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Archive for the ‘Renaissance History’ Category

Fillipino LippiExorcism of the Demon in the Temple of MarsStrozzi ChapelSanta Maria NovellaFlorence

Fillipino Lippi
Exorcism of the Demon in the Temple of Mars
Strozzi Chapel
Santa Maria Novella
Florence

Fillipino Lippi created one of the most complex frescoes of the Renaissance in the Strozzi Chapel of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. By some it is called the Exorcism of the Demon in the Temple of Mars. By others, the Miracle of St. Phillip. This is, regardless of its given name, a challenging and surprising work of art.

First, there is a hideous demon, exorcised by Saint Phillip. Lippi has created a malignant beast, one that mythology proclaimed issued breath so poisonous that anyone who inhaled the fumes died.

The god Mars, portrayed on a dais within the temple named for him in the city of Hieropolis, holds a broken lance over his head. Saint Phillip who, taken under arms to the temple to make a sacrifice, chooses to exorcise the demon that lived therein.

The noxious fumes emitted by the demon, so the myths continue, killed the high priest’s son, along with a few others. Not surprisingly, the high priest was not happy for not only had he lost his son; the object of veneration in the temple had also been removed. In a frenzy of retaliation, the priests crucified Saint Phillip. It is written that he was placed on the cross upside down, as was Saint Peter.

Now, for the back story.

It was in the latter part of the 15th Century that the buried corridors of the “Golden House”, the sumptuous palace built by Nero, were rediscovered in Rome. The ‘house’, a huge complex in reality, was connected to the Palatine Hill by those subterranean passages. What the Romans did not expect were the frescoes and what they depicted; inhuman depravity of the most extreme. The church classified the frescoes as “damnatio memoriae”, essentially a conviction of Nero and his excessive style of living, in abstentia, for the crudity displayed. The Romans eventually built directly over the remains of the temple and tunnels in an attempt to banish them from memory.

In spite of the church’s condemnation of the frescoes, artists of the day flocked to study them, to better understand Roman fresco technique and style.

Lippi was one of the artists who viewed those frescoes and there is no doubt, Lippi wrote about this in his papers, that the images he saw in the frescoes deeply affected his work on the fresco cycle in the Strozzi Chapel. On the left side of the fresco are people who hold their noses against the ghastly odor of the beast. Some of those in the temple are overwhelmed by the fumes.

Detail LippiExorcism of the Demon

The beast,  a vision from the  imagination of the artist as to what hell, sin, paganism created must surely have been affected by the frescoes that Lippi studied in those Roman tunnels.

The symbolism of the fresco is complex. Here, in one fresco, is a depiction of Christianity confronting Paganism. Saint Philip’s right arm is raised in the course of the exorcism (a clear reference to the reliquary of the saint’s arm that was at one time housed in the baptistery in Florence-and was reported to have created many miraculous cures) as the pagan god seems to glare at the saint in a direct confrontation. Lippi depicts the victory of Saint Philip’s exorcism and the evocation of Christ by portraying a cross carrying Christ  appearing in the far upper corner of the fresco, an indication that the saint is not only a true communicant of Christ’s; he is able to call for the sanctification of an unholy, pagan, temple.

Discussions abound about the symbolism of the wolf and the bird (woodpecker?) that are on the dais with Mars. These were signs of nature attributed to the god Mars in mythology and, were that god blind as he is often depicted, the position of the head and the posture of the body clearly still direct their attention to Saint Philip.

There is one other possible interpretation of the fresco. Fillip Strozzi II was married to Clarice Medici, she a daughter of Piero de Lorenzo de’ Medici. While he was, indeed, married to a member of the most famous and wealthy family of Florence, Fillipo was vehemently against the social, cultural and political power of the Medici. So strongly opposed was Fillipo II that he became a leader in the 1527 uprising against that family.

Perhaps it is not too liberal an interpretation to imagine that Fillipo’s commission was a not so subtle snub at the Medici family. The demon might represent the exorcism of that family’s power, the stench of the animal’s breath a direct reference to the despised proclamations of the renaissance city’s leaders. The hand of Saint Phillip raised in the course of the exorcism, the evocation of a cross carrying Christ, a sign of hope for a day when the Medici’s would no longer rule.

Regardless, this is an unforgettable fresco, but one panel of a series painted in the Strozzi Chapel, and one that should not be missed during a visit to bella Firenze!

Strozzi ChapelSanta Maria Novella, Florence

Strozzi Chapel
Santa Maria Novella, Florence

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Jacopo da Pontormo1525 - 1528Santa Felicita, FlorenceCapponi Chapel

Jacopo da Pontormo
1525 – 1528
Santa Felicita, Florence
Capponi Chapel

The eyes are haunting: oval, staring in pain and grief. It is the fresco that initiated Mannerist painting in Florence: Pontormo’s Deposition in the Capponi Chapel of Santa Felicita.

Jacopo Carucci, known as Jacopo da Pontormo or, simply, Pontormo, was born in 1494. A student of the Florentine school, his fresco of the Deposition in the Capponi Chapel of Santa Felicita in the city is considered by many his masterpiece. Brunelleschi, he of the dome and many other architectural splendors for Florence, designed the chapel in which Pontormo worked.

Recently, during a late winter afternoon, I visited the church of Santa Felicita. The nave was empty and through a haze of frosted breath, Pontormo’s work sprang more than ever to life. The fragile odor of incense floated in the darkening space as I approached the gate that protects the fresco. It was, this time more than ever, the eyes of the grief-stricken that most startled me.

When Pontormo was twenty-one he made the journey to Rome with the specific goal of studying Michelangelo’s work. Buonarotti was completing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the effect that it had on the young Jacopo was life-changing. Pontormo had the opportunity to view the mammoth fresco up close, on the scaffolding. Perhaps he studied the faces and eyes of the Delphic Sybil; her large anxious eyes glance to her left, warily.

Delphic SybilDetail, Sistine ChapelVatican, Rome

Delphic Sybil
Detail, Sistine Chapel
Vatican, Rome

A similar wariness, balanced with fear and grief fill many of the eyes of the figures Pontormo created for his Deposition.

The work was finish in 1528 after three years behind a tall brick wall that the artists built  to keep the curious eyes and mouths of critics at bay.

One of the early artists studies for the Deposition illustrates how the artist used a structure for the fresco without the necessity of reliance on the actual cross. During the Renaissance, the focal point of most other artist’s interpretation of the deposition involved, whether centered or not, the physical form the cross.

Study for DepositionJacopo da Pontormo, 1524

Study for Deposition
Jacopo da Pontormo, 1524

Pontormo has created a swirling mass of human form, consumed by grief and loss, fear and trepidation. While the cross is nowhere to be seen, while the body of Jesus is supported and held by men and women whose feet seem to barely touch the ground, Pontormo brings us ‘in’ with the eyes. He has created a scene of intense drama, one that does not rely on the standard interpretation of his time and one that clearly broke with the works of the Renaissance. Mannerism was born.

As I returned to the Borgo San Jacopo on that winter evening, it was the eyes of Pontormo’s vision that haunted me. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Florence, please don’t miss this masterpiece of Mannerist art, one that brought an entirely new vision and freedom to artists of Italy.

Pontormo Deposition Two

Detail
Jacopo da Pontormo
Deposition, Capponi Chapel
Santa Felicita

IF YOU GO

Santa Felicita

Piazza di San Felicita, 3

Florence 50125

Hours: Daily except Sunday: 9:30AM – 12:00 Noon and 3:30PM – 5:30PM

Tel: +39.055.213.018

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Head of a Cleric1448Workshop of Ghirlandaio

Head of a Cleric
1448
Workshop of Ghirlandaio

The pensive face of a cleric peers away from us in a little known sketch created in the workshop of Fra Angelico. Yet another mystery confronts us as we consider whether this was created by the Dominican Brother himself, or by a student of his workshop.

The work came to my attention during research regarding Fra Angelico for classes I teach on the Art and History of Renaissance Florence. It was  a complete (and quite rewarding) surprise.

1448 is the date attributed to this metal point on a prepared ochre surface. The work could have been made by Fra Angelico for study by his students. However, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Catalog for their “The Renaissance Portrait From Donatello to Bellini” exhibit, they believe that the work may have been created by Fra Angelico’s most famous student, Benozzo Gozzoli.

Benozzo’s career, like Fran Angelico’s, flourished. He received commissions as varied as the Procession of the Magi frescoes in the Palazzo Medici (now the Medici-Riccardi) in Florence and a St. Sebastian Intercessor for Church of Sant’Agostino in San Gimgnano. More on Benozzo in a future blog post.

The verso of this 1448 work is attributed to the workshop of Fra Angelico (please see image included with this blog). It depicts several figures that are very similar to those created for the Cappella Niccolina at the Vatican. Information about the specific sections of the Angelico frescoes for which these figures were intended was not available to me as of this writing. I continue to research that information through associates in Rome.

Verso, Head of a ClericFra Angelico1448 (?)

Verso, Head of a Cleric
Fra Angelico Workshop
1448

Such treasures of art, available for viewing only a few moments in a lifetime, continue to surprise and amaze.
If you are interested in further information about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “The Renaissance Portrait From Donatello to Bellini” exhibit, which was opened from December 21, 2011–March 18, 2012, or to purchase the catalog, please visit:
Enjoy.

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Torment of St. AnthonyMichelangeloca. 1488

Torment of St. Anthony
Michelangelo
ca. 1488

A young Michelangelo, barely twelve years of age, copied an engraving while in the workshops of Domenico Ghirlandaio.

I never would have guessed this to be a work by the same master who painted the Doni Tondo, or the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

Originally attributed to ‘a student of the workshop,’ it was only after the 2008 purchase of the work by a New York art collector, that the panel was definitively studied and attributed to Buonarotti.

What a surprising and unusual piece it is.

Martin Schongauer, one of four sons of an Augsburg goldsmith, created a varied and complex set of copper engravings. The Torment is one of the few pieces that exist as a separate print. Martin’s more famous works are series: Passion, Death and Coronation of the Virgin, and Wise and Foolish Virgins.

How did this engraving find its way to Florence? The Medici Bank had many offices across Europe. It is possible that the work was sold to collectors in Bruges or Geneva, for example and then it was traded among merchants who traveled to and from Florence on business; all conjecture at this point, to be sure.

It is certainly difficult to understand why Michelangelo selected, or perhaps was given the commission to paint, his interpretation of this engraving. The young man tightened the design of the original engraving and, it is said by art experts, he studied the anatomy of fish so that a more lifelike rendering of sea creatures could be added to the work.

Why would Ghirlandaio’s workshop, in the heart of Renaissance Florence, select such an engraving for their study? Difficult to say. Perhaps it was the unique structure of the work, the elliptical, nearly hypnotic, central core that both draws you in and seems to circulate as you study it.

Martin SchongauerTorment of St Anthony1488

Martin Schongauer
Torment of St Anthony
1488

Regardless, the young Michelangelo created a painted wooden panel that moves the tormented saint from the skies above the middle eastern desert to the blue skies of Tuscany. In the background is a river scene that could easily be interpreted as that of the Arno River as it courses through the city.

Whether his work was created in the workshops of Florence, in his studio carving masterpieces in marble, or laboring under incredibly difficult conditions on scaffolds in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the diversity, skill and artistic eye of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni continue to fascinate.

The Torment is now in the collection of the Kimball Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas. As of this writing, I was unable to ascertain the engraving’s location or collection.

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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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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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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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