Location: St Patrick’s Well Orvieto and Danae
The Umbrian city of Orvieto and its environs in Latium and Tuscany have provided me with most of my locations for the Belle. Sometimes I realise the image on location, but occasionally this is physically impossible as was the case with Danae (2009) for which I wished to use St Patrick’s Well as the location. A tourist attraction since the days of the Grand Tour and a place of evocative beauty it is always full of visitors.
St Patrick’s Well is a Renaissance engineering marvel nearly 60 metres deep in the form of a double helix, thus the donkey descending did not meet the mule coming up. Until the late 19th century it was only lit by natural light from above.
The photograph of Danae was taken in my atelier in Orvieto with Tia the model lying on a chaise-longue covered with a black cloth. Her mother assisted me by holding the orange fabric (supposed to represent the shower of gold in the mythical story) on the end of a broom handle.
The swirling vortex was created in Photoshop. The next step was to superimpose Danae over the well which represented the safe haven to which her father Acrisius had confined her to protect her from the lusty advances of Zeus. All to no avail as Zeus came to her in a shower of gold that left Danae pregnant with Perseus who went on to slay Medusa.
Sigmund Freud visited Orvieto three times and was much influenced by the Signorelli frescoes in the Cathedral, by the Etruscan cemetery and even noted the tunnel through which he came on the Funicular railway and yet curiously he never mentioned the well. Or did he? He was known to correspond regularly about his work and his travels to his wife’s sister Minna Bernays.
Surely a psychologist delving into the depth of the unconscious would have been affected by the descent into the gloom of the well and shared his insights with his favourite confidant? Sadly we do not know, all Freud’s correspondence with Minna between 1893 and 1910 (the period encompassing his visits to Orvieto) despite being catalogued and numbered was subsequently lost – or destroyed. It has been widely surmised that Freud and Minna had a long standing affair.
I have visited the well scores of times and feel I know it intimately. The upper half is cut into the tufa rock but lower down the ground is more friable and therefore the rock gives way to the brickwork and masonry seen in my photograph. The light changes as one descends, becoming more mysterious, even eerie – quite the thing for my portrait of the lovely Tia- Danae.
In this version Danae is modestly veiled so I can put the image on Face Book. Go to the Photo Nicholas website portfolio to see the other version.