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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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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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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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Rondanini Pieta1564

Rondanini Pieta
1564

The burdens of life and the support of a son for his suffering mother fuse  in Michelangelo’s final sculpture, the Rondanini Pieta.

It is believed that Buonarotti began work on this final pieta in the mid-1550’s, not long after he first brought chisel to stone on what is known as the Bandini Pieta. While that work resides in Michelangelo’s city of Florence (in the Museo del Opera del Duomo), the Rondanini occupies a special space in Milan’s Castello Sforzesco. The Pieta is named after the Palazzo Rondanini in Rome, where the sculpture stood for many years.

In the Rondanini, the master portrays in a most intimate and telling way, acceptance of his mortality and the unique bond between mother and son. The master lost his mother when he was but six years old. That early loss significantly affected his later work, with the portrayal of a mother who has lost her son particularly moving in this final sculpture.

When viewed from the side, the position of the two figures seems to show Christ supporting this mother. Perhaps it was Michelangelo’s intent to portray the son’s understanding of his mother’s suffering upon his death: he wished to support his mother in her grief.

Rondanini Pieta Detail

Rondanini Pieta Detail

It is, from any angle, a stunning and moving final work by a very long lived Tuscan master.

The work of Buonarotti, particularly this final pieta, seem to me an influence on the work of Alberto Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor. He was born in 1901 into a family whose father was a famous post-impressionist painter. Alberto’s talents in art were evidenced at an early age and, after studying in Paris with a student of Auguste Rodin, he established himself as a power in the modernist movement.

When I first viewed the The Rondanini Pieta, I was reminded of Giacometti’s works in bronze, particularly those of female figures. Alberto said that the elongated figures of women portrayed, in his words, “…the way I look at a woman.”

The elongated limbs, the poise of the woman (in this case, below) seem to have found inspiration in Michelangelo’s last pieta: stretched arms, a certain sadness, a nearly sensual texture and a common peace in both the Rondanini and Giacometti’s work.

The beauty of Michelangelo’s work underscores the impact his sculpture has had on the world of art. Whether or not Giacometti ever even saw the Rondanini in person, and whether he was in any way influenced by Michelangelo’s work, will remain a mystery. Giacometti’s stunning interpretation of the human figure, I believe, echoes very strongly the style and genius of Buonarotti’s final pieta.

Giacometti Bronze

Giacometti Bronze

IF YOU GO:

Castle Grounds Open Hours

Monday through Sunday

7.00AM – 6:00PM (Normal Schedule)

7.00AM – 7.00PM (Festival Days

Entrance to the Castle grounds is free, Museums required paid admission

Castello Information: Tel. 39.02.88.46.3700

Castello Museums:

Entrance Ticket: Euro 3.00 per person

Castello Museum Hours

Tuesday through Sunday (Closed Monday)

9.00AM – 5:30AM (Ticket office closes at 5:00PM)

Ticket Office Information: Tel. +39.02.88.46.3703

Closed on the following holidays: 25 December, 1 January, 1 May, Mondays and Easter.

From across Milan, you can reach the Castello using the following subway, bus and tram lines:

Subway:

MM1 (Cadorna and Cairoli Stations)

MM2 (Cadorna and Lanza Stations)

Bus Lines: 18, 37, 50, 58, 61 and 94

Tram Lines: 1, 2, 4, 12, 14, and 19

For works by Giacometti, visit the Kunsthaus Zurich – should your travels take you north out of Italy:

Address:

Kunsthaus Zürich
Heimplatz 1
CH–8001 Zurich

Sat/Sun/Tues 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Wed–Fri 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
Mon 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (Chagall exhibition only)

Groups and school classes by prior appointment only
Tel. +41 (0)44 253 84 84

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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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Il Torchio - OltrarnoVia dei Bardi

Il Torchio – Oltrarno
Via dei Bardi

When you cross the Ponte Vecchio, and leave the cacophony of central Florence behind, you enter a world apart. This is the Oltrarno, the south side of the city and its creative center. Small workshops line narrow lanes. Borgo San Jacopo, a shady narrow medieval street, leads west away from the Via Guicciardini, Via dei Bardi leads east to shops as varied as high end hand crafted jewelry to Il Torchio, a book press whose owner creates gorgeous leather bound journals and multicolored Florentine paper.

Along the Via Santo Spirito, just past the south end of the Ponte Santa Trinita is the small workshop of Ippogrifo, where a couple create gorgeous etched copper prints. See my blog post about Ippogrifo.

It was in the fourth or fifth century that the first church structure was built on the site of present day Santa Felicita. Dedicated to St. Felicity of Rome, the building was to go through several expansions, reductions and redesigns over the course of the next thousand years. Within the, now, 18th Century interior are works by Taddeo Gaddi, Pontormo, Francesco d’Antonio and Neri di Bicci. While many art historians discount the comparative value of the frescoes and painting in the church, this is a rarely visited treasure of Florence.

Facade Santa FelicitaVasari Corridor

Facade Santa Felicita
Vasari Corridor

Santa Felicita shares a unique and unusual architectural feature unlike any other church in Florence. The power and influence of the Medici family is seen throughout the city. It was in 1564 that Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici commissioned Georgio Vasari to design and oversee construction of what is called the Vasari Corridor. This elevated enclosed walkway was built to provide the Medici family and court to move between the family’s Palazzo Pitti on the Oltrarno to what is now the Uffizi gallery-at the time the offices (uffizi) of the Medici family business.

The fact that the corridor slashes directly across the facade of Santa Felicita is symbolic of the Medici influence on the church. Their money patronized the monastery of San Marco, the church of the family’s patron saint, San Lorenzo. Here, at Santa Felicita, the imposing presence of the corridor overstates “Io sono Medici”, “I am Medici and I can build over the facades of churches with aplomb.”

The final unique design of this church is the presence of an open gallery above the nave from which the Medici family could hear (attend) mass without having to mingle near or in churchgoers from the city.

Jacopo PontormoDeposition, 1568Cappela Capponi, Santa Felicita

Jacopo Pontormo
Deposition, 1568
Cappela Capponi, Santa Felicita

The most striking of the works of art in the church is Jacopo Pontormo’s Deposition, painted by commission of Ludovico Capponi in 1565 for his family’s private chapel within the church. The fresco was completed in 1568. Pontormo’s vision of the deposition created an outcry among the Florentine artistic community. Gone were the conventions of cross and location of the grief-stricken in proximity to the cross. In their place was a work that focuses on Jesus’ mother, Mary. The swirl of figures around her, the placement of the body of Jesus in the lower left quarter of the painting and the use of unusual colors created a vortex of grief, unseen prior to this monumental work. It was the birth of the “Mannerist” style.

If you leave the Church of Santa Felicita and walk west, generally paralleling the Arno River, you will pass a small church along the Borgo San Jacopo. This narrow medieval lane is lined with buildings constructed after World War II. During the German retreat in 1944, the ancient buildings along this section of the river were destroyed. Time and loving care restored the tiny church of San Jacopo Sopr’Arno.

The church is famous as much for its architectural design than for any art contained within. The

San Jacopo Sopr'ArnoFlorence

San Jacopo Sopr’Arno
Florence

arches that support the church are suspended above the Arno river, literally supporting a portion of the floor above the water.

Heavily modified over the course of centuries, its most famous claim to fame is that Filippo Brunelleschi studied architecture in the structure and built (later destroyed) a small version of the dome that now towers over the city at the Duomo of Santa Maria dei Fiori. Please see “If You Go” below for information on hours and gaining access to the church.

Not a great distance beyond San Jacopo is the Church of Santo Spirito, one of the last churches that Brunelleschi worked on. His plans for the building began in 1428. Upon his death in 1468 the responsibility for the completion of the building was given to others who had worked in Brunelleschi’s workshop: Manetti, Gaiole and Salvi d’Andrea.

While the facade was never completed to Brunelleschi’s design, the simplicity of the facade seem appropriate, a moment of calm before visitors encounter the incredible collection of art housed within.

Interior, Santo Spirito

Interior, Santo Spirito

Over forty side chapels, decorated by artistic commissions by different families of the city, line each side of the nave. Works by the 15th century sculptor Rossellino share space with 14th Century Triptychs by Maso di Banco; frescoes by Andrea Sansovino in the Corbinelli Chapel occupy walls near  a Doubting Thomas, a work attributed to the 15th century painter Neri di Bicci. This is yet another treasure of Florentine art contained within the walls of a seemingly unassuming church.

Only a few minutes walk further west of Santo Spirito is Santa Maria della Carmine, which houses one of the most famous works of 15th Century Renaissance art in the city.

The church was established in 1268 by a group of friars from Pisa who dedicated the church to “Our Lady of Mount Carmel”. The city of Florence provided assistance, along with wealthy families of the city, to support the cost of the church. The complex was consecrated in 1422, yet the building process continued until its 1475 completion. The facade of the Church is not finished. As with many other churches in Florence including San Lorenzo, only a brick and mortar wall greets visitors.

Branacci ChapelSanta Maria della Carmine, Florence

Brancacci Chapel
Santa Maria della Carmine, Florence

The interior of the church was heavily damaged by fire in 1771 and was rebuilt in a Rocco Baroque style. What the fire did not destroy, and the art world is grateful for this seemingly supernatural intervention, were a cycle of frescoes painted by commission of Felice Brancacci a wealthy businessman. Two masters of early Renaissance art began work on this cycle in 1425, Masolino and Masaccio. After Masolino died, Masaccio completed three of the frescoes – Expulsion from Paradise, The Tribute Money St Peter Healing a Lame-Man, and St Peter Raising Tabitha from the Dead. As with so many talented artists of the Renaissance, Masaccio’s life was cut short. He was called back to Rome, before the frescoes were done, where he died at the age of 27. The frescoes were completed by Fillipino Lippi, a student of both artists.

Rather than attempt to describe what these artists accomplished, I have included a few photos of the works below. I let them stand on their own – as incredible evidence of talents that established the school of early Renaissance painting in Florence.

DisputationMassacio, Branacci Chapel

Disputation
Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel

Tribute Massacio Branacci

Tribute, Masaccio Brancacci Chapel

To walk into this chapel, be surrounded by such incredible colors and beauty is breathtaking.

So . . . when the crowds of the city overwhelm you, when the heat gets to be too much, or you simply wish to take in some of the lesser visited treasures of Florence, walk the Oltrarno. Surprises and pleasures await.

IF YOU GO:

Santa Felicita

Piazza di Santa Felicita, 3, 50125 Florence, Italy

Phone:+39.055.213.018
Entrance tickets: Free
Hours: Wednesday ONLY 9:30 am–12:00 pm, 3:30 pm–5:30 pm

San Jacopo Sopr’Arno

Note: The church is now deconsecrated, and used for a variety of cultural events. If it is closed, the priest of Santa Felicita has the key.

Borgo San Jacopo – Firenze

Hours:  9:00-12:00/15:00-19:00

Entrance tickets: Free

Tel: +39.05.233.20

Santo Spirito

Piazza Santo Spirito – Firenze

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 9:30am -12:30 pm and 4:00pm -7:00 pm

Entrance tickets: Free

Piazza di Santo Spirito 29, 50125 Florence (FI)

Santa Maria della Carmine – Brancacci Chapel

NOTE: Reservations are required. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays except for Tuesday, from 1:00 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends

Piazza del Carmine

Florence, 50100

Tel: +39.055.276.82.24 for reservations

Hours: Mon. and Wed.–Sat. 10–5, Sun. 1–5

Entrance Tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

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