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Archive for the ‘Art treasures of Italy’ Category

Last Supper restored detail

I had the privilege of studying the panels of Giorgio Vasari’s Last Supper during a visit to the Opificio dell Pietra Dura workshop in Florence’s Fortezza di Basso last March.

Given the condition of the painting at that time, it was difficult to believe that the restored panels would be ready to hang once again in their place of honor in the Basilica of Santa Croce by early November of this year.

 

On November 4, exactly fifty years from the date that Vasari’s work was inundated and nearly destroyed in 1966, the work was unveiled in its original home.

It is difficult to put in to words what this means to Florentines. When Cimabue’s Crucifixion was restored and unveiled, the city expressed the same deep sense of pride they do now. Florentines are justifiably proud of their artistic heritage, no more so than when a Renaissance treasure by Vasari comes once again to life.

This is no small piece of art. The completed work measures 8.6 Feet (262 cm) high by 19 Feet (580 cm) wide.

For forty-six years the panels were kept in secure storage, awaiting the moment when art restoration would successfully meet the scientific techniques required to carefully and lovingly repair the painting.  It was in 2012 that the panels were moved to the Opificio della Pietra Dura in Florence to begin the process of ‘rebirth’.

Vasari’s opus joins several other master works at Santa Croce, including Taddeo Gaddi’s Last Supper.

Below are some photographs taken shortly after the flood submerged this masterpiece for over thirty-six hours, as well as photos of the work’s recent restored unveiling.

In a word? GO!

Santa Croce Visiting Hours, Ticketing Information and Map

Shortly after the flood – note that the panels have been covered with linen cloth to stabilize the paint so that it would not flake off as the piece was moved and dried.

The experts bring the Last Supper back to life

The completed masterpiece, in its place of honor at Santa Croce

 

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During some recent research on the background of Doménikos Theotokópoulos, called El Greco in his most productive years, I came across a rather startling similarity in Pontormo’s Visitation and that of El Greco.

Take a look:

the-visitation

El Greco 1610 – Dumbarton Oaks

pontormo3

Pontormo 1529- San Michele in Carmignano

Note the position of Elizabeth’s left foot, the figure on the right in both paintings, as well as the positions of the left and right hands in greeting. Given that El Greco’s work post dates that of Pontormo by some eight-one years, I believe that El Greco was significantly inspired by the earlier master.

In a blog about the “Mask of Pontormo” , published some time ago, I discussed a curious visual style to the scarf that en wraps Mary’s head. I still believe Pontormo’s eyes saw more than any other of us might see in his work.

Perhaps that is also true of El Greco, particularly in another of his works about which I will write another blog, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.

Stay tuned.

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Michelangelo. (1475 – 1564)

His is a name iconic, one that defines the creative genius of the Renaissance. While David, the “Prisoners”, the glory of the Sistine Chapel and innumerable other works have come to define this man’s tactile artistic contributions to western culture, he was also a remarkable poet.

Michelangelo Aged

Michelangelo Etching, English, 1874

In the course of his eighty-nine year life, he composed over 300 sonnets and madrigals. The structure of his poetry was centered upon three ideals: the love of Christ, love of Florence and love of beauty. (See Sonnets of Michelangelo,Symonds, 1878, page xix.)

For decades there has been a great deal of discussion within academic circles about the homoerotic nature of Michelangelo’s writing.

Some background:

In 1623, the artist’s grandnephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published the first edition of the sonnets. Much of the controversy that swirls around that earlier edition is based upon changes discovered in the course of John Addington Symond’s 1878 translations: the “Younger” changed the gender of the maestro’s passions from male to female. Times being what they were in the early 17th century, those changes can perhaps be more clearly understood.

In his introduction to the 1878 rhymed translation of the sonnets, Symonds addresses those changes and the perspective of the artist:

“Nothing is more clear than that Michael Angelo (sic) worshiped Beauty in the Platonic spirit, passing beyond its personal and specific manifestations to the universal and impersonal. This thought is repeated over and over again in his poetry; and if we bear in mind that he habitually regarded the loveliness of man or woman as a sign and symbol of eternal and immutable beauty, we shall feel it of less importance to discover who it was that prompted him to this or that poetic utterance.” (See Symonds, Introduction, Page xviii).

The earlier sonnets address topics as diverse as Dante, life, love, religion, art, Pope Julius II, the people of Prato and other matters of interest. The variety of his observations are uniquely intriguing, particularly as insights into other contemporary artists or those who commissioned Buonarotti’s work.

Those observations changed over time.

Nicodemus Pieta

Nicodemus Pieta, Michelangelo, 1547 – 1555

In the latter years of his life, Michelangelo’s words turn introspective. He reflects on the span of his life and the journey that brought him to older age. In deference to Michelangelo’s Nicodemus Pieta in the Museum of the Works of the Duomo in Florence, this sonnet (below) is printed in gold on the walls which face the Pieta in the newly restored museum.
On the Brink of Death
To Giorgio Vasari
Sonnet LXV

The course of my life has brought me now
Through a stormy sea, in a frail ship,
To the common port where, landing
We account for every deed, wretched or holy.

So that finally I see
How wrong the fond illusion was
That made art my idol and my King,
Leading me to want what harmed me.

My amorous fancies, once foolish and happy
What sense have they now that I approach two deaths
The first of which I know is sure, the second threatening.

Let neither painting nor carving any longer calm
My soul turned to that divine Love
Who to embrace us opened His arms upon the cross.

 

Though he worked on one other pieta in his later years, the Rondanini Pieta in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, the Nicodemus Pieta is a physical representation of Michelangelo’s melancholy musings on life and death.
When you visit the Museum of the Works of the Duomo in Florence, please take some time to sit in the chamber reserved solely for the display of the Nicodemus Pieta, and give thought to yet another surprising facet of Michelangelo’s gifts.
Details:
Symond’s rhymed translation, in full, can be read at this link, The Sonnets of Michel Angelo Buonarotti

Address: Piazza del Duomo, 9, 50122 Firenze, Italy

Hours: 9:00AM – 7:30PM  Daily

Entrance: Euro 15.00 pp (Adult)

Pre Purchase tickets on line: Cumulative Entrance Ticket (Duomo, Museum, Campanile, Baptistery, Crypt and Dome)

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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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