’s offer to help. The next morning we passed two women diligently pulling apart azure fiordalisi (cornflowers), and they were only too happy to put us to work doing the same.  Over the next few hours we learned that they had grown these flowers—4000 plants started in February—specifically for the infiorata, and also grew white and fuchsia varieties and that these petals would mostly go into a big design to be  created in a piazza at the top of their little street.
Cinzia cuts finocchio with new friends.

Pails full of fiordalisi petals.
Fiordaliso azzurro or cornflower.

Yellow broom, ginestra.

The pictures and carpets are actually fabricated overnight, beginning about dusk on Saturday and finishing before 8 a.m. Sunday.  During the day on Saturday while some, mostly women and children,  pull petals, others, mostly men, set up big white tents in all the piazzas where large pictures will be done.  The structures not only protect the nascent creations from wind and weather, they include bright lighting for the marathon overnight sessions.  By some magic the tents all disappear by the time judges and visitors arrive Sunday morning.  Most of the big works start with a giant paper template or cartoon glued to the pavement with flour paste, some as large as 16’ x 40’.  They look like enormous paint-by-number canvases, using numbers or some other code to specify which color goes where.  Others sketch the plan out with chalk.

The large pictures are created under protective tents
 which take half a day to erect but miraculously disappear by morning.

Color-coded paper patterns are glued to the pavement.

Some do it the old way, with chalk outlines.

Instead of numbers, this team's template uses abbreviations for the flowers required:
FN = finocchio, FAS = fiordalisi azzurri secchi, CAF = calendula arancio fresca, etc.
Compare pattern and product below.  This design is where our blue petals went.

Some of the pieces were very complicated and involved both skillful shading and intricate details.

The picture above was taken after midnight, but by morning a net full of fish had appeared.

There was a category for "Under 14" kids, too.
Below, they are using a cookie-cutter-like form for repetitive designs.

All of this is quite a spectacle, and throughout the process visitors like us wandered the picturesque streets of Spello gawking and admiring.  The weekend before the infiorata the town holds a contest for the best garden, though most “gardens” are pots on stairways and hung from the walls of the stone buildings.  These were still mostly at their peak, adding considerably to the charm of the place.

Five minutes before midnight, Piazza della Repubblica.

A few of the dozens of lovely "gardens" in Spello. 

The festival of Corpus Domini culminates with an 11 a.m. religious procession through the town, including a band, a choir, many church prelates and finally the bishop and the holy communion host under a baldachin, or canopy.  These last travel right over the flowers laid in the street, which is a shame but really the point of the infiorata, deriving from ancient traditions of strewing flowers in front of emperors and evergreen boughs for early holy processions.  But if one wants to see all the beautiful floral art it’s necessary to make the rounds before the bishop gets there.  Here are some of our favorites, first tappeti (carpets) and then quadri (pictures).

This serpentine tappeto ran for a couple of hundred feet.  Above, it is being sprayed
 with water to keep the petals fresh and weight them down in case of breezes.

This creation celebrates solidarity between Spello and Emilia-Romagna,
 both having suffered from earthquakes, Spello in 1997 and Emilia just a month ago. 

This is the little piazza where we cut up finocchio greens Friday night, now transformed.

More "Under 14" creations.
Love the wheat above and balloons below.

Now for a few of the large compositions.  
First below is a rendering of the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

If I were awarding prizes this would have been my first place winner.
 I love the wavy hair and the fresh fruit bouquet she's holding.

This is another of our favorites, with the globe on the left and tower of Babel at right.
You may have noticed this one in progress in one of the photos above.

This is the actual first place winner.

Then along came the procession, which left the net full of fish full of footprint shaped holes.

Pax vobiscum.


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