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Posts Tagged ‘Bridges of Florence’

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

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

Donatello St. George Orsanmichele Florence

Donatello
St. George
Orsanmichele Florence

unification of religious purpose and civic power.

Bacchus Michelangelo Bargello, Florence

Bacchus
Michelangelo
Bargello, Florence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deane Keller Monuments Men

Deane Keller
Monuments Men

Frederick Hartt Monuments Men

Frederick Hartt
Monuments Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FURTHER INFORMATION:

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

Monuments Men Foundation

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

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

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Ponte Santa Trinita Florence

Ponte Santa Trinita Florence

We walk across them everyday, these beautiful bridge of Florence, yet rarely if ever do we take the time to reflect on their history and beauty. I wanted to create a post about one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, the Ponte Santa Trinita.

She has been destroyed by the Arno River’s fury three times in her history. Near the end of World War II, she was destroyed by man’s hands in the name of war. Yet, she survives. Her sunrise golden spans arching across her purpose, and her sunset shimmering reflection reason for pause.

As the city of Florence has grown, so has the number of bridges that span the Arno River. Once a heavily used source of commerce, the river has remained as unpredictable and temperamental as she has ever been. During the early 13th Century, a wooden bridge that stood for nearly fifty years was swept away in a flood. Replaced based on a design by Renaissance architect Taddeo Gaddi (his design offered a total of five arches across the river), the river again claimed it in a flood in the mid-16th Century.

A promising architect by the name of Bartolomeo Ammannati, who was born in Settignano, a town well known to Michelangelo, was commissioned in 1569 to create a bridge that would, with all of that time’s engineering knowledge, withstand future floods. Ammannati studied under Jacopo Sansovino , a passionate student of Michelangelo’s structural designs.  Bartolomeo proposed a design of three wide and shallow arches, graceful and strong, to cross the river.

Architect plan Ponte Santa Trinita
Ammannati designed prow-like supports for the bridge. These have been the saving graces for all of the floods that have followed the bridge’s construction. Water, fast moving or slow, is directed away from the supports and directs the strongest currents and all of the detritus that floods bring between the arches and away from further damage to the structure.
Over the course of the next four hundred years, the bridge remained strong. It took the hand of man, in August 1944, to destroy the bridge. As the German’s retreated north along the Italian peninsula, one of their primary goals was to slow the allied advances. On August 8th of 1944, the Germans blew up all of the bridges across the Arno, yet thankfully saved the Ponte Vecchio. It was not until 1958, after excavations retrieved most of the original stones (some additional stones required were quarried from the same quarry used by the Renaissance builders), from the riverbed.
Primavera Ponte Santa Trinita Florence

Pimavera-Spring
Ponte Santa Trinita
Pietro Francavilla

What happened to the head? An interesting mystery.

As part of the celebrations for the marriage of Grand Duke Ferdinand I de Medici and Christine of Lorraine, four statues the represented Roman Gods were placed at each corner of the bridge. The four statues were temporary and, after the festivities concluded, sculptors were named to carve four marble statues representing the four seasons to replace those temporary pieces: Fall (Giovanni Caccini) and Winter (Taddeo Landini) on the Otrarno (south) side, with Spring (Pietro Francavilla) and Summer (Giovanni Caccini) on the Santa Trinita (north) side of the bridge.
The only piece missing, after the German destruction and the 1958 restoration, was the head of the statue of Spring.
If there is a group of art experts in the world who can locate and restore missing pieces of art, it is the Italians. The search continued until 1961 when an excavator discovered the missing head, deeply buried in the centuries old mud beneath the bridge. To much pomp and ceremony, the head was re-attached and celebrated. A mystery solved.
IF YOU GO:
The Ponte Santa Trinita connects the north side of the city, near the church which gave its name to the span-Chiesa Santa Trinita-with the Oltrarno, the south side neighborhood of the river.
Best views are at sunrise from the mid-span of the Ponte Vecchio and at sunset from the next bridge west of the Ponte Santa Trinita, the Ponte alla Carraia.
Take a moment, the next time you are in Florence, to give a few minutes pause to the history that supports us as we cross the ever-unpredictable River Arno.
Evening View-Ponte Santa Trinita

Evening View-Ponte Santa Trinita

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