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Archive for the ‘Tuscany’ Category

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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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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The Hills of Tuscany

 

We are very pleased to announce a substantial reduction in the price for photography workshop participants. After renegotiating with vendors in Italy, and with Private Italy’s Italian support team, we are now offering this exceptional workshop for $2950.00 per person, land only. This is a nearly $1000.00 per participant reduction from our prior announced price and in no way affects the quality or itinerary of the workshop.

If you book before January 31, 2013, there is an additional $100.00 per person discount applied to the workshop price.

JOIN US!

There are few words on earth that evoke a sense of place more than “Tuscany.”

Visions of villas gold flecked in long afternoon light, hillsides of patterned olive trees, vines bearing luscious Sangiovese grape and hilltop villages whose towers pierce cerulean blue skies are all yours to capture during this photography workshop.

Our first few days are spent within, or close to, the Renaissance city of Florence. The workshop venues balance the well-known with some surprising corners of a city whose narrow lanes and quiet corners offer keen insights into Italy’s elusive beauty.

During the second part of this workshop, we move to a quiet retreat in the hills of central Tuscany. Villas, medieval abbeys, the pattern of cobble-stoned streets and the glory of Italy’s elusive, special luminance await your discerning and creative vision.

Classic Italia – Florence

This is a limited opportunity to join a group of like-minded, passionate, photographers who will learn from world-renowned photographer and teacher, David Simchock. With time for expert critique both during and after days of work ‘in the field’, this workshop will inspire you and expand your creative comfort zone. The texture of earth, the subtle play of light on stucco and stone, luxuriant gardens and the natural palette of one of the most beautiful places on earth are waiting for you.

For full details about this rewarding workshop, including our itinerary and pricing, visit 2013 Photography Workshop in Florence & Tuscany

We look forward to your joining us in bella Italia!

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palazzo davazatti florence

Palazzo Davanzati Florence

I have walked past this imposing Renaissance palazzo for many years, paying little heed to what, at the time, I thought was just another historic building in Florence. Talk about being wrong!

The Palazzo Davanzati is now a gorgeous, living museum. Rooms, frescoes and furniture from the Renaissance have all been beautifully restored. What visitors experience is a sense of being in a wealthy Florentine family’s home and come to better understand how those families lived.

The Palace was built by the Davizzi family in 1365. The property passed through various family members. In 1578 financial difficulties required that the palazzo be sold. The Davanzati family purchased the building and it remained in their hands until the early 19th Century.

Due to the palazzo’s size, it was decided that is should best be used as apartments. This reconstruction’ caused a great deal of damage to the original structure.

In 1904, a famous Italian antiques collector, Elia Volpi, purchased and restored the entire building. He furnished the palazzo in period pieces of furniture and opened it to the public as a museum of the home . Financial challenges caused Signor Volpi to sell off the majority of the original furniture. Along came Vitale and Leopoldo Bengujat, also antique dealers, who purchased the home in 1927 and for a few years successfully operated the museum.

Elia Volpi

Elia Volpi (with thanks to Palazzo Davanzati archives)

Financial ruin eventually faced the Bengujat brothers and, in 1940, the museum was sold to the state. The basement of the structure was made in to a bomb shelter and, after the war, the palazzo languished, nearly forgotten.

In 1951, the building was purchased by the Italian government and, in 1956, a new refurnished and restored palazzo was again opened to the public. In April of 2010, the museum was reopened to much fanfare, having been completed renovated, renewed and restored.

The Palazzo – Exterior

The exterior of the building has undergone numerous changes. The original arched loggia that was at the ground level of the building and used as a store, was closed in during the late 15th Century. In the 16th century, the owners enclosed the top level and formed a lovely arched private loggia for the family’s use.

Fresco Palazzo Davanzati

Fresco
Palazzo Davanzati

The Palazzo – Interior

You enter the palazzo at the street level into a lovely open atrium. The four upper floors have open walkways and balconies which permit visitors to view down into the small courtyard of the palazzo. The construction of the home is true to the time of its original occupation with terracotta used in the ceilings to support the upper floors and many beautiful frescoes on the walls.

The most beautiful rooms are the Sala dei Pappagalli (The Parrot Room) and the Bedroom with scenes of the life of the Lady of Vergi.

parrott room davanzatti

“Parrot Room” Palazzo Davanzati

stairwell davanzati

Stairway and hall, Palazzo Davanzati

IF YOU GO:

Palazzo Davanzati

Via Porta Rossa, 13  50123 Florence, Italy

Tel: +39.055.238.8610

Entrance Tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

Open hours:

Monday – Sunday, 8:15AM to- 1:50PM

Closed the 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month

Closed the 1st, 3rd and 5th Monday of the month

Please note that as of this writing, those requiring a wheel chair or who cannot climb stairs will find that they only have access to the ground floor of the palazzo.

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Firenze at Sunset

Firenze at Sunset

From the high piazza above the city, where a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David keeps a constant vigil over the cradle of the Renaissance, the city seems to contain few green spaces, where visitors and residents can escape the narrow, crowded and ancient streets. Look more closely and you will find shade and beauty throughout the city on the Arno.

This post provides observations and details about many, though not all, of the wonderful gardens that exist above and in the city of Florence. Whether you are a gardener or not, these lovely green spaces offer a break for those visiting the city as well as for those who call Florence ‘home’.

NeptuneIsolotto Boboli Florence

Neptune
Isolotto Boboli Florence

BOBOLI GARDENS:

If there is a ‘queen’ of Italianate gardens in the city, this is it. These gardens were established by Elenora di Toledo, wife of the first Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I de’ Medici. Vasari (of “Lives of the Artists” and other Renaissance works of art) advised Barotolomeo Ammanati on the layout of the gardens. It was to the talents of Bernardo Buontalenti that the responsibilities for the sculpture and grotto were given.

Over eleven acres of garden now occupy the hill directly behind the enormous Palazzo Pitti, the home of all Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries, improvements were made, grottos designed and small intimate and intentionally designed forests and plantings (Boscetto) were installed.

Today, visitors can wander freely, either after visiting the Pitti Palaces, home today to no less than seven separate museums (Palatine Gallery, Royal Apartments, Carriages, Costume, Porcelain, Modern Art and Silver). If you wish to only visit the gardens, there are two entrances, one off of the Piazza Pitti in front of the palace along the Via Guiciardini or along the Via Roma where a small side entrance near the Limonaia allows visitors to forgo the crowds at the Pitti and just enjoy the gardens.

florence_bobili_9

Igor Migoraj
Tindaro screpolato

Strolling through the shaded lanes and sunlit avenues of this garden is a step back in time, to a gracious and more staid experience. It is easy to imagine courtiers and the ladies-in-waiting as they made their way to private corners, secretly plotted the next move of a politician or sought intimate privacy.

Near the highest point in the garden, you can follow signs to a recently restored garden that graces a hillside above the Arno at the Giardino Bardini. More on that later. Today, visitors come upon an astounding sculpture by Igor Mitoraj entitled “Tyndareus Broken”. The presence of so modern a sculpture in the midst of the garden would see an anachronism, yet (leave it to the wonderful Italians) it fits right in; the eyes of a Trojan King, tied to the mythologies of Greece, watching over all.

On weekends, Florentines flock to the large green spaces for respite from the city, enjoy picnics, doze in the sun, or stroll through the gardens. This is one garden not to be missed. See “IF YOU GO/BOBOLI GARDENS” below for more details about visiting this unforgettable place of peace and tranquility.

CASCINE GARDENS

It is difficult for me to realize how wild, literally, was this long stretch along the Arno River. Under Cosimo I de’ Medici, First Grand Duke of Tuscany, the garden was expanded to nearly its present form, nearly ten acres. The wide and lovely Stradone del Re, which parallels the main road on the norther side of the river, offers pleasant long walks on any day of the year. The park has become a venue for many other events, including a race track, yet the area nearest the city center retains a calm and serene air.

Stradone del ReGirdini Cascine Florence

Stradone del Re
Giardini Cascine, Florence

See “IF YOU GO/CASCINE FLORENCE” below for more details.

IRIS GARDENS

Spring in Tuscany, and above Florence the Iris,in the garden where more types of Iris than in any other place in the world, bloom. This is an easy visit, no charge. between late April and late May each year, the garden is open at no charge to the public. The entrance is just a bit below the level of Piazza Michelangelo above the city (famous for the view of the city and the bronze copy of the David by Michelangelo). If you are find yourself in the city during this time of year, go. It is an unforgettable experience, with views over the city and frramed by luxuriant Iris in full bloom.

See “IF YOU GO, IRIS GARDEN” below for further details, hours and dates.

BARDINI GARDENS

It was only a few years ago that the Bardini Gardens were a bit of an eyesore above the Arno in central Florence. If you were to look up along the hillsides of the Oltrarno from the Ponte all Grazie, one bridge east of the Ponte Vecchio, you would have seen an overrun jumble, unkempt and abandoned.

No more.

After  intervention by the Minister of Cultural Heritage, and a careful and loving five-year restoration, the gardens once again reflect the Bardini family’s intention that there be a place of beauty on over 4 hectares (app.nine acres) of gardens. Fountains, statues, and a lovely wisteria covered graveled alleyway combine to provide a gorgeous overlook of the city. The view from above the villa is one of the very best in Florence.

Wisteria WalkwayBardini Gardens

Wisteria Walkway
Bardini Gardens

See “IF YOU GO/BARDINI GARDENS” below for further details about tickets and best ways to view this garden.

VILLA LA PIETRA GARDENS

Please note: These gardens are fabulous, private and require booking for tours. Please seen “IF YOU GO: VILLA LA PIETRA” below for directions to the villa, details about booking tours and entrance tickets.

Villa La Pietra

Villa La Pietra

This was a time of the grand tour, of an expanding Anglo-American community when Harold Acton and his wife procured the Villa La Pietra. For the next twenty-two years, the couple laid out and established what is one of the most gorgeous gardens in Tuscany. The Acton’s Will gave the property and garden the New York University who use it to this day as an extension campus for student and faculty.

The Acton Collection, which is displayed throughout the villa, contains over 7000 pieces of art, silver and other precious finds that the family

A Garden CornerLa Pietra Florence

A Garden Corner
La Pietra Florence

began acquiring upon their settlement in their villa.

There are few gardens and villas in all of Italy that can match the perfection of La Pietra. While not in the city center, the 1.8 mile taxi ride from the city center or the #25 ATAF Bus from Piazza San Marco, are more than well worth the effort!

Parco Demidoff Florence

Piazza Demidoff

PIAZZA DEMIDOFF

And now, for a couple of the less known green corners of Florence. There are many, yet these are my favorite two places that often go unnoticed by visitors.

Along the wide expanse of the Arno River, and directly off of the Lungarno (along the river) Serristori, which ends at the Ponte all Grazie is the Piazza Demidoff. The prize of this small garden is the statue of Count Nicholas Demidoff, Tsar Nicholas I’s ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The Palazzo Serristori, directly behind the statue in the Piazza Demidoff, was, at that time, the residence of the ambassador.

Following the sudden death of Nicholas, in 1828, the history of the monument’s completion became a long and rather tragic tale. The sons of Nicholas, Paul and Anatole, commissioned the work after their father’s death. Lorenzo Bartolini, a student of Canova, received the commission. Paul Demidoff died suddenly in 1840 before the statue was completed. Bartolini died in 1850, with the monument left unfinished. It languished until 1871 when a student of Bartolini, Romanelli finally completed the statue.

The site selected for the work was a small green garden located between the Arno river and the Palazzo Serristori, where it remains to this day.

This one of my favorite places to take enjoy a break. There are rarely more than a few people on the benches and, if you take a seat close to the Palazzo Serristori, you can enjoy the beauty of the monument and the park.

Open all year, free.

PIAZZA DELLA LIBERTÀ

Porta San Gallo, one of the many ancient city gates of the city, was located on the north side of the city. Today the large field that existed near that entrance to the city is the Piazza della Libertà. When the Dukes of Lorraine assumed control of the province of Tuscany, they erected a huge ‘Triumphal Arch” to celebrate their ascension to power.

Triumphal ArchPiazza della Libertà

Triumphal Arch
Piazza della Libertà

When the city of Florence took on the mammoth task of creating a wide circular road (Viali di Circumvallazione) around the ancient city center, they chose this location as the northernmost point on that wide boulevard.  It has not always been called the Piazza della Libertà. Through various periods it has been called Piazza Camillo Cavour, Piazza Costanzo Ciano, Piazza Muti. In 1945, following the  end of World War II, the piazza was permanently named Piazza della Libertà or Liberty square.

The large square is often filled with locals who enjoy the opportunity to lounge on the grass, stroll with their families or simply make their way across one of the busiest road interchanges in the city.

Open all year, free.

GIARDINO DEI SEMPLICI

Located close by the Accademia (home of the David) and Piazza San Marco, this small garden offers yet another respite from the noise and traffic of the city. Founded in 1595 by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (his wife, Elenora, began the installation of the Boboli Garden), the space was initially used for research into medicinal herbs. It is a small space, enticing visitors to enter and enjoy yet another quiet and historical garden in the city center.

See “IF YOU GO/GIARDINO DEI SEMPLICI” below for opening hours and entrance ticket details.

PALAZZO CORSINI GARDENS

These gardens are always a pleasant surprise, even after visiting several times. Located within the walls of the gorgeous Palazzo Corsini, the gardens offer peace and quiet in the midst of the city.

Giardini Corsini Florence

It was in 1591 that Alessandro Acciaioli, a botanist, purchased land along the Arno River. He commissioned Bernardo Buontalenti to design a huge family palazzo on a parcel of that land. Financial problems caused the Acciaioli to sell the property to Filippo di Lorenzo Corsini. In 1834, after many years as a summer residence for that family, it became the permanent home of Neri Corsini di Laiatico and his wife Eleonora Rinuccini. The family continue to care for the villa to this day.

There is a small lake, a limonaia (where lemons are stored in the winter months) and a small boschetto (forest grove) that provides welcome shade during intense summer heat.

See “IF YOU GO/PALAZZO CORSINI GARDENS” below for opening hours and entrance ticket details.

—–IF YOU GO:

Boboli Gardens

Entrance Ticket: Euro 7.00 per person

HOURS
Daily:
8.15 – 16.30 (November February)
8.15 – 17.30 (March)
8.15 – 18.30 (April, May, September and October)
8.15 – 17.30 (in the month of October when Daylight Saving Time ends)
8.15 – 19.30 (June August)

Entry is permitted up to an hour before closing time.

Closed on the 1st and the last Monday of each month, New Year’s Day, May 1st and Christmas Day.

The Grotta Buontalenti is open for accompanied visits, depending on the opening hours of the Gardens:
11.00, 13.00, 15.00 all year round;
11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 16.00 from March to September;
11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 16.00, 17.00 from April to September.

Cascine Gardens, Florence

Open twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year

Please note that, after dark, these gardens are not the venue to explore.

Iris Garden

Open 25 April to 20 May

Hours: 10AM to 12:30PM and 3:00PM to 7:00PM

Entrance Tickets:  Free

Bardini Gardens, Florence

You can enter the Bardini Gardens by following the well posted signs at the highest area of the Boboli Gardens or you can enter the gardens from the street level below  Via dei Bardi, 1. The climb up is not for the faint of hear. It is much easier to access this garden from the entrance/high point near the Boboli before descending the city.

Costa San Giorgio, 2 – 50125 Florence.
Tel 055 20066206

Entrance Ticket: Euro 8.00 per person

Opening hours:
8:15 to 16:30 (during the months of November, December, January, February)
8.15 – 17.30 (in March)
8:15 to 18:30 (during the months of April, May, September, October)
8:15 to 19:30 (during the months of June, July, August)

Closed on the first and last Monday of each month, 1 January, 1 May and 25 December

Villa La Pietra Gardens

e-mail: villa.lapietra@nyu.edu
tel. +39-055-5007.210
fax. +39-055-5007.333

DIRECTIONS: http://www.nyu.edu/global/lapietra/visitor.information/directions.html

Tours are offered on Friday afternoons (Villa and Garden) and Tuesdays mornings (Garden only).

Le visite guidate vengono organizzate il Venerdì pomeriggio (Villa e Giardino) e Martedì mattina (solo Giardino).

Open Weeks

Villa La Pietra is open to the public for free two weeks each year during our Open Weeks. Open Week tours include an introduction to the art collection of the Acton family and the history of the Villa. The tour continues in the formal Garden, laid out in the beginning of the twentieth century in the Renaissance Revival style. Open Weeks occur on the third week of April and October. Bookings are taken beginning one month before each Open Week.

Palazzo Corsini Gardens

Via Il Prato, 58

Open from 9AM to Sunset. Closed Sunday and Holidays

Tel: 055.281.994

Giradino dei Semplici (Orto Botanico)

Entrace: Euro 6.00 per person

Via Micheli, 3

Open (16 October – 31 March)

Saturday, Sunday and Monday 10AM – 7PM

Open 1 April – 15 October

Closed Wednesdays

All other days 10AM – 7PM

Festival days, closed: 1 January, Easter, 1 May, 15 August and 25 December

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NaveSanta Maria Novella (1360)

Nave
Santa Maria Novella (1360)

Most visitors to the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, overcome by the sheer scale and beauty of the church, often miss one of the most important treasured works of early Renaissance art in Florence. In this photo, if you look to the left of the pulpit and the column supporting it, you will see a fresco of what appears to be a crucifixion. Read on. Masaccio’s influence on the art world is still being felt today.

Masaccio, Trinity1427

Masaccio, Trinity
1427

Of Masaccio, much has been written. His Trinity, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, is considered by many to be a masterpiece, second only to his frescoes in a chapel across the city.

There are, as with the finest paintings of human hands, stories about this particular work that I find fascinating.

Masaccio was born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, to parents who lived in a small town called, at the time, Castel San Giovanni di Altura. The town was located in the area of Arezzo, about forty-five miles southeast of Florence.  His apprenticeship is cloaked in mystery. Art historians are not, in any way, certain of when Masaccio arrived in Florence to begin his art education. It was in 1422 that, for the first time (apparently) Masaccio joined the guild of artists to which he would belong all of this life.

In Vasari’s tome, Vita (Lives of the Artists), he writes that Brunelleschi and Donatello befriended both Masaccio and another Renaissance painter, Masolino. The influence of two such respected leaders of the art community in Florence, Brunelleschi as architect and Donatello as sculptor, would have been much to their young protege’s favor.

In 1424, Masaccio and his partner were given a commission to fresco a chapel at the church of Santa Maria della Carmine for the Branacci family, one of the wealthiest families of the city. The influence of Giotto’s style on Masaccio is apparent in the frescoes at the Carmine. As Giotto used human face and body posture to communicate emotion, so followed Masaccio.

Reasons are unclear as to why the fresco cycle at Santa Maria della Carmine was left incomplete.  It was perhaps the Branacci family’s resources. This was, after all, nearly 600 years ago and records are incomplete at best.

In 1426, Masaccio accepted the commission of Giuliano di San Giusto to paint an altarpiece for the Church of Santa Maria della Carmine in Pisa. When that work was completed, the artist returned to Florence and began work on the Trinity.

Now, things get interesting. Who commissioned the work? This was one of the most powerful churches in Florence, a Dominican stronghold. The art, even of the day, contained in the church was of incredible value. The two figures who kneel on each side of the cross have provided some clues. There are records at Santa Maria Novella of two families who were interested in commissioning a work in the basilica; the Lenzi and the Berti. Residential records of Florence from the 15th Century favor the Berti family.

Detail, Masaccio TrinityBerti (?) Family

Detail, Masaccio Trinity
Berti (?) Family

In January of this year (2012), art historians discovered that the Berti family lived in the neighborhood near the church. The Lenzi family’s location has yet to be confirmed.

Whomever these two people are, there is no doubt that they were important to the piece, if not the patrons who commissioned the work. The woman kneels to the left of Saint John the Baptist (who is patron saint of Florence today) and the man kneels to the right of Mary-two places of importance on such a work.

The early years of Masaccio’s studies came to the fore in this fresco. Brunelleschi, a master architect who would build the largest spanned dome in the Renaissance world over the city’s cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore, Florence’s cathedral, was a brilliant student of perspective. Masaccio brought his studies of Brunelleschi’s work to the Trinity.

Perspective StudyTrinity, Masaccio

Perspective
Masaccio Trinity

This was the first time that a scientific approach to providing a sense of depth, using perspective, was ever used in Renaissance art. The diagram included with this article shows the ‘focal point’, that place in the fresco where the eye is naturally drawn. The curve of the arched ceiling above Christ and God show a huge space behind them. The sense of three dimension becomes real as you stand in front of the work.

During the latter half of the 16th Century, Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, commissioned Vasari (he of Vita fame) to oversee a restoration and redesign of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Vasari had been very impressed with Masaccio’s work, the Trinity in particular. In order to protect it, Vasari built an altar in front of the original 1427 work. It was only during another art restoration in the 1860’s that Vasari’s ‘cover’ was discovered, and Masaccio’s work was again revealed.

At the base of the Trinity is the fresco of a tomb.

Fresco, TombMasaccio, Trinity

Fresco, Tomb
Masaccio, Trinity

Above the skeleton, in broken Renaissance Italian are the words IO FU[I] G[I]A QUEL CHE VOI S[I]ETE E QUEL CH[‘] I[O] SONO VO[I] A[N]C[OR] SARETE.” The letters in parenthesis have been added to complete the phrase.

What do these words convey? “I once was what you are and what I am you also will be.” Words of warning, perhaps, to those who worshiped during the Renaissance that life was short, time fleeting. The words are, as well, full of mysterious foreboding for the life of Masaccio.

Less than one year after the Trinity was completed, at the young age of only 28, Masaccio was dead.

The artists of the early Renaissance were deeply influenced by Masaccio’s work. The world of three-dimensions, created of an architect’s curiosity, opened yet one more door on the creative minds of artists to come.

When you are in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, approach and study this masterpiece and consider what the art patronage of the city of Florence might be had Masaccio lived a longer and even more productive life.

IF YOU GO:

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, 18, 50123 Florence, Italy

Tel: 055 219257

Web Site: Santa Maria Novella

Open Monday – Thursday 9:00AM – 5:30PM
Open Friday 11:00AM – 5:30PM
Open Saturday 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Open Sunday 12:00PM – 5:00PM
Open Festival Days 1:00PM – 5:00PM
Entrance Tickets are Euro 5.00 Per Person

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