Allegrini 2018

The “open-air” museum: Chianti Classico, an International wine and art district

From Renaissance to contemporary art, the avant-garde territory is also one of the most famous and long-lasting wine and art partnerships in the world

At the end of the fourteenth century, when the name “Chianti” appeared in an official document for the first time, that territory so beautiful it looks like a painting, exactly halfway between Siena, the medieval city par excellence, and Florence, the cradle of the Italian Renaissance, it really did begin to appear in paintings. The greatest Renaissance artists such as Botticelli, Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo chose it as a background, and Vasari depicted it also in the Salone dei Cinquecento of Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence. Today, Chianti Classico is one of the most famous Italian wines, and it is still the most important for artists in the world who have made it a real district, not only for wine, but also for International art. The “avant-garde” territory, where the partnership between wine and art is one of the most long-lived and successful examples, thanks to wineries that continue the ancient tradition of cultural patronage and also to places, often new or little known, that become exhibition spaces hosting the works that the most famous artists create on location. Just to name a few: Castello di Ama for Contemporary Art; Nittardi, and its labels-works of art; the Chianti Sculpture Park; Pievasciata B.A.C. Borgo d’Arte Contemporanea; Cantina Antinori in Chianti Classico and the “Le Radici dell’Arte” project of the Casenuova Estate. The result is truly exceptional for wine lovers and for art lovers all around the world.
The number one “work of art”, of course, is the Chianti Classico territory itself. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III officially and innovatively recognized it as such at the beginning of the 18th century, marking the boundaries of the already famous production area of “Chianti wine”. The wine, whose fame traveled so far beyond those boundaries, pushed Bettino Ricasoli, called the “Iron Baron”, to forever fix the “perfect formula” of its quality, in the second half of the 19th century. “Classico” was added in the 20th century to distinguish it from other wines, which suggests a style that unites winemaking and artistic productions, and in which nature is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for man.
It is a territory-icon of the Italian landscape, speckled with convents, churches, castles, villas and estates. One is Villa Vignamaggio, which belonged to the family of the famous Monna Lisa, “La Gioconda”, and where Francesco Redi composed “Il Bacco in Toscana”. There is the Antica Fattoria Machiavelli where Niccolò Machiavelli wrote “The Prince”, and the Badia a Passignano that houses Ghirlandaio’s masterpiece, “The Last Supper”. There is the Renaissance Villa Le Corti, designed by the architect Santi di Tito, the Castle of Fonterutoli and backdrop of the legend of the Black Rooster and of the “singular battle” between Florence and Siena for domination over the territory, at the Castello di Brolio of the “Iron Baron”, and they are all “Italian Historic Houses”, monuments of Italy.
The territory knows how to maintain such a celebrated heritage without sacrificing innovation and contemporaneity. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the greatest International artists have always elected the territory to one of the most eminent sites for site-specific works and installations in the world. Let’s start with Castello di Ama for Contemporary Art, which, since 1999, thanks to Marco Pallanti and Lorenza Sebasti, owners of one of the most prominent Italian wineries as well as passionate collectors, gather works conceived in dialogue with the spirit of the place, by artists such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, Daniel Buren, Kendell Geers, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Lee Ufan and Roni Horn, just to name a few. They are constantly enriching the collection, which is one of the first examples of the genre in Italy, and today, one of the most famous in the world. Furthermore, continually looking to the future, in 2021 they will inaugurate a new art work by the American, Jenny Holzer (and a “new home” for historic bottles). Since 1981, Nittardi wanted one of the top historic Italian partnerships of wine and art for his most precious cru, Nittardi Vigna Doghessa’s Chianti Classico Casanuova, and has brought over 60 works of art by famed International artists to the bottle, such as Emilio Tadini, Valerio Adami, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Eduardo Arroyo, Mimmo Paladino, Yoko Ono, Tomi Ungerer, Günter Grass, Pierre Alechinsky, Dario Fo, Corneille, Igor Mitoraj, Kim Tschang Yeul, Allen Jones and Mikis Theodorakis, among many others. The most recent, unveiled at the beginning of the year, is a Bacchus crowned with olive leaves handing a glass of wine to the Sibyl, by the German artist, Johannes Heisig. The collection is housed next to the Sculpture Garden, the backdrop of an Estate now owned by Peter Femfert, Stefania Canali and their son Léon Femfert, which, however, together with its vineyards belonged to one of the greatest geniuses in the art world: Michelangelo.
The Pievasciata B.A.C. Borgo d’Arte Contemporanea,
instead, was created in a public-private meeting and since 2012 houses 11 art works by Italian and International artists in the small village in Chianti Classico, thanks to the collaboration of institutions, the inhabitants, and the Borgo Scopeto, Casuccio Tarletti and Tolaini wineries. One of the most significant aspects of the project is the revaluation of previously abandoned urban spaces that have now recaptured their old charm with a contemporary accent. The project was created next to the Chianti Sculpture Park, the permanent exhibition of contemporary installations and sculptures in which art and nature are integrated in a forest. Wine and art form a perfect union also at Tenuta Casenuova, where Philippe Austruy, French entrepreneur and passionate about art, architecture and wines, in collaboration with the Galleria Continua in San Gimignano, gave life to the project “Le Radici dell'Arte” in 2020, and Pascale Marthine Tayou contributed the first permanent installation. There are art works exhibited in the space “Il Vino dell’Arte” in Panzano, where artists are invited each year to create works on location, such as “Teenager teenager”, the other installation by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu of women and men dressed in Salvatore Ferragamo clothes, in the Sala delle Volute of the Estate.
We must not forget the wineries designed by the most famous architects, such as Antinori in Chianti Classico, where the “circle” that leads from the Renaissance to present day closes, in the long history of the Antinori family’s commissioned art works, from the ancient Palazzo Antinori in Florence designed by the Medici architect, Giuliano da Maiano to the project of the archistar, Marco Casamonti, who celebrates the centuries-old bond with the Chianti Classico area.
Even in times of a pandemic, Chianti Classico is a model for enjoying art, as being forced to rethink spaces, it has inaugurated an “open-air” museum where distances are natural and in which artworks are “everywhere”, the landscape and the ancient and modern monumental buildings are all subjects of a single “overall picture”, depicting the beauty of the Italian cultural heritage and its link to wine. And all of this has been able to happen, because UNESCO has recognized the Chianti Classico area a World Heritage Site.

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