Friday, November 23, 2012

Bargello National Museum

, Although there are many interesting treasures in this small museum, the Donatello Room in and of itself is worth the visit, containing as it does the original statue of St. George, moved from its niche in the Orsanmichel. The base of the statue contains a bas relief of  his combat with the dragon, complete with fair maiden, done, as the guide books say, in rilievo stiacciato, or flattened relief, a method whereby the image is manipulated so as to appear to recede into the background.  Unfortunately, time and atmospherics have so blurred the marble that this quality was not obvious to me.

Also of interest was the statue of St. John, the Evangelist, suitably gaunt and looking like a prelim for his later striking work of Mary Magdaline, now in the Museo dell'Opera.

Another surprise in this room were works not by Donatello,  but finalist submissions for the 1401 contest for a design to replace the east doors of the Bapistry. Seeing the works of  Brunelleschi and Ghiberti mounted side by side on the wall, I could see features I liked in each submission, as did the committee who did the judging.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Venizia again

Couldn't pass up a chance  for a quick three days back in Venice before we head back to the thrice-driven beds of down of Pasadena.  Aside from a few unfortunate encounters with the Venetian criminal element (viz, the Resturante La Rivera) it was very satisfying, as we managed to cover all the bases of the Venetian Triple Crown: St. Mark's Basilica, the Palazzo Ducale and, one more time, L'Accademia.
Finally managed to get a decent picture of the marvellous ceiling of the first room of the first floor in the Accademia, a nice counterpoint to the rather severe pre-Renaissance iconography that much of this room contains.
Also a couple of rooms and centuries up,  one of mia mogile's favorites, which I admit is pretty cool, Tinteretto's St. Mark flying in to rescue a slave, right over the camera, so to speak.

St. Mark's square and the Basilica were a lot more enjoyable this time around (a somewhat chilly but sunny November day).  Here it is looking a lot like Luna Park,

 and we made the rather arduous climb up to the loggia and the place where the four horses stolen from Constantinople (and, nearby, outside, their replicas) are displayed.

As for the Basilica, it seemed to me, what with all the gold mosaics laid on everywhere, to be more an adjuct to the Palazzo Ducale treasury than a place of worship.  But that's just me--if you like it, go for it.

Despite its charming facade, I found the Palazzo Ducal a grim and intimidating place -- more suitable for the headquarters of some sixteenth century secret police. Here's your faithful reporter strugging up the golden staircase just as the foreign visitors did, hoping for a word with the Duke.

The staircase itself, despite its obvious purpose, is rather nice, looking, as it does, more like a wedding cake decoration than an instrument of intimidation.  So at least the poor sods had something interesting to look at on the way up.

Appropriately, the tickets included a tour of the place's prisons where Casanova was resident before he managed the only reported escape. Also part of the legend, he fled only as far as the nearby Cafe Florian (see earlier post) to enjoy a coffee before heading for the border. Way to go, Casanova.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

RIAS Kammerchor

Sunday, the fourth of November at 8:30 or so found us at the Teatro della Pergola, a charming 18th century theatre not far, as we discovered, from our present lodgings.
We expected a pleasant evening of early music, but were quite astonished at the quality of the group.
I would guess that they do at least some of their performances in cathedrals around  Europe, as there were several selections of antiphonal singing, first with part of the choir in the hall, and later with some in the rear of the auditorium.  Both arrangements seemed to work well. The group is known for its perfomances of contemporary music, and that's fine, I guess, though modern choral music isn' t really my thing. The only work I had trouble with was something by G. Scelsi which sounded to me like an air raid warning followed by aerial combat. The Messiaen was fine, and of course, the Palestrina, but the real event ws the Bach motett, Komm, Jesu, komm as the final work. What a knockout.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bagliori Dorati redux

Back to the Uffizi in search of the Uccello Battle of San Romano, which we apparently missed on previous visits. Not hard to understand, considering the number of rooms involved just covering this exhibition. 
It's supposed to be at the very end of the series, but on the way we stopped to pay our respects to the St. John and St. Mark statues by Ghiberti and Donatello, respectively.
  Both of these original works have been replaced by copies in their respective niches in the Orsanmichele, as have the others.  Of the total, Ghiberti can claim three, while Donatello also did three, one in conjunction with Brunelleschi.  The St. Mark is  a  powerful and impressive work, and if  I can find (or take) a photo of it as it appears in the exhibition, I will replace this one on the right.
Then through a number of darkened rooms to the final canvas of the show, Uccello's Battle of San Romano.  This is the (likely) centerpiece of a series of three paintings, designed to be hung on three adjoining walls, and has been newly restored so that this reproduction is quite like the original. The other two, in the Louvre and National Gallery of London, respectively, are hung as pale copies  adjacent to this work.  I'd have to see the originals to determine their condition at this time.
Leaving the Uffizi, for those dependent on ascensori for mobility, is another project worthy of a separate posting. However, my intrepid moglie has managed to overcome this obstacle at the Uffizi so that we are lead through a number of  locked doors and unopened rooms on the first floor to the room we've dubbed the dungeon, and thence to the elevator to ground zero.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

'Bagliori dorati' International Gothic at the Uffizi

The Golden Splendors exhibition, covering the period from 1375 to 1440 with the thesis that this period had one foot in the middle ages and one in the Renaissance. The exhibition is in two places in the Uffizi: two rooms on the second floor as noted in a previous entry, and in a number of rooms on the first floor of the other wing of the building.

In the rooms on the second floor are the impressive alterpiece Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano and, on a neighboring wall, the equally impressive Coronation of the Virgin by Lorenzo Monoco. Both works show what another critic has called a "delight in patterning" that is a welcome change from the more severe Gothic style.  I particularly liked the monkey on the camel's back in the da Fabriano work. A monkey at an adoration scene?

Nearby, and, rather overpowered by these enormous altarpieces, a work I rather liked for its intimacy, the Madonna of Humility, an early work (1415) by Massolino, who was a friend and associate of Massaccio. Haven't seen any other works of this period where the mother is shown nursing her baby, though I don't think he was painting from a live model. In any case, we've moved a way from the highly stylized, iconic madonnas of such artists as Cimabue.
That's all for this visit. I hope to get back before the exhiibition closes on the fourth of November for another look at the works in the other wing, including the statues of St. John by Ghiberti and right nearby one of St. Mark by Donatello. Also the newly restored Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Padua and Venice

Having missed the early Friday morning train from Santa Maria Novella station, we were able to secure booking on an 11:15 train which left at 12:30.  Thus we didn't have a lot of time in Padova before meeting our travelling companions for the 5:30 train to Venizia.  We did manage to get to the Cappella degli Scrovengni, the chapel the Scrovegni family built to atone for the sin of usury, in which they were heavily, and successfully, involved.   Giotto did the decoration of the interior, and what an effect is created to see an entire space covered by the works of a single artist.  No photos allowed, but here's a small public domain sample of what we saw there.  Out of concern for the condition of the frescoes, visitors are allowed to remain in the chapel only 20 minutes, which is hardly enough time to take it all in. 
Then we met our fellow travellers, Rita and Sandy, and boarded the train for the short jaunt into Venice.
What can one say about Venice that hasn't been said before a thousand times?  Perhaps my somewhat irreverent observation that it looked a lot like a Florida marina with architecture.  Not very witty, I'm afraid, but it's what came to mind.
In Venice we temporarily abandoned our quest for historic art and archtecture to hook up with the Sherlock Holmes Society of Italy organisation, which were hosting a "Sherlock and Shylock" get-together in Venice.  Our first contact with them was at a dinner Friday evening, which we managed to reach after settling in at our pensione.
Saturday I was able to meet a long desired goal of having a martini at Harry's Bar, the place just off St. Mark's square, where Hemingway, Orson Welles, and other famous types liked to hang out.  Hemngway's martini, I learned, was called a "Montgomery" after the British General, who, it is said, liked to enjoy a 15 to 1 troop superiority before going into battle.  I'm not sure the exact proportions of my drink were 15:1, but it was a very good martini.

That evening we were to meet up with the Sherlockians again in the Cannaregio section of Venice for an evening ride in old gondolas. Determined to be on time for this, we decided to dine in the Rio terra della Maddelena near our meeting place, and selected the Trattoria alla Maddelena; a mistake. This was the most mediocre and overpriced dinner we've had since coming to Italy: a true tourist trap.  The large screen TV in the back should have warned us off.  The only two patrons we saw in the place were a girl reading a book with a cup of coffee on her table, and a guy with a computer, similarly with coffee.  We did have the satisfaction of warning a couple of tourists off as we were leaving.

Meeting our group, we were led down a narrow street and
stepped back in time into a marvelous workshop devoted to preserving and restoring old gondolas.  Not a power saw in the place, but this gondola from the end of the 19th century was there. 

Then we were off in groups of six or eight Sherlockians in old boats (not as elegant as this one on the left) for a tour of Venice by night.

On Sunday, our last afternoon in Venice, we were scheduled to meet the members of the Society outside the Cafe Florian in St. Mark's square for a group photo. We were there on time, but nobody else showed, so we went into the Florian for lunch. The Cafe Florian: elegant,
 expensive,  delightful,
 like  much else in Venice. After
 a bit one of the Sherlockians we had met at the Friday dinner, Sebastien LePage, showed up, looking for the group as well.  Sebastien was a delightful luncheon companion, regaling us with tales which may or may not be true, such as the origin of the custom of clinking glasses of wine together.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore

5 Ottobre

A pleasant Friday afternoon walk up the via del Proconsulo heading for the Teatro La Pergola to purchase tickets for the November 24 concert of Angela Hewitt. Pleasant indeed to leave behind the infantile tyrannies of ABC Italian and resume one's identity as an adult.

Photo: Wickimedia Commons
Then back down via dell'Oriuolo to the Piazza del Duomo and a first look at the Museo dell'Opera dell Duomo and Brunelleschi's famous dome on top of  the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower otherwise known as the Duomo di Firenze.  The museum is currently home to the bronze Bapistry doors of Ghiberti, which, most opportunely, were recently put on display after some  restoration of them was undertaken; we were anxious to see the real thing, not just the copies currently on the Bapistry. Also I wanted to know more about the remarkable dome Brunelleschi built for the Duomo and to get a sense of the engineering chops he had to reinvent to get the job done, as this expertise, common in Roman times, had all been lost.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo:Wikimedia Commons
This is how the doors which Michelangelo termed the "Gates of Paradise" looked when installed on the east wall of the Bapistry. On the left is a closer look at one of the panels: "Adam and Eve".

Photo: John Michael
The doors are now housed in a display case that provides constant temperature and humidity control, to minimize the ongoing chemical reactions occurring within the bronze.

This shot was taken from an upper-level balcony and gives an idea of the size of the doors, but the arrangement doesn't allow one a close look at the upper panels. Hopefully, when the doors have reached their permanent location, one will be able to see them in more detail.

Photo: Mary Ann Sullivan
One of the unanticipated pleasures of Florence is in turning a corner and being confronted with an unexpected, stunning work of art. This is what I found while walking around one of the upper floors of the Museo: the Magdalene Penitent by Donatello. It's an amazingly compelling work of art, and I wonder what prompted Donatello to undertake it, particularly as the position of the Church regarding the role of women, other than the mother of Jesus, in Donatllo's time as in our own, has been to marginalize their importance.