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Archive for the ‘Books by Mark Gordon Smith’ Category

Santa Maria Nuova Facade

As of December 15, 2015, those who seek an opportunity to discover an incredible collection of art in Florence now have a wonderful option: the Ospedale Santa Maria Nuova. This, the oldest hospital in Florence, now offers guided visits to some of is vast collection of treasures.

Arcispedale_di_santa_maria_nuova,_affreschi_di_antonio_pomarancio,_1614,_strage_degli_innocenti

Fresco by Antonio Pomarancio – 1614

The hospital was founded in 1288 by the father of Dante’s beloved Beatrice, Folco Portinari. He was asked to build the edifice after being approached by the matriarch of the founder’s family, Monna Tessa.

 

Over the centuries, donations have been made to the hospital in thanks for the care and service provided to various families.The rich variety of art  include works by Pietro di Niccolò Gerini, Andrea del Castagno, Della Robbia, Bernardo Buontalenti, and Pomarancio. Visits to this complex offer visitors rare glimpses of an invaluable, little-known, collection of renaissance treasures.

213-483px-Del_Castagno_Andrea_Crucifixion_and_Saints

Andrea del Castango, Crucifixion with Saints

Architecturally, the beauty of the structures, interior arches and various vast superb rooms with ceilings covered in frescoes, add yet another dimension to your visit.

Your visit to Santa Maria Nuova takes you through  many places of historical and artistic interest; the entrance to the area dedicated to Spedalinghi Hospital and the ” Hall of Crosses “, the cloisters of the ” Medicherie ” and ” Bones ” as well as the Church of Sant’Egidio , with its adjoining women’s gallery which once was the area reserved for nuns to attend religious services

In order to visit the Osepdale, you will need to contact them directly through the links below. Tours are organized with no more than twenty in a group, and are always lead by a guide so that the privacy of patients is observed and the size of groups well controlled.

To arrange your visit, here are details:

Address: Piazza Santa Maria Nuova, 1, 50122 Firenze, Italy

Visits last 40 to 50 minutes and groups can be no larger than 20. A professional guide always accompanies the group.

Reservation number, exclusively for these tours:  055 20.01.586
Tours are available to schedule from 9.00 – 13.00 / 14.00 – 18.00
Saturday, 9.00 – 13.00
Email: info@exclusiveconnection.it

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Vesuvius Sunset

She is a beauty, Napoli.

From a coastline that wraps beneath Vesuvius toward the long outstretched arm of the Sorrentine peninsula, it is blessed by an ethereal natural splendor. Awaiting those who venture even farther south than Sorrento is the spectacular, rugged coastline of the cerulean sea-washed Amalfi Coast.

Such proximate beauty, such struggle, such passion. What a confounding place is this city. I’ve traveled into and around Naples for many years, yet never have quiet made sense of it all. . .until now.

Energy hovers over Vesuvius like an invisible veil. In the nearby towns of Vico Equense and Castelmare di Stabia, the ruins of Pompeii to the confining, choking lanes of Naples’s quartieri Spagnoli, that energy ignites the lives of Neapolitans. Such energy can be fierce or frightening, energizing or enervating.

Geologists and seismologists are forever anticipating the terrible loss of life and infrastructure when (not if) Vesuvius deigns to yield to her enormous, growing pressures. That veil of invisible power, of a tension that builds beneath our very feet, becomes palpable.

On an afternoon visit to the Capella Sansavero in the heart of Naples, I studied Giuseppe Sanmartino’s Cristo Velato, the Veiled Christ. This is baroque sculpture at its finest, highest art. Intricate lines of linen cloth lay across the face of the deposed body of Christ, the veil so intricate and fine that it tempts visitors to pull the fabric away. Don’t, however, be deceived. The veil, the entire work, is solid marble: cold, intractable, unyielding.

Read on.

Giuseppe SanmartinoCristo Veluto, 1753

Giuseppe Sanmartino
Cristo Veluto, 1753

That unseen yet palpable energy from Vesuvius pervades Campanian air. It is as thin and intractable as Sanmartino’s veil. In Naples, life happens in the street; there are few other places to go. In the narrow lanes of this ancient city, people live on top of each other. Secrets are rarely held.

To ride the bus in Naples is to ignite every human sense. Everyone, to a person, seems on alert. While many people believe that life in Naples is one of reckless abandon, nothing could be farther from the truth. Everything is an issue; from where to park, to the lackluster and unpredictable schedule of the city’s transportation system, to how to avoid paying any bill, to the intense odors of a Monday morning’s bus ride. This city is – in every possible sense – alive. Lover’s quarrels, negotiations for apartment leases, arguments over bills and marriages all happen in the open, for all to see and hear.

Then, there are the churches, by location pattern-less, constructed in many parishes in the most haphazard manner imaginable. They seem scattered by some enormous hand, as if they had been dice tossed during matches of religious zeal to ‘own’ human faith.

Naples is a dream; existing between love and hate, blood and life, the sacred and the profane. When visitors consider that unemployment hovers near forty percent, that there is little room to breathe in the quarters of the city and that the Neapolitani exist within a culture of struggle every day to protect their own sanity, an acceptance and understanding settles. There is, indeed, a veil that falls across Naples. It is one of life, of nature’s unpredictable whims, of human furies, of fading religious zeal. Underneath she simmers like Vesuvius, incites vent to human emotion, all the while giving an impression, to the uninitiated, of careless ease.

Naples is a city of passion, of life; raw, engaging, frightening and inspiring.

Don’t reach for the veil. It’s cold, solid rock.

Of and Age in Naples

Of an Age in Naples

As I made my way along darkened lanes, barely illuminated by streetlamps, I came across one such church, an open door, and the sound of voices. Beckoned to enter by an elderly woman, I shuffled up the worn, roughly carved, steps and entered. From within candle lit stalls rose the voices of passionate belief, of that rare and elusive beauty that is our human voice. A moment’s peace from within as the unending cacophony of life that is Napoli droned in the background.

Visit Naples? Absolutely. She is a jewel, a challenge, a confounding conundrum of love, art, passion, of life!

I will be presenting, in this blog, details about the treasures of Naples in future posts.

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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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Michelangelo’s David towers over the history of Renaissance art in Florence. His expression of beauty, idealized and immortalized in stone, has drawn millions of visitors from around the world. Yet, there are other Davids, equally fascinating and artistically important, across the city of Florence. Four remain in the city and two have been placed in other collections.

Representations of David, the youthful seemingly weak warrior who changed the destiny of an army and a people, became the symbol of republican Florence. In the view of the  Signioria, the governing body of the city, David signified this strong message: “Don’t assume weakness in what might appear to be a feeble government. We have slingshots and we will use them.”

Donatello, David 1409/1416

Donatello, David 1409/1416

One of the earliest pieces sculpted by Donatello is his first David, completed in 1409. Though the work was given additional touches by the master in 1416, it still stands as a monumental change in the style of the more staid and accepted statues of his day; the mark of a master artist.

This is a gentle David, not a fierce warrior. The position of the fingers on the left hand, the curve of the body in a kind of easy repose, the lay of the right hand over the center of the body all convey someone at rest, someone who has not just beheaded a Goliath and turned the fortunes of war. Laying almost serenely at his feet, the head of the giant peers out from between David’s feet. Perplexing in its ease, confounding in its implied intent, this is truly a master’s piece.

Donatello, David, 1440

Donatello, David, 1440

The masterpiece of the collection of these varied and unique works of art is, I believe, the Donatello bronze David. Michelangelo is quoted in many sources as saying it was Donatello’s work, his eye and his commitment to an entirely new way of creating sculpture, that inspired Buonarotti’s work. Donatello’s is the second oldest of the Florentine Davids, having been completed in 1440. It was commissioned by Cosimo di Medici to be placed in the central courtyard of the family’s home in the center of Florence.

Cast in bronze and astonishingly different, viewers who study the piece – its details and hidden messages – are constantly amazed at its complexity. As with many masterful works of art, Donatello’s vision of the young David incites criticism and inquiry.

Why does Goliath have a helmet on his head? If David’s slingshot is, as the Bible implies, capable of accuracy with a stone, would that stone have penetrated the helmet? Would the blow have been so strong as to kill the Goliath?

Why does Donatello’s work figure a man as you view the piece from the front, yet from the back seems so feminine? The asexuality of this David presents one of its most confounding questions.

Then, there is that feather…Goliath’s helmet was cast with two feathers on it. One has been crushed by David’s foot, yet the other feather caresses nearly the entire distance of  the inner right thigh. Was the feather used to create increased stability for the pose of the cast bronze? Was it a slap in the face of the supposedly conservative morals of a city that was known to be anything but conservative?

Is this Donatello David an homage to the ancients – a rebirth of the classic bronze nudes of Greece?

The list continues. The more a viewer takes the time to study the statue on the first floor gallery of the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, the more questions that viewer takes away.

Verrocchio, David,

Verrocchio, David, 1473 – 1475

It was in 1473, that Andrea del Verrocchio began work on his bronze statue of David. (Note: Many art historians estimate the work to have been completed in ca. 1465). This work mimics the asexual posturing of the Donatello bronze David in many ways. The languid curve of the body, the position of the hand on the statue’s left hip, and a sword that seems to be held at the ready all underscore, once again, the figurative representation of Florence’s idealized vision of itself. The commission that Verrocchio received was for the work to be displayed in the Medici home.

A recent restoration of the bronze has uncovered gilding, hidden by centuries of varnish and pollution. Additionally, the placement of Goliath’s head on the piece, as originally intended, seems not to be where it has lain for centuries. Many art historians now believe that the head was originally intended to lay to the right of David’s right foot. At a recent loan to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the head was so positioned raising even more questions about this masterpiece of Renaissance art.

It is interesting to note that, until the next statue of David was commissioned, Verrocchio’s bronze still interpreted the youth as relatively weak, ostensibly incapable of violence. The piece now has a place of importance in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.

Bellano, David,1470 - 1480

Bellano, David,
1470 – 1480

Sometime between 1470 and 1480, another young sculptor who was a student of Donatello, one Bartolomeo Bellano, created a bronze cast statue of David. This work, gilded on bronze, is another curious representation of the moments after Goliath’s death. Rather than head up in pride and strength, Bellano’s work shows the young man posed in a very similar way to Donatello’s bronze: the sword supports the right arm, the sling lays loose at the figure’s side, the head of the giant lays between the feet of the conqueror.  This particular piece, though created in Florence, now is part of the Met Museum’s collection in New York City.

An anonymous sculptor, known as the Master of the David and St. John statuettes, created a David out of terracotta in 1490. Absent the fact that this statue was created from fired terracotta rather than bronze, this work reflects very strongly the influence of Verrocchio’s 1476 work. The hand position, the lay of the hand on the left hip, the position of the sword all are similar in both style and, it seems, creative intent to that of Verrocchio. This piece is currently in storage and is not available for public viewing as of the date of the blog post.

m_of_david_stJohn_1490

Now comes Michelangelo. The young master selected a piece of Carrara marble that had long been abandoned in a side yard of the city’s cathedral workshops. Rossellino – who had attempted years before to carve the piece,  had ceased to work on it for reasons still unknown.

The Operai, those who were responsible for the works of the Duomo, were commissioning sculptors to create large statues to be placed along the buttresses of the Duomo, Santa Maria dei Fiori.  Michelangelo’s persistence and insistence that he should have the commission, even after masters like Leonardo da Vinci had been consulted, finally paid off. The Operai made it clear that this David was to be strong and veral. Since this statue was to be a major work for the duomo, it was to communicate to the world, THIS is Florence, this is the city of the Medici, of art and of financial power.

For as many books have been written about how the David was carved, there are differing opinions. One historian posits that the master used a wax model that was submerged in water. Michelangelo, he proposes, slowly let water out of the container and, as the level exposed the model, so carved Michelangelo. Another wrote that the statue was created,  as the master so often is quoted as saying, “I simply saw the figure of David in the marble and I carved away all the stone that did not belong.”

Whatever anyone’s interpretations are, the first view of the statue, mounted on a large base at the end of a low-lit corridor that is lined with Michelangelo’s “Slaves” (once displayed outdoors in the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace) is breathtaking. Few are unaffected by the stunning visual impact of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

Michelangelo, David1501 - 1504

Michelangelo, David
1501 – 1504

The physics of moving such a heavy piece of marble to the top of the cathedral generated long discourse over the appropriate location for the statue. Final agreement was reached that it should stand outside the entrance doors of the city’s Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of the city government. It remained there from 1504 until 1873 when it was moved into the protection of the Accademia di Belle Arti.

The space that was once occupied by the David, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, remained empty until 1910 when a copy of the David was placed in the same location.

Michelangelo’s intent in leaving the head of Goliath completely out of the work was in keeping with the Operai’s original intent that the work would surmount the entrance of the city’s cathedral. Others have interpreted the absence of the giant’s severed head as indication that Michelangelo created a young man who had made the decision to kill Goliath. The stone in the statues right hand and the position of the sling over his left shoulder seem to support that view. The fierce determination on the young man’s face, especially when seen straight on in photographs, also shows a focused determination to action.

Michelangelo, DavidFace Detail

Michelangelo, David
Face Detail

As with all things Florentine, surprises are found in nearly every museum, every piazza, every palazzo. When you are in the city, be sure to expand your understanding of the history of David. Many exist and each deserves the same attention that “the David” has garnered for centuries.

IF YOU GO: (Details for the Accademia follow the Bargello)

Museo Nazionale del Bargello

Via del Proconsolo, 4  50122 Florence, Italy

Tel: +39.055.238.8606

Web: Bargello

Entrance Tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

Hours (Please note the unusual hours that this museum is open)

Opening Hours:

Monday – Sunday, 08:15AM – 1:50PM

NOTE: The ticket office closes at 1:20PM and closing processed begin at 1:40PM

Closed the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday of each month,

Closed the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month

Closed January 1, May 1 and December 25.

Accademia di Belle Arti

Via Ricasoli, 66  50122 Florence, Italy

Tel: +39.055.215.449

Web: Accademia

Tickets: BOOK YOUR TICKETS and ENTRANCE TIME IN ADVANCE! (Web: Pre-Reserved Tickets)

Lines at the Accademia for public access are, during the summer, as long as a two hour wait. To avoid that delay, you can prepay for tickets to the Accademia to see the David on a specific day and for a specific time. Also note: the afternoon summer sun warms (and I mean WARMS) the wall where the public access line is located. To avoid any long delays book in advance!

Opening Hours:

Note; CLOSED ON MONDAY

Open 08:15AM to 6:50PM Tuesday to Sunday

Closed: Mondays, January 1, May 1 and December 25

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palazzo davazatti florence

Palazzo Davanzati Florence

I have walked past this imposing Renaissance palazzo for many years, paying little heed to what, at the time, I thought was just another historic building in Florence. Talk about being wrong!

The Palazzo Davanzati is now a gorgeous, living museum. Rooms, frescoes and furniture from the Renaissance have all been beautifully restored. What visitors experience is a sense of being in a wealthy Florentine family’s home and come to better understand how those families lived.

The Palace was built by the Davizzi family in 1365. The property passed through various family members. In 1578 financial difficulties required that the palazzo be sold. The Davanzati family purchased the building and it remained in their hands until the early 19th Century.

Due to the palazzo’s size, it was decided that is should best be used as apartments. This reconstruction’ caused a great deal of damage to the original structure.

In 1904, a famous Italian antiques collector, Elia Volpi, purchased and restored the entire building. He furnished the palazzo in period pieces of furniture and opened it to the public as a museum of the home . Financial challenges caused Signor Volpi to sell off the majority of the original furniture. Along came Vitale and Leopoldo Bengujat, also antique dealers, who purchased the home in 1927 and for a few years successfully operated the museum.

Elia Volpi

Elia Volpi (with thanks to Palazzo Davanzati archives)

Financial ruin eventually faced the Bengujat brothers and, in 1940, the museum was sold to the state. The basement of the structure was made in to a bomb shelter and, after the war, the palazzo languished, nearly forgotten.

In 1951, the building was purchased by the Italian government and, in 1956, a new refurnished and restored palazzo was again opened to the public. In April of 2010, the museum was reopened to much fanfare, having been completed renovated, renewed and restored.

The Palazzo – Exterior

The exterior of the building has undergone numerous changes. The original arched loggia that was at the ground level of the building and used as a store, was closed in during the late 15th Century. In the 16th century, the owners enclosed the top level and formed a lovely arched private loggia for the family’s use.

Fresco Palazzo Davanzati

Fresco
Palazzo Davanzati

The Palazzo – Interior

You enter the palazzo at the street level into a lovely open atrium. The four upper floors have open walkways and balconies which permit visitors to view down into the small courtyard of the palazzo. The construction of the home is true to the time of its original occupation with terracotta used in the ceilings to support the upper floors and many beautiful frescoes on the walls.

The most beautiful rooms are the Sala dei Pappagalli (The Parrot Room) and the Bedroom with scenes of the life of the Lady of Vergi.

parrott room davanzatti

“Parrot Room” Palazzo Davanzati

stairwell davanzati

Stairway and hall, Palazzo Davanzati

IF YOU GO:

Palazzo Davanzati

Via Porta Rossa, 13  50123 Florence, Italy

Tel: +39.055.238.8610

Entrance Tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

Open hours:

Monday – Sunday, 8:15AM to- 1:50PM

Closed the 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month

Closed the 1st, 3rd and 5th Monday of the month

Please note that as of this writing, those requiring a wheel chair or who cannot climb stairs will find that they only have access to the ground floor of the palazzo.

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Firenze at Sunset

Firenze at Sunset

From the high piazza above the city, where a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David keeps a constant vigil over the cradle of the Renaissance, the city seems to contain few green spaces, where visitors and residents can escape the narrow, crowded and ancient streets. Look more closely and you will find shade and beauty throughout the city on the Arno.

This post provides observations and details about many, though not all, of the wonderful gardens that exist above and in the city of Florence. Whether you are a gardener or not, these lovely green spaces offer a break for those visiting the city as well as for those who call Florence ‘home’.

NeptuneIsolotto Boboli Florence

Neptune
Isolotto Boboli Florence

BOBOLI GARDENS:

If there is a ‘queen’ of Italianate gardens in the city, this is it. These gardens were established by Elenora di Toledo, wife of the first Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I de’ Medici. Vasari (of “Lives of the Artists” and other Renaissance works of art) advised Barotolomeo Ammanati on the layout of the gardens. It was to the talents of Bernardo Buontalenti that the responsibilities for the sculpture and grotto were given.

Over eleven acres of garden now occupy the hill directly behind the enormous Palazzo Pitti, the home of all Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries, improvements were made, grottos designed and small intimate and intentionally designed forests and plantings (Boscetto) were installed.

Today, visitors can wander freely, either after visiting the Pitti Palaces, home today to no less than seven separate museums (Palatine Gallery, Royal Apartments, Carriages, Costume, Porcelain, Modern Art and Silver). If you wish to only visit the gardens, there are two entrances, one off of the Piazza Pitti in front of the palace along the Via Guiciardini or along the Via Roma where a small side entrance near the Limonaia allows visitors to forgo the crowds at the Pitti and just enjoy the gardens.

florence_bobili_9

Igor Migoraj
Tindaro screpolato

Strolling through the shaded lanes and sunlit avenues of this garden is a step back in time, to a gracious and more staid experience. It is easy to imagine courtiers and the ladies-in-waiting as they made their way to private corners, secretly plotted the next move of a politician or sought intimate privacy.

Near the highest point in the garden, you can follow signs to a recently restored garden that graces a hillside above the Arno at the Giardino Bardini. More on that later. Today, visitors come upon an astounding sculpture by Igor Mitoraj entitled “Tyndareus Broken”. The presence of so modern a sculpture in the midst of the garden would see an anachronism, yet (leave it to the wonderful Italians) it fits right in; the eyes of a Trojan King, tied to the mythologies of Greece, watching over all.

On weekends, Florentines flock to the large green spaces for respite from the city, enjoy picnics, doze in the sun, or stroll through the gardens. This is one garden not to be missed. See “IF YOU GO/BOBOLI GARDENS” below for more details about visiting this unforgettable place of peace and tranquility.

CASCINE GARDENS

It is difficult for me to realize how wild, literally, was this long stretch along the Arno River. Under Cosimo I de’ Medici, First Grand Duke of Tuscany, the garden was expanded to nearly its present form, nearly ten acres. The wide and lovely Stradone del Re, which parallels the main road on the norther side of the river, offers pleasant long walks on any day of the year. The park has become a venue for many other events, including a race track, yet the area nearest the city center retains a calm and serene air.

Stradone del ReGirdini Cascine Florence

Stradone del Re
Giardini Cascine, Florence

See “IF YOU GO/CASCINE FLORENCE” below for more details.

IRIS GARDENS

Spring in Tuscany, and above Florence the Iris,in the garden where more types of Iris than in any other place in the world, bloom. This is an easy visit, no charge. between late April and late May each year, the garden is open at no charge to the public. The entrance is just a bit below the level of Piazza Michelangelo above the city (famous for the view of the city and the bronze copy of the David by Michelangelo). If you are find yourself in the city during this time of year, go. It is an unforgettable experience, with views over the city and frramed by luxuriant Iris in full bloom.

See “IF YOU GO, IRIS GARDEN” below for further details, hours and dates.

BARDINI GARDENS

It was only a few years ago that the Bardini Gardens were a bit of an eyesore above the Arno in central Florence. If you were to look up along the hillsides of the Oltrarno from the Ponte all Grazie, one bridge east of the Ponte Vecchio, you would have seen an overrun jumble, unkempt and abandoned.

No more.

After  intervention by the Minister of Cultural Heritage, and a careful and loving five-year restoration, the gardens once again reflect the Bardini family’s intention that there be a place of beauty on over 4 hectares (app.nine acres) of gardens. Fountains, statues, and a lovely wisteria covered graveled alleyway combine to provide a gorgeous overlook of the city. The view from above the villa is one of the very best in Florence.

Wisteria WalkwayBardini Gardens

Wisteria Walkway
Bardini Gardens

See “IF YOU GO/BARDINI GARDENS” below for further details about tickets and best ways to view this garden.

VILLA LA PIETRA GARDENS

Please note: These gardens are fabulous, private and require booking for tours. Please seen “IF YOU GO: VILLA LA PIETRA” below for directions to the villa, details about booking tours and entrance tickets.

Villa La Pietra

Villa La Pietra

This was a time of the grand tour, of an expanding Anglo-American community when Harold Acton and his wife procured the Villa La Pietra. For the next twenty-two years, the couple laid out and established what is one of the most gorgeous gardens in Tuscany. The Acton’s Will gave the property and garden the New York University who use it to this day as an extension campus for student and faculty.

The Acton Collection, which is displayed throughout the villa, contains over 7000 pieces of art, silver and other precious finds that the family

A Garden CornerLa Pietra Florence

A Garden Corner
La Pietra Florence

began acquiring upon their settlement in their villa.

There are few gardens and villas in all of Italy that can match the perfection of La Pietra. While not in the city center, the 1.8 mile taxi ride from the city center or the #25 ATAF Bus from Piazza San Marco, are more than well worth the effort!

Parco Demidoff Florence

Piazza Demidoff

PIAZZA DEMIDOFF

And now, for a couple of the less known green corners of Florence. There are many, yet these are my favorite two places that often go unnoticed by visitors.

Along the wide expanse of the Arno River, and directly off of the Lungarno (along the river) Serristori, which ends at the Ponte all Grazie is the Piazza Demidoff. The prize of this small garden is the statue of Count Nicholas Demidoff, Tsar Nicholas I’s ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The Palazzo Serristori, directly behind the statue in the Piazza Demidoff, was, at that time, the residence of the ambassador.

Following the sudden death of Nicholas, in 1828, the history of the monument’s completion became a long and rather tragic tale. The sons of Nicholas, Paul and Anatole, commissioned the work after their father’s death. Lorenzo Bartolini, a student of Canova, received the commission. Paul Demidoff died suddenly in 1840 before the statue was completed. Bartolini died in 1850, with the monument left unfinished. It languished until 1871 when a student of Bartolini, Romanelli finally completed the statue.

The site selected for the work was a small green garden located between the Arno river and the Palazzo Serristori, where it remains to this day.

This one of my favorite places to take enjoy a break. There are rarely more than a few people on the benches and, if you take a seat close to the Palazzo Serristori, you can enjoy the beauty of the monument and the park.

Open all year, free.

PIAZZA DELLA LIBERTÀ

Porta San Gallo, one of the many ancient city gates of the city, was located on the north side of the city. Today the large field that existed near that entrance to the city is the Piazza della Libertà. When the Dukes of Lorraine assumed control of the province of Tuscany, they erected a huge ‘Triumphal Arch” to celebrate their ascension to power.

Triumphal ArchPiazza della Libertà

Triumphal Arch
Piazza della Libertà

When the city of Florence took on the mammoth task of creating a wide circular road (Viali di Circumvallazione) around the ancient city center, they chose this location as the northernmost point on that wide boulevard.  It has not always been called the Piazza della Libertà. Through various periods it has been called Piazza Camillo Cavour, Piazza Costanzo Ciano, Piazza Muti. In 1945, following the  end of World War II, the piazza was permanently named Piazza della Libertà or Liberty square.

The large square is often filled with locals who enjoy the opportunity to lounge on the grass, stroll with their families or simply make their way across one of the busiest road interchanges in the city.

Open all year, free.

GIARDINO DEI SEMPLICI

Located close by the Accademia (home of the David) and Piazza San Marco, this small garden offers yet another respite from the noise and traffic of the city. Founded in 1595 by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (his wife, Elenora, began the installation of the Boboli Garden), the space was initially used for research into medicinal herbs. It is a small space, enticing visitors to enter and enjoy yet another quiet and historical garden in the city center.

See “IF YOU GO/GIARDINO DEI SEMPLICI” below for opening hours and entrance ticket details.

PALAZZO CORSINI GARDENS

These gardens are always a pleasant surprise, even after visiting several times. Located within the walls of the gorgeous Palazzo Corsini, the gardens offer peace and quiet in the midst of the city.

Giardini Corsini Florence

It was in 1591 that Alessandro Acciaioli, a botanist, purchased land along the Arno River. He commissioned Bernardo Buontalenti to design a huge family palazzo on a parcel of that land. Financial problems caused the Acciaioli to sell the property to Filippo di Lorenzo Corsini. In 1834, after many years as a summer residence for that family, it became the permanent home of Neri Corsini di Laiatico and his wife Eleonora Rinuccini. The family continue to care for the villa to this day.

There is a small lake, a limonaia (where lemons are stored in the winter months) and a small boschetto (forest grove) that provides welcome shade during intense summer heat.

See “IF YOU GO/PALAZZO CORSINI GARDENS” below for opening hours and entrance ticket details.

—–IF YOU GO:

Boboli Gardens

Entrance Ticket: Euro 7.00 per person

HOURS
Daily:
8.15 – 16.30 (November February)
8.15 – 17.30 (March)
8.15 – 18.30 (April, May, September and October)
8.15 – 17.30 (in the month of October when Daylight Saving Time ends)
8.15 – 19.30 (June August)

Entry is permitted up to an hour before closing time.

Closed on the 1st and the last Monday of each month, New Year’s Day, May 1st and Christmas Day.

The Grotta Buontalenti is open for accompanied visits, depending on the opening hours of the Gardens:
11.00, 13.00, 15.00 all year round;
11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 16.00 from March to September;
11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 16.00, 17.00 from April to September.

Cascine Gardens, Florence

Open twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year

Please note that, after dark, these gardens are not the venue to explore.

Iris Garden

Open 25 April to 20 May

Hours: 10AM to 12:30PM and 3:00PM to 7:00PM

Entrance Tickets:  Free

Bardini Gardens, Florence

You can enter the Bardini Gardens by following the well posted signs at the highest area of the Boboli Gardens or you can enter the gardens from the street level below  Via dei Bardi, 1. The climb up is not for the faint of hear. It is much easier to access this garden from the entrance/high point near the Boboli before descending the city.

Costa San Giorgio, 2 – 50125 Florence.
Tel 055 20066206

Entrance Ticket: Euro 8.00 per person

Opening hours:
8:15 to 16:30 (during the months of November, December, January, February)
8.15 – 17.30 (in March)
8:15 to 18:30 (during the months of April, May, September, October)
8:15 to 19:30 (during the months of June, July, August)

Closed on the first and last Monday of each month, 1 January, 1 May and 25 December

Villa La Pietra Gardens

e-mail: villa.lapietra@nyu.edu
tel. +39-055-5007.210
fax. +39-055-5007.333

DIRECTIONS: http://www.nyu.edu/global/lapietra/visitor.information/directions.html

Tours are offered on Friday afternoons (Villa and Garden) and Tuesdays mornings (Garden only).

Le visite guidate vengono organizzate il Venerdì pomeriggio (Villa e Giardino) e Martedì mattina (solo Giardino).

Open Weeks

Villa La Pietra is open to the public for free two weeks each year during our Open Weeks. Open Week tours include an introduction to the art collection of the Acton family and the history of the Villa. The tour continues in the formal Garden, laid out in the beginning of the twentieth century in the Renaissance Revival style. Open Weeks occur on the third week of April and October. Bookings are taken beginning one month before each Open Week.

Palazzo Corsini Gardens

Via Il Prato, 58

Open from 9AM to Sunset. Closed Sunday and Holidays

Tel: 055.281.994

Giradino dei Semplici (Orto Botanico)

Entrace: Euro 6.00 per person

Via Micheli, 3

Open (16 October – 31 March)

Saturday, Sunday and Monday 10AM – 7PM

Open 1 April – 15 October

Closed Wednesdays

All other days 10AM – 7PM

Festival days, closed: 1 January, Easter, 1 May, 15 August and 25 December

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NaveSanta Maria Novella (1360)

Nave
Santa Maria Novella (1360)

Most visitors to the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, overcome by the sheer scale and beauty of the church, often miss one of the most important treasured works of early Renaissance art in Florence. In this photo, if you look to the left of the pulpit and the column supporting it, you will see a fresco of what appears to be a crucifixion. Read on. Masaccio’s influence on the art world is still being felt today.

Masaccio, Trinity1427

Masaccio, Trinity
1427

Of Masaccio, much has been written. His Trinity, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, is considered by many to be a masterpiece, second only to his frescoes in a chapel across the city.

There are, as with the finest paintings of human hands, stories about this particular work that I find fascinating.

Masaccio was born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, to parents who lived in a small town called, at the time, Castel San Giovanni di Altura. The town was located in the area of Arezzo, about forty-five miles southeast of Florence.  His apprenticeship is cloaked in mystery. Art historians are not, in any way, certain of when Masaccio arrived in Florence to begin his art education. It was in 1422 that, for the first time (apparently) Masaccio joined the guild of artists to which he would belong all of this life.

In Vasari’s tome, Vita (Lives of the Artists), he writes that Brunelleschi and Donatello befriended both Masaccio and another Renaissance painter, Masolino. The influence of two such respected leaders of the art community in Florence, Brunelleschi as architect and Donatello as sculptor, would have been much to their young protege’s favor.

In 1424, Masaccio and his partner were given a commission to fresco a chapel at the church of Santa Maria della Carmine for the Branacci family, one of the wealthiest families of the city. The influence of Giotto’s style on Masaccio is apparent in the frescoes at the Carmine. As Giotto used human face and body posture to communicate emotion, so followed Masaccio.

Reasons are unclear as to why the fresco cycle at Santa Maria della Carmine was left incomplete.  It was perhaps the Branacci family’s resources. This was, after all, nearly 600 years ago and records are incomplete at best.

In 1426, Masaccio accepted the commission of Giuliano di San Giusto to paint an altarpiece for the Church of Santa Maria della Carmine in Pisa. When that work was completed, the artist returned to Florence and began work on the Trinity.

Now, things get interesting. Who commissioned the work? This was one of the most powerful churches in Florence, a Dominican stronghold. The art, even of the day, contained in the church was of incredible value. The two figures who kneel on each side of the cross have provided some clues. There are records at Santa Maria Novella of two families who were interested in commissioning a work in the basilica; the Lenzi and the Berti. Residential records of Florence from the 15th Century favor the Berti family.

Detail, Masaccio TrinityBerti (?) Family

Detail, Masaccio Trinity
Berti (?) Family

In January of this year (2012), art historians discovered that the Berti family lived in the neighborhood near the church. The Lenzi family’s location has yet to be confirmed.

Whomever these two people are, there is no doubt that they were important to the piece, if not the patrons who commissioned the work. The woman kneels to the left of Saint John the Baptist (who is patron saint of Florence today) and the man kneels to the right of Mary-two places of importance on such a work.

The early years of Masaccio’s studies came to the fore in this fresco. Brunelleschi, a master architect who would build the largest spanned dome in the Renaissance world over the city’s cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore, Florence’s cathedral, was a brilliant student of perspective. Masaccio brought his studies of Brunelleschi’s work to the Trinity.

Perspective StudyTrinity, Masaccio

Perspective
Masaccio Trinity

This was the first time that a scientific approach to providing a sense of depth, using perspective, was ever used in Renaissance art. The diagram included with this article shows the ‘focal point’, that place in the fresco where the eye is naturally drawn. The curve of the arched ceiling above Christ and God show a huge space behind them. The sense of three dimension becomes real as you stand in front of the work.

During the latter half of the 16th Century, Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, commissioned Vasari (he of Vita fame) to oversee a restoration and redesign of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Vasari had been very impressed with Masaccio’s work, the Trinity in particular. In order to protect it, Vasari built an altar in front of the original 1427 work. It was only during another art restoration in the 1860’s that Vasari’s ‘cover’ was discovered, and Masaccio’s work was again revealed.

At the base of the Trinity is the fresco of a tomb.

Fresco, TombMasaccio, Trinity

Fresco, Tomb
Masaccio, Trinity

Above the skeleton, in broken Renaissance Italian are the words IO FU[I] G[I]A QUEL CHE VOI S[I]ETE E QUEL CH[‘] I[O] SONO VO[I] A[N]C[OR] SARETE.” The letters in parenthesis have been added to complete the phrase.

What do these words convey? “I once was what you are and what I am you also will be.” Words of warning, perhaps, to those who worshiped during the Renaissance that life was short, time fleeting. The words are, as well, full of mysterious foreboding for the life of Masaccio.

Less than one year after the Trinity was completed, at the young age of only 28, Masaccio was dead.

The artists of the early Renaissance were deeply influenced by Masaccio’s work. The world of three-dimensions, created of an architect’s curiosity, opened yet one more door on the creative minds of artists to come.

When you are in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, approach and study this masterpiece and consider what the art patronage of the city of Florence might be had Masaccio lived a longer and even more productive life.

IF YOU GO:

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, 18, 50123 Florence, Italy

Tel: 055 219257

Web Site: Santa Maria Novella

Open Monday – Thursday 9:00AM – 5:30PM
Open Friday 11:00AM – 5:30PM
Open Saturday 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Open Sunday 12:00PM – 5:00PM
Open Festival Days 1:00PM – 5:00PM
Entrance Tickets are Euro 5.00 Per Person

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