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St. Thomas detail
Sant’Apollonia
Florence

THE GLORY WITHIN

Florence. Not far from the Piazza San Marco, in the midst of one of but many, nameless, stucco walls is an unassuming aged wooden door. Those visitors headed to Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia delle Belle Arti  take little notice of such an ancient entrance. Were they to take a moment to enter, they would be rewarded with one of the rarely visited treasures of Florence, the refectory of the once Benedictine convent of Sant’Apollonia.

The convent, founded in 1339, is named for Apollonia who was martyred in Alexandria during an uprising in 249 A.D. She became the patron saint of dentists. Why? Her teeth were knocked out of her mouth before she voluntarily surrendered herself to the martyr’s flame.The iconography of her sacrifice is a single tooth, held in her hands by a set of pincers.

In contrast to the dark details of her death and the nondescript exterior of the building, the refectory provides a feast for the eyes.

In 1447 Andrea del Castagno received a commission from the Benedictine Prioress to paint a Last Supper (in Italian, Cenacolo) on the western wall of the refectory. Castango’s work harkens to the work of Leonardo da Vinci at the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan. Leonardo is said to have studied Andrea’s work before beginning work on his Milan fresco in 1495.

Above the fresco of the Last Supper are three additional works by Castango; Crucifixion, Deposition and Resurrection. These three frescoes, whitewashed by the nuns of the convent in strict adherence to their order’s rules, were rediscovered in 1860. During the fresco’s 1952 restoration, these three smaller works were removed for cleaning, then returned to their intended position above the Last Supper.

Last Supper
Andrea del Castagno
Florence

Unlike the vast majority of frescoes in Florence, crowded and well known, the vast space of the refectory is rarely occupied by more than a few visitors. When the sun moves across the fresco in the mid-afternoon sun, the strokes of genius, carefully and lovingly applied by the artist, stand out from the work.

This is a quiet place to treasure in the midst of a city of crowds. Go, and marvel at Castangno’s luminous work.

 

 

 

IF YOU GO:

Via XXVII Aprile 1 – Florence

Ph: +39 055 2388607

Entrance: FREE

Opening hours:
Sundays – 8:15 am-1:50 pm; open on the second and fourth Sunday of every month; the ticket office closes 30 minutes before the museum closing time.
Weekdays – 8:15 am-1:50 pm; open on the first, third and fifth Monday of every month; the ticket office closes 30 minutes before the museum closing time.
Closed: closed on the second and fourth Monday of the month; closed on the first, third and fifth Sunday of the month. December 25, January 1, May 1.

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Many tourists walk past the city hall of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio, and never realize the treasures inside.

In the mid 17th century, if you wanted to hide a huge fresco (painting on a plaster wall) painted by a master artist, where would you hide it? The answer is, as it has always been, right in front of everyone’s eyes. Read on.

Michelangelo and Da Vinci are two artists whose paths rarely crossed. Cross they did, however, in early 16th Century Florence.

Ruben’s Copy of Da Vinci’s Study – Battle of Anghiari

In 1503, the governing political body of Florence, lead by Gonfaloniere Piero Soderini, commissioned Da Vinci to paint the Battle of Anghiari. The fresco was to cover a portion of the wall in the city hall’s Salone dei Cinquecento, the Hall of the 500.  Michelangelo was commissioned to fresco the Battle of Cascina on the wall opposite Da Vinci’s work.

Why these subjects and location?

Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina celebrated the defeat of Pisa in 1364. The Italian League, led by Florence, defeated Milan in 1440 at the Battle of Anghieri. This victory firmly placed the Florentine republic at the forefront of Italian politics for centuries.The Hall of the 500, largest meeting room in city hall, was an appropriate place for symbols of Florence’s major victories.

Study for Michelangelo’s
Battle of Cascina

Da Vinci, fed up with the frustrations of his consuming experiments with fresco techniques, fled the city in frustration. The project lagged in the midst of infighting and the ever present pressures of city budgets. The Battle of Cascina was abandoned when Pope Julius II called for Michelangelo’s  return to Rome. The study for Michelangelo’s work was later destroyed by his jealous rival, Bartolommeo Bandinelli.

Move ahead a little over one hundred years. In the mid-17th century, Georgio Vasari, a passionate admirer of Da Vinci’s work, accepted and completed the commission to complete the decorations in the Hall of the 500.

Endoscope through Vasari’s Fresco
Salone dei Cinquecento, Florence

In the 1970’s a certain art ‘engineer’, and National Georgraphic Fellow, by the name of Maurizio Seracini noticed a cryptic note on the south center panel of Vasari’s work: cerca trova (seek and you shall find).

Seracini’s interest was piqued. Ever since discovering those words, he has believed that Vasari was sending a message: “Seek the master’s work and you will find it.” Seracini believes that Vasari built a wall in front of Da Vinci’s work so that the 1503 work would be protected.

After decades of study, in late 2011, Seracini’s team used an endoscope to explore the space behind Vasari’s work. They made four important discoveries:

  • Samples of pigment that are nearly identical to those used on Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
  • Red pigment, associated with lacquer and unlikely to have been used on a plastered wall, was identified.
  • There are beige colored brush strokes on the wall behind Vasari’s work.
  • Scientists have confirmed that an air gap does, indeed, exist behind Vasari’s wall.

There is growing confidence, within the art and scientific communities, that there is a strong likelihood that a long last Da Vinci is about to be discovered.

Banner showing scale of Da Vinci’s
Planned Fresco for the Salone dei
Cinquecento

When in Florence, visit the Salone dei Cinquecento inside the Palazzo Vecchio to see what all the fuss is about.

IF YOU GO:

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Piazza della Signoria

Opening times and days: Use this link to verify. Odd/varying hours and open days.

www.museicivicifiorentini.it/en/palazzovecchio

Tickets: Euro 6.50 Full Price. Reduced Euro 4.50 for ages 18 – 25, over 65 and university students.

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