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Archive for the ‘Tuscan Light Memories of Italy’ Category

Givovanni d"Ambrogio 15th Century Museum of the Works of the Duomo, Florence

Givovanni d’Ambrogio
15th Century
Museum of the Works of the Duomo, Florence

A recent incident with priceless art in Florence has me considering the easy access the world has to Florentine art.

While comparing his own hand to that of a 15th Century work by the Renaissance sculptor Giovanni d’Ambrogio, a visiting American surgeon broke one of the fingers off Ambrogio’s statue of the Virgin Mary. Tempers flared, threats made, waters calmed and the surgeon is, by this writing, on his way home or already home.

Hmmm . . .

What I have always shared with clients as we travel across Italy is that all of Italy is an open air museum. The temptation to touch a work of art is so strong, and the accessibility of those art works so open in museums, that such temptation proves too much for some.

In the Museum of the Works of the Duomo, only steps from where this American surgeon created such a stir, is Michelangelo’s Nicodemus Pieta, one of the last of the master’s works.

You can walk right up and, if you were so inclined, reach over a short railing and touch the master’s work.

This is not the first such incident with Florence’s art.

In August of 2005, a young Italian man under the substantial influence of alcohol accepted a bet from friends to climb the Fountain of Neptune (Amananti, 16th Century, called “biancone“) in the Piazza della Signoria. As he reached to pull himself up using Neptune’s left hand it came off. Video surveillance captured the incident and eventually the damage was paid for by the guilty party.

The Broken Finger

The Broken Finger

I feel badly for the surgeon that made this error, and at the same time am embarrassed about the incident.

Yes, there are many more important events occurring in our world these days. However, the attention that this incident has garnered underscores the commitment a civilized society places on its art.

Bottom line? When you are in museums anywhere, no less Florence, enjoy . . . but DON’T TOUCH!

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Evening View of Modica Sicily

Evening View of Modica Sicily

Modica. A city of intense beauty, part souk, part Renaissance fantasy, a mosaic of buildings reflecting an equally diverse populace.

Over the course of many years of travel to Sicily, I have stayed in Modica numerous times. In this post I will share some of the little known treasures – and some well known – in a Sicilian city I have come to love.

Some orientation will help you understanding the geography and cultural diversity of the city. Modica Basso is located in the center of Modica’s valley. Despite the destruction caused by the devastating earthquake in 1693 (which destroyed the greater part of eastern Sicily), the city has survived and restored its Sicilian Baroque splendor.

Sicilian Baroque? This is a style of architecture established in this area of Sicily after the 1693 earthquake. Known for fantastic sculptures in the facades of buildings and churches, it has come to symbolize a unique style particular to this geographic area of the island.

Until 1902, there were numerous bridges across the river Modicano, formed by two rivers called the Pozzo dei Pruni and the Janni Mauro. After a disastrous flood that same year, the city redirected the river through culverts beneath what is now called the Corso Umberto I, the city’s main thoroughfare. Shops abound along this road offering everything from jewelry to clothing to restaurants.

Over the course of centuries, Modica Alta was established above the city’s valley. It is here that one of the most beautiful churches in Italy is located. (See “Churches” below). This is a residential area of the city offering few shopping options. The views, however, from the high point above the city are spectacular.

Churches:

San Giorgio Modica

San Giorgio Modica

The Cathedral of San Giorgio: Located on the steep hillside above the lower city, this is one of the most striking examples of Sicilian Baroque in Sicily. The facade was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693, and the results are spectacular. One of the island’s first meridians, a means of tracing the seasons by the position of the sun on the floor of the cathedral, crosses in front of the main altar. It was in 1895, that the mathematician Armando Perinio received permission from the church to install the meridian.

The rays of sunlight that pierces the high windows of the interior, particularly in the afternoon, create prisms of light on the surface of huge white interior marble column; an evocative sense of the spiritual in a spiritual place.

The Cathedral of San Pietro: Older than San Giorgio, this was the diocesan church of the city until factions formed around Modica Alta and Modica Basso. The  ensuing divisions ended in their being two patron saints of the city – San Giorgio for the upper city and Saint Peter for the lower city. The statues of the twelve saints that stand along both sides of the entrance stairway to the church are beautiful, as is the interior of this historic church.

Saints Entrance San Pietro Modica

Saints Entrance San Pietro Modica

San Niccolo Inferiore: It was in the late 1960’s, when a car repair garage was being renovated, that the workers opened up a cave that had been used by early (4th Century A.D.) Christians as a place of worship. Located almost directly across the street from one of Italy’s premier chocolatiers (see Chocolate below), you have to ring a bell to enter this little known treasure in the heart of the city. Once you ring the bell, a warden leans out of a window above you, descends and opens the cave for you. The walls retain remnants of fourth and fifth century frescoes created by the artists of the day, gorgeous in their simplicity, moving in their beauty.

Frescoes Chiesa Rupestre San Niccolo Inferiore  Modica

Frescoes
Chiesa Rupestre San Niccolo Inferiore
Modica

Chocolate in Modica:

Chocolate Assortment Bonajuto Modica

Chocolate Assortment
Bonajuto Modica

You can find few chocolatiers in Italy that can match the history of Bonajuto (bon-aye-u’-toe) in Modica Basso. Established in 1880 by Francesco Bonajuto, the recipes used in this workshop date to the time of Spanish occupation on the island. The grainy texture of the chocolate,(they do not allow the sugar to dissolve completely)  mixed with ingredients as diverse as red pepper or lemon, are a delight. Guided visits are possible at Bonajuto. See below under “IF YOU GO” for further details.

Day Trips

There are numerous options open to visitors who choose Modica as the base for their visit to this part of Sicily. Easily reached are the other famous Sicilian baroque cities of Scicli, Noto and Ragusa. Lovely small fishing villages dot the southeastern coast and offer quiet (except in July and August!) respite from the cities.

A longer day trip can take visitors to the extraordinary Valley of the Temples near the southern town of Agrigento. (A future post will discuss the Valley in great detail).

On many evenings, I have walked up to the piazza above the Hotel Palazzo Failla – see “Hotels” below (not for the feint of heart!) and looked out over the valley of Modica. Despite the occasional group of local youths who gather as young people are wont to do, the timelessness of the buildings, the rugged beauty of the architecture and the long sifted light of sunset evoke a different time, a different era, a different Italy.

No matter where your travels take you during time in Sicily, visit Modica. You will not be disappointed.

IF YOU GO:

Hotels:

Entrance Palazzo Failla Hotel Modica

Entrance
Palazzo Failla Hotel
Modica

Absolutely and without question, the Palazzo Failla in Modica Alta. The Failla family opened this lovely hotel in their family palazzo. The resultant restoration is gorgeous; the master bedroom, replete with original floor tiles from the Sicilian ceramic city of Caltagirone, are one of the many options for guests. In 2008, the family opened a dependance across the road from the original hotel where suites that include every modern convenience (Spa tubs, steam showers for example) are available. There are two restaurants in the hotel – the Gazza Ladra and La Locanda del Colonnello. The Gazza is one of the finest restaurants in Italy and the Locanda offers more typical Sicilian fare. Both are excellent places to eat in the city.

In closing I must write that the Failla family has cared for many of my company’s clients over the years. Their extraordinary service would be difficult to match in the highest luxury level hotels across Italy. Truly a wonderful place to stay during your explorations of southern Sicily.

Via Blandini, 5 – 97015 Modica (RG)

Tel: +39.0932.941.059

Restaurants:

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti

In addition to the two restaurants listed in the Hotel Palazzo Failla, I also strongly encourage you to enjoy a meal (or meals!) at the

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti - Modica

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti – Modica

Osteria dei Sapori Perduti. This is a treasure of a place to enjoy a fabulous meal in Sicily. The recipes are generations old, traditional in every sense. The translation of the Osteria’s name (The Osteria of Lost Flavors) is not quite accurate as the flavors, rediscovered in traditional recipes, are unforgettable. This is a very affordable place and the service is matched by the owner’s dedication to satisfying even the most discriminating palate.

Corso Umberto I, 228, 97015 Modica, Sicily, Italy

Tel: +39.0932.944.247

Pizzeria Smile

Pizzeria Smile? Yes. A short walk from the Palazzo Failla in Modica Alta is this wonderful pizzeria. After long days of travel and visiting across this part of Sicily, the pizzeria offers simple and flavorful fare served in a very plain atmosphere. Weather permitting, the dining rooms open to the street and absent the occasional motos that rip past the restaurant, the cool evening breezes are a welcome respite from the heat of summer and welcome cool in the autumn and spring.

Via G. Marconi, 17

Tel: +39.0932.946.666

Churches:

San Giorgio and San Pietro: 10:00AM until 6:00PM except Sundays. Sunday 1:00PM – 5:00PM. The schedule for masses are posted on the doors and interior entrances to the churches.

San Niccolo Inferiore: Via Rimaldi, 1. Tel: +39.331.740.3045. Hours vary by request. You must ring the bell at the entrance to the site to gain entrance with no reservation. If you wish to set up a time to visit, call the Italian cell phone listed in this summary and make an appointment. This is a place with no formal hours, absent 10:00AM to 5:00PM. It is catch as catch can, but well worth the effort!

 
 

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Of an afternoon in summer Florence, the wide streets connecting the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, the Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti, are filled with visitors. Along the Via dei Calzaiuoli is one of the often overlooked treasures of the Renaissance, the church of Orsanmichele.

Built by the many, and powerful, trade guilds of the city, it is an edifice typical of the Renaissance in its

Donatello St. George Orsanmichele Florence

Donatello
St. George
Orsanmichele Florence

unification of religious purpose and civic power.

Bacchus Michelangelo Bargello, Florence

Bacchus
Michelangelo
Bargello, Florence

This is the story of how Donatello’s St. George (1420) spent time with Michelangelo’s Bacchus (1496-1497) during one of the darkest periods of art history.

In a niche created in the exterior walls of Orsanmichele, rests Donatello’s St. George. A masterpiece of early Renaissance sculpture, it was one of the first works by a maestro whose enormous talents forever changed the world of art.  Buonarotti shared with many of his contemporaries profound respect for Donatello’s incredible skill.

Across the center of Florence, rests one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, his Bacchus. Created for a Cardinal of the Catholic Church in Rome, who rejected the work on initial viewing, the statue was returned to Florence where it has remained.

How did these two works of art, located across the city of Florence, ever “meet”? Read on.

Fast forward to the early years of the Second World War. The German’s, in partnership with their Italian allies, began a systematic and targeted removal of much of Florence’s art. From the Uffizi went works by Botticelli, Rubens and Mantegna. From the Museum of the Works of the Duomo went works by such Renaissance masters as Donatello, Michelangelo and Della Robbia. From the niche on the walls of Orsanmichele went St. George and from the Bargello went Bacchus.

As Allied forces began their landings at Salerno and Anzio, those works of art taken from museums all across Italy began to move north. German forces,  in response to orders from numerous quarters of the Nazi regime, placed the pilfered treasures in ‘safe havens’ across northern Italy and southern Germany.

Deane Keller Monuments Men

Deane Keller
Monuments Men

Frederick Hartt Monuments Men

Frederick Hartt
Monuments Men

It was in 1943 that an American artist and Yale art professor, Deane Keller, along with 345 other passionate and dedicated art historians, to include Frederick Hartt, joined the US Armed forces. They were tasked with the onerous responsibility of locating masterpieces taken by the Germans from museums and private collections across Italy.

As if the terrible confusion of the war zone was not enough, this small group of exceptionally creative and dedicated men and women had to deal with little, if any, budget, acquisition of resources as they needed them (and often, those resources were barely sufficient to the tasks at hand) and the pressures of time in securing masterpieces of art before they were lost.

Here is just one story of the innumerable successes achieved by this group:

In the course of pursuing a shipment suspected of containing the finest Renaissance masterpieces from the Uffizi and other Florence museums, the team of “Monuments Men” as they came to be called, received reliable information that the cache was located in the Castle of Neumelans (1582-1583) in the tiny northern Italian Tyrol village of Campo Tures. The secreted store of treasures was, indeed, there.

The discovery of the trove of art in the castle was eclipsed, however, by the treasures in the fortification’s nearby carriage house. In crates created years before were, among countless masterpieces,  Donatello’s St. George and Michelangelo’s Bacchus.

Further investigations yielded yet another highly valued shipment, stored in the village of San Leonardo, near the city of Trieste.

In total, when the treasures were inventoried and the shipment prepared for its triumphant return to Florence, the 1946 valuation was over $500,000,000.00. When the convoy of trucks carrying the irreplaceable art arrived in the Piazza della Signoria, the sense of closure, relief and of civilization’s victory was palpable.

As I stand at the base of Donatello’s St. George, or study the lines of Michelangelo’s Bacchus, I see not only the work of masters; I see cold nights in alpine villages, dark rooms where men, enemies or not, protected our civilization’s storied past and I recall tales of plunder and triumph.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

If you are interested in learning more about the Monuments Men, please visit The Monuments Men Foundation, established by Robert M. Edsel, author of the books mentioned in this article.

Monuments Men Foundation

Robert M. Edsel, who is the founder of the Monuments Men Foundation, was also the co-producer of the awarded documentary, The Rape of Europa. This fascinating documentary  tells the story of Nazi Germany’s plundering of Europe’s great works of art during World War II and Allied efforts to minimize the damage.

The Monuments Men is a film directed by George Clooney, scheduled for release later this year.

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View of the FaraglioniBelvedere, Capri

View of the Faraglioni
Belvedere, Capri

Ah, Capri. Azure blue seas, spectacular vistas and narrow lanes. Bougainvillaea, roses and the scent of lemon blossoms afloat sea borne breezes.

This island, located an easy ferry trip from Naples, Sorrento or many of the villages along the Amalfi Coast, is a must for those who wish to experience the new and the old of southern Italy in a day’s excursion. From the playground of wealth that is Anacapri to the ancient Villa Jovis on the dizzying promontory overlooking the bays of Naples and Salerno, there are easy ways to navigate away from the hoards of tourists who daily flock to the isle to experience, if even for a day, ‘la dolce vita’.

Regardless of where you begin your ferry trip, by commercial ferry or hydrofoil, you always arrive on Capri at the Marina Grande. This is a cacophonous, crazily busy and crowded place to begin your visit to the island, but it your only option.

After you disembark at the marina, you want to find your way to the ferry ticketing building which sits (as you face away from the island and across the docks) on your left. There is a large departure board which posts the departures for various locations across the Bay of Naples and the Bay of Salerno. It is good to review how the system works so that, upon your return, you can locate the correct dock and ferry to your ‘home port’.

You will note no reference in this article about the Blue Grotto. Why? Given that you must change boats at least twice, mid-water, that the grotto is incredibly crowded and everyone associated with entering the grotto expects to be tipped, I would avoid visiting this place. Often, the water is too rough to allow the small boats you must be in (and must lay down in to get into the grotto) can’t enter. Usually travelers don’t find out that they can’t enter until they are already on an excursion boat and are at the entrance site of the grotto. So…some advice.

On to several options for a one-day visit on Capri. If you get an early enough start, you can easily handle all of these options.

Villa Jovis Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso Capri

Villa Jovis
Church of Santa Maria
del Soccorso
Capri

VILLA JOVIS

For those who wish to visit the ruins of the Villa Jovis, where Tiberius chose to rule the Roman Empire for most of his reign, you can choose a taxi to carry you up to the high promontory (the drop to the sea is breathtaking) to the Villa for a visit. You can also walk from the village of Capri, though given the narrow (VERY narrow) roads, this options comes with a higher risk of injury!

Tiberius had the structure built on a dizzying plateau facing the mainland – and what a view it is.

The villa was completed in 27 A.D. and Tiberius rarely left. Stories abound about those who disagreed with the Emperor found their landing after being pushed off the precipice a bit final. Regardless, it is a spectacular ruin and, while you are in the area, you should visit the Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso. I have always smiled when I think what Tiberius would have said about, first, a church on the grounds of his villa and, second, what he would think of a building dedicated to the holy mother and to her intercession and relief.

Boggles the mind!

ANACAPRI

My best recommendation, upon arrival at the Marina  Grande, is to escape the crowds and take a Capri taxi, famous for having only a fringed canvas cover over the driver and passenger compartment (they are lined up at the marina and at other locations across the island), and head directly to Anacapri.

If there is a soul to the island of Capri, I believe it resides in Annacapri, Upper Capri. The word “ana” derives from the ancient Greek word for
‘above’. You will discover a lovely central shopping area (where you can easily locate restroom facilities), access to the chairlift to Monte Solario and many good restaurants for lunch or dinner. This is a much less crowded place than the town of Capri above the harbor.

Seggiovia (Chair Lift) Monte Solario

For those who wish to ride the spectacular chair lift up to the summit of Monte Solario, the highest point on Capri, the chair lift ticket office and

View from Monte Solario Capri

View from Monte Solario
Capri

boarding area are just off of the main piazza in Anacapri. The approximately ten minute ride provides breathtaking views and an opportunity to experience something you may find difficult to discover on Capri: silence.

There is a small cafe and sun terrace at the summit where you can take photos of the Faraglioni, the lava rock formations that have helped define Capri. The cafe offers sandwiches, coffee, a few alcoholic drinks. Most visitors simply sit in the sun, or stroll with their cameras in hand to record their day on the island.

If you descend to the village of Anacapri, you will find a good restaurant, La Rondinella, located to the left of the piazza along the Via G. Orlandi. The shady terrace, as well as the lovely main dining room, offer fair prices and a relaxing place to take a breather during your visit to Capri. (See IF YOU GO, below, for details)

When you have completed your visit the Anacapri, I again recommend taking a taxi down to the village center of Capri town. It is a small and very intimate space, hence the often incredible crowding.

Belvedere and the View

From Capri’s piazzetta (small piazza), you should walk up the stairs directly to the left of the steps to the Cathedral of Santo Stefano. Follow the well marked walkway to the “Belvedere.” Keep walking up through the protected cover of shady lanes, along winding paths that front gorgeous villas. Your exertions will be well rewarded. You arrive at one of the most gorgeous overlooks on the island, directly above the Marina Piccolo on the north side of the island. This is a photographer’s dream and a dreamers never forgotten view.

Villa San Michele

The Swedich physician,Axel Munthe, made his home in the gorgeous villa on Capri. In 1929, his “The Story of San Michele” was published and has a strong following for those fascinated by the social history of the island. Perched over 1000 feet above the sea, the pergola and gardens are now revered among Italaophiles, who have given them the name “Grandi Giradini Italiani”, the Grand Italian Gardens.

After your visit to Anacapri, you can easily make a visit to this spectacular villa part of your day. (See IF YOU GO, below, for details.)

Giardini di Augusto

From the small piazzetta in the center of Capri, you can descend in about fifteen minutes to the spectacular Parco Augusto / Giardini di Augusto. The views of the Faraglioni from the high ground above the sea are unforgettable. You can walk back to the piazzetta in Capri in about thirty minutes…for those whose health does not permit much strenuous exercise, take a taxi!

When you tire of Capri and your explorations, you can either take the island bus (often very crowded), the incline railway (funicular) at the piazzetta in Capri or you can take a taxi back to Marina Grande for your return ferry trip to the mainland. (See IF YOU GO, below, for more details.)

IF YOU GO:

Capri Tourist Information site, in English

Welcome to Capri

Ferry Schedules

Ferry information from all major ports to Capri

Taxi Cost, Marina Grande to main piazza  in Anacapri, Euro 14 per taxi.

Taxi Rates – Anacapri Taxi

Taxi Rates – Capri Taxis

Seggiovia, Chair Lift, Monte Solario (from Anacapri)

  • From March to October, the lift is open from 09:30AM to 17:30PM
  • From 1 November to end of February, the lift is open from 10.30AM – 15.00PM
  • Price for the lift ticket, round trip: Euro 10.00

Villa San Michele

Open every day, year round.

Museum & Bookshop
Hours: January, February, November and December: 09.00AM – 15.30PM
March, April and October: 09:00AM – 17:00PM
May – end of September: 09:00AM – 18:00PM

Entrance 7,00 €

Giardini di Augusto

Entrance:  EUR 1.00

Restaurant

Via G. Orlandi, 295, Anacapri Napoli, Italy +39 081 837 1223

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Allegory with Venus and CupidAgnolo di CosimoCalled Bronzinoca. 1545

Allegory with Venus and Cupid
Agnolo di Cosimo
Called Bronzino
ca. 1545

Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino, studied from the age of fourteen in the bottega of Jacopo da Pontormo. In 1545, he received a commission (most likely from Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany though some attributions list this as a commission from Francesco Salviati) for a painting to be given to King Francis I of France. The oil on wood painting is called “Allegory of Venus and Cupid” or “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.”

What many people do not know is that Bronzino included an homage to the master, Leonardo da Vinci, in this complicated and convoluted work.

From Venus’s intimate embrace with her son, Cupid, to the upper right  bald figure of Time who holds the hour glass in his hand, most of the foreground of the work is relatively easy to understand. Move to the background and interpretations dissolve in what is a surreal backdrop of shadow and mannerist painting.

One particular figure is the subject of this article.

To the left of Cupid, whose naked buttocks disconcertingly intrudes on the left, is the figure of someone – a woman? a man? – in the midst of agony, anger and despair. Various interpretations have this figure representing jealousy or, by some, as the figure of syphilis, representative of unwise (out of wedlock?) intercourse. Regardless, it is clearly the image of someone in great distress.

Now, more back story.

In 1505, Leonardo da Vinci was given the commission for a fresco depicting the Battle of Anghiari to be completed on a wall in the Council Chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. His cartoon, long lost, depicted a tortuous configuration of horses and men engaged in the heat of battle.

It was to one particular figure that Leonardo gave the most fearsome features-one Niccolò Piccinino. A condottiero (military leader) of considerable fame and success, he succumbed to the forces of Ludovico Sforza at the Battle of Anghiari (1440). In the throws of that battle, as Leonardo portrayed the action, Niccolò’s fierce and focused face is grimaced in a combination of determination and madness.

battle of AnghiariCartoon copy by RubensOrig by Leonardo da Vinci1505Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Detail, Battle of Anghiari
Cartoon copy by Rubens – 1603
Orig by Leonardo da Vinci
1505
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Now, back to Bronzino.

It is believed that Bronzino was given the opportunity to study Leonardo’s design, most likely from a 1553 engraving by Lorenzo Zacchia. Historians believe Zacchia created the engraving from studying the actual cartoon. Leonardo’s figures made a deep impression on the young Bronzino.

During some recent discussions with friends in Florence, it was posited that Bronzino was so affected by the face of Niccolò Piccinino that he created a mirror of the condottiero’s face, and used it (in homage to da Vinci) for a face in his Allegory.

Below is a close up detail of the Anghiari face, flipped horizontally and a close up the Bronzino’s figure.

Bronzino, Leftda Vinci, Right

Bronzino, Left
da Vinci, Right

Whether this recent interpretation will stand the test of time remains to be seen. What is true is that there is a startling similarity in the faces – one on a cartoon created by Leonardo, and the allegorical figure included in Bronzino’s work.

IF YOU GO:

The Bronzino work, Allegory of Venus and Cupid, is in the National Museum in London

Battle of Anghiari, by Leonardo da Vinci.

There has been a great deal of inquiry recently about whether some of Leonardo’s work existed behind a ‘second wall’ in the Sala dei Cinquicento (once the Council Chamber) in the Palazzo Vecchio. In March of 2012, the search for this possible fresco was terminated, though these articles are interesting. Listed below are a few links for those who are interested.

New York Times

U.K. Telegraph

Discovery News

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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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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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