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Mosaic man

by michael turtle


uca Barberini places the small piece of marble into place carefully but with the ease of an experienced artist. He reaches for another as he chats with me, the motions as natural as breathing. Centuries have passed since the first mosaic makers of Ravenna but the tradition lives on—right now, through Luca. Although the original artists might be a bit shocked at exactly what he’s doing. “It’s possible to work with an ancient technique, an ancient language, for contemporary art,” he explains. Here in Ravenna, a small Italian city in the Emilia Romagna region, the mosaic artworks are more than just a tourist attraction. They are at the heart of the history and identity of the community. The oldest works, which were installed more than 1,500 years ago, adorn the interiors of Ravenna’s churches and historic buildings. “We have maybe the best monuments in the world where you can find the ancient mosaics,” Luca rightfully boasts.

“The ancients used the mosaics like a book,” he explains. “So if you go in a church you can see a figure—for example Christ—and you can learn the story like a cartoon.”

It’s not these artworks that Luca is most proud of, though. He is part of the new generation that is using the same techniques with a modern style – fusing tradition with current taste.

“So for the modern they don’t want to use the figurative things so it’s more like…” he pauses to try to think of an example I might understand, “…Pollock, Jackson Pollock.”


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