Saturday, March 26, 2011

Italianate friezes in Nice

                                           Example of sculpted Frieze work in Nice

There is something special about houses here in this part of the world which is not found in many other places.

 When the local villas were built, often they had a painted or sculpted horizontal band just under the eaves or between the windows.  I call this the Italianate frieze.

 Now that most of these old houses have been repainted many times over, many of these charming decorations have disappeared.  It costs quite a lot of money to have the work repainted or touched up and despite the subsidy given by the city , it is not enough for residents to want to restore them.

 However, when my husband and I put all our chips on red and bought our house, I knew that a lot of the appeal for me was that it has one of these friezes.

 The decorative architectural frieze seems to be an idea from Italy.   For years Nice was an Italian dominion, only becoming part of France in 1860.   Culturally and architecturally enriched over time, today Nice still has a small sampling of these homes with the friezes intact.  In 20 years I cannot say that any of them will be left however.  But it so happens that a few of these decorated homes are in my own neighborhood of Fabron.   This one with it's painted irises is on the corner.

And this one is across from it.

Ours is nothing like these.  It is a much smaller house which was a bit of a ruin when we found it.  It had a hole in the eaves where bats and rats had found a home.  The exterior had huge rivers of plaster falling off.  We found out that this was due to the osmosis effect of beach sand that had been used in the 1920's to mix the plaster.  When we went to fill all those holes in , we too, were ready for a new paint job.   But the painters  ( not frenchmen )WANTED TO PAINT OVER the freize in order to guarantee that their job would last.

 I had about as close to a conniption fit as can be recorded.  I told them in no uncertain terms were they to touch the frieze until I had found an expert to advise me.

This I did.  I found  Grahame Menage  , an Englishman who specializes in fresco and paint work and has done restoration work on many important buildings in Italy and throughout the USA and Europe.

 He perched on a scaffold in the dead of winter with fingerless gloves and patiently repainted all but one panel of our frieze   I asked him to leave one unpainted so I could tease my friends with it.  He has done such a good job that no one can tell the original panel from the repainted ones.

  A friend of mine says that my little yellow house is in danger of looking like a Bonbonierre (candybox) in the Spring when you see frieze, wild irises and cherry trees all competing with the creamy yellow house with its faded blue shutters.  But I think this is what Madeleine must have wished for in the 1920's when she built it.    The bonnbonierre will definitely help take the blues away on a rainy March day.

 I don't want gnomes or painted turtles , just leave me my frieze, please.


  1. Cheers for artisans and you in keeping this treasure. A conniption fit----how amusing!

  2. Good work. We do have wonderful treasures in our nabe. Thanks for the pics...BB

  3. Hi Mary,Thanks so much for the shout! I think your blog is very interesting - right up my street -or rue.