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Very few visitors to Florence have ever heard of Villa La Quiete. Even if this is a place you do not know, make plans to visit this incredible exhibit.

NOTE: Before you go, please double check the hours that the exhibit is open, as listed below.

Now home to a university of cultural studies for foreigners, and not far from Sesto Fiorentino, the villa’s restoration is being previewed, in anticipation of its April 2017 reopening, in an exhibit of works by  Renaissance artists.

Image result for villa la quiete florence

Villa La Quiete and Gardens

The area of the current villa’s location was called, during Roman occupation, Palagio di Quarto after a hill not far from the ancient city center of present day Florence. The Orlandini family owned the villa from the 12th Century and substantially expanded it during their ownership. It changed hands several times during the 15th century: 1438, given to a military leader, Nicholas di Tolentino, as a gift from the Republic of Florence; 1453 bought by Pierfranceso de Medici.

In 1637, Christine of Lorraine, wife of Grand Duke Ferdinand I de Medici, acquired the villa and was responsible for expanding and improving the building to its current beauty. The property’s furnishings were given to the Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Vecchio in Florence as part of Anna Maria Luisa de Medici’s Patto di Famiglia. She was the last remaining direct descendant of the Medici family tree, leading back to Cosimo, Pater Patriae. The Family Pact (Patto di Familia) of 1743 stipulated that all Medici property was to be given to the city of Florence.

The building is now the home of a work by Domenico Ghirlandaio’s son, Ridolfo, Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine. The other works in the exhibit were loaned by other museums and churches.

Image result for ghirlandaio mystical marriage of st. catherine

Domenico Ghirlandaio – Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine

The exhibit features several little known works including Botticelli’s Coronation of the Virgin with Saints, one of but a few crucifix’s by Baccio di Montelupo and the Ridolfo di  Ghirlandaio Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine.

coronation-of-the-virgin-with-saints

Coronation of the Virgin with Saints, 1490-1492 Botticelli

Exhibition Room, Villa La Quiete

Courses at the University vary by term and further information can be found by clicking here:

Universita degli studi di Firenzecentro Cultura per Stranieri

Exhibit Hours:
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 5:00PM to 8:00PM
CLOSED: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday
Florence’s Central University of Cultural Studies for Foreigners

Via di Boldrone, 2

50141 Firenze

Italy

Tel: 055.27.56.444

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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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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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