Decorative patterns from Italy usually leave one breathless in just their scope of style, diversity, depth, creativity and sheer artistry. One person who has been continually inspired by these ornamental designs is decorative artist Steve Shriver. An in-demand muralist and finisher, he also frequently travels to research and document these patterns. Steve not only shares his images freely with other artists, but he also teaches modern day interior designers and architects, their history and how to incorporate them into contemporary spaces. We recently had the good fortune to catch him in between trips to talk about his two recent journeys to Italy to further study their ornamental patterns in historic locations. He has graciously shared some of his images and insights on using these designs as inspiration and incorporating them into our spaces with both stenciling as well as hand painting.
Ornamental Pattern from the Vatican hallways.
These two images are from the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican, painted by Pinturicchio in the 1490’s, just after the discovery of Nero’s Golden House. The site was a huge influence on decorative painters of that time. These painters were let down by ropes into the dark cavernous spaces to see the decorations on the ceilings and walls. Because the rooms weren’t entirely excavated they looked like caves. The Italian word for caves is “grotte“, thus the painting style they saw there came to be called “grottesca“, the term we still use. These two images also show an interlaced pattern which would be fairly easy to produce using a border or overall stencil and laying in one color then outlined with another.
This is a cabinet door from a hallway in the Vatican Museums. “A single color could be used to layout the design with a stencil that will give you all the important elements, then fill in using a variety of colors to give it life,” Steve explains.
Steve shares, “The image has two elements: a vertical candelabra ornament and a horizontal acanthus rinceau that are adaptable to stencil and hand painting. Basically, the overall pattern of either of these space filling motifs can be stenciled in using a single neutral color – in this case a light raw umber might be a good start – and then elaborated using the brighter and darker colors to give it form and detail. I have seen this technique used in numerous 19th and 20th century sites to good effect.”
Here, an overall stencil could be done using the medium tone of the gold (with a light raw umber, or maybe a raw sienna) then modeled using a couple of lighter colors and a shadow tone. The birds could be done over the same base, but with a lot more color.
Steve took this photo in the Hall of Perspective at the Villa Farnesina in Rome, which was painted by Baldassare Peruzzi. “Artists in the Renaissance are known for taking full advantage of the recently codified tool of perspective to create trompe l’oeil ornaments and architectural elements, even in deep spaces like this.” The coffered ceiling below, which was featured in Modello by Design Volume 2, showcases how patterns can be incorporated to create a similarly ornate result.
Steve really got started on the study of ornament when he was asked to do a Pompeian-style room and went to the Getty Library to see their books. “Since then, I’ve been on this constant quest to learn more about pattern, and to spread it around by teaching classes and giving lectures about the history of ornament. I do lots of exploring from home, following trails of leads from Wikipedia, Flickr, blogs and digital libraries like Archive.org.” While in Italy, he took over 15,000 images, most of which you can find on his Flickr account. Be sure to also see the Art+Works website, Art+Works blog and Art+Works Facebook fan page for his frequent postings and design insights. Many thanks to Steve for taking the time to be with us and further share his knowledge!
If you’d like to take a look at some of the stencils we suggest for incorporating Italian and European-style decorative elements in your space, try our Classic Panels Stencils Collection, the Pompeii Stencils Collection, the Classic Border Stencils Collection and the Hearst Castle Designer Stencils Collection. The Modello® Designs vinyl stencils are perfect if you’d like to have a custom stencil sized perfectly for a particular surface, such as a ceiling, wall or floor. Are you inspired?? We’d love to hear your thoughts on our comments!