Auntie Oddina thinking lunch for her artist friends May 1950

Auntie Oddina thinking lunch for her artist friends May 1950

Convivium, in Latin, means “conviviality”, which is the sharing of good food and conversation with kindred spirits. Convivium is an old tradition here at Villa Silj It began in the 1st century AD when Emperor Augustus, built his country villa, here: Villa di Livia.

Then, in the 19th century, 14,000 hectares were purchased by our family, Silj, Marquises of Sant’Andrea di Ussita and a great farming estate was created. We produced cheese (from both cow and sheep milk), milk, poultry, lamb, corn, fruit, vegetables and wine. Bread was home-made and so was butter,  mayonnaise and tomato sauces for the pasta. 

In 1948, after the war, my uncle Pio Silj began to patronize a group of artists – known as the Convivium Romanum  who met at Villa Silj, to paint, eat, talk about art and a brighter future.  

Many of their works still hang on the walls of the villa. One picture in the dining room shows Pio’s wife Oddina – the redhead   – sitting pensively at the dining table.

“23,16 hours  the Marchesa Silj, is busy elaborating a menu for her artist friends for tomorrow, first Sunday of May 1950: dry antipasto ? spaghetti with ragout, lamb and chicken arrabbiata, rumble-tumble artichokes, broad beans, peas and Falleri wines, ad libitum.” The picture is signed by Paulo Ghiglia, S. Meyer, Giulio Boetto.

The Convivium tradition continued, when we came to live here in 1988. I gave it a strong extension into storytelling. For how could food and conviviality be separated from storytelling? And again: what is myth if not the prime human interpretation of nature and the prime human intuition about nature, its elements, its phenomena ?  

We have watched our guests dine on tales of heroes and legends. Then came my work “The Garden of Lemniscati”, which is a book “cultivated like a garden”, a garden “written like a book”. Here so many myths and magic of elements – corn, wine, olive oil, cheese, pomegranate, barley, fennel – accompany the stories. 

We imagined ancient men and women, sitting round fires, telling tales about animals, plants, seasons, dreams, phenomena, all enveloped in a vast spirit world.

Bernard Anson Silj (proprietor)