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Archive for the ‘Art treasures of Italy’ Category

Givovanni d"Ambrogio 15th Century Museum of the Works of the Duomo, Florence

Givovanni d’Ambrogio
15th Century
Museum of the Works of the Duomo, Florence

A recent incident with priceless art in Florence has me considering the easy access the world has to Florentine art.

While comparing his own hand to that of a 15th Century work by the Renaissance sculptor Giovanni d’Ambrogio, a visiting American surgeon broke one of the fingers off Ambrogio’s statue of the Virgin Mary. Tempers flared, threats made, waters calmed and the surgeon is, by this writing, on his way home or already home.

Hmmm . . .

What I have always shared with clients as we travel across Italy is that all of Italy is an open air museum. The temptation to touch a work of art is so strong, and the accessibility of those art works so open in museums, that such temptation proves too much for some.

In the Museum of the Works of the Duomo, only steps from where this American surgeon created such a stir, is Michelangelo’s Nicodemus Pieta, one of the last of the master’s works.

You can walk right up and, if you were so inclined, reach over a short railing and touch the master’s work.

This is not the first such incident with Florence’s art.

In August of 2005, a young Italian man under the substantial influence of alcohol accepted a bet from friends to climb the Fountain of Neptune (Amananti, 16th Century, called “biancone“) in the Piazza della Signoria. As he reached to pull himself up using Neptune’s left hand it came off. Video surveillance captured the incident and eventually the damage was paid for by the guilty party.

The Broken Finger

The Broken Finger

I feel badly for the surgeon that made this error, and at the same time am embarrassed about the incident.

Yes, there are many more important events occurring in our world these days. However, the attention that this incident has garnered underscores the commitment a civilized society places on its art.

Bottom line? When you are in museums anywhere, no less Florence, enjoy . . . but DON’T TOUCH!

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Evening View of Modica Sicily

Evening View of Modica Sicily

Modica. A city of intense beauty, part souk, part Renaissance fantasy, a mosaic of buildings reflecting an equally diverse populace.

Over the course of many years of travel to Sicily, I have stayed in Modica numerous times. In this post I will share some of the little known treasures – and some well known – in a Sicilian city I have come to love.

Some orientation will help you understanding the geography and cultural diversity of the city. Modica Basso is located in the center of Modica’s valley. Despite the destruction caused by the devastating earthquake in 1693 (which destroyed the greater part of eastern Sicily), the city has survived and restored its Sicilian Baroque splendor.

Sicilian Baroque? This is a style of architecture established in this area of Sicily after the 1693 earthquake. Known for fantastic sculptures in the facades of buildings and churches, it has come to symbolize a unique style particular to this geographic area of the island.

Until 1902, there were numerous bridges across the river Modicano, formed by two rivers called the Pozzo dei Pruni and the Janni Mauro. After a disastrous flood that same year, the city redirected the river through culverts beneath what is now called the Corso Umberto I, the city’s main thoroughfare. Shops abound along this road offering everything from jewelry to clothing to restaurants.

Over the course of centuries, Modica Alta was established above the city’s valley. It is here that one of the most beautiful churches in Italy is located. (See “Churches” below). This is a residential area of the city offering few shopping options. The views, however, from the high point above the city are spectacular.

Churches:

San Giorgio Modica

San Giorgio Modica

The Cathedral of San Giorgio: Located on the steep hillside above the lower city, this is one of the most striking examples of Sicilian Baroque in Sicily. The facade was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693, and the results are spectacular. One of the island’s first meridians, a means of tracing the seasons by the position of the sun on the floor of the cathedral, crosses in front of the main altar. It was in 1895, that the mathematician Armando Perinio received permission from the church to install the meridian.

The rays of sunlight that pierces the high windows of the interior, particularly in the afternoon, create prisms of light on the surface of huge white interior marble column; an evocative sense of the spiritual in a spiritual place.

The Cathedral of San Pietro: Older than San Giorgio, this was the diocesan church of the city until factions formed around Modica Alta and Modica Basso. The  ensuing divisions ended in their being two patron saints of the city – San Giorgio for the upper city and Saint Peter for the lower city. The statues of the twelve saints that stand along both sides of the entrance stairway to the church are beautiful, as is the interior of this historic church.

Saints Entrance San Pietro Modica

Saints Entrance San Pietro Modica

San Niccolo Inferiore: It was in the late 1960′s, when a car repair garage was being renovated, that the workers opened up a cave that had been used by early (4th Century A.D.) Christians as a place of worship. Located almost directly across the street from one of Italy’s premier chocolatiers (see Chocolate below), you have to ring a bell to enter this little known treasure in the heart of the city. Once you ring the bell, a warden leans out of a window above you, descends and opens the cave for you. The walls retain remnants of fourth and fifth century frescoes created by the artists of the day, gorgeous in their simplicity, moving in their beauty.

Frescoes Chiesa Rupestre San Niccolo Inferiore  Modica

Frescoes
Chiesa Rupestre San Niccolo Inferiore
Modica

Chocolate in Modica:

Chocolate Assortment Bonajuto Modica

Chocolate Assortment
Bonajuto Modica

You can find few chocolatiers in Italy that can match the history of Bonajuto (bon-aye-u’-toe) in Modica Basso. Established in 1880 by Francesco Bonajuto, the recipes used in this workshop date to the time of Spanish occupation on the island. The grainy texture of the chocolate,(they do not allow the sugar to dissolve completely)  mixed with ingredients as diverse as red pepper or lemon, are a delight. Guided visits are possible at Bonajuto. See below under “IF YOU GO” for further details.

Day Trips

There are numerous options open to visitors who choose Modica as the base for their visit to this part of Sicily. Easily reached are the other famous Sicilian baroque cities of Scicli, Noto and Ragusa. Lovely small fishing villages dot the southeastern coast and offer quiet (except in July and August!) respite from the cities.

A longer day trip can take visitors to the extraordinary Valley of the Temples near the southern town of Agrigento. (A future post will discuss the Valley in great detail).

On many evenings, I have walked up to the piazza above the Hotel Palazzo Failla – see “Hotels” below (not for the feint of heart!) and looked out over the valley of Modica. Despite the occasional group of local youths who gather as young people are wont to do, the timelessness of the buildings, the rugged beauty of the architecture and the long sifted light of sunset evoke a different time, a different era, a different Italy.

No matter where your travels take you during time in Sicily, visit Modica. You will not be disappointed.

IF YOU GO:

Hotels:

Entrance Palazzo Failla Hotel Modica

Entrance
Palazzo Failla Hotel
Modica

Absolutely and without question, the Palazzo Failla in Modica Alta. The Failla family opened this lovely hotel in their family palazzo. The resultant restoration is gorgeous; the master bedroom, replete with original floor tiles from the Sicilian ceramic city of Caltagirone, are one of the many options for guests. In 2008, the family opened a dependance across the road from the original hotel where suites that include every modern convenience (Spa tubs, steam showers for example) are available. There are two restaurants in the hotel – the Gazza Ladra and La Locanda del Colonnello. The Gazza is one of the finest restaurants in Italy and the Locanda offers more typical Sicilian fare. Both are excellent places to eat in the city.

In closing I must write that the Failla family has cared for many of my company’s clients over the years. Their extraordinary service would be difficult to match in the highest luxury level hotels across Italy. Truly a wonderful place to stay during your explorations of southern Sicily.

Via Blandini, 5 – 97015 Modica (RG)

Tel: +39.0932.941.059

Restaurants:

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti

In addition to the two restaurants listed in the Hotel Palazzo Failla, I also strongly encourage you to enjoy a meal (or meals!) at the

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti - Modica

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti – Modica

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti. This is a treasure of a place to enjoy a fabulous meal in Sicily. The recipes are generations old, traditional in every sense. The translation of the Osteria’s name (The Osteria of Lost Flavors) is not quite accurate as the flavors, rediscovered in traditional recipes, are unforgettable. This is a very affordable place and the service is matched by the owner’s dedication to satisfying even the most discriminating palate.

Corso Umberto I, 228, 97015 Modica, Sicily, Italy

Tel: +39.0932.944.247

Pizzeria Smile

Pizzeria Smile? Yes. A short walk from the Palazzo Failla in Modica Alta is this wonderful pizzeria. After long days of travel and visiting across this part of Sicily, the pizzeria offers simple and flavorful fare served in a very plain atmosphere. Weather permitting, the dining rooms open to the street and absent the occasional motos that rip past the restaurant, the cool evening breezes are a welcome respite from the heat of summer and welcome cool in the autumn and spring.

Via G. Marconi, 17

Tel: +39.0932.946.666

Churches:

San Giorgio and San Pietro: 10:00AM until 6:00PM except Sundays. Sunday 1:00PM – 5:00PM. The schedule for masses are posted on the doors and interior entrances to the churches.

San Niccolo Inferiore: Via Rimaldi, 1. Tel: +39.331.740.3045. Hours vary by request. You must ring the bell at the entrance to the site to gain entrance with no reservation. If you wish to set up a time to visit, call the Italian cell phone listed in this summary and make an appointment. This is a place with no formal hours, absent 10:00AM to 5:00PM. It is catch as catch can, but well worth the effort!

 
 

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Of an afternoon in summer Florence, the wide streets connecting the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, the Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti, are filled with visitors. Along the Via dei Calzaiuoli is one of the often overlooked treasures of the Renaissance, the church of Orsanmichele.

Built by the many, and powerful, trade guilds of the city, it is an edifice typical of the Renaissance in its

Donatello St. George Orsanmichele Florence

Donatello
St. George
Orsanmichele Florence

unification of religious purpose and civic power.

Bacchus Michelangelo Bargello, Florence

Bacchus
Michelangelo
Bargello, Florence

This is the story of how Donatello’s St. George (1420) spent time with Michelangelo’s Bacchus (1496-1497) during one of the darkest periods of art history.

In a niche created in the exterior walls of Orsanmichele, rests Donatello’s St. George. A masterpiece of early Renaissance sculpture, it was one of the first works by a maestro whose enormous talents forever changed the world of art.  Buonarotti shared with many of his contemporaries profound respect for Donatello’s incredible skill.

Across the center of Florence, rests one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, his Bacchus. Created for a Cardinal of the Catholic Church in Rome, who rejected the work on initial viewing, the statue was returned to Florence where it has remained.

How did these two works of art, located across the city of Florence, ever “meet”? Read on.

Fast forward to the early years of the Second World War. The German’s, in partnership with their Italian allies, began a systematic and targeted removal of much of Florence’s art. From the Uffizi went works by Botticelli, Rubens and Mantegna. From the Museum of the Works of the Duomo went works by such Renaissance masters as Donatello, Michelangelo and Della Robbia. From the niche on the walls of Orsanmichele went St. George and from the Bargello went Bacchus.

As Allied forces began their landings at Salerno and Anzio, those works of art taken from museums all across Italy began to move north. German forces,  in response to orders from numerous quarters of the Nazi regime, placed the pilfered treasures in ‘safe havens’ across northern Italy and southern Germany.

Deane Keller Monuments Men

Deane Keller
Monuments Men

Frederick Hartt Monuments Men

Frederick Hartt
Monuments Men

It was in 1943 that an American artist and Yale art professor, Deane Keller, along with 345 other passionate and dedicated art historians, to include Frederick Hartt, joined the US Armed forces. They were tasked with the onerous responsibility of locating masterpieces taken by the Germans from museums and private collections across Italy.

As if the terrible confusion of the war zone was not enough, this small group of exceptionally creative and dedicated men and women had to deal with little, if any, budget, acquisition of resources as they needed them (and often, those resources were barely sufficient to the tasks at hand) and the pressures of time in securing masterpieces of art before they were lost.

Here is just one story of the innumerable successes achieved by this group:

In the course of pursuing a shipment suspected of containing the finest Renaissance masterpieces from the Uffizi and other Florence museums, the team of “Monuments Men” as they came to be called, received reliable information that the cache was located in the Castle of Neumelans (1582-1583) in the tiny northern Italian Tyrol village of Campo Tures. The secreted store of treasures was, indeed, there.

The discovery of the trove of art in the castle was eclipsed, however, by the treasures in the fortification’s nearby carriage house. In crates created years before were, among countless masterpieces,  Donatello’s St. George and Michelangelo’s Bacchus.

Further investigations yielded yet another highly valued shipment, stored in the village of San Leonardo, near the city of Trieste.

In total, when the treasures were inventoried and the shipment prepared for its triumphant return to Florence, the 1946 valuation was over $500,000,000.00. When the convoy of trucks carrying the irreplaceable art arrived in the Piazza della Signoria, the sense of closure, relief and of civilization’s victory was palpable.

As I stand at the base of Donatello’s St. George, or study the lines of Michelangelo’s Bacchus, I see not only the work of masters; I see cold nights in alpine villages, dark rooms where men, enemies or not, protected our civilization’s storied past and I recall tales of plunder and triumph.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

If you are interested in learning more about the Monuments Men, please visit The Monuments Men Foundation, established by Robert M. Edsel, author of the books mentioned in this article.

Monuments Men Foundation

Robert M. Edsel, who is the founder of the Monuments Men Foundation, was also the co-producer of the awarded documentary, The Rape of Europa. This fascinating documentary  tells the story of Nazi Germany’s plundering of Europe’s great works of art during World War II and Allied efforts to minimize the damage.

The Monuments Men is a film directed by George Clooney, scheduled for release later this year.

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Allegory with Venus and CupidAgnolo di CosimoCalled Bronzinoca. 1545

Allegory with Venus and Cupid
Agnolo di Cosimo
Called Bronzino
ca. 1545

Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino, studied from the age of fourteen in the bottega of Jacopo da Pontormo. In 1545, he received a commission (most likely from Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany though some attributions list this as a commission from Francesco Salviati) for a painting to be given to King Francis I of France. The oil on wood painting is called “Allegory of Venus and Cupid” or “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.”

What many people do not know is that Bronzino included an homage to the master, Leonardo da Vinci, in this complicated and convoluted work.

From Venus’s intimate embrace with her son, Cupid, to the upper right  bald figure of Time who holds the hour glass in his hand, most of the foreground of the work is relatively easy to understand. Move to the background and interpretations dissolve in what is a surreal backdrop of shadow and mannerist painting.

One particular figure is the subject of this article.

To the left of Cupid, whose naked buttocks disconcertingly intrudes on the left, is the figure of someone – a woman? a man? – in the midst of agony, anger and despair. Various interpretations have this figure representing jealousy or, by some, as the figure of syphilis, representative of unwise (out of wedlock?) intercourse. Regardless, it is clearly the image of someone in great distress.

Now, more back story.

In 1505, Leonardo da Vinci was given the commission for a fresco depicting the Battle of Anghiari to be completed on a wall in the Council Chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. His cartoon, long lost, depicted a tortuous configuration of horses and men engaged in the heat of battle.

It was to one particular figure that Leonardo gave the most fearsome features-one Niccolò Piccinino. A condottiero (military leader) of considerable fame and success, he succumbed to the forces of Ludovico Sforza at the Battle of Anghiari (1440). In the throws of that battle, as Leonardo portrayed the action, Niccolò’s fierce and focused face is grimaced in a combination of determination and madness.

battle of AnghiariCartoon copy by RubensOrig by Leonardo da Vinci1505Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Detail, Battle of Anghiari
Cartoon copy by Rubens – 1603
Orig by Leonardo da Vinci
1505
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Now, back to Bronzino.

It is believed that Bronzino was given the opportunity to study Leonardo’s design, most likely from a 1553 engraving by Lorenzo Zacchia. Historians believe Zacchia created the engraving from studying the actual cartoon. Leonardo’s figures made a deep impression on the young Bronzino.

During some recent discussions with friends in Florence, it was posited that Bronzino was so affected by the face of Niccolò Piccinino that he created a mirror of the condottiero’s face, and used it (in homage to da Vinci) for a face in his Allegory.

Below is a close up detail of the Anghiari face, flipped horizontally and a close up the Bronzino’s figure.

Bronzino, Leftda Vinci, Right

Bronzino, Left
da Vinci, Right

Whether this recent interpretation will stand the test of time remains to be seen. What is true is that there is a startling similarity in the faces – one on a cartoon created by Leonardo, and the allegorical figure included in Bronzino’s work.

IF YOU GO:

The Bronzino work, Allegory of Venus and Cupid, is in the National Museum in London

Battle of Anghiari, by Leonardo da Vinci.

There has been a great deal of inquiry recently about whether some of Leonardo’s work existed behind a ‘second wall’ in the Sala dei Cinquicento (once the Council Chamber) in the Palazzo Vecchio. In March of 2012, the search for this possible fresco was terminated, though these articles are interesting. Listed below are a few links for those who are interested.

New York Times

U.K. Telegraph

Discovery News

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Fillipino LippiExorcism of the Demon in the Temple of MarsStrozzi ChapelSanta Maria NovellaFlorence

Fillipino Lippi
Exorcism of the Demon in the Temple of Mars
Strozzi Chapel
Santa Maria Novella
Florence

Fillipino Lippi created one of the most complex frescoes of the Renaissance in the Strozzi Chapel of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. By some it is called the Exorcism of the Demon in the Temple of Mars. By others, the Miracle of St. Phillip. This is, regardless of its given name, a challenging and surprising work of art.

First, there is a hideous demon, exorcised by Saint Phillip. Lippi has created a malignant beast, one that mythology proclaimed issued breath so poisonous that anyone who inhaled the fumes died.

The god Mars, portrayed on a dais within the temple named for him in the city of Hieropolis, holds a broken lance over his head. Saint Phillip who, taken under arms to the temple to make a sacrifice, chooses to exorcise the demon that lived therein.

The noxious fumes emitted by the demon, so the myths continue, killed the high priest’s son, along with a few others. Not surprisingly, the high priest was not happy for not only had he lost his son; the object of veneration in the temple had also been removed. In a frenzy of retaliation, the priests crucified Saint Phillip. It is written that he was placed on the cross upside down, as was Saint Peter.

Now, for the back story.

It was in the latter part of the 15th Century that the buried corridors of the “Golden House”, the sumptuous palace built by Nero, were rediscovered in Rome. The ‘house’, a huge complex in reality, was connected to the Palatine Hill by those subterranean passages. What the Romans did not expect were the frescoes and what they depicted; inhuman depravity of the most extreme. The church classified the frescoes as “damnatio memoriae”, essentially a conviction of Nero and his excessive style of living, in abstentia, for the crudity displayed. The Romans eventually built directly over the remains of the temple and tunnels in an attempt to banish them from memory.

In spite of the church’s condemnation of the frescoes, artists of the day flocked to study them, to better understand Roman fresco technique and style.

Lippi was one of the artists who viewed those frescoes and there is no doubt, Lippi wrote about this in his papers, that the images he saw in the frescoes deeply affected his work on the fresco cycle in the Strozzi Chapel. On the left side of the fresco are people who hold their noses against the ghastly odor of the beast. Some of those in the temple are overwhelmed by the fumes.

Detail LippiExorcism of the Demon

The beast,  a vision from the  imagination of the artist as to what hell, sin, paganism created must surely have been affected by the frescoes that Lippi studied in those Roman tunnels.

The symbolism of the fresco is complex. Here, in one fresco, is a depiction of Christianity confronting Paganism. Saint Philip’s right arm is raised in the course of the exorcism (a clear reference to the reliquary of the saint’s arm that was at one time housed in the baptistery in Florence-and was reported to have created many miraculous cures) as the pagan god seems to glare at the saint in a direct confrontation. Lippi depicts the victory of Saint Philip’s exorcism and the evocation of Christ by portraying a cross carrying Christ  appearing in the far upper corner of the fresco, an indication that the saint is not only a true communicant of Christ’s; he is able to call for the sanctification of an unholy, pagan, temple.

Discussions abound about the symbolism of the wolf and the bird (woodpecker?) that are on the dais with Mars. These were signs of nature attributed to the god Mars in mythology and, were that god blind as he is often depicted, the position of the head and the posture of the body clearly still direct their attention to Saint Philip.

There is one other possible interpretation of the fresco. Fillip Strozzi II was married to Clarice Medici, she a daughter of Piero de Lorenzo de’ Medici. While he was, indeed, married to a member of the most famous and wealthy family of Florence, Fillipo was vehemently against the social, cultural and political power of the Medici. So strongly opposed was Fillipo II that he became a leader in the 1527 uprising against that family.

Perhaps it is not too liberal an interpretation to imagine that Fillipo’s commission was a not so subtle snub at the Medici family. The demon might represent the exorcism of that family’s power, the stench of the animal’s breath a direct reference to the despised proclamations of the renaissance city’s leaders. The hand of Saint Phillip raised in the course of the exorcism, the evocation of a cross carrying Christ, a sign of hope for a day when the Medici’s would no longer rule.

Regardless, this is an unforgettable fresco, but one panel of a series painted in the Strozzi Chapel, and one that should not be missed during a visit to bella Firenze!

Strozzi ChapelSanta Maria Novella, Florence

Strozzi Chapel
Santa Maria Novella, Florence

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Jacopo da Pontormo1525 - 1528Santa Felicita, FlorenceCapponi Chapel

Jacopo da Pontormo
1525 – 1528
Santa Felicita, Florence
Capponi Chapel

The eyes are haunting: oval, staring in pain and grief. It is the fresco that initiated Mannerist painting in Florence: Pontormo’s Deposition in the Capponi Chapel of Santa Felicita.

Jacopo Carucci, known as Jacopo da Pontormo or, simply, Pontormo, was born in 1494. A student of the Florentine school, his fresco of the Deposition in the Capponi Chapel of Santa Felicita in the city is considered by many his masterpiece. Brunelleschi, he of the dome and many other architectural splendors for Florence, designed the chapel in which Pontormo worked.

Recently, during a late winter afternoon, I visited the church of Santa Felicita. The nave was empty and through a haze of frosted breath, Pontormo’s work sprang more than ever to life. The fragile odor of incense floated in the darkening space as I approached the gate that protects the fresco. It was, this time more than ever, the eyes of the grief-stricken that most startled me.

When Pontormo was twenty-one he made the journey to Rome with the specific goal of studying Michelangelo’s work. Buonarotti was completing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the effect that it had on the young Jacopo was life-changing. Pontormo had the opportunity to view the mammoth fresco up close, on the scaffolding. Perhaps he studied the faces and eyes of the Delphic Sybil; her large anxious eyes glance to her left, warily.

Delphic SybilDetail, Sistine ChapelVatican, Rome

Delphic Sybil
Detail, Sistine Chapel
Vatican, Rome

A similar wariness, balanced with fear and grief fill many of the eyes of the figures Pontormo created for his Deposition.

The work was finish in 1528 after three years behind a tall brick wall that the artists built  to keep the curious eyes and mouths of critics at bay.

One of the early artists studies for the Deposition illustrates how the artist used a structure for the fresco without the necessity of reliance on the actual cross. During the Renaissance, the focal point of most other artist’s interpretation of the deposition involved, whether centered or not, the physical form the cross.

Study for DepositionJacopo da Pontormo, 1524

Study for Deposition
Jacopo da Pontormo, 1524

Pontormo has created a swirling mass of human form, consumed by grief and loss, fear and trepidation. While the cross is nowhere to be seen, while the body of Jesus is supported and held by men and women whose feet seem to barely touch the ground, Pontormo brings us ‘in’ with the eyes. He has created a scene of intense drama, one that does not rely on the standard interpretation of his time and one that clearly broke with the works of the Renaissance. Mannerism was born.

As I returned to the Borgo San Jacopo on that winter evening, it was the eyes of Pontormo’s vision that haunted me. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Florence, please don’t miss this masterpiece of Mannerist art, one that brought an entirely new vision and freedom to artists of Italy.

Pontormo Deposition Two

Detail
Jacopo da Pontormo
Deposition, Capponi Chapel
Santa Felicita

IF YOU GO

Santa Felicita

Piazza di San Felicita, 3

Florence 50125

Hours: Daily except Sunday: 9:30AM – 12:00 Noon and 3:30PM – 5:30PM

Tel: +39.055.213.018

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Head of a Cleric1448Workshop of Ghirlandaio

Head of a Cleric
1448
Workshop of Ghirlandaio

The pensive face of a cleric peers away from us in a little known sketch created in the workshop of Fra Angelico. Yet another mystery confronts us as we consider whether this was created by the Dominican Brother himself, or by a student of his workshop.

The work came to my attention during research regarding Fra Angelico for classes I teach on the Art and History of Renaissance Florence. It was  a complete (and quite rewarding) surprise.

1448 is the date attributed to this metal point on a prepared ochre surface. The work could have been made by Fra Angelico for study by his students. However, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Catalog for their “The Renaissance Portrait From Donatello to Bellini” exhibit, they believe that the work may have been created by Fra Angelico’s most famous student, Benozzo Gozzoli.

Benozzo’s career, like Fran Angelico’s, flourished. He received commissions as varied as the Procession of the Magi frescoes in the Palazzo Medici (now the Medici-Riccardi) in Florence and a St. Sebastian Intercessor for Church of Sant’Agostino in San Gimgnano. More on Benozzo in a future blog post.

The verso of this 1448 work is attributed to the workshop of Fra Angelico (please see image included with this blog). It depicts several figures that are very similar to those created for the Cappella Niccolina at the Vatican. Information about the specific sections of the Angelico frescoes for which these figures were intended was not available to me as of this writing. I continue to research that information through associates in Rome.

Verso, Head of a ClericFra Angelico1448 (?)

Verso, Head of a Cleric
Fra Angelico Workshop
1448

Such treasures of art, available for viewing only a few moments in a lifetime, continue to surprise and amaze.
If you are interested in further information about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “The Renaissance Portrait From Donatello to Bellini” exhibit, which was opened from December 21, 2011–March 18, 2012, or to purchase the catalog, please visit:
Enjoy.

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Torment of St. AnthonyMichelangeloca. 1488

Torment of St. Anthony
Michelangelo
ca. 1488

A young Michelangelo, barely twelve years of age, copied an engraving while in the workshops of Domenico Ghirlandaio.

I never would have guessed this to be a work by the same master who painted the Doni Tondo, or the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

Originally attributed to ‘a student of the workshop,’ it was only after the 2008 purchase of the work by a New York art collector, that the panel was definitively studied and attributed to Buonarotti.

What a surprising and unusual piece it is.

Martin Schongauer, one of four sons of an Augsburg goldsmith, created a varied and complex set of copper engravings. The Torment is one of the few pieces that exist as a separate print. Martin’s more famous works are series: Passion, Death and Coronation of the Virgin, and Wise and Foolish Virgins.

How did this engraving find its way to Florence? The Medici Bank had many offices across Europe. It is possible that the work was sold to collectors in Bruges or Geneva, for example and then it was traded among merchants who traveled to and from Florence on business; all conjecture at this point, to be sure.

It is certainly difficult to understand why Michelangelo selected, or perhaps was given the commission to paint, his interpretation of this engraving. The young man tightened the design of the original engraving and, it is said by art experts, he studied the anatomy of fish so that a more lifelike rendering of sea creatures could be added to the work.

Why would Ghirlandaio’s workshop, in the heart of Renaissance Florence, select such an engraving for their study? Difficult to say. Perhaps it was the unique structure of the work, the elliptical, nearly hypnotic, central core that both draws you in and seems to circulate as you study it.

Martin SchongauerTorment of St Anthony1488

Martin Schongauer
Torment of St Anthony
1488

Regardless, the young Michelangelo created a painted wooden panel that moves the tormented saint from the skies above the middle eastern desert to the blue skies of Tuscany. In the background is a river scene that could easily be interpreted as that of the Arno River as it courses through the city.

Whether his work was created in the workshops of Florence, in his studio carving masterpieces in marble, or laboring under incredibly difficult conditions on scaffolds in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the diversity, skill and artistic eye of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni continue to fascinate.

The Torment is now in the collection of the Kimball Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas. As of this writing, I was unable to ascertain the engraving’s location or collection.

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Rondanini Pieta1564

Rondanini Pieta
1564

The burdens of life and the support of a son for his suffering mother fuse  in Michelangelo’s final sculpture, the Rondanini Pieta.

It is believed that Buonarotti began work on this final pieta in the mid-1550′s, not long after he first brought chisel to stone on what is known as the Bandini Pieta. While that work resides in Michelangelo’s city of Florence (in the Museo del Opera del Duomo), the Rondanini occupies a special space in Milan’s Castello Sforzesco. The Pieta is named after the Palazzo Rondanini in Rome, where the sculpture stood for many years.

In the Rondanini, the master portrays in a most intimate and telling way, acceptance of his mortality and the unique bond between mother and son. The master lost his mother when he was but six years old. That early loss significantly affected his later work, with the portrayal of a mother who has lost her son particularly moving in this final sculpture.

When viewed from the side, the position of the two figures seems to show Christ supporting this mother. Perhaps it was Michelangelo’s intent to portray the son’s understanding of his mother’s suffering upon his death: he wished to support his mother in her grief.

Rondanini Pieta Detail

Rondanini Pieta Detail

It is, from any angle, a stunning and moving final work by a very long lived Tuscan master.

The work of Buonarotti, particularly this final pieta, seem to me an influence on the work of Alberto Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor. He was born in 1901 into a family whose father was a famous post-impressionist painter. Alberto’s talents in art were evidenced at an early age and, after studying in Paris with a student of Auguste Rodin, he established himself as a power in the modernist movement.

When I first viewed the The Rondanini Pieta, I was reminded of Giacometti’s works in bronze, particularly those of female figures. Alberto said that the elongated figures of women portrayed, in his words, “…the way I look at a woman.”

The elongated limbs, the poise of the woman (in this case, below) seem to have found inspiration in Michelangelo’s last pieta: stretched arms, a certain sadness, a nearly sensual texture and a common peace in both the Rondanini and Giacometti’s work.

The beauty of Michelangelo’s work underscores the impact his sculpture has had on the world of art. Whether or not Giacometti ever even saw the Rondanini in person, and whether he was in any way influenced by Michelangelo’s work, will remain a mystery. Giacometti’s stunning interpretation of the human figure, I believe, echoes very strongly the style and genius of Buonarotti’s final pieta.

Giacometti Bronze

Giacometti Bronze

IF YOU GO:

Castle Grounds Open Hours

Monday through Sunday

7.00AM – 6:00PM (Normal Schedule)

7.00AM – 7.00PM (Festival Days

Entrance to the Castle grounds is free, Museums required paid admission

Castello Information: Tel. 39.02.88.46.3700

Castello Museums:

Entrance Ticket: Euro 3.00 per person

Castello Museum Hours

Tuesday through Sunday (Closed Monday)

9.00AM – 5:30AM (Ticket office closes at 5:00PM)

Ticket Office Information: Tel. +39.02.88.46.3703

Closed on the following holidays: 25 December, 1 January, 1 May, Mondays and Easter.

From across Milan, you can reach the Castello using the following subway, bus and tram lines:

Subway:

MM1 (Cadorna and Cairoli Stations)

MM2 (Cadorna and Lanza Stations)

Bus Lines: 18, 37, 50, 58, 61 and 94

Tram Lines: 1, 2, 4, 12, 14, and 19

For works by Giacometti, visit the Kunsthaus Zurich – should your travels take you north out of Italy:

Address:

Kunsthaus Zürich
Heimplatz 1
CH–8001 Zurich

Sat/Sun/Tues 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Wed–Fri 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
Mon 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (Chagall exhibition only)

Groups and school classes by prior appointment only
Tel. +41 (0)44 253 84 84

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Leonardoda VinciSalvator Mundi

Leonardo da Vinci
Salvator Mundi

An inscrutable smile, a curious pose and mesmerizing eyes are all reminiscent of the Mona Lisa. Over the course of centuries missing da Vinci’s have been coveted and searched for. No less true for the Salvator Mundi, Leonardo’s “Savior of the World.”

The story of the painting’s journey crosses country boundaries and centuries of time. About one hundred years after the painting was completed, an engraving was made of the work by Wenceslaus Hollar, a Bohemian engraver. Over twenty copies of the painting are known to exist.

It was in 1763, upon the sale of the contents of Buckingham House (now Palace) that the painting disappeared from view. 137 years later, in 1900, Sir Frederick Cook acquired the painting for his personal collection. Cook’s descendants sold the work at auction in 1958 for £58.00, believing it to be yet another copy-and a poor one at that.

As with nearly all works of the Renaissance, there were many copies made over the course of centuries. Such is certainly the case of the Salvator Mundi, whose copies number over twenty.

salvator-small

Salvator Mundi
Pre-Restoration

It was only upon further inspection and study by the art historian and New York art dealer, Robert Simon, and a team of other experts that the hidden secrets of the painting became known. Damaged by numerous attempts at restoration, including poor work on the wood panel upon which the work was painted, it took patience, the use of x-ray and infrared study as well as other scientific methods to discover that this is the original da Vinci.

There were many crucial points of evidence that have convinced the art world that this is truly by Leonardo. The attention to the detail of the painting, the beauty of the crystal orb that Christ holds in his left hand (a symbol of the world) and, most importantly, pentimenti, proved the marks of the master.

Pentimenti? These are preliminary positioning and design that the artist changes in the course of the work. The detail that finally gave the conservators the information they needed was, interestingly enough, was the thumb on Christ’s raised hand. Upon infrared inspection it was discovered that the thumb had originally been in a slightly different position than that on the final work. Further, the pigment’s consistency, the type of media used and the technique all prove, without doubt, that this is the original.

Art experts from Florence to Milan, New York, Washington and Paris studied the restored work and all have agreed; da Vinci’s work. What is still not clear is when or where the painting was completed. Some believe it was painted in Milan around the time of the Last Supper. Others believe that it was painted in Florence after Leonardo moved to the city in 1500.

Regardless, the fascinating and mesmerizing eyes, the finely captured blessing hand and the living and breathing figure we encounter only serve to add further mystery to the works of Leonardo.

After years of studying Italian Renaissance art, I have come to believe that it is Leonardo’s eyes that truly fascinate us. Their hypnotic similarity, their quixotic inscrutability are what draw us in. Give this some thought, a combined photo of an eye of the Salvator Mundi and an eye of the Mona Lisa. Hmmm…

The Eyes of Da Vinci

The Eyes of Da Vinci

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