Tag Archives: italian

Cocaine investigation leads to discovery of 2 Van Gogh paintings

Police investigating suspected Italian mobsters for cocaine trafficking discovered two Vincent Van Gogh paintings hidden in a farmhouse near Naples, masterpieces that had vanished in 2002 during a nighttime heist at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, authorities said this past week.

The two paintings were “considered among the artworks most searched for in the world, on the FBI’s list of the Top 10 art crimes,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

They were found in a farmhouse near Castellammare di Stabia as Italian police seized some 20 million euros ($22 million) worth of assets, including farmland, villas and apartments and a small airplane.

Investigators contend those assets are linked to two Camorra drug kingpins, Mario Cerrone and Raffaele Imperiale, according to a statement by prosecutors Giovanni Colangelo and Filippo Beatrice.

The recovered masterpieces, propped up on easels, were unveiled for reporters at a news conference in Naples.

Museum director Axel Rueger said Italian investigators contacted the museum earlier in the week and art experts determined the paintings were authentic.

“Needless to say, it’s a great day for us today,” Rueger told Sky TG24 TV. “We hope they are soon back where they belong.”

With their frames removed and covered by cotton cloths, the paintings appeared to be in relatively good condition despite their long odyssey, the museum said.

One of the paintings, the 1882 “Seascape at Scheveningen,” is one of Vincent Van Gogh’s first major works.

It depicts a boat setting off into a stormy sea, and the thick paint trapped grains of sand that blew up from the Dutch beach as Van Gogh worked on it over two days.

The other is a 1884-85 work, “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen,” which depicts a church in the southern Netherlands where the artist’s father was the pastor.

Experts believe it was done for Van Gogh’s mother.

Despite the wishes of the museum, the paintings are not leaving Italy anytime soon. They are evidence in an investigation of whether gangsters from the Camorra crime syndicate were behind the original theft or might have become involved with the artworks later.

The Camorra is one of Italy’s three largest organized crime syndicates, with the Calabria-based ‘ndrangheta by far the most powerful. The Camorra consists of many crime clans, based in Naples as well as many of the Campania region’s small towns.

Financial Police. Col. Giovanni Salerno said investigators looking into the syndicate’s cocaine trafficking operations got a tip that the Camorra might have the Van Gogh artworks.

“One of those being investigated made some significant comments about their illegal investments made with earnings from drug trafficking, and he indicated two paintings of great value that supposedly were purchased by Imperiale. They were the result of a theft carried out in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam almost 14 years ago,” Colangelo, the chief prosecutor in Naples, told reporters.

When renowned masterpieces are stolen, it’s usually a theft commissioned by a private collector who has already agreed to buy them, since it’s virtually impossible to sell them in the legitimate art market.

The Camorra and other Italian crime syndicates, awash in illegal revenues from drug trafficking, designer-goods counterfeiting and toxic waste dealings, are increasingly looking to launder their dirty profits and make even more money in the process.

Salerno said a person at the farmhouse when the paintings were found “didn’t say a word” about how they wound up there. He declined to elaborate, saying the case is still under investigation.

The museum said the paintings, inspected by a curator, do show “some damage.” Authorities don’t know where the paintings were kept in the 14 years since they were stolen by thieves who broke into the museum overnight and made off with the works from the main exhibition hall, where dozens of Van Gogh paintings were on display.

The seascape painting had some paint in the bottom left corner broken away, while the other painting had “a few minor damages at the edges of the canvas,” a museum statement said.

Police who arrived at the Amsterdam museum on Dec. 7, 2002, discovered a 4.5-meter (15-foot) ladder leaning against the rear of the building.

The thieves had apparently climbed up to the second floor using a ladder and broke in through a window, according to Dutch police at the time. Within a year, Dutch authorities had arrested two suspects, but the paintings’ whereabouts remained a mystery _ until Italian authorities searched the farmhouse.

“After all these years, you no longer dare count on a possible return,” Rueger said. “The paintings have been found! That I would be able to ever pronounce these words is something I had no longer dared to hope for.”

Van Gogh's "Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen." — PHOTO: WikiArt
Van Gogh’s “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen.” — PHOTO: WikiArt

DiCaprio meets with Pope Francis to talk about the environment

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio brushed up his Italian to greet Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss their shared concern over the environment. The movie star gave the pontiff a check for his charitable works.

“Your Holiness, thank you for granting me this private audience with you,” DiCaprio said in Italian as he arrived in the Apostolic Palace and kissed the pope’s ring.

Later, in English, DiCaprio offered Francis a book of works by the 15th-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, and showed him the reproduction of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” that had hung over his crib as a child. The triptych, which DiCaprio has referred to in the past, depicts Adam and Eve in the first panel, a teeming landscape in the center panel, and finally a vision of hell.

“As a child I didn’t quite understand what it all meant, but through my child’s eyes it represented a planet, the utopia we had been given, the overpopulation, excesses, and the third panel we see a blackened sky that represents so much to me of what’s going in in the environment,” DiCaprio told the pope.

DiCaprio said he thought the painting also represented Francis’ environmental concerns.

Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si (Praise Be) has been embraced by environmentalists for its denunciation of the world’s fossil fuel-based economy and its demand for greener energy sources.

An assistant then handed Francis an envelope and explained it was a check for the pope to use for charity works “close to your heart.”

Di Caprio, nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Revenant, is a longtime environmental campaigner who in 1998 launched his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to support initiatives aimed at sustainability.

He recently addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, announcing the foundation was donating another $15 million to environmental projects and pleading with business leaders to battle global warming.

Francis gave DiCaprio a leather-bound copy of Laudato Si and his earlier document, The Joy of the Gospel.

DiCaprio was accompanied by his father, George DiCaprio, and Milutin Gatsby, global fundraising chair for the foundation.

For Chef Lidia, good Italian cuisine is simple

New York chef and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich thinks the question of what constitutes great Italian cuisine has a “simple” answer.

“It’s a cuisine that’s simple, colorful and tasty,” says Bastianich, a James Beard Award nominee and host of PBS television’s Emmy Award-winning Lidia’s Kitchen. “It’s wedded to the seasons and makes nourishing sense if it is prepared properly.”

In Bastianich’s culinary world, less is more, when it’s prepared with passion and a little bit of love. 

She will share insights and techniques gleaned from years of experience at the Pabst Theatre Jan. 16, during An Intimate Conversation with Lidia Bastianich. Mitch Teich, creator and host of WUWM’s Lake Effect program, will moderate the event.

Think of Bastianich’s event as a master class in Italian cooking, one she says will be primarily a discourse that draws extensively on her personal experience and offers insights into what makes great Italian cuisine. The last third of the show will see Bastianich answering questions from audience members.

Bastianich says the most important piece of advice for budding Italian cooks is to ensure you get the right ingredients. Whether making pork or pasta, mussels or marinara sauce, your ingredients must be fresh and of the highest quality to lay the right foundation for any dish. “Once you have done that properly,” she says, “half of your work is done.”

The chef has chronicled her culinary wisdom in no fewer than 10 cookbooks, including the recently released Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine. The recipes represent a passion for her native Italian cuisine, much of which she learned from her mother and grandmother.

Bastianich was born in 1947 in Pola, a formerly Italian city that became part of former Yugoslavia after World War II and is now within Croatia. Her family fled shortly after Pola was annexed into the communist nation in 1947, eventually emigrating to the United States in 1958. As a teenager, she worked in a variety of New York bakeries and restaurants. In 1971, she opened her first restaurant, Buonavia (“Good Road”), in Queens with her husband Felix Bastianich.

Since then, the family’s empire has grown to include several Manhattan establishments, as well as restaurants in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Missouri, and São Paulo, Brazil. A new restaurant is planned for Los Angeles in 2017.

Although other family members own several of the restaurants, Bastianich’s passion for Italian cooking drives every menu. Those menus also call on the chef’s heritage and lessons learned at her grandmother’s knee.

“My grandmother had a farm and we would make our own sausage, wine and grow our own vegetables,” Bastianich says. “I cook with passion, because it’s a way to go back in time and bring my grandmother with me.”

Bastianich still draws from her days on the farm when choosing ingredients for her dishes. Fresh tomatoes, garlic, herbs and legumes play major roles in her dishes — but not too many of them. She says too many amateur cooks overdose on ingredients.

“Be minimalistic,” Bastianich says. “Buy the best ingredients and use just enough to give you that flavorful taste. You can always taste along the way and add more of anything to take you where you want to go.”

Simple cuisine often excels in taste and texture, but it’s also harder to hide mistakes, the chef explains. Professional cooks almost always adjust ingredients during the preparation period and are prepared to make adjustments to other recipe components to keep balance in their dishes. Those adjustments also should apply to cooking times, temperatures, the amount of liquid added and other physical elements.

“You change one thing and down the line everything changes with it,” Bastianich explains. “You just need to understand the product you’re substituting and make the corresponding adjustment.”

One distinction Bastianich plans to emphasize is the difference between Italian and Italian-American cuisine. The latter is a style built almost exclusively around the cuisines of the southern Italian regions of Sicily, Calabria and Napoli, brought over by immigrants in the early 20th century. Cooks should never mistake one for the other, Bastianich says, but also must learn to appreciate both in order to become an excellent Italian cook. 

“Familiarize yourself through books and other sources,” she advises. “Travel to Italy, try some new contemporary Italian cuisine and, above all, experiment so that you’re serving your family what they want to eat and enjoy.”


An Intimate Conversation with Lidia Bastianich takes the stage at 7 p.m. on Jan. 16 at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $45. Call 414-286-3663 or visit pabsttheater.org.

Lidia’s Marinara Sauce

Makes 1 quart


¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

8 garlic cloves, peeled

3 lbs ripe fresh plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded, or 1 35-oz. can Italian plum tomatoes crushed by hand

Kosher salt to taste

Crushed red pepper flakes to taste

10 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces


Heat the oil in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. 

Whack the peeled garlic with the flat side of the knife, add it to the oil and cook for about 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Carefully slide the tomatoes and their juices into the oil. Slosh out the tomato can with about 1 cup water and add to the mixture. Bring to a boil and season lightly with salt and crushed red pepper. 

Lower the heat until the sauce is at a lively simmer and cook, breaking up tomatoes with a whisk or spoon until the sauce is chunky and thick. Cook about 30 minutes for fresh tomatoes, 20 minutes for canned.

Stir in the basil 5 minutes before the sauce is finished. Taste the sauce and season with more salt and pepper flakes if necessary.

— from Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine

Madison Opera flies high with Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’

In addition to being one of Madison’s reigning performing arts impresarios, Kathryn Smith, general director of Madison Opera, is also an impressive educator. The informative sessions she hosts one hour before each Madison Opera performance in the Wisconsin Studio at the Overture Center always attract overflow crowds, with listeners spilling into the hallway. The more popular the opera, the larger the crowd.

Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème is, without a doubt, one of the most popular operas of all time, so by that logic the sessions scheduled prior to Madison Opera’s performances of it Nov. 13 and Nov. 15 should attract record crowds. Smith sat down with WiG prior to rehearsals for our own personal education.

History tells us that La Bohème received a mixed response when it premiered in 1896. Can you tell me a little bit about the reasons for such a response? It’s hard to truly put yourself in the mindset of Turin, Italy, in 1896, but I believe there were a couple factors at play. One was that writing operas about “real” people — not royalty or historical figures — was still a radical idea. The friends in Bohème do not have conventional jobs, they are not married and yet they are happy with their lives; a sort of lifestyle that was not looked upon with approval. Critics also objected to the emotional manipulation of Puccini’s music. It’s impossible not to be moved by certain scenes and that was frowned upon as not being “art.”

I will add that almost all classic operas were met with a bad critical response, including Carmen, La Traviata, and Madama Butterfly, so Bohème is in excellent company in this regard. Audiences, however, ignored the critics, and these works were all hits within a few years of their premieres. 

What attracted Puccini to these characters, and how did the opera’s content fit into the composer’s overall body of work? La Bohème was based on (French writer Henri) Murger’s collection of vignettes, Scènes de la vie de bohème. These started as short stories published over a period of three years. The playwright Théodore Barrière suggested turning them into a play; he and Murger are listed as co-authors on the play.  

When the play became a success, Murger then published the short stories together, adding some connecting material. Puccini’s opera — and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera, which was written at the same time — was technically based on these vignettes, as the play was not in the public domain.

Puccini had only just written his first successful opera — Manon Lescaut — when he started Bohème, so this was a continuation of his process of trying to write hit shows that would make money. He was by no means as successful or popular then as he would become.

Puccini sought good dramatic situations for his operas and I think he saw the potential for a moving story in the lives and loves of these young people in the Latin Quarter. His instincts were not infallible; at one point, he wanted to cut the third act, which shows Mimi and Rodolfo breaking up, which thus makes her returning to him when she is dying even more moving. One of his librettists pointed out that while this would make a nice little story, it would not be La Bohème.  

Despite the initial public response, La Bohème remains one of Puccini’s most popular operas. What about the work speaks so clearly to contemporary audiences? Bohème is fundamentally about a group of friends experiencing the joys and sorrows of life, from spending an evening at a restaurant to falling in love, breaking up and witnessing death. Those themes and stories transcend time and place, making the story thoroughly relatable, whether in Lisbon, Prague, London or Los Angeles, all of which performed the opera within one year of its premiere. I think Bohème has stood the test of time better than any other opera, which is why there are over a hundred productions of it worldwide this season alone.

Jonathan Larson based his popular musical Rent on La Bohème. What parallels exist between the two works? Larson took elements of Bohème and translated them into a specific time and place — New York’s East Village at the height of the AIDS crisis — finding parallels for almost everything. For example, instead of being a painter, Mark (Marcello) is a filmmaker, which is the early 1990s equivalent. Collins (Colline) has a coat that factors into a plotline, as it does in Puccini’s opera.  

Where the works differ is twofold. First, I find the emotional heart of Rent to be the death of Angel Schaunard; in Bohème, Schaunard is a secondary character without a specific plotline. Second, Mimi does not die, as she does in Bohème, and sings the final number with the rest of the cast. So while an audience at Rent experiences the same emotional catharsis that an audience does at Bohème, it comes with a different character and storyline.

All that said, the basic outline — young people trying to make a life for themselves, finding joy and sorrow intertwined — is the same, which is why Rent struck as much of a chord in 1996 as Bohème did 100 years earlier.

What makes Madison Opera’s production of La Bohème stand out? The success of Bohème depends on the performers, as it requires excellent singers who have great dramatic chemistry, and in whom the audience feels invested. We have a fabulous young cast, with debuts from some of our leads, as well as some returning favorites.  

The opera world is small, so it’s fun to know that our Marcello (Dan Kempson) sang in a student performance of The Marriage of Figaro with our Colline (Liam Moran) when they were young artists together in Pittsburgh. Plus, we have our wonderful Madison Opera Chorus, members of the Madison Youth Choirs and the Madison Symphony Orchestra playing Puccini’s lush orchestrations.  

It’s the perfect opera for everyone, whether they are opera novices or opera omnivores.

What prompted you to do La Bohème as the keynote production to the current season? La Bohème is one of the top three operas in the world; it is being performed this year everywhere from Vienna to Barcelona to Melbourne. We last produced it in 2007, so it was time to bring it back, as works this wonderful deserve to be seen frequently.  


Madison Opera’s production of La Bohème runs Nov. 13 and Nov. 15 at Overture Center, 201 State St. For tickets, dial 608-258-4141 or visit madisonopera.org.

Madison Opera’s New Season

Puccini’s La Bohème, scheduled for Nov. 13 and Nov. 15 in Overture Hall, opens what promises to be another outstanding season for the Capital City’s opera company. Other intriguing operas fill out the company’s 2015–16 repertoire.

Mark Adamo’s Little Women, based on the beloved Louisa May Alcott’s novel, will be performed Feb. 5 and Feb. 7. This semi-staged production tells the tale of four sisters growing up in 1860 America with a young cast performing moving arias amid comic exchanges and emotional confrontations.

In spring, Madison Opera moves back to the Overture Hall stage with Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann. The famous opera, which focuses on the adventures of a poet and his love for a doll, a singer and a courtesan, runs April 15 and April 17.

The season closes with the annual Opera in the Park, a free event held every summer at Garner Park, 333 S. Rosa Road, on Madison’s west side. The two-hour performance includes orchestral highlights and vocal performances from some of the world’s greatest operas, as well as arias and overtures that preview the upcoming operatic season. The 2016 Opera in the Park is scheduled for July 23 and is open to the public. No tickets are required and picnicking is encouraged.

Wood-fired ovens ignite interest in pizzas new and old

It’s 2015. If you want a pizza, all you have to do is run to the grocery store, preheat your oven and remember to only put in the part that tastes like cardboard but actually isn’t.

So when you really want pizza — good pizza — you want something made with better ingredients, closer to the original Italian dish than a corporate science experiment. And there’s lots and lots of pizza places that have those better, tastier ingredients.

It’s rarer to find a pizza made with one of the best ingredients of all: a wood-fired pizza oven, like those used when the pizza was invented in Naples in the late 18th century. 

But not as rare as it used to be. Across Wisconsin, restaurants that have used wood-fired brick ovens for decades are emphasizing their capabilities like never before, and new competitors are popping up year by year. Some restaurants simply utilize that traditional cooking method as a way to make definitively modern pies, while others double down on authenticity, making pizzas in classic Neapolitan styles.

The original pizza

The very concept of pizza dates back to Naples, where locals churned it out in forms that are amazingly simple in comparison to the multi-topping megapizzas more common in the United States. The original pizza is in essence a bread lightly covered in tomato sauce, some cheese and herbs, spices or oils .

But that simplicity wasn’t because Neapolitan chefs weren’t as inventive as future pizzamakers. According to Vincenzo Pugliese, owner of Madison’s Cafe Porta Alba, it’s the oven that mandates that process — and its temperature, a whopping 800 to 900 degrees. A traditional Neapolitan pizza can be completely cooked in about 90 seconds.

“It’s essential,” Pugliese says. “By cooking it at such a high temperature you get the shock of the crust — an immediate bubbling. It’s the only way to get the trait of a Neapolitan pizza, which is a crusty, crispy layer on the outside and a soft and chewy inside.”

Pugliese, a native Italian, opened Cafe Porta Alba in 2006, after moving here from New York City and noting that Madison didn’t have a Neapolitan pizza restaurant (since, Pugliese has partnered with a former head chef, Nicholas Mattioli, to open Novanta in Middleton, and both Naples 15 and Pizza Brutta feature wood-fired ovens as well). 

His oven is characteristic of Italian brick pizza ovens — dome-shaped, with special bricks in the center that the pizzas are placed on top of for cooking — but that doesn’t mean it cooks the same as every oven. Because the individual elements of the oven, like the amount of wood being burned, are unique every time, Pugliese says you have to “get to know your oven” as you work with it, learning how to adjust to its own unique temperament and making tweaks as necessary as the oven ages.

That’s on the mind of Gregg Carini as well, who’s had his own wood-fired oven at Carini’s La Conca D’Oro, where he is both chef and the son of owner Peter Carini, for about half a year. He says even a six-month period is enough for an oven to change, but the good thing is that a chef who’s paying attention can ensure that change is for the better.

Carini’s has been in business for 18 years, but the addition of pizza marks their first major change in menu. It’s a change patrons have been requesting for years, Carini says, but one his father was always hesitant to make due to his desire to be traditional and authentic.

But when a family friend found a way to get an inexpensive wood-fired oven from the factory, Carini’s father finally pulled the trigger, ordering the oven and summoning his son back into town from the Neapolitan pizza restaurant he was working at in Nashville. “To get this style of pizza, which is the authentic style pizza created in Italy 150 years ago that every pizza you’ve ever eaten is based upon, for us it was no decision.”

Carini says the pizza has been well-received by patrons, many of whom tell him the pizza reminds them of Italy. “When they eat this pizza, it brings back something.”

The only learning curve Carini’s had is that patrons used to having a wide variety of pizza options can’t get that same flexibility with the stricter Neapolitan recipe — not that they complain when they get the finished pie.

Modern wood-fired style

While authentic Neapolitan pizzerias remain rare, wood-fired ovens aren’t only used by traditionalists. 

Solo Pizza, just down the street from Carini’s, has been operating a wood-fired pizza oven for more than 20 years, starting back when it opened as Oakland Trattoria (the shift to Solo came in 2010, after the southern half of the restaurant became Irish pub The Black Rose). But it doesn’t operate at the astronomical temperatures of Cafe Porta Alba or Carini’s ovens, nor is it only used for Neapolitan-style pizzas. Manager Andrew Schmidt says the oven only gets up to about 350 degrees, shifting the emphasis from the speed at which the oven’s heat changes the pizzas to the flavor a smoky wood-fired oven can provide.

That flavor can be found on no less than 19 styles of pizza at Solo, an upgrade from only nine before the rebranding in 2010. Options range from the simple (a traditional sausage and mushroom or pizza Margherita) to the complex or unusual (mac and cheese, bacon cheeseburger and even Reuben), but all of them go into the same wood-fired oven. Patrons can also request custom pizzas. Because the pizzas have different ingredients, the cooking method is slightly different for each, and something Schmidt and his employees are constantly working to improve. “I’m still learning,” he says. “I think it’s a lifetime process.”

With two decades of experience making wood-fired pizzas, Schmidt says the restaurant should be considered a pioneer in the city, but he’s glad to see the method is taking off elsewhere — except for the fact that it’s muddling the difference between pizzas made in regular ovens that just happen to be made of brick and actual wood-fired pizza ovens, which lend a certain flavor to the pizza. “You can say a pizza is made in a brick oven, but that doesn’t mean anything to me,” he says. “It’s the wood that’s the important part.”

Wood-fired pizzerias

Cafe Porta Alba

558 N. Midvale Blvd., Madison



Carini’s La Conca d’Oro

3468 N. Oakland Ave., Milwaukee



Il Ritrovo

515 S. Eighth St., Sheboygan



Naples 15

15 N. Butler St., Madison




8452 Old Sauk Road, Middleton



Pizza Brutta

1805 Monroe St., Madison



Pizzeria Piccola

7606 W. State St., Wauwatosa



Solo Pizza

2856 N. Oakland Ave., Milwaukee



Dolce & Gabbana faces celebrity boycott after anti-gay remarks

Celebrities are joining the boycott launched by Elton John after fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana criticized same-sex parents and the use of in vitro fertilization in an Italian magazine, calling the resulting children “synthetic.”

Courtney Love, Ricky Martin, talk-show host Andy Cohen and “American Horror Story” creator Ryan Murphy are among those pledging to ditch their Dolce & Gabbana clothes and support the boycott.

“My D&G shirts are going in the bin — don’t want ANYONE to wear them,” tennis star Martina Navratilova posted on Twitter.

Murphy said not only will he personally cease to wear the brand, he won’t allow the characters in any of his shows to wear it, either.

Dolce & Gabbana has been popular on red carpets and TV and film screens for years.

Channing Tatum and David Oyelowo wore the brand’s tuxedoes to the Oscars. “The Theory of Everything” star Felicity Jones chose one of D&G’s gowns for the Critics’ Choice Awards. Mindy Kaling recently donned a colorful frock from the designers on her show, “The Mindy Project.” Taraji P. Henson, as Cookie Lyons, has also worn Dolce & Gabbana on the Fox hit “Empire.”

Blogger Perez Hilton, who runs a website about fashion and celebrity, thinks the designers’ comments could hurt their Hollywood relationships.

“If a stylist or a celebrity has a choice of a designer to wear right now, I don’t think anybody will be choosing Dolce & Gabbana,” he said. “Because they haven’t just offended gay people, they’ve offended people across the board.”

Most shoppers wouldn’t be in a financial position to boycott the designers. A man’s pullover sweater costs $1,100; a cocktail dress could top $6,000. 

The company also has faced criticism over its fashion advertisements, including one campaign that suggested a gang rape of a woman.

Martin blasted the designers on Twitter Sunday, saying their voices are too powerful to spread such hate.

“Wake up, its 2015,” he wrote. “Luv urselves guys.”

Dolce and Gabbana are both gay and were previously in a relationship with each other.

“To see two very successful gay men with a large platform use that to promote small-mindedness infuriates me,” Hilton said. “We should be promoting openness and acceptance.”

Salvatore’s brings tomato pies to Madison

A young Bob Dylan, passing through Madison in the late 1960s, is rumored to have said that the best things about Wisconsin’s capital city were its pizza and its Quaaludes.

We have no insights into the pharmaceutical side of Dylan’s statement, but were he to stop in today at Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, he might wonder just how such a good pizza scene has gotten so much better.

The original Salvatore’s was launched in Sun Prairie by former Dane County Supervisor Patrick DePula in October 2011 to rave reviews. His new restaurant at 912 E. Johnson St. barely opened its doors in December 2014 before area residents were waiting up to 90 minutes for DePula’s “tomato pies” — as they call pizzas in Chambersburg, the Italian neighborhood of Trenton, New Jersey, where DePula grew up.

DePula takes a stylized Neapolitan approach to what has become America’s most highly commoditized food product. Fans of cracker-crusted collections of vegetable bits and meat byproducts capped by a half-inch of gooey mozzarella cheese would do better to look elsewhere.

A member of the relatively new Madison Area Chef Network (a loose organization of 50-odd Madison chefs designed to foster community and collaboration), DePula draws on fresh produce from local providers in making his pies. He favors quality over quantity, and emphasizes a broad flavor palate that showcases ingredients.

On any given night, cooks at Salvatore’s are seen hand-tossing crusts made from un-bromated flour. The vegetable toppings are locally grown, as are the heirloom tomatoes used to make DePula’s sauce. Sausage and pesto are made in-house.

The double storefront on East Johnson Street, home to several other pizza restaurants before Salvatore’s, has an attractive, contemporary dining room that seats about 30. Weekend traffic has already gotten so large that the Johnson Public House, located next door, is allowing diners to bring Salvatore’s pizza inside to eat. 

Knowing that, we chose the takeout option one recent Friday, arriving at 4 p.m. to order our pies. The pair took 20 minutes to make, during which time we enjoyed craft beers pulled from two of about eight taps. The restaurant also has an extensive bottled beer selection, as well as wines and soft drinks.

The backbone of Salvatore’s menu is the tomato pie itself, a customizable 12- or 16-inch pizza that features an extensive menu of vegetables, fruits, cheeses and proteins, including organic eggs. The tomato sauce is created using a 100-year-old family recipe, and the crust is made from locally grown wheat. DePula’s even offered a variety of dietary alternatives on the list, for vegans as well as the gluten-intolerant or dairy avoiders.

But despite all that promise, we picked two of the seven specialty pies offered by Salvatore’s, a decision difficult in its own right given the flavorful ingredients and unique combinations.

We could have ordered the Forestiere ($14 for a 12-inch, $23 for a 16-inch), which features thinly sliced onions, bacon lardons, crème fraiche, Pleasant Ridge Reserve artisanal cheese, fresh thyme and local mushrooms. We also considered the Carbonara ($14/$23), topped with Farmer John’s colby caliente, mozzarella, mushrooms, Neuske’s bacon, scallions, three soft-cooked organic eggs and finished with fresh arugula.

But ultimately, we opted for the Vegetarian ($13/$22), topped with roasted beet pesto, kale, goat cheese, parsley and red wine reduction sauce. We also ordered the popular Fig and Bacon ($15/$22), featuring cabernet-poached mission figs, Gorgonzola cheese, balsamic red wine reduction sauce and bacon.

Both pies’ minimal ingredients support and showcase the pies’ flavor perhaps more than a greater number would have. In the case of Salvatore’s pies, less is indeed more.

With the Vegetarian, the pesto did little to mute the beets’ natural sweetness, but the reduced content favored by the Neapolitan approach never allowed it to overwhelm the pie. The crisp, somewhat woodsy kale and brighter parsley flavors were well matched, providing a multi-dimensional vegetal undercurrent that also helped frame the piquant goat cheese. 

The same subtlety of approach showed up in the Fig and Bacon. The figs’ natural sweetness, enhanced by their red-wine poaching, was a strong counterpoint to the smoky bacon and the savory Gorgonzola. 

In both cases, the red wine reduction sauce served to make the flavor palette cohesive, and the slightly puffy crusts were equally superb.

In addition to pies, Salvatore’s also offers appetizers, gelato and even three kinds of tacos, all made with the same locally sourced ingredients. If they’re as good as DePula’s pies, then it’s clear an East Johnson Street food renaissance may be well underway.

On the table

Salvatore’s Tomato Pies is located at 912 E. Johnson St. on Madison’s near-east side. The restaurant is open Tuesday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 4-11 p.m. Call 608-238-6040 or visit

Of heaven, earth and Italy

Italy. Glasgow. Milwaukee. Together, the cities make for an interesting diversity of geographic points, and they all come together via Milwaukee Art Museum’s current exhibition: Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Paintings from Glasgow Museums. Included are a variety of stylistic periods, from the Renaissance to Realism, explored with an inherently Mediterranean sensibility. 

It’s a show that broadly traverses the territories of “heaven” and “earth” suggested in its title. The exhibition’s opening is particularly strong, with works by important Renaissance artists representing some of the most popular types of painting from their day. 

Giovanni Bellini’s “Virgin and Child” (c. 1480–85) satisfies the need for images depicting Mary and the infant Jesus, a conventional genre for the period. But the artist’s feeling for somber beauty and his intensity set his hand on the subject apart.

Sandro Botticelli is known as a patron of the powerful Medici family who painted works inspired by classical mythology. A man of his times, he also created traditional religious paintings, such as the exquisite “The Annunciation” (ca. 1490–95). Botticelli enlivens the angel Gabriel with a flurry of rippling drapery, as though he were overtaken by divine energy as he appeared before the Virgin Mary to announce that she would be the mother of Jesus. Botticelli sets the event in a hall architecturally designed in a way that would have been familiar to contemporary Florentine audiences, giving the biblical myth a humanistic tone.

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) is another famous Renaissance figure who looms large, especially for his vibrant color palette. The exhibition includes his very early “Christ and the Adulteress” (ca. 1508–1510). What is most curious about this painting is its condition. At some point, damage occurred to the right edge of the canvas. The affected portion was removed and the painting “corrected” to cover errant remainders of a removed figure. However, a happy reunion has been achieved with the painting of a man’s head, which was originally part of the composition, now displayed next to the monumental painting. 

While religious painting is prominently featured during the initial centuries of the exhibition, more secular subjects appear from later dates. That shift starts with a pair of works by Salvator Rosa, which include scenes involving Jesus and John the Baptist. They are huge paintings that allow the viewer’s eyes to meander vicariously through a dramatic landscape of cliffs, trees, hills and streams. The religious figures are diminutive, incidental details rather than the primary focus of these canvases.

Other landscapes are more conventionally realistic. Francesco Guardi, who was active during the 18th century, is important for his paintings of Venice, such as “View of San Giorgio Maggiore” (c. 1760). The Grand Canal shimmers with light and the activity of boats on the busy water. Guardi’s pleasure in the details of bustling daily life is apparent, and the details recreate the quotidian experience of the tourist, particularly those who had been on the Grand Tour. That rite of passage was a finishing touch in the education of wealthy young men, introducing them to the artistic and cultural wonders of the continent.

The pace of artistic and stylistic change accelerated during the 19th century, especially with developments in the practices of French painting in Paris. Italy yielded to those developments, as most of the works in the concluding gallery attest. They are not, however, without interest or skill. 

Vincenzo Camuccini’s imagining of the “Death of Julius Caesar” (c. 1825–29), is replete with suspended motion that makes it feel like a Neoclassical action movie. Antonio Mancini takes an approach that draws inspiration from the realism of Edouard Manet, with heavily worked paint, dramatic contrast and opulent pouting in the expressive “The Sulky Boy” (1875). 

Of Heaven and Earth is ultimately a selective survey, following the conventional path one might find in an art history textbook. But it’s a textbook you’ll enjoy paging through, and one with a great many lessons to teach.

On exhibit

Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums continues through Jan. 4, 2015, at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Drive. Visit mam.org for more details.

Photos: CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection Courtesy American Federation of Arts

“Death of Julius Caesar,” by Vincenzo Camuccini, is an excellent example of
Neoclassicalism, a major 18th and 19th century movement competing with Romanticism.

“The Annunciation,” by Sandro Botticelli and possibly an
assistant, blends classical subject and contemporary setting.

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Barilla’s pasta owner tells gays to ‘go eat someone else’s pasta’

The owner of Barilla pasta told an Italian radio show host yesterday that he doesn’t market to homosexuals and that, if gays don’t like it, “they can always go eat someone else’s pasta.”

Guido Barilla, chairman of the privately owned worldwide brand, said his company “likes the traditional family” and promised that the public would never see images of gay people in Barilla’s advertising.

His exact words, as translated from the Italian by AmericaBlog were: “We won’t include gays in our ads, because we like the traditional family. If gays don’t like it, they can always eat another brand of pasta. Everyone is free to do what they want, provided it doesn’t bother anyone else.”

Barilla later apologized, saying that he has “the greatest respect for gays and for the freedom of expression of anyone.” He added that he respects gay marriages.

But Italian equality advocates, including Italian parliament members, are calling for a boycott. Using social media, boycott supporters are rapidly gaining attention.

Aurelio Mancuso, head of the LGBT group Equality Italia, said, “We accept the invitation from the Barilla owner to not eat his pasta.” Mancuso called for a boycott of the company’s pasta, sauces and snacks.

In the United States, out actor George Takei was among the first to endorse the boycott on his Facebook page.

Barilla is one of Italy’s largest advertisers. The company’s trademark image is of a happy straight family in the Italian countryside accompanied by the slogan, “Where there’s Barilla, there’s home.”

New bio looks at Caravaggio, the ‘bad boy’ of Italian painting

More than 400 years after his death, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is more popular than ever. Long lines form outside exhibitions of his art, and by one scholar’s count, he’s been written about more in recent decades than his namesake, Michelangelo Buonarroti. He’s also become something of a gay icon.

Caravaggio’s celebrity status is due not only to the graphic, cinematic quality of his paintings but also his wild personality. The “bad boy” of Italian painting, Caravaggio was volatile, often violent, almost certainly bisexual and constantly in trouble with the law, forced to flee Rome in 1606 after killing a man in a duel.

 “Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane” (W.W. Norton) is a compelling new biography released last year in Great Britain, English art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon burnishes the legend but also unravels many of the mysteries of the short, tempestuous life of Caravaggio, who died in 1610 at age 38.

Born in the town of Caravaggio outside Milan, he was a largely self-taught artist who benefited from a few powerful patrons but wrecked almost every opportunity that came his way. He could have hobnobbed with aristocrats and churchmen but preferred the rabble of Rome’s artists’ quarter.

It was their faces and bodies that he used as models for his dramatically lit, startlingly realistic tableaux of saints and sinners. Instead of painting heroically proportioned figures as Michelangelo did in the Sistine Chapel, Caravaggio’s preference was to give the Virgin Mary the cleavage of a Roman streetwalker and thrust the filthy feet of destitute pilgrims in the viewer’s face.

Graham-Dixon combed the criminal records of the era to glean extraordinary details about the artist’s run-ins with the law. He skillfully evokes the social and religious context of turn-of-the-17th-century Italy, when the Roman Catholic Church was, for a time, returning to its pious roots in response to the Protestant Reformation.

He demonstrates convincingly that Caravaggio’s stark and emotional portrayals of biblical stories reflect the teachings of the fervently devout Milan archbishop Carlo Borromeo, who urged believers to put Christ at the center of their lives by visualizing, if not virtually reenacting, his suffering.

Graham-Dixon concludes by exploring Caravaggio’s influence on contemporary filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese. In a 2005 interview, the director of “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver” speaks admiringly of Caravaggio’s dramatic staging, extreme contrasts of light and shadow, and use of street people for models. When Scorsese was thinking about how to shoot “The Last Temptation of Christ,” he says, “The idea was to do Jesus like Caravaggio.”