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Archive for the ‘itinerary Planning for Italy’ 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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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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There is so much information now available on the internet about hotels in cities around the world, no less so for Florence. For years selected as the number one travel destination on the globe, the choices for hotels are nearly overwhelming.

This brief post covers those hotels that I have stayed in over the years and believe to be very good values for both first time and experienced travelers.

Tornabuoni Beacci

Above one of the busiest intersections in Florence, in a location few even notice, is a hotel that has played host to visitors during the “Grand Tour” at the end of the 19th Century and continues to provide exceptional value for accommodation in Florence-The Tornabuoni Beacci. You enter the elevator lobby just off of the piazza named for the nearby Church of Santa Trinita.

Terrace Tornabuoni Beacci Florence

Terrace
Tornabuoni Beacci Florence

The reception area is straight out of the Grand Tour and, while ‘intimate’ is one word many people use, your welcome could not be warmer nor more sincere.

Rooms are comfortable and, I have found, a bit larger than most in the city. Air conditioning in the summer, an absolute must these days, works well. The hotel offers a lovely roof top terrace where you can enjoy breakfast or a quiet break during the day. The breakfast room windows are usually open during the morning meal and the sounds of the city rise to the room and increase a visitors anticipation for the activities ahead.

The hotel’s great location provides visitors access, within less than ten minutes, to the Piazza della Signoria, Piazza Repubblica and the Piazza Duomo.

My first experience in this hotel was nearly thirty-five years ago and I have not be disappointed since. A gem in a gem of a city.

See IF YOU GO below for details about reservations, address, web site and contact.

Orto de’ Medici

Named in honor of the nearby Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici’s medicinal plant garden, the Orto is a wonderful hotel. A five minute walk from

Night View Garden Courtyard Hotel Orto de' Medici

Night View Garden Courtyard
Hotel Orto de’ Medici

the Accademia brings visitors to the main entrance to the building. Within, a lovely large cool lobby and a well staffed reception desk welcome guests.

The rooms are more than comfortable and, like the Tornabuoni Beacci, large with one exception – singles are very small, yet if you book a double accommodation for single use (which I always do) you have the comfort of a large room. The bathrooms are clean and well appointed as well.

Staff are always helpful, and questions about any special service you might require, from restaurant reservations / recommendations to private car reservations are handled flawlessly and with no hesitation.

You can easily be in the Monastery of San Marco in about five minutes, as with the Accademia. The Piazza Duomo is about a ten minute walk, the Ponte Vecchio about fifteen minutes.

Recently, new rooms were opened at the garden level of the hotel. These rooms are furnished in a very modern, sleek furniture and offer views into a small garden courtyard. There is not a formal bar in the hotel, yet each evening, there is a lovely service for wine on the terrace just outside of the breakfast room.

The breakfasts served each morning are well stocked and provide plenty of fuel for a busy day in the city. A very comfortable and safe hotel in Florence.

See IF YOU GO below for details about reservations, address, web site and contact.

Hotel Facade and Ponte Vecchio Hotel Berchielli Florence

Ponte Vecchio with
Hotel Berchielli Florence

Hotel Berchielli

My first stay at this, now, four star hotel facing the Arno River was over forty years ago. Then, it was a stodgy dowager of hotels, no air conditioning and a sense that it had passed its prime. No longer! The gorgeous restoration completed nearly twelve years ago has raised this hotel to the ranks of one of the finest four star hotels in the city.

The lobby reception area is cool, clean and comfortable, the staff very efficient. Breakfasts are  more than satisfactory and filling. My recent stay was made more welcoming by fresh flowers in the room and windows that offered a wonderful view of the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. (NOTE: If you stay at this hotel, confirm that your room will face the Arno. Rooms in the back of the hotel are certainly comfortable, yet the view will make your stay all the more enjoyable.

Of all the hotels written about in this article, this is the most expensive, given its location – but the view and the easy access you have to both the major sites on the north side of the river and those on the oltrarno make it yet another great place to stay in Florence.

See IF YOU GO below for details about reservations, address, web site and contact.

IF YOU GO:

Hotel Tornabuoni Beacci

Via Tornabuoni, 3 – 50123 Firenze

TEL: + 39 055 212645

Web:  Tornabuoni Beacci

Hotel Orto de’ Medici

Via San Gallo, 30  Firenze, Italy

Tel: +39 055 483427

Web: Hotel Orto de’ Medici

Hotel Berchielli

rno degli Acciaiuoli, 14

Florence 50123 Italy

TEL: +39 055 264061

Web: Hotel Berchielli

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Agnolo Bronzion The Brazen Serpent, Fresco Chapel of Elenora of Toldeo Palazzo Vecchio

Agnolo Bronzino
The Brazen Serpent, Fresco
Chapel of Eleanora of Toledo
Palazzo Vecchio

Hidden surprises await!

Imagine a Renaissance artist tracking progress on his fresco’s by writing notes on the frame of a door. Such is the case in one of the most underrated and least visited of Florence’s architectural treasures, the Ponte Vecchio.

Built as the seat of government for the city, the palace was completed in 1299. Its history, alone, is a fascinating overview of the city’s political challenges – a topic for another article.

Located upstairs on the main level of Palazzo is a jewel of a chapel created for Eleonora of Toledo, wife of the first grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I. Commissioned by Cosimo I, Agnolo Bronzino (he of much fame, including his incredible Martyrdom of St. Lawrence in the Medici family church of San Lorenzo), the chapel is an oft overlooked treasure. Cosimo favored the work by Bronzino and commissioned portraits of himself and Eleonora as well as his children.

After Bronzino completed the large fresco on the south wall, The Crossing of the Red Sea and Moses Anointing Joshua, he began work on The Brazen Serpent. He created the fresco while working around an extant door (see photo above) within the chapel.

As he worked, he recorded what I call diary notes about start and stop dates on his frescoes. On the upper right and left door frames of this doorway are the following notes, written by the master:

On the upper right door frame: (“/” indicate new line on the door frame)

Martedi/A di 6/di Sett/bre [1541]/

comincio/lastoria di/

faraone/A di 30 di/

Marzo/1542 fu fin[i]/

la lastai [a] di farone/lunedi adi

5/di giunio 154[2]/comincino/lastoria/delle se’pe

TRANSLATION: On Tuesday 6 September [1541] the story of the pharaoh was begun; on 30 march a542 the story of the pharaoh was completed. On Monday 5 June 154[2] the story of the serpent was begun.

On the left upper door frame:

A di 15../fins la [sto]/ria d’aq’ua

TRANSLATION: On the 15th…the story of the water was completed.

Within the chapel, Bronzino and his apprentices completed the Crossing of the Red Sea and Moses appointing Joshua, as well as the Brazen Serpent, hence the master’s reference to the ‘water’ and the ‘pharaoh’.

Yet another surprise, a note written in the middle 16th Century by a Renaissance master about his work. If you are able to visit the Palazzo Vecchio during a visit to Florence, be sure to stop by the door in the Chapel of Eleanora of Toledo…and be surprised.

IF YOU GO:

Palazzo Vecchio

Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Tickets:

Museum only: Euro 6.50 per person

Tower only: Euro 6.50 per person

Museum and Tower: Euro 10.00 per person

Please note below that you can also climb the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, though the hours are significantly reduced from the full museum hours.

April/May/June/July/
August/September
Every day except for Thursday: 9 a.m. – Midnight
Thursday: 9 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Following days are included: 1 April, 1 may, 2 and 24 June, 15 august
October
Every day except for Thursday: 9 a.m.- 7 p.m.
Thursday: 9 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Exceptionally the museum will be open:
13-28-29-30-31 October: 9 a.m. – Midnight
November
Every day except for Thursday: 9 a.m.- 7 p.m.
Thursday: 9 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Exceptionally the museum will be open:
1-2-3-10 November: 9 a.m. – Midnight
December
Every day except for Thursday: 9 a.m.- 7 p.m.
Thursday: 9 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Exceptionally the museum will be open:
7-8-22-23-26-27-28-29-30 December: 9 a.m. – Midnight
(Closed on Christmas Day)

The TOWER of the Palazzo Vecchio:

Summer opening time:
1st April – 30th September
Mon/Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat/Sun
9 – 21   (no admission after 20.30)

Thursday
9 – 14    (no admission after 13.30)

Winter opening time:
1st October – 31st march
Mon/Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat/Sun
10 – 17    (no admission after 16.30)
Thursday
10 – 14      (no admission after 13.30)

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In 1453, Andrea Mantegna married Nicolosia Bellini, the sister of Giovanni Bellini, a member of a famous family of Venetian painters. Sometime in the following years, and before Mantegna’s departure for Mantua in 1460, he completed his tempera on canvas work, Presentation at the Temple. In this unique work, Mantegna has portrayed members of his own household, along with figures of Mary, Simeon and the child. To the left of Mary’s shoulder is what art historians believe to be a portrait of Nicolosia, and on the far right is what historians believe to be a self-portrait of the artist. Behind St. Simeon, and nearly lost in the background of the work, is believed to be a portrait of Mantegna’s father whose role in the work is that of St. Joseph: note the aureola, the artistic tradition of portraying an aura over the heads of holy figures.

 

Andrea Mantegna Presentation at the Temple 1460

Andrea Mantegna
Presentation at the Temple
1460

After Andrea and Nicolosia’s departure, Mantegna’s brother in law, Giovanni, began work on a Presentation at the Temple,  this one tempera on wood panel. Bellini’s work is even more autobiographical than that of his brother in law. Behind what is believed to be a portrait of Giovanni on the far right, is a portrait of Giovanni’s brother Gentile. (Some art historians believe it could also be a portrait of Mantenga. No evidence exists to this day to clarify those observations.) The father figure from Mantegna’s work is far darker, and has lost his saintly attribution. The face of the father, now dark, nearly fierce, portrays perhaps anger at his daughter’s departure and his changed role of leading a household of two immensely creative Venetian painters. The woman to the far left in Bellini’s work is believed to be Giovanni and Gentile’s mother, Anna.

Giovanni Bellini Presentation at the Temple 1465

Giovanni Bellini
Presentation at the Temple
1465

Note, also, that in Mantegna’s work, there is a frame around the entire canvas. In Bellini’s there is only a parapet. The change in viewing the pieces seems to make Bellini’s work more personal and approachable, less distant and formal than that of Mantegna. One last touch by Bellini adds to the lack of formality in his work; there are no longer aureola. Bellini has moved the figures into the world of ‘us’ rather than of ‘them.’

When you see the two works together – hardly likely in physical fact as the Mantegna work is in the Gemäldegalerie in  Berlin and the Bellini hangs in the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice-there is no doubt that Bellini must surely have observed Andrea’s work as it progressed. Giovanni presented an even greater honor to Mantegna’s unique style by replicating, with little change, the location and posture of the figures in the earlier work.

Bellini created an entirely new way of painting, one that used a technique of darker, richer tones and colors. Both Giovanni and Gentile went on to further fame in Venice as remarkable painters. Giovanni, additionally, tutored both Giorgione and Titian, gigantic talents of their age as well.

Portrait of the Artist (Circled in Red) Raphael, 1509 School of Athens

Portrait of the Artist (Circled in Red)
Raphael, 1509
School of Athens

An observation about this positioning of the face in self-portraits and portraits of artists by other masters is their similarity.

In the School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael in what were called the Stanza dall Segnatura in the Apostolic Chapel in the Vatican, there is a self-portrait of the artist. Though painted nearly fifty years after Mantegna’s and Bellini’s works, the position of Raphael’s head, the figure’s eye contact with the viewer of the work are strikingly similar to, particularly, Bellini’s self-portrait.

Further explorations in future posts!

IF YOU GO:

If you wish to view the Bellini masterpiece in Venice, here are details:

Fondazione Querini Stampalia

Santa Maria Formosa

Castello 5252, 30122 Venezia

Tel 041 2711411

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 10:00AM to 6:00PM

Closed Monday

Tickets: Euro 10 per person, available at the door ticket office

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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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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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