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Rondanini Pieta1564

Rondanini Pieta
1564

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

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

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

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

Rondanini Pieta Detail

Rondanini Pieta Detail

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

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

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

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

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

Giacometti Bronze

Giacometti Bronze

IF YOU GO:

Castle Grounds Open Hours

Monday through Sunday

7.00AM – 6:00PM (Normal Schedule)

7.00AM – 7.00PM (Festival Days

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

Castello Information: Tel. 39.02.88.46.3700

Castello Museums:

Entrance Ticket: Euro 3.00 per person

Castello Museum Hours

Tuesday through Sunday (Closed Monday)

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

Ticket Office Information: Tel. +39.02.88.46.3703

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

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

Subway:

MM1 (Cadorna and Cairoli Stations)

MM2 (Cadorna and Lanza Stations)

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

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

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

Address:

Kunsthaus Zürich
Heimplatz 1
CH–8001 Zurich

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

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

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Where Italy and Switzerland Meet

Lugano, with its temperate climate, is a city with an incredible history and musical heritage. Sited on the northern shore of a crystal clear alpine lake, this is the largest Italian speaking city in Switzerland.

Lago Lugano, the city that gave its name to the lake, clings to the shore and hills above the water like the icing on a delicate Swiss pastry. Along the impeccably clean promenade, couples stroll as ferries come and go from the dock.  In the distance, the Casino beckons with visions of James Bond, tux and all.

When I have the opportunity I plan at least a two day visit to Lugano.

The first day is spent on the lake enjoying lunch served aboard a special ferry that calls on various towns along the shore of the lake. I have always found this to be a wonderful way to experience the pace of life in this region of Italy. Spectacular views of the alps from the comfort of my table or from the open air seating on deck are always memorable.

The midday cruise boats leave from the Lugano Paradiso dock at 11:50AM each morning, early April through late October. Lunch is served shortly after heading across the lake. A  fixed menu is served offering excellent food (not fancy). With five stops along the lake in each direction, the pace of enjoying the meal moves at the pace of the boat. The boat returns to Lugano Paradiso at 1:50PM. You can also board/return from the main Lugano Ferry Building. For further details, see “If You Go”.

Piazza della Riforma
Lugano

When I return to the city, I usually choose a table at one the lovely small cafes in the Pizza Riforma. Directly off of the waterfront park, this is great place to relax with an afternoon coffee or aperitif.  The main shopping streets of the city lead away from the square and there is no denying that window shopping in this country of watchmakers offers temptations aplenty.

My evening meal is usually enjoyed at Bistro Cyrano. Located an easy walk from the central city square, the small space, while not fancy, offers delicious meals at a reasonable price, especially in Switzerland. The chef uses only the freshest ingredients and there is everything about the Italian table to enjoy. Great wine list, as well!

On the second day, I take time to visit two of the most beautiful churches in this area of Switzerland, Santa Maria degli Angioli and San Rocco.

The church of Santa Maria was originally part of a Franciscan Monastery. The buildings were started in the late 15thCentury, with subsequent improvements and additions made over the centuries. What makes Santa Maria so very special is Bernardino Luini’s masterpiece, and the largest fresco in Switzerland, The Passion and Crucifixion of Christ. The fresco covers the main part of the interior wall that separates the nave from the altar. The intricacy and detail are amazing, and to be able to spend time studying an incredible art treasure without the usual crowds is a gift. The church is easily located on the western size of the city, not far from Piazza della Riforma.

The other church, San Rocco, is on the opposite edge of the main city center and only steps from the Giardini and Piazza della Riforma. The 17th Century structure has a very plain façade, yet the interior offers gorgeous frescoes depicting the life of San Rocco di Montpellier, a venerated saint in the Catholic Church. During the summer months, there are a number of world famous music festivals in the city. Last year, I walked into San Rocco and enjoyed hearing a young pianist practice a Rachmaninoff piano concerto.  Unforgettable.

Sunrise on Lugano

This is a city for those less inclined to the busy day to day bustle of tourist sites. An easy drive from Milan or Lago Maggiore or Lago Como, the lanes and byways of this lovely city offer time for contemplation and relaxation. A city more known to the European visitor, fewer Americans are encountered here especially after the day buses depart. Evening offer well lit streets, the quiet of a Swiss town and time to enjoy yet another jewel of the Lake Region.

IF YOU GO:

Lugano Tourism offers plentiful resources.

Navigazione del Lago Lugano (Lugano Ferry System information and timetables) For lunch cruise information, click on “Midday Cruise” on the left side of the home page.

Hotels:

There are plenty to choose from. I’ve stayed at each of these over the years. They offer clean rooms for a fair price. Nothing fancy, mind you, but for a clean bed and a great location, they are difficult to equal.

Hotel Aquarello

This lovely hotel is located within the arcades of shops in the center of Lugano. Easy access to the lake and sites right outside your door. The town is usually very quiet after 8:30PM and you need not worry about traffic noise. The Balmelli family offer attentive service.

www.acquarello.ch

Piazza Cioccaro 9 – 6900 Lugano

Tel: +41 (0)91 911 68 68

Hotel Delfino

Due to its position south of city center and in a more residential area, the Delfino is both a bit higher in price, yet offers lovely rooms with balconies and lake views (request such when reserving). It takes about ten minutes to walk to the center of Lugano from the Delfino.

www.delfinolugano.ch

Via Cassarinetta 6  6900 Lugano, Switzerland
Tel: +41 (0)91 985 99 99

Restaurants:

Bistro Cyrano

Corso Enrico Pestalozzi 27

6900 Lugano

Tel: +41 (0)91 922 21 82

www.bistrocyrano.ch

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Spring Sunrise
Bergamo

Medieval towers pierce mauve infused sunrise fog. Visions of another time are easy here, so close to Milan yet centuries away.

This city of a thousand, so named for the citizens role in Italy’s unification, is a unique surprise about an hour by train northeast of Milano. Though the city has become increasingly industrial in focus, the upper town (La Citta Alta) offers visitors unique insights into Italy’s political and architectural history.

With commanding views over the Val Brembana and Val Seriana, coupled with its position on alpine foothills between Milan and Venice, made Bergamo ripe for conquest. Beginning with the 6th Century, and continuing through the mid-1800’s, the city has experienced the political control of governments from Bohemia to France. Above the fray, the upper city’s residents retains a spirit of independence and fierce pride.

The highest point in the upper city is Castello di San Vigilio, a fortress with a tiny group of buildings. The small chapel of Santa Maria Madallena  was used by defenders of the city as early as the 11th Century. The views from this highest point in the city are unforgettable. It is very easy to understand why this fromidable structure has been so coveted over the centuries.

After visiting the Castle, you can easily walk down to the Piazza Duomo, the main square of the Upper City, stopping for visits to the Museums of Archaeology, Donizetti – Bergamo’s most famous composer and Science. All of these are well worth the visit. If you time is limited, I recommend, at a minimum, the Archaeology museum. The Accademia, the Carrara Museum, is absolutely worth a few hours time as well.

For those whose interests tend to the influence of religion on the life of Italian cities, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is a must.

Construction on the church started in the mid 12th Century, with additional works continuing through the latter part of the 16th Century. Classically styled in a Roman, nearly Byzantine style which is referred to locally as Roman-Lombard style, the facade is spectacular.

The narrow lanes and byways of this part of the city invite time to linger, to allow all five senses to absorb the city’s profound history.

IF YOU GO:

I have a preference to visit Bergamo during the winter, when fog often wraps the streets and the absence of other visitors lends a more romantic and historic feel to time in the upper city.

Bergamo is reached by train in about an hour from Milan’s Centrale Station.

Upon arrival, I recommend buying a bus ticket at the information booth just outside the station. The A1 Bus will bring you up to the level of the second Funicular railway, which takes you all the way up to the Castello di San Vigilio. From there, you can easily walk down into the city. Return buses to the train station depart from all of the bus stops in the upper city.

Timetables for the bus and funicular systems are found here: ATB Bergamo.

If you wish to check the timetable for trains from Milano to Bergamo, check www.trenitalia.it.  Click on the British Flag at the top of the screen for English and search “Milano” to “Bergamo” and the time of day you wish to travel.

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MILAN – DO I GO?

I’ve mixed feeling about visiting Milan. After ten visits to Da Vinci’s Last Supper at Santa Maria della Grazie I’m not enthusiastic about all the insanity you have to go through to see, next to Michelangelo’s David in Florence, the most visited work of Renaissance art in the world. Truth is, its frustrating. Large tour companies book entire months as much as a year in advance. They do, essentially, control any/all ticket sales. Any individual tickets that become available are almost entirely based on cancellations made by the tour companies.

Recently, tickets were not available ten (yes, ten) months in advance of one of my small group tours. If you wish to make reservations with Viator, or other large tour companies in Milan, to see the city by bus – and they do offer very good tours that way – then that’s the way to go.

If you wish to give it a try, link here to see if tickets for your desired date are available.

Despite the challenges presented by a visit to the Da Vinci, this very modern Italian city offers many other delights. Read on.

The Duomo (Cathedral) of Milan

The Duomo: What a confection of white marble! Spectacular. The Piazza that fronts the cathedral of Milan is one of the largest in Italy. The scale of the structure dwarfs even that huge space.

Inside the cathedral are stained glass windows, behind the main altar, designed by Marc Chagall. These windows were installed after the bombings of WWII.

Marco d’ Agrate’s
Saint Bartholomew
1562

Marco d’ Agrate’s 1562 sculpture of Saint Bartholomew is one of the most unusual in Europe. The saint was flayed alive (that is, skinned alive) so the sculptor chose to depict Bartholomew’s musculature exposed, his skin wrapped around his body. Fascinating and disturbing, at best.

If you wish to visit the roof of the duomo – and I highly recommend you do – go to the southeast corner of the church where you will find the elevator to the roof. The number and beauty of the statues and gargoyles is mind-boggling.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and loggia walkways around the Piazza Duomo.

Next to the Cathedral of Milan is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Completed in 1877 it is the first covered ‘mall’ in Europe.

Today, fashionistas rub elbows with tourists in the many cafes within. Impeccably dressed Milanese move effortlessly in and out of gorgeous, expensive clothing and jewelry shops. The mosaic and inlaid floors are, in and of themselves, a wonder to behold.

At the center crossing of the galleria floor are mosaic coats of arms of the four major cities of Italy. Turin, west and south of Milan, uses a bull as its symbol. Tradition has it that, if you place your foot on the bulls, ahem, private parts and spin 360 degrees without your other foot touching the floor, you will have good luck. It is really fun to watch people try this from an unobtrusive corner. And yes I’ve tried several times, all to no avail!

If the deep depression in the floor above the unfortunate animal’s lover-section is any indication, a great many tourists and locals believe in the tradition!

La Scala and the Piazza della Scala

At the north entrance to the Galleria is the Piazza della Scala which fronts the world famous Opera House of the same name. This is a lovely park area in the center of Milan. There are benches for a much needed break and people watching, a national sport in Italy, is always fascinating.

For those obsessed with, or just interested in, opera, a visit to La Scala offers interesting glimpses in to the world of music. There is a small museum inside the building and visitors are also afforded the opportunity to view the interior of the theater from one of the third level private boxes. This is certainly not any waste of time; if anything, the visit underscores Italian’s love of music and their dedication to the opera composer’s art.

Via Montenapoleone:

If your interests tend to the current trends in clothing design, then this is your street. Known as the headquarters of  Italian fashion, the boutiques for shopping, and the people watching, offer fascinating glimpses into the world of “La Moda.” This wide, truly monumental, boulevard shares its justifiable reputation with the Fifth Avenue in New York and the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris.

This is one of the most expensive commercial / residential areas of Milan. Be aware that costs for meals and beverages are at least one and a half times the average cost for such things in other areas of the city.

Fortezza Sforzesco

In the heart of Milan stands one of the most historically intriguing and architecturally powerful buildings in the world. From 1392, when the Visconti family began improving and strengthening the fortifications, to the time of Francesco Sforza who transformed the buildings into his private ducal residence, this is a building whose construction reflects the political history of Italy.

You can visit the fortress in about two hours. There are several spaces within the structure now used for art and fashion shows, so it is very helpful to check the site’s web resources before you visit. See information below under “If You Go.” A MUST even if you find history boring. This is one place  guaranteed to fascinate.

 . . . and finally, the Navigli Neighborhood

Surprisingly enough, there is an area of Milan that is crisscrossed by navigable canals. Southeast of city center, and easily reached by using the Green Line of the Milan subway system (watch your personal belongings!), you will exit at the Porta Genova train station. As you exit the station you are in the heart of Milan’s answer to Venice. If you go in the winter months, don’t be surprised by maintenance work and dry canals.

This is one of the liveliest arts districts of Milan. Evenings are always crowded with all ages, some heading to clubs, others to galleries that tend to the newest Italian talents. Enjoyable, fun and truly memorable.

IF YOU GO:

Milan’s Stazione Centrale is one of the largest train stations in Europe. Connections to all cities across Italy are available, from regional trains to the fast Eurostar Italia. There is a huge subway station under the station and access to all areas of the city are easy. There are kiosks throughout the station that facilitate the purchase of tickets. The kiosks have touch-screens and offer numerous language options for the simple step-by-step purchase process.

NOTE: Be very careful with your personal belongings while in the Metro stations and trains in Milan. Pickpockets are plentiful and determined.

The Last Supper – Leonardo Da Vinci

Santa Maria della Grazie

Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie, 2

20123 Milan, Italy

Tel: +39.02.467.6111

Remember that you cannot just show up at the entrance for the Last Supper and expect to enter. Pre reserved reservations are mandatory.

Tickets? Try Last Supper Tickets

Duomo:

Hours: Every day: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Last admission at 6:45 p.m. Free admission.

For detailed history and information about the cathedral:

Duomo Milan

La Scala Opera House:

Tickets: Euro 6.00 per person, From 9 am to 12.30 pm (last entrance at 12 noon) and from 1.30 pm to 5.30 pm (last entrance at 5 pm)

(NOTE: Visits are closed from 12:30PM to 1:30PM)
The museum is open everyday except: 7 December, afternoon of 24 December, 25 and 26 December, 31 December afternoon, 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 15 August.

La Scala Information

Fortezza Sforseco

Hours: Open daily
7.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. (in winter) | 7.00 a.m. – 7.00 p.m. (in summer)
Free admission (except for castle museums)
Public transport:
Underground: MM1 Cadorna, Cairoli – MM2 Cadorna, Lanza
Buses: 18,50,37,58,61,94

Castle Museums: Entrance ticket Euro 3.00

For more information and to check event schedules at the fortress:

Fortessa Sforzesco

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