Looking for the perfect gift for that culture vulture in your life—someone who's loves history, art, engineering, cinema... or even opera? Here are some top gift ideas, with an Italian twist!
There are options here for those who live in Italy and those who don't, so whether you're an expat or an Italy-lover abroad, give them all a read. (This is part of a series of holiday gift guides!).
Gifts for ancient history buffs
You can't "get" ancient Rome without understanding Caesar. So give the aspiring Roman historian in your life Caesar: Life of a Colossus, possibly the most-comprehensive-yet-still-readable biography published of the Big Guy written in the last couple of decades.
You don't have to be particularly interested in ancient history to be curious about Cleopatra—minx, stateswoman, and strategist. Stacy Schiff's new, compusively-readable biography Cleopatra: A Life balances juicy stories with a modern take.
One of the most dramatic stories in ancient history has to be the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius of 79 A.D. The documentary Pompeii: The Last Day brings it to life with hair-raising dramatizations (and, of course, some history).
It's not all factual, but the BBC/HBO series Rome got a lot of things right, including the colorful, gritty atmosphere of Rome in the 1st century B.C. It's also a well-done, dramatic miniseries, one that will keep any ancient history buff addicted for hours.
Ideas for art, architecture, and engineering lovers
This art supply store in Florence dates back to 1342—and (this is even more amazing) it still sells paints, papers, and other supplies with formulas dating back to the Renaissance. Whether the artist in your life would like parchment skins for illumination and calligraphy, handmade paper for watercolor and sketching, or Renaissance-era paint pigments (lapis lazuli, anyone), Zecchi has it all. And you can both order items, and pay, online—and have them shipped abroad. Check out the Zecchi store online here.
If you're lucky enough to live in Italy, and if the art-lover in your life happens to be a child, then check out some of the fantastic programs offered by Arte al Sole. On Dec. 17 through 21, at St. Andrew's Church in Rome, they're running holiday workshops, in English, that take kids (aged 5-13) on an exploration of how Rome has celebrated the holidays, from antiquity up to today. They cost €40 for a one-day workshop or €70 for a two-day workshop; contact Shannon at email@example.com or +39 3402140897. Other cool options, and gift ideas, for kids include summer sessions, like five days at the casale of Fontanelle where kids learn about glassblowing, weaving, and more.
Okay, this is a fun one. If you know someone who
loves the ancient art of mosaic, you can give them a mosaic kit to make their own... shipped from a mosaic workshop in Ravenna (the world capital of mosaic!). Small mosaic kits (making mosaics that are about 6 inches by 6.5 inches) are just €16, medium mosaics (about 7 inches by 9 inches) are €23, and large mosaics (8 by 10 inches) like this one, right, a reproduction of a mosaic at the Piazza Armerina in Sicily, start from €30. (There are lots of more modern patterns, as well). And yes, the owner has confirmed that she can ship abroad, including to the U.S.
Know someone who's fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci? You've got lots of interesting gift options. Ross King, the writer behind Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling and Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture—both of them must-reads for any lover of art or architecture—just wrote his latest: Leonardo and the Last Supper. It's gotten predictably excellent reviews, and sounds great. Otherwise, I'm itching to watch Da Vinci & Mysteries of the Renaissance, which has Emmy- and Golden Globe-award-winning episodes on Da Vinci, Copernicus, Kepler, Michelangelo, and more.
If your Leo lover is more of an engineer type, giving a model kit of one of da Vinci's designs—like his paddle boat, armored car and aerial screw (the helicopter's precursor)—is a fun option. (Seriously, check out how cool that is to the left!).
If you have a serious art history buff, then you can't go wrong with a gorgeous book like History of Italian Renaissance Art—which looks pretty even on a coffee table.