24.02.2017. Le Sirenuse
Few guests give Le Sirenuse’s bar console a second glance, mesmerised as they are by the cocktail choreography of head barman Robert Wimmer and his team. Or if they do, it’s simply to register the harmony of its curving frontage, the elegance of its carved walnut detailing.
But the bar counter is one of the most precious antiques on display at the Positano hotel, testimony to the passion for collection of late owner Franco Sersale and his brother Aldo. Dating from the eighteenth century, it originally belonged to a Neapolitan jeweller active in Borgo Orefici, the tight network of lanes where the workshops of the city’s goldsmiths, silversmiths and gemsmiths have congregated since at least the Middle Ages.
It’s only on a closer view that one can make out the details of the intarsia work of the five panels that cadence the counter’s sweeping facade. In the centre is a heraldic crest, its black eagle and rampant lions possibly a reference to the twenty-year Habsburg rule of Naples by Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI from 1714 to 1734.
The four panels that flank this central one take us back to a time before the discovery of Australia (or at least before the recognition of its vast extent) when the world was thought to consist of just four continents. It is these ‘four corners of the world’ that are depicted here in symbolic, personified form. Moving from left to right, we see Africa, with her elephant headgear (note the pyramid in the background); Asia, shown as a merchant leading a camel, America, in the form of a rather decorative native warrior brandishing a bow, and sedate old Europe, her cultural credentials symbolised by a lyre.
Behind is another fine eighteenth-century antique, an ornate oak glass-fronted cabinet in which several pieces of 18th and 19th pottery from the Sicilian ceramics town of Caltagirone are displayed (note the dog and rather Sphinx-like cat facing each other across the curtained door that leads into the bar service area). The four corners of the world, against a southern Italian background: it’s a rather apt metaphor for Le Sirenuse, and surely one that signor Franco, a cultured globetrotter rooted in Positano, must have intended.
Photo © Roberto Salomone