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Bargello View from Uffizi Firenze

Museo Nazionale del Bargello Florence – View from Uffizi Gallery

On an early spring day in 1475, a young girl sat on a stool in the workshop of the Italian master, Andrea del Verrocchio.  A fresh bouquet of wildflowers had been given to her just before she sat in the master’s studio.

Born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni, Verrocchio was well known in the halls of Medici power in Florence during the early Renaissance. His study of this particular young girl rests on a stand in what is now called the Sale Verrocchio  – a small second floor gallery in the Bargello Museum in Florence.

The question that, even today, occupies the minds of many art critics and historians about Verrochio’s bust of that Tuscan girl is “Who created the bust of Dama col Mazzolino?”

Museo del Bargello, in the heart of Florence’s Medieval city center, seems an austere and perplexing location for yet another extraordinary collection of art. This was the seat of the Podesta, the Chief magistrate of the city for centuries and the place of execution for nearly an equal number of years.  Bargello’s imposing crenelated tower, which competes in scale with its nearby neighbor the Badia Fiorentina (Abbey of Florence),  pierces the skyline of the city.

To climb the long exterior staircase of the courtyard is to literally rise above Michelangelo (a collection of Buonarotti’s works occupies the ground floor gallery) and arrive in the the midst of invaluable art patronage: Donatello’s David, the gallery of the Della Robbia workshops, and much more.

DSC_4210

Main Stairway Bargello Florence

Many visitors to the Bargello are, by the time they arrive at the Sale Verrocchio (The Verrocchio Room), too tired to pay much attention to the beauty of the works contained therein. The late afternoon sun shimmers through the wave-aged windows as noise rises from the streets below and on top of fatigue, the heat often erodes interest. My advice? Take a break and study, in particular, this singular cinnamon-hued marble masterpiece.

Dama col Mazzolino

Dama col Mazzolino

Now, the mystery.

One of Verrocchio’s students was a young man from the village of Vinci, one Leonardo. Verrocchio also worked with Perugino, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio – an incredible collection of the best artists of the day.

As art historians have studied the young woman, a number of experts began to doubt that only Verrocchio, and perhaps not Verrocchio at all, carved the bust. On several of Leonardo’s works there is a nearly identical style to the hands he painted.

Here are some examples, next to the Damma Col Mazzolino.

Verrochio Hands

Damma Col Mazzolino
Hand Study
Verrocchio 1475

Lady With An Ermine Da Vincie 1489-1490

Hands-Lady with an Ermine-DaVinci 1490

Note the striking similarity in the position of the hands. The elongated stretch of the fingers are nearly identical. One additional remarkable note about the resemblance of Da Vinci and Verrocchio’s work are from Da Vinci’s most famous fresco, Il Cenacolo, the Last Supper in the refectory of Santa Maria della Grazie Convent in Milan.

During a recent visit to that Convent, I noticed the hands of St. Phillip, who stands three disciples to the left of Christ in Da Vinci’s fresco.

Última_Cena_-_Da_Vinci_5

Hands of Phillipus
Il Cenocolo, Da Vinci

Note, again, the nearly identical position of the saint’s right hand in this fresco to the hands in the works detailed above. Was it simply coincidence that these similarities exist? Many art historians and critics believe that if Leonard did not actually carve the hands (at a minimum) on the young girl holding flowers, Verrocchio’s influence on Da Vinci’s style was both remarkable and deep.

Such, perhaps, is the ‘science’ of art. While technologically advanced equipment can assess the age and condition of works of men and women, the true gift of the artist is in the mystery of their vision. Whether you agree with the discourse on these works of art, I believe those who take the time to study them will come to more deeply understand the effect of the Florentine masters, and their studios, on their students.

My vision, when I study the young Tuscan girl in that small gallery in Florence, is of a young Leonardo, fired by talent and desire, absorbing and learning from every mark of his master’s chisel, every stroke of paint on canvas. Da Vinci’s contemporaries, like Perugino and Ghirlandaio, were at hand to watch, sketch and stare in wonder at the creative energy so perfectly expressed by their teacher. Each of Verrocchio’s pupils learned to create their own work, while paying homage to the genius of the man who taught them.

I will conclude this post with two images. One by Verrocchio, discussed in this blog, and the other by one of Verrocchio’s students.

Yet another opportunity to compare and consider the comparative work of masters: Verrocchio and . . ?

AII58286Girl - by Verrocchio Studen

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San Lorenzo Church and Market
Summer

San Lorenzo, the church of the Medici family, stands a few blocks from the city’s cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori. The large dome of the Chapel of the Princes (burial place of the Dukes of Tuscany and final resting place of the Duke of Urbino and Lorenzo de Medici) is second only to that of the cathedral.

Surrounding San Lorenzo are hundreds of stalls where goods of every description and quality are sold. These are the infamous ‘shops’ of the San Lorenzo Straw Market. Mercato Nuovo, a huge modern building that houses the freshest of Italian products, stands in sharp architectural contrast to the stark facade of the nearby church.

Travelers are often curious about all the rumors, numerous and rampant, that have surrounded the ‘mystery’ of shopping at the straw market. My advice for anything you might wish to buy from any of the vendors? Start your bargaining at 50 percent of the asking price. While it may seem a steep discount, rest assured that these sellers do just fine.

Unlike the vendors who sell jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio, where you cannot bargain or negotiate, the Market at San Lorenzo is a bargain shoppers paradise.

Once the bargaining begins you at least have the attention of the vendor. Over the past six years, people selling goods are increasingly from Russia, Poland, Hungary . . . so accents change even in the center of Florence. What all of them want, however, is a sale. Some examples of what you will find in the market: Leather Goods, Scarves, silk ties, ceramic pieces (many made in China, by the way), used pants and shirts (clean, surplus goods), shoes and a plethora of other items.

An example of a successful transaction, made on behalf of a client who was traveling with me last year.

The item desired? A deep lavender colored handbag. I began.

“What? You offer me half what I want? No way.”

I begin to walk away. The man picks up the leather bag and follows me.

“Wait, Mister! You give me 75, I agree.” I wave behind me and  continue to walk away. He’s next to me. “Okay, Mister. Okay. You offer 60, I take 65. Deal?”

I smile and shake his hand. We walk back to the stall, seek shade from the blistering July sun, and close the deal.Some other tips to help you

San Lorenzo Stalls

along the way as you shop in this area of Florence:

  • Look along the sidewalks behind the stalls. There are many shops offering products from silk Italian fabric to leather coats. Since these shops are out of the view of most shoppers, the owners are often more flexible in negotiating a great price for you.
  • Go late in the day. If you can arrange to be in the market at the hottest part of the day, after 5:ooPM or so, you will find the vendors more willing to negotiate. It is the end of their selling day and they want to move product.
  • WATCH YOUR STUFF! This is a very crowded and confusing area of Florence. Often, people lose focus on their personal items when fascinated with a particular article. This is a reminder to be careful.
  • Customs Duty: This is only a concern if you buy one item at any shop that has a value in excess of $168.00 US equivalent. You must ask for a VAT refund form – to make sure that the vendor is legitimate. If they refuse to give you the VAT form? Walk. No need to further complicate your departure from Italy while trying to explain an expensive item you purchased while visiting.

Shoes along Borgo San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo Market

IF YOU GO:

San Lorenzo Market

Vicinity of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in the center of Florence

Hours – generally – 9:00AM to 7:00PM (Summer), 9:30AM – 6:00PM (Winter)

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Okay. I admit it. I’m addicted to Ristorante Cafaggi where, for over twenty years, I have enjoyed flavorful, truly Tuscan meals. I was introduced to this well respected restaurant in the late 1980’s by a friend whose family owns a nearby hotel.

Find “truly Tuscan” in Florence?

A recent experience underscores the challenge of finding family owned and operated restaurants in this historic and beautiful city. After a busy morning doing research at the Biblioteca Riccardiana located in the Palazzo Medici-Ricardi, I entered a small nearby cafe for lunch. The woman behind the counter was from a distant land and did not speak either Italian or English . . . nor did anyone else in the place. As extreme as this  may seem, it is unfortunately repeated in many eateries across the city.

Cafaggi Ristorante Florence

Cafaggi, Florence

Cafaggi, in an increasingly world-confused culture, is a reliable retreat for lovingly prepared traditional Tuscan meals.

The family Cafaggi established their restaurant many years ago. Since then, generations have enthusiastically prepared the very best of Tuscan cuisine for locals and visitors alike. Dining room and kitchen have little changed since opening, save for repairs made after five feet of Arno River waters flooded the space in November 1966.

As street noise abated by the minute. staff lingered at tables to describe the day’s specials or to discuss

Tagliatelle con porcini

topics of the day. Dinner this evening included Bruschetta, Tagliatelle with Porcini mushrooms and a succulent breast of chicken accompanied by fresh asparagus. Price? Less than $30.00 including wine and tip. In Florence, an incredibly fair price. By the time I left, all but a few diners remained. Satiated, as always, by luscious food, I returned to my hotel.

The Ristorante is located on the Via Guelfa, not far from the Accademia di Belle Arti and the Piazza San Marco.

I cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough.

In future posts, I will share information for travelers about where to find other fairly priced, traditional Tuscan kitchens in bella Firenze. Join me!

IF YOU GO:

Ristorante Cafaggi

Via Guelfa, 35r

Florence, Italy

TEL: +39 055 294989

Other resources:

Ristorante Cafaggi

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Via Santo Spirito, 5r

After a long day in the Tuscan sun, I retreated to the shade and comparative calm of the Oltrarno, the south side of the River Arno. An immediate right after leaving the glittering windows and geranium bedecked balconies of the Ponte Vecchio is the narrow Borgo San Jacopo. As the noise of traffic and intense conversations abated, I found myself in front of the small church of San Jacopo spor’Arno. Built in the 10th and 11th Centuries, the tiny church once housed a small chapel designed by Brunelleschi, he of dome fame on the Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore.

A slight breeze encouraged me further toward a small fountain at the corner of Borgo San Jacopo and Via Maggio. As in most Italian cities, the name of the street changed as I crossed to Via Santo Spirito. This narrow lane was named for yet another Brunelleschi designed masterpiece, the Church of Santo Spirito. In the shadow of the church’s northern wall, the entrance to one of the few artisan workshops in this historic part of the city, Ippogrifo, invited me to enter.

Gianni Raffaelli, the owner, warmly greeted me. Mutual friends, Janet Shapiro and Stefano Magazzini, who live in nearby Impruneta, had encouraged our meeting. He  founded the workshop in 1976 along with another artist. Soon after his business partner left, he met Francesca Bellesi. She became his wife and has worked alongside him for over thirty years. Their three grown sons live in, or near, Florence.

He explained how engravings were made, from blank copper sheets to etched plate. He further demonstrated the use of wax, nitric acid (l’aqua forte) and the skills that experience had honed before he placed the engraved metal on an old press. Artisan hand made paper, created specifically for their work, took the ink perfectly.

Penne Stilografiche

Francesca’s skills as water-colorist made the etching come to life. She worked on a small table at the front of the gallery. A bright architect’s lamp created a circle of light above an engraving of pens. Each color and every stroke made the work live. She explained that, while there were traditional engravings available in the gallery, the ones most people were drawn to were those that shimmered with color.

What saddened Gianni, Francesca and many other artisans in Florence, they said, was that many galleries and workshops were closed. Astronomical rents, intensified cultural desire for immediate gratification and the waning interest of a new generation had affected the declining number of artists who dared take the risk.

Florence became the center of Renaissance art for good reason, not all related to the Medici family. Numerous patrons cultivated men, and women in the unique case of Artemisia Genetileschi, whose talents refined and redefined the ‘new’ western culture.

Location – Ippogrifo Florence

Please add an afternoon walk in the Oltrarno to your itinerary. Stop in at Stampe d’Arte L’Ippogrifo, and other workshops, to appreciate the dedication of artists whose labors continue to enrich the soul of the world’s most beloved city, Florence.

IF YOU GO:

Stampe d’Arte L’Ippogrifo

Via Santo Spirito, 5r – 50125

Tel: +39 055 213 255

web: www.stampeippogrifo.com

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Welcome to the world of Private Italy Tours LTD

The goal of our journeys is to expose travelers to the exceptional heart of this stunning country. Clients have time to explore and relax on their own; in Florence and the hill towns of Tuscany, afloat on the canals and lagoons in Venice, along the narrow streets of villages in Umbria, amidst the Roman ruins in and around Rome, while driving along the spectacular Amalfi Coast, or exploring the beautiful remains of Greek and Roman civilizations in Sicily.

Most importantly you will meet the people of Italy – the true heart of the country. We bring Italy to YOU!

We know you love Italy; come see it through our eyes.

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