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Two decades ago, if you wanted to study the techniques of the Old Masters, you'd have found it almost impossible. Very few places existed that had documented and preserved their techniques, which had been passed from generation to generation but then were almost lost as the world became obsessed with modernism and abstract art. "Just express yourself, do your own thing," was the mantra of the times. Those who wanted to study the figure and learn to paint like the Old Masters were told that the style was no longer valid, that they could never make a living.
Historically, the great artists understood the critical importance of training the next masters to carry on the traditions of those who came before them. Master painters would teach one or two primary students not only everything they had learned on their own, but what had been passed down from the masters' own mentors. Six hundred years of knowledge preserved, along with generations of master painters' improvements on the techniques they had learned.
In Florence, a thin thread connecting to the past existed — one that would carry ancient techniques forward to today. A lineage from the great masters, handed down one generation at a time, that has landed on the shoulders of a few men and women today. For 25 years, students at the Florence Academy have studied techniques as passed down from Signora Nerina Simi, daughter of Filadelfo Simi, who was a student of Gerome. One can trace this lineage back several hundred years, and it was Signora Simi who hand-picked a few exceptional students to carry it forward. One of those fortunate enough to carry the responsibility for maintaining those techniques was Daniel Graves, an American who studied in Florence and who founded the Florence Academy, now one of the most renowned art institutions in the world.
Like those before him, Graves has trained and selected a few from a younger generation to carry these techniques forward. One of those people is a young Italian woman, Daniela Astone.
Though Daniela Astone started her art education on a typical track, her passion eventually landed her acceptance into the Florence Academy. She went through the entire program, but, unlike those who graduated and moved on, she wanted to carry that program on to future generations. So she was trained personally by the instructors at the school, including Daniel Graves.
Today, Daniela Astone plays a major role in training students at the Florence Academy. In 2013, she won the BP Portrait Award, and her self-portrait now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Last year, while filming Daniel Graves in Florence, we fell in love with Astone's incredible ability to create elegant still life paintings. We immediately made special arrangements to film her technique as well.