Heart of stone

The beautiful sculptures of an Italian artist with Thai links gave Maitree Siriboon inspiration for his own work

Stone sculptures that adorn an Italian spa town have come to symbolise a bilateral relationship _ and inspire new art pieces in a faraway land. Maitree Siriboon, a contemporary artist from Ubon Ratchathani, has bridged the East and West through his special pieces dedicated to the renowned Italian artist Galileo Chini.

The interior of the Thermae Berzieri in Salsomaggiore, Italy, is decorated with Galileo Chini’s art.

To celebrate 145 years of friendship between Italy and Thailand, the Embassy of Italy and Siam Paragon have put up an exhibition of artworks by Chini. He is well known here as the man behind the splendid fresco inside the dome of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, one of the most majestic European-style structures in the country.

Titled "Galileo Chini: The Jewels Of Decorations", the exhibition opened on Monday night and will continue until Sept 29. The show is largely about the decorative pieces Chini created for one of the world's most beautiful spa complexes _ the Thermae Berzieri of Salsomaggiore in Italy. Maitree, however, has contributed a set of brand-new works to celebrate and complement the Italian artist. The two sets of works are shown together here.

"I was approached by the curator [Camillo Pellegatta] a long time ago when he found out about my work with mosaic glass," Maitree said.

Pellegatta curated the show as part of the annual Italian Festival 2013, together with Paola Chini and Maurizia Bonatti Bacchini.

"When this exhibition was finalised and I was officially invited to be part of this event, it was indeed an order," Maitree added.

The exhibition features 26 Liberty-style decorative sculptures from the spa in the town of Salsomaggiore. It marks the first time these items have been displayed outside Italy. These sculptures are actually backup pieces made in the early 1920s, they were discovered by chance tucked away in the spa's basement a few years ago. Each item is more than 90 years old, but they remain in good condition.

The sculptures were designed by Chini and manufactured by craftsmen of Borgo San Lorenzo, the company founded by the artist and his cousin Chino Chini, near Florence.

After studying Chini's early works, Maitree discovered a majolica polychromatic ceramic panel that inspired him to create a tribute version.

"I was impressed by the combination of the figure of a red-haired boy carrying a jar, with all the colours and beautiful patterns," he said. "Then, I applied my own story from my childhood and figures that are meaningful to me such as a buffalo, a river, a lotus pond, and recreated the piece using colourful mosaic glass."

Along with Maitree's work, the exhibition features jewellery designed by leading Italian brand Casato, with inspiration from the spa's decoration as a tribute to Chini.

"What I have learned from Chini is that he is the kind of artist who did a great deal of study before producing his works, which is the secret behind his amazing work," Maitree said.

"And that is something I can pick up from the master."


"Galileo Chini: The Jewels Of Decorations" is on at the Lifestyle Hall, 2nd floor, Siam Paragon, until Sept 29.

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Writer: Yanapon Musiket
Position: Life Writer