Location, Location, Location

Location: St Patrick’s Well Orvieto and Danae

St Patrick's Well OrvietoThe Entrance to St Patrick’s Well, Orvieto

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.

Pozzo San Patrizio dal alto

At St Patrick’s Well looking down

St Patrick Well Orvieto

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.

St Patrick's Well, Orvieto

At St Patrick’s Well looking up

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.

Danae-Tia with mum's help

Tia is helped by her mother

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.

Patrick poses with Tia

Snapshot of Tia and Patrick Nicholas at the end of the shoot

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.

Bridge at bottom St Patrick Well Orvieto


Bottom of St Patrick’s Well with a bit of canned smoke for atmosphere (by SMOKY from Condor Foto, Milano)


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.

St Patrick's Well Orvieto

View of St Patrick’s Well from the bridge at the bottom


Danae before the well was added

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.

Impossible photo-shoot location challenge: Danae in St Patrick's Well by Patrick Richmond Nicholas

Danae imprisoned in the Well

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.