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.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Siena and San Gimignano

28 Settembre

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
After a somewhat bumpy ride south on the Firenze-Siena autostrada through some attractive Chianti wine country, we arrive in Siena, or Sienna if you will. A walk through a pleasant park located next to  a wall of the Fortezza Medicea took us to the Piazza San  Dominico where we met our guide, who took us, first of all, inside the basilica of St. Dominic to  view some sacred relics: the head and a finger of St. Catherine. Along the walls surrounding the nave were the flags of the seventeen districts, or contrade, which make up the town. Our guide appeared to be a little bereft of historical fact, asserting that the town of Siena was founded in 1200, wheras  we knew that the Etruscans were here  at least as early as 400 BCE, and  Roman statuary can still be found around the city. After a visit to the birthplace of St. Catherine, we began to suspect our guide was somewhat hipped on the subject and we decided to make our way on our own to the Duomo. Siena is a hilly town, and I wonder how they manage when it snows or has a hard frost,  We worked our way up to the Piazza Independenza, thence to a osteria smack in front of the Bapistry where we paused for a cappucino and a good up-front look at this building.
The Bapistry is attached to the Duomo, located underneath the choir of the cathedral, and due to time constraints, we were not able to see the sculptures of Ghiberti and Donatello it contains.
Photo: Meredith Taylor
As you can see from the photo on the right, one can reach the main entrance to the Duomo by climbing a set of stairs alongside the Bapistry; we elected to go around to the front door.

Photo: Sandra C. Haynes
The place was packed, not surprisingly,  and required a 20 minute wait for a ticket. I wondered about somewhat cryptic logo 'OPA' which was to be seen in many places near the ticket office, and later discovered stands for "opera della metropolitana" the cathedral works committee which oversees the restoration of  the cathedral's works. Finally we were admitted, and it was worth the wait.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The interior was a lot more crowded than when this shot was taken, and the floor tiles have been roped off to preserve them so it is difficult to approach some of the works, notably the one we were most interested in: the pulpit carved by Nicola Pisano in 1255-60.It was one of a series of four monumental pulpits he created with his son Giovanni, two in Pisa and another in Pistoia. There are seven carved panels at the top depicting scenes from the life of Christ, and what I liked best a series of lions at the base upon whose backs some of the pillars are resting. The momma lions are nursing their cubs, and the males are feasting, no doubt on heretical pigs that have escaped the Dominican's canes, but this, and other details, are difficult to see unless you can view this piece up close and in the round. As the  photo shows, you are kept at some distance from the work because of the efforts to protect the floor tiles, but at least it is possible to walk around and view it as a whole, by dodging ropes and other tourists.
So much more to see: the Chapel of St. John, containing a remarkable sculpture by Donatello, who is rapidly becoming one of our favorites of the Renaissance, works by Cimabue and Duccio in the Museo which we didn't have time to enter...definately another trip here is in order.
On leaving the Duomo, we discovered a car show was being assembled at the entrance.  Shades of La Dolce Vita!

Here I am fending off the curious next to a 356
 Porsche 1600 similar to one I once owned.

San Guimignano?  Maybe next post. These trips through medieval catherals are exhausting.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Palazzo Vecchio

19 Settembre
A tour of the "secret rooms" in the Palazzo Vecchio with our guide, Marcello Massimo.

Photo courtesy Meredith Taylor
To begin, he led us outside the museum and through a narrow door in the wall up a dark, narrow winding staircase and into a small room that had once been a bath. On the wall was a picture of the room purporting to show how it once looked, with a fireplace and four poster bed.  Our guide said there had never been a fireplace in the room and that when the room was constructed fireplaces were restricted to exterior rooms for safety. We then passed through a door at the back and into the most marvellous room I have seen to date in Italy, the Studiolo of Francesco I. My better half has already mentioned the portrait of the Grand Duchess Eleonora da Toledo high on one wall of this room.
What I noticed was the absence of Christian iconography. How refreshing after all those Madonnas and Crucifixes to see a room decorated with nymphs and other classical figures of pagan Greece and Rome. The portraits on the walls were in heavy frames which swung open to reveal shelves for books or treasure or, in one case, another narrow staircase.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons 
On a balcony on the third floor we were close to the ceiling of the great reception hall, the Salone dei Cinquicento.
Duke Cosimo had Vasari raise the ceiling of this room, presumably to make it more impressive to visiting dignitaries, and I wondered how such a large space could be constructed without resorting to the arches and flying buttresses found in cathedals. Our guide led us up a final flight of stairs to what I'd call the attic where we found the answer: wooden trusses which support the ceiling and "float" on the walls of the building.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Quick look at the Uffizi

21 Settembre
Using our AIFS-provided passes, we cruised through the box office of the Uffizi and up to the top floor for a first look at this famous museum. The Uffizi is U-shaped, or, more precisely, a long rectangular box with one side missing. From the ascensore we traversed roughly half the length of one side of one floor of the box in the hour and a half before closing. This quick look, nevertheless, led us to a group of rooms that are the focus of our Renaissance art course,
  • The Sala di Giotto e del Duecento

  • Containing the Cimabue Santa Trinita Madonna already noted in a previous post, Giotto's Mother and Child Enthroned Among Angels, and the Duccio work of the same title. These are what are referred to by my better half as the "Madonna Hat Trick".
  • The Sala di Trecento

  • Consisting of two rooms, one for Siennese and one for Florentine artists.
    In Room 3, the Siennese room, is this Madonna and Child by Tagliacci which was painted around 1334. Although her nose is tilted at the requisite 30 degrees, the features are beginning to look more lifelike than the execrable "Greek" style that Vasari so abhors. Nevertheless, although the baby's right foot seems about the right size for an infant's, the length of his body would suggest a growth spurt that might be more likely at age six or eight. Clearly this artist felt no necessity for painting from life models.

  • The sala di Gotico, and the Sala del Gotico Internazionale

  • Containing works from the ongoing exhibition of the international gothic style, to which I plan to devote an entire entry in this journal at a later date.
  • The Early Renaissance

  • Which holds this rather strange work, a collaboration between Masolino and Masaccio, the Madonna and child with St. Anne.  St. Anne, with a very dark face, towers over the composition. While most of the work is attributed to Masaccio, it is interesting to compare the rather gothic cherub at upper left which is said to be by Masolino with the more realistic one on the right by Masaccio. The mother and child, while not "pretty" in a mannerist sense, appear recognisably human, and not merely iconic symbols.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A visit to Santa Croce

15 Settembre
 After a week in Florence, finally visited the church and museum of Santa Croce (the Franciscan church). A somewhat odd collection of tombs and monuments to illustrious Italians inside the cappella maggiore of the basilica, including Marconi, Machiavelli, Dante, Giotto, and others. I suppose the Prince could have used radio to good effect had it been invented then. Also in the nave, near a door opening on the courtyard, is the Annunciation by Donatello, created around 1435.
This architectural wall sculpture was used as an altarpiece in the Cavalcanti family chapel. In the 16th century, Vasari renovated the whole church and this chapel was destroyed, but Donatello’s piece was saved and placed elsewhere. The Annunciation is made of pietra serena, a dark stone typical to Florence and more commonly used for architectural elements such as columns, and gold leaf impressed in the stone.

  But our main objective was to view the large wooden crucifix of Cimabue, prominently displayed in the museum section of the complex. What a shock to see it in such poor condition, so unlike this old reproduction, with much of the face and body obliterated. I understand this was a result of the terrible flood Florence suffered in 1966, but why has no restoration work been done on this important work?