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Archive for the ‘Monasterys of Italy’ Category

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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As part of the Art and History of Renaissance Art class, this video is used to introduce the students to the music and art of certain periods of Florentine art. I hope that you will enjoy this brief (Four Minute) presentation and, as always, thank you for taking the time to read about bella Italia with “Travels Across Italy”!

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Beheading of John the Baptist, South Doors, Baptistery Florence

Beheading of John the Baptist, South Doors, Baptistery Florence

They have faded into the shadows of the Renaissance. Two men whose work surmounts doors of the Baptistery in Florence, you might imagine, would be of the fame and stature of other Renaissance sculptors or artists in bronze, like Donatello or Cellini. While we may not, today, recognize their names, the incredible quality of their works stand as testament to phenomenal talent.

We hardly ever notice them, the giants above the doors of the baptistery of San Giovanni Batista in Florence – St. John the Baptist Baptistery. Ghiberti’s Eastern “Doors of Paradise”, so termed by Michelangelo, draw the crowds that hover around what are actually copies made from decades old casts.

While crowds admire and photograph the eastern doors, walk around to the north and south doors and look up. On the south side of the octagonal structure are doors designed by Andrea Pisano. The casting and gilding were done by Leonardo d’Avanzano, a Venetian famous for his renowned techniques with bronze. These doors were originally the eastern doors until Ghiberti won the competition for a new set of panels. It was in 1452 that the Pisano doors were moved to their present location on the building’s south side.

Above the south doors are three statues depicting the Beheading of John the Baptist by Vincenzo Danti. He was born and raised in a family with a goldsmith father and was educated in the art of sculpture in Rome. He received a commission in 1533 for a bronze of Pope Julius III which stands outside of the cathedral in Perugia.

Julius III Danti, Perugia

Julius III
Danti, Perugia

A commission followed in 1567 for three figures to stand above the south doors of the Baptistery. These are considered to be his masterpieces.

An interesting additional detail about the figures that surmount the “Gates of Paradise” at the Baptistery. These three figures, depicting the Baptism of Christ, were started by Andrea Sansovino between 1501 and 1503. What many people do not know is that Sansovino was unable to complete the commission. Two of the figures, Christ and the Baptist,  were completed by none other than Vincenzo Danti. The third figure, an angel, was not completed until 1752 by Innocenzo Spinazzi.

Baptism of Christ, Sansovino and Rustici – Angel by Spinazzi
Photo from recent exhibition at the Museo del Opera del Duomo
Florence

On the north side of the baptistery are another three figures, titled The Sermon of the Baptist. Created by Giovanni Francesco Rustici-and, many believe, in concert with Leonardo di Medici with whom the sculptor lived after meeting the maestro in Verrocchio’s workshops-the pieces were never sufficiently paid for nor credit given, according to records of the time. Yet, these incredible bronzes stand strongly in company of Sansovino and, even, Michelangelo.  Vasari in his Lives of the Artists, claimed that Rustici was one of the greatest Renaissance sculptors in Tuscany.

https://i1.wp.com/www.tickitaly.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/florence-baptistery-rustici.jpg

Giovanni Francesco Rustici
Sermon of the Baptist
Baptistery, Florence

When you visit the city, and stand before Ghiberti’s unforgettable eastern doors of the Baptistery, please take time to study the figures above all of the doors. Little known though they may have been, the bronzes are all fascinating works of art, works that introduce us to Vincenzo Danti and Giovanni Francesco Rustici.

IF YOU GO:

The Baptistery is directly in front of the Duomo in Florence.

Piazza Duomo

The Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista

Open Hours:

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – CLOSED

Thursday, Friday and Saturday –  8:30AM – 7:00PM

Sunday, 8:30AM – 2:00PM

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Art historians have stated that twenty-five percent of the entire world’s art treasures reside in Italy. While it may be something of an exaggeration, it is true beyond doubt that the artists, architects, sculptors, writers and musicians of Renaissance Florence gave to the world a gift of beauty whose value is  unimaginable.

It has been a great pleasure, over the years, to teach a class on the Art and History of Renaissance Florence. As part of establishing a sense of the time in which the artists created their works, I share a series of photos of period work along with music that would have been heard by contemporary Tuscans.

In Introduction through 1425 A.D., the first class, Gregorian chant serves as background to the works of artists Fra Angelico, Taddeo Gaddi, Giotto, Cimabue and others.

For those who are interested in the Art and History of Renaissance Florence, even if only a passing curiosity, I hope that you enjoy viewing this video, and the others that will follow in weekly future posts.

Salute! Marco

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Vivaldi Score Original

The craftswoman slowly moves the finely sharpened chisel lovingly, in long slow strokes, across what will be the back of the violin. A high intensity light illuminates her dust covered hands as notes of a violin concerto by Antonio Vivaldi float through the workshop.

The Hands of Vettori

The Hands of Vettori

I was introduced to the Vettori family by Joan Balter, luthier. I met Joan at a gathering in the home of Stefano Magazzini and Janet Shapiro, owners of Sagittario Olive Oil, near the Florentine town of Impruneta. She has worked with the restoration and care of vintage instruments, including Stradivari and Cristofori. Her expertise is widely known and respected across the violin making world.   She is the official luthier of the Aspen Music Festival and has been featured in many publications, including the New York Times.

The Vettori family’s workshop is located but a few steps north of the Monastery of San Marco, almost across the street from Cosimo I de’ Medici’s Orto dei Semplici. For the past three generations, the Vettori family has created musical instruments – violins, violas and cellos. The workshop space is spare, purposeful. Instruments hang from the ceiling, custom made instruments in various stages of finish work are being quietly attended to by the third generation of the Vettori family – Dario II, Sofia and Lapo.

I will defer to the family’s history, provided to me by the current Vettori family. In their own words…

“Dario I Vettori was born in Firenzuola, in the province of Florence in Upper Mugello, on 19th November 1903. He lived and worked there all his life and became known as ‘The Violin-Maker of the Mountain”
His initial interest in the violin was as a musician. He was the pupil of Emilio Benelli and his brother Vasco Vettori, who studied at the Conservatory in Imola. He later became the violist of the Quartetto Benelli.
He developed a passion for violin-making and became Primo Contavalli’s pupil. The instruments from this initial period have very deep fluting with excessive relief on the edges and very hard modelling of corners.
In 1937 at Stradivari’s bicentenary celebration Dario met Ornati, who subsequently became his principal inspiration.
Ornati’s influence (and through him, that of the Cremonese School) can be seen in the instruments completed in the fifties onwards.
The edges are lighter, rounder and the fluting more shallow. However, on the lower wings of the f-holes, the fluting remains more accentuated than those of Ornati. In his earliest work Dario used Stradivari models but later moved to those of Guarneri del Gesu. While using both the internal and external forms, he always carried out the purfling with the body closed.
He made use of local woods originating from trees that he himself selected in the mountains of the Tuscan Apennines.
Dario established very close contacts with other contemporary Tuscan violin makers such as Fernando Ferroni from whom he learned to use the external form and the fitting of linings over corner blocks (in willow or linden) which Ferroni had inherited from Cesaro Candi of Genoa.
After Ferroni’s death, it was Dario who inherited his molds and tools.
His only two pupils were his sons Carlo and Paolo.
Various awards were presented to him: three gold medals at the Exhibition of Genova-Pegli, in 1956, 1958 and 1960; a silver medal in Florence; a gold medal at the Exhibition of Cremona in 1965 for a quartet. During his life, Dario made 156 violins, 37 violas, 2 violoncellos and 2 quartets.
He died on 12th June 1973.

PAOLO VETTORI

Paolo Vettori was born in Firenzuola in 1945, a small city in the Tosco-Romagnolo Appennini mountains and is the fifth-eldest son of Dario (1903-1973), known as “il liutaio della montagna”. He started working in his father’s workshop at a very early age. ‘In the 1960s Paolo visited Carlo Bisaich’s violin workshop with his father and was fascinated by the instruments, models, molds and charisma of the important master. In the 1970s, he moved to Florence, where he was a frequent visitor and observer at the violin workshops of Alpo Casini and Sderci, where he received precious and important advice. When Giuseppe Stefanini moved from Brescia to Florence in 1986, the two craftsmen became acquainted and a deep, long-lasting friendship developed.

Paolo acquired various techniques, models for violin-making and formulae for varnishes exclusive to the Bisiach family, with whom Stefanini collaborated closely for many decades. Paolo has already built more than 300 instruments including violins, violas and violoncellos, employing a great variety of models, many of which came from Carlo Bisiach’s workshop, acquired in 1997 after the death of Sderci; the very same molds and tools that had taken his fascination in 1963 in the violin workshop in Via Puccinotti 94, avoiding in this way their dispersion. Paolo’s construction technique and style show strong traces of his father’s influence, but also of his immense experience acquired over the years. At this time, he works in his workshop in Via della Dogana with his two sons Dario II and Lapo and his daughter Sofia, everyone signing the instruments with their own labels. Together, the family continues to follow the tradition and the great adventure started by “grandfather Dario” in 1935. In 2005 they celebrated 70 years of violin-making.

DARIO VETTORI II
Dario Vettori II was born in Fiesole in 1979. He is the eldest son of Paolo and the grandson of Dario known as “il liutaio della montagna”. His interest in the world of music started at a very early age, studying cello at the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence. He also attended the faculty of Literature, devoting himself to the study of Art History.
At the age of eighteen he decided to dedicate himself full-time to violin making, entering his father’s workshop and enrolling with the ALI Professionisti in 2001. He had the chance to meet several well-known violin makers and to spend a considerable amount of time in the United States, working in violin-making workshops, such as Christophe Landon in New York, in Washington DC, Texas and taking Varnish and Acoustic Masterclasses in Oberlin (Ohio). This gave him the opportunity to learn restoration techniques and to admire original old instruments.
For the construction of his instruments he uses the molds and models from his family’s workshop, most of them originally belonging to Carlo Bisiach’s collection, once owned by Igino Sderci. The wide variety of models employed in the Vettori’s workshop is consisting of Guarneri “del Gesù”, Pietro Guarneri da Mantova, Stradivari, Carlo Bergonzi, Camillo Camilli, Balestrieri, Nicolò Gagliano, Francesco Mantegazza, Domenico Montagna, Giuseppe Guarneri “filius Andreae” and many others.
Dario mainly uses ¬local and Bosnian maple (some of which were left by his grandfather), Italian poplar, willow, cherry and pear wood as well as the traditional violin-making spruce from Val di Fiemme. He occasionally succeeds in finding old wood, which, according to analyses carried out at the University of Tuscia in Viterbo, comes from trees dating back to the 17th century.
The whole family took to researching old varnish formulas, mostly found in their grandfather Dario’s old manuscripts, which has allowed them to reach a quality that can be appreciated on each instrument of the family’s.
At the moment, Dario is working in the family workshop in Via della Dogana together with his father Paolo, his sister Sofia and his brother Lapo, though everyone signs their instruments with their own label.
Still today the family preserves its own tradition started by “Grandfather Dario” in 1935.
In 2015 they will celebrate 80 years of violin-making tradition.

As I study the many photographs available on the family’s web site (see below), the uniqueness of each instrument becomes apparent, no less the skill it has taken to create them.

The Vettori Workshop

The Vettori Workshop

The founder of this talented and dedicated family was Dario (b. 1903) whose interest in music and the violin came at an early age. He studied with Emilio Benelli and Darios’ brother Vasco. Dario’s talents were noted and he eventually became the violinist in the Benelli Quartet. It was in 1937, a few years along in Dario’s violin making efforts that he met Giuseppe Ornati, one of the greatest violin makers of his time, during the bicentenary celebration of Stradivarius in Cremona. As a result of that meeting, the style of Dario’s instruments began to reflect the strong influence of the Cremonese school.

Over time, the selection of woods for the violins focused only on special selections from the Tuscan Appenine mountains. To this day, the primary source of the woods used in the family’s instruments resonates with the roots of those same mountains and forests.

Fernando Ferroni, whose work was deeply influenced by Cesaro Candi of Genoa, was another famous violin maker who worked with Dario. Upon Fernando’s death, the molds and tools used by Cesaro and Fernando passed into Dario’s hands. During his life, Dario produced 156 violins, 37 violas, 2 violoncellos and 2 quartets-truly an outstanding collection of the finest possible instruments. He died on 12th June 1973.

A Bisaich Violin Pattern

A Bisaich Violin Pattern

Cello In Creation

Cello In Creation

Dario’s son Paolo and this family continue a long tradition of creating instruments that bring Italy’s, and the world’s, rich musical heritage to life.

Visitors to Florence can schedule time to visit the school to more deeply appreciate the art and labor of those who love the music created from instruments of such care and precision.

Contact the family directly, see below, for details about scheduling time with them.

The traditions of Stradivarius and Guarneri del Gesu as well as countless other luthiers remains alive,  thanks to the dedication and passion of the Vettori family.

Yet another little-known corner of Florence opens it doors and the rich traditions of hand craftsmanship and music comes alive.

IF YOU GO:

The Vettori family workshop is located at Via Della Dogana, 10

50121, Florence.

You can email Dario and other members of the family if you wish to schedule a visit, using: violins@vettorifamily.com. If you are in the city and wish to contact the family by phone: +39.055.287.337.

Web: www.vettorifamily.com

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Introductory Note: Among the lanes and avenues of ancient Rome were apartment buildings known as insule (insulae, plural). Within these structures were small upstairs rooms that were used for meals. The Italian word for the dinner meal, cena, comes from the Latin word for those upper rooms: cenaculum. The Italian word for the Last Supper, Cenacolo, is also derived from that same base word and is used interchangeably with “‘l’Ultima Cena” (The Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples).

In Search of Florence’s Last Suppers

Taddeo GaddiLast Supper and Tree of Life, ca. 1340Santa Croce

Taddeo Gaddi
Last Supper and Tree of Life, ca. 1340
Santa Croce

My first encounter with Taddeo Gaddi’s fresco of the Last Supper and Tree of Life came late on a summer’s afternoon. Santa Croce lies east of the Piazza della Signoria. The ancient lanes you walk to arrive at the Piazza Santa Croce take you past the area where the ancient Roman amphitheater of Florentia once stood.

My goal was to visit one of the most famous symbols of Florence, Cimabue’s Crucifixion. It was only upon entering the vast space of the refectory that the scale and beauty of Gaddi’s work came to me. Below the Tree of Life is the Last Supper, a work that was heavily damaged during the floods of November 1966. It has been painstakingly and lovingly restored.

On another day in Florence, I was fortunate to be introduced to the work of another Renaissance artist, Andrea del Castango. His luminous Last Supper, a fresco on the northwest wall of the refectory in the Convent of Sant’Apollonia, came as yet another surprise.

Last Suppers. Florence. Cenaculum. Upper Rooms.

My curiosity was roused. How many paintings of the cenaculum exist in the city? My search for the Last Suppers of Florence began.

The list is long.

No fewer than seven Last Supper frescoes exist within the confines of the ancient city center. From Santa Maria Novella on the northwest part of the, to Ognissanti in the city center, to Santa Croce and San Salvi in the east, the collection of these incredible works span centuries, united by their subject matter. By taking the time to visit them, visitors can learn a great deal about the changes made in the art of fresco during the Renaissance. An added bonus is that these marvelous pieces of art are rarely visited by but a few tourists.

Rather than detail each of these unforgettable frescoes, I have placed photos of the frescoes below, in time line sequence, earliest to latest. Below each photo are details about their location, the open hours, the price of entrance tickets, and some brief analysis and information about the work.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, the beauty of these frescoes and the places they were created, offer visitors ample opportunity to more deeply understand the profound influence of the Christian church on the artists and history of Renaissance Florence.

I hope that those of you who visit Florence will take time to visit these unforgettable works of art.

—–

IF YOU GO:

The Cenacule of Florence – the Last Suppers of Florence

GaddiLast Supper & Tree of Lifeca. 1335

Gaddi
Last Supper & Tree of Life
ca. 1335

Other than the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci and very few other frescoes, Gaddi’s work placed the disciple Judas Iscariot on the opposite side of the table from Jesus and the other disciples. This same configuration is repeated in most Renaissance Last Supper Frescoes.

Taddeo Gaddi

Last Supper and Tree of Life, ca. 1335

Refectory, Basilica of Santa Croce

Piazza di Santa Croce, 16
50122 Firenze, Italy
Tel: 39.055.244.619

Entrance tickets: Euro 6.00 per person

Location of Ticket Office: The ticket office is on the north side of the basilica. As you face the facade of the church, go to the left side and you will find the ticket office and visitors entrance. The refectory is through the church nave on the south side of the complex.

Domenico GhirlandaioLast Supper ca. 1447Convent of Sant'Apollonia

Andrea del Castagno
Last Supper ca. 1447
Convent of Sant’Apollonia

Andrea del Castagno

Last Supper, ca. 1447

Convent of Sant’Apollonia

Via 27 Aprile, 1
50129 Firenze, Italy
Tel: 39.055.238.8607

Entrance tickets: Entrance to this refectory is free

Open hours:

Tuesday-Saturday 9am-2pm

Closed on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month and the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday of each month

Castagno chose to place the figure of Judas facing to the right, unlike Gaddi’s composition which had Judas looking to the left. Also, Castagno has Judas and Jesus in closer proximity than in Gaddi’s earlier work.

Domenico GhirlandaioLast Supper, ca. 1480Ognissanti

Domenico Ghirlandaio
Last Supper, ca. 1480
Ognissanti

Domenico Ghirlandaio

Last Supper, ca. 1480

Ognissanti, Florence

Borgo Ognissanti, 42

50123 Florence, Italy

Tel: 39.055.239.8700

Entrance Tickets: Entrance to the church is free

Open hours:

Weekdays and weekends: 7:125AM – 12:30PM and 4:00PM to 8:00PM

Festival days: 9:00AM to 1:00PM and 4:00PM to 8:00PM

Be sure to check hours of the Mass so you do not interrupt services.

In the first of two Last Supper frescoes commissioned with Ghirlandaio, (see next listing below as well) Judas is facing left and rather than St. John being bowed onto Jesus’s arm, in Domenico’s work he portrays the disciple as deferential, his head nearly even with that of Jesus.

Domenico GhirlandaioLast Supper, ca. 1482San Marco

Domenico Ghirlandaio
Last Supper, ca. 1482
San Marco

Domenico Ghirldandaio

Last Supper, ca. 1482

San Marco

Piazza di San Marco, 1
50121 Firenze, Italy
39.055.238.8608

Entrance tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

Open hours:

Monday-Friday 8:15am-1:30pm

Saturday, Sunday: 8:15am-4:50pm

NOTE: Closed the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday

and the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month, New Year’s Day, May 1, Christmas Day

Considered by many art historians and experts to be the finest Last Supper of the 15th and 16th Century Italian Renaissance, Ghirlandaio’s second Last Supper – his first (above) was completed two years earlier – reflects important lessons learned in both the quality of the paints used in the fresco, the depiction of body posture and the refined use of perspective.

Pietro PeruginoLast Supper, ca. 1492Convent of Fuligno

Pietro Perugino
Last Supper, ca. 1492
Convent of Fuligno

Pietro Perugino

Last Supper, ca. 1492

Convent of Fuligno

Via Faenza, 42
50123 Firenze, Italy
Tel: 39.055.286.982

Entrance Tickets: Tickets for the church are free

Open hours:

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday 9am-Noon, Closed Sunday

Closed New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, May 1

Early attributions of this fresco were to the Renaissance artist, Raphael. Further inspection and study revealed it to be a work by the Umbrian artist Pietro Perugino. Some art experts believe that this fresco was painted over a late 15th century work by Neri di Bicci, a Florentine Renaissance artist. The fresco is considered to be the finest example of Umbrian Renaissance art in the city.

Andrea del SartoLast Supper, ca. 15159 - 1527San Salvi

Andrea del Sarto
Last Supper, ca. 1519 – 1527
San Salvi

Andrea del Sarto

Last Supper, ca. 1519 – 1527

San Salvi

Entrance tickets: Entrance to the church is free

Open hours:

 Tuesday hours 8:15 am–1:50 pm

In 1530, the commander of Spain’s Charles V’s troops who had invaded Florence spared this work owing to its incredible beauty. Andrea del Sarto chose to place Judas to the far right, so that the other figures in the painting would be the focus of his work. The fine detail of this fresco is incredible to see and well worth the effort of finding your way to the church of San Salvi.

Alessandro ALloriLast Supper, ca. 1584 - 1597Santa Maria Novella

Alessandro Allori
Last Supper, ca. 1584 – 1597
Santa Maria Novella

Alessandro Allori

Last Supper, ca. 1584 – 1597

Santa Maria Novella

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, 18

 50123 Florence, Italy

Tel: 39.055.219.257

Entrance tickets: Euro 2.50 per person

Open hours:

Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 10am-4pm
Weekday holidays 9am-2pm

One of the most unusual frescoes and paintings of the Renaissance. Allori’s work, mannerist in style, is actually two works of art: fresco and canvas. The panel in the lower center of the fresco is actually a canvas on which Allori has created a vision of an energetic and physically active Last Supper. There is a heretofore unseen vitality and dynamic to this depiction of the event. Allori’s unique work served to inspire other artists of the late 16th Century to experiment with new styles of art. This is the final depiction of the Last Supper in a Florentine church.

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Piazza San Marco Florence

Piazza San Marco Florence

The present day Church and Monastery of San Marco in Florence was built on the foundation of a 12th Century Valambrosian Monastery. It was in 1435 that the Dominicans from the Convent of San Domenico, located in the hills above Florence in the town of Fiesole, assumed responsibility for the church and buildings. In 1437, the prior of San Marco appealed to Cosimo di Medici (the elder) for the funds to expand the entire complex. Such request was granted and the building you enter today are as those of the time of the early Renaissance.

The piazza that fronts the church is a hive of constant activity. Buses from across the city stop near a wonderful gelateria, Carabè. Motorcycles parked like the spine of a dinosaur line the edges of the central garden and fountain. It is a space that meets its design, yet detracts from enticing visitors into one of the most peaceful and most treasured collections of art in Florence.

Enter. Early morning is the best time to visit, before the crowds arrive. I am always in San Marco immediately after opening at 8:15am. Walking through the arched Cloister of Sant’Antonio and up the long stairway to the monks cells is, for me, a voyage back in time. Morning light reflects against the sandal-polished terracotta floors that line the hallways.

The light of Angelico, the shadows in San Marco

The light of Angelico, the Shadows in San Marco

In each of the cells are works by the early Renaissance artist and master of the fresco Fra Angelico (Beato Angelico in Italian). There are a total of forty-three monk’s cells at San Marco, each decorated with a work by Angelico. What startles most visitors on each visit is the masterpiece of this level of the Monastery, Fra Angelico’s Annunciation.

The master’s use of light – note the beam of sunlight that touches Mary, the fine detail of the angel’s wings. Even the folds of the cloth on both main figures is as if you could touch and feel the texture of the fabric. The panel at the base of the work tells the story of Mary’s life.Devoid of most other symbols that were used in most depictions of this event, and of Mary’s life, Fra Angelico chose to focus on the moment and the effect that the news brought by an angel had on Mary.

Fra AngelicoAnnunciation1438 - 1445

Fra Angelico
Annunciation
1438 – 1445

Within the hushed corridors of this spiritual place, I remember the monks who, from early morning til dark, toiled daily at their chores and then returned to their cells reminded by Angelico’s work of the most important reason they had dedicated their life to the church.

After time in this area of the monastery, I descend the long stairwell and enter the small refectory. It was in this very room that Ghirlandaio, a master who studied the hand of Fra Angelico, created what many consider his masterpiece, L’ultima Cena, the Last Supper. The work was completed in 1486 and is located in the small refectory, a place reserved for very special guests in the lodger’s wing of the monastery. The space now also contains the book shop, where you can find some gorgeous art books if you are interested.

The work by Ghirlandaio not so much mimics, rather pays deference to, an earlier work by Andrea del Castango in the Convent of Sant’Apollonia located only a five minute walk from Piazza San Marco. With the actual arches in the space providing a shelter for the fresco, the entire wall is covered in the most incredible colors. Again, and as with Angelico, the folds of fabric, the details of beards, the fingernails of the saints, the shimmer of light on the old halos above each of the figures nearly beyond belief. This is another gift from the halls of San Marco.

Last SupperDomenico Ghirlandaio 1486 Monastery San Marco

Last Supper
Domenico Ghirlandaio 1486 Monastery San Marco

On March 21 of 2011, the Tabernacle of the Linaioli, a highly prized masterpiece by Fra Angelico, was showcased in the Library of Michelozzo on the second level of the Monastery. I was fortunate to discover this treasured display in May of that same year. Michelozzo’s Library is a perfect example of Renaissance symmetry and balance. Columns and arches support a space that has three aisles.

Library after MichelozzoMonastery of San Marco

Library after Michelozzo
Monastery of San Marco

On the particular day I visited (and I returned numerous times as well) there was not one other person on the second level of the building. At the far end of the dark columned space was the brightly lit Tabernacle. The effect was unforgettable. There, for the world to see was a freshly and perfectly restored masterpiece of the 15th Century. The wonder of this piece was not only the incredible brilliance of the paint. Around the back of the three panels was a large X-ray of the actual internal construction of the wood upon which Angelico painted. What struck me most about the internal structure of the work was that it had been strengthened and reinforced, it had been lovingly cared for. As I have believed for many years, if anyone in the world can successfully restore art it is the Italians.

Tabernacolo dei Linaioli, 1432 - 1433Fra AngelicoPilgrim's Hospice San Marco Florence

Tabernacolo dei Linaioli, 1432 – 1433
Fra Angelico
Pilgrim’s Hospice San Marco Florence

Perhaps, as you study this photo, you can imagine what it was like to come upon this spectacular and especially moving work all alone.

The restored work is back in its original location, the Pilgrim’s Hospice in the Monastery.

If you find yourself in Florence, get up and going early. Visit  before of the city is even awake and listen to the whispers of Dominican monks, study the shimmer of light on terracotta, the reflection from frescoes of incredible beauty while surrounded by a glorious Renaissance Monastery.

IF YOU GO:

Museum and Monastery of San Marco

Piazza San Marco, 3 Florence

Tel: 055.238.86.08

Note the very unusual hours of this Museum and Church!

Monday to Friday, 8:15Am to 1:50PM, Saturday and Sunday 8:15AM to 4:50PM.

Closed the 1st, 3rd, 5th Sunday and 2nd and 4th Monday of every month, New year’s Day, May 1, Christmas Day. These hours are subject to change so it is best to check at your hotel and or with the Museum directly if you have any questions.

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