Cycling Lake Garda

Entrance to Lake GardaDefying bleak weather forecasts on the long weekend of November I headed up North to test the new bike path overhanging Lake Garda. The lake is stunning in its ruggedness, steep rocky mountains that slide into the lakeside and with the misty clouds around it had almost a sinister air. In contrast to Lake Como and Lake Maggiore it’s beguiling in a dramatic way, with enticing villages to explore along the shoreline. The largest of the Italian lakes with a long list of interesting Museums and Villas to visit and hot Springs to relax in.

But cycling Lake Garda was our objective even if only for a short distance, and we Limone sul Garda beachwere headed for Limone sul Garda to find the new bike/footpath that clings to the steep rock face. Having taken our time to get there we were disappointed as there were no bikes left! But we were not to be beat and searching high and low discovered another rental place back on the top road. High in spirits and energy we swooped back down to the shoreline at a reckless pace to begin the tour through the village and onto the new trail.

Limone sul Garda

Cycling through the tourists wandering the sidewalk, in and out of shops and restaurants not an easy feat as the main street turned into a pretty alleyway adorned with bougainvillea and tiny piazzas filled with fishing boats.

 

The surprise to come were the steep ascents through the outskirts of the village, the wobbly stone pavement on the descents, and the surprising quantity of pedestrians on the same route making manoeuvring difficult. Now we understood the offer of an e-bike at the rentals! But we were not to be dissuaded from our target and finally we were there!New bike path

It’s a short, (2km) flat, magnificent experience, opened only last year with the hope that other Councils will take up the initiative and continue the trail further along the  lake. Lake Garda bike - footpath

 

Bike - Footpath

 

 

 

 

Views of the lake even more spectacular and a sense of satisfaction and relief that the rain held off and the ride certainly kept us warm.

Besides it’s so much safer than riding along the rather narrow road that hugs the Cycling Lake Gardacoastline amongst the professional cyclists. Accessible to everyone, even wheelchairs and prams and a definitely well worth the ride. If you want to do more serious biking check out these suggestions. And this is only a small part of what Lake Garda has to offer.Lake Garda view


 

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Florence’s renewed Flea Market

Florence Flea MarketFinally the Florence Flea Market has opened in its new permanent structure, after years of indecision and protests. Not everyone will be happy about the changed appearance but from an insiders point of view I can guarantee the traders are happier. They have a bigger and warmer covered space that will protect them, their clients and their merchandise against variable weather conditions.New Flea Market Florence

 

In fact the Council of Florence is doing quite a lot about cleaning up areas and making them more people friendly, even greener when the opportunity arises, as well as restoring monuments and fountains as funds become available.

Loggia dei pesci in front of original Flea market

Old Flea market and Loggia dei Pesci

For those unfamiliar with the Florence Flea market, it has lived most of its life in front of the beautiful late Renaissance loggia designed by Vasari for the fish mongers, in Piazza dei Ciompi. The stands were rather fragile with plastic ripple coverings plyboard thin walls and possibly some asbestos thrown in as well. Years of weathering brought them to a sad and sorry state and the Council decided to move the market out and restore the famous ‘Loggia dei Pesci‘ to its former glory, green up the piazza and make it into a relaxing place for locals and tourists and the occasional flower market.

The Loggia itself has a rather interesting history, designed by Vasari in 1568/9 at the request of Cosimo I who had decided to move the Fish market located near the Ponte Vecchio because of its bad odour and dirtiness. The market was moved to the Old market area in Piazza della Repubblica leaving ample space now for Vasari’s famous corridor to be built linking the Town Hall to the Medici’s residence at Palazzo Pitti. The compensation to the fish mongers was a beautiful loggia under which they could sell their wares.  But when Florence became the Capital of Italy 1865-1871 a clean up campaign moved the old Market out of the piazza and the Loggia dei Pesci was dismantled and stored in the San Marco museum until 1955. Local citizens protested and persisted until a local bank donated funds and the Loggia was reassembled and placed in piazza dei Ciompi and the Florence Flea market grew up under its watchful gaze for over 50years.

But plans to restore the Loggia to its former splendour and revamp the Piazza saw the removal of the Flea market to an alternative abode, temporary tent accommodation in a nearby Piazza – Largo Pietro Annigoni next door to the Saint Ambrogio food market. Not a very pleasant experience for traders nor customers.

Then finally the new Flea market in a permanent building, larger stands, a covered walkway and two weeks for stand owners to create their own exhibit space with individual furnishings and lighting. So it was all hands on deck and I helped my friend with her stand specializing in Sheffield and silver from the U.K.

Playing cards Flea MarketAnd while we, and others, were busy painting, putting up curtains, moving stock, stumbling over boxes and working around electricians and carpenters, the usual group of Flea marketeers were already happily playing cards as they have always done!

The inauguration on 26 October came with all the pomp and ceremony that only Florence can provide with the Mayor puffing out his chest in Mayoral garb.

Opening day was a great success and Catherine Glasser’s stand the best of them…..but then maybe I am biased!? If you are in the area do drop by to see them all and see what you think of the new market structure.

ps  I hate to say that the new Florence Flea Market complex has a definite Parisienne air but c’est la vie!

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Our Italian Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty, New Yorik

Photo credit: Museo Opera del Duomo

The Statue of Liberty is such an icon, the symbol of America, which has welcomed millions of migrants and visitors to the New York harbour. Yet the statue perhaps is not so unique and to prove the point the current ‘Sisters of Liberty’ exhibition in New York will surprise many American visitors. Our Liberty of Poetry statue by Pio Fedi, placed in the Santa Croce church in 1883, is considered to have inspired Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty inaugurated in 1886. In fact Bartholdi was in Italy at the time fighting alongside Garibaldi in the ranks of the Frankish soldiers during the Franco Prussian war. And its thought very likely that he saw the draft design if not the completed statue.

The Liberty of Poetry statue was placed over the tomb of Giovanni Battista Santa Croce churchNiccolini, in the Santa Croce church in Florence. He was a playwriter of dramas related to national redemption and the freedom of the people, and an avid supporter of the Unification of Italy. The statue is enormous, even bigger than Michelangelo’s David and for this reason in fact cannot be moved. But a replica has been made and sent to New York where “visitors will discover and interact with the symbols, voices, and heroes that have defined our modern concept of liberty” (excerpt from brochure)

So compare for yourselves here:

Italian and American Sisters of Liberty

photo credit: Museo del Opera del Duomo, Firenze

Staue of Poetry

The idea for the project came from the U.S. Consulate General of Florence which celebrates 200 years of diplomatic relations and wanted to demonstrate the long standing cultural ties between Italy and the United States. Generous contributions for the exhibition came from American Express and our luxury Four Seasons Hotel Florence

When the exhibition was confirmed it caused a flurry of activity amongst the Friends of Florence  organisation who paid for the restoration of the Liberty of Poetry.  So newcomers to the Santa Croce church can now see it in its original splendour alongside the other famous tombs of Tuscan greats – Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Ghiberti and the tribute to Dante Alighieri.

In fact the Santa Croce church is one of the oldest and largest Franciscan basilicas in the world and considered by far the most magnificent, for its architecture by Brunelleschi and Donatelli, frescoes by Giotto and Agnolo Gaddi and it houses more skeletons of Renaissance masters than any other church in Italy! Definitely worth a visit. The piazza is also a favourite one for Florentines and hosts the historic football match ‘calcio storico’.

Another statue by Pio Fedi is on display in the Loggio dei Lanzi in front of the Palazzo Vecchio the Town Hall of Florence – The Rape of Polyxena of 1865. Although largely ignored as it sits behind the famous bronze statue by CelliniPerseus with the Head of Medusa.

But our Italian Statue of Liberty….of Poetry I think takes the cake!Liberty of Poetry


 

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Wine is sunlight and water, grape harvest 5 Terre

Cinque Terre Vermentino grapesGalileo Galilei said “wine is sunlight held together with water” and certainly the vineyards of the Cinque Terre have had an ample dose of sunlight this season. The grape harvest is well and truly over and they say it will be a good year, perhaps not for quantity but at least quality of the grapes harvested. Endless hot weather and sunshine blessed us all after the rather cold bleak month of May.Grape harvesting Vernazza

 

 

Harvesting is a still a back breaking process, particularly if the vines are draped over a pergola. Often the case on terraces more exposed to high winds. Just getting to the terraced vineyards is a hike itself! Many tourists have wandered the gorgeous high trail from Corniglia to Manarola passing through the vineyards ‘a pergola’ probably unaware as to why and how the grapes will be harvested.

And then the crates overflowing with grapes need to be loaded and unloaded and if you are lucky enough you will have the Farmer’s Cooperative mono rail running nearby. Cheo vineyard owner , BartoloMost locals sell all or at least a major part of their harvest to the Cantine Sociale – the Farmer’s Cooperative. The wine produced is a crisp dry white from a mix of vermentino, bosco and albarolo grapes.

In Vernazza the only commercial wine producer is Bartalo of Cheo vineyards. A retired University Professor with vision, a mission and a lot of hard work to reach his goal. Bartalo and his wife Lise have been very active in the community promoting involvement of students and assisting in the development of the Save Vernazza voluntourism project. He is now President of the Consortium Cinque Terre Sciacchetra’ the delicious liquid gold sweet wine of the area.

The tourist crowds are slowly beginning to wane, although there is still time to souvenir shop and enjoy a last gelati.

 

Mono rail Cinque TerreThe mono rail trains lie idle and its time for the last swim for the season as the Sun settles early and no longer has the hot sting of July. Autumn is moving in and soon to envelope us in its golden glow.

Cinque Terre Corniglia Marina


 

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A Handmaidens Tale at Mantua


Mantua, Piazza Erbe
How could I go past seeing Margaret Atwood at the Mantua Literary Festival? She was such a drawcard that I booked her event early and lucky I did as on the day there were no extra tickets available. It had been a few years since I had been back to the Festival although each year I was tempted as the list of writers from all over the world is exciting and Mantua is a such a picturesque Renaissance city, with fluted merlins on many of its historic Palaces. Besides it’s so lovely just to wander or bike as the locals do under the warm sunshine as Summer comes to an end.

As the Organisation  says: “The Festival plays host to world-famous writers and poets, some of the most interesting voices from emerging literatures, essayists, musicians, artists and scientists who foster a more complex and unusual notion of literature that includes unconventional literary domains and languages.” The choice of events was awesome – Margaret Atwood, Elif Shafak, Joshua Cohen, Nadeem Aslam, Ali Smith, Valeria Luiselli  together with economists and political writers like – Domenico Quirico,  Felwine Starr from Senegal, Gilles Kepel,  Mariana Mazzucato, Amin Maalouf and Donald Sassoon. Only some of whom I managed to see.

I bounced between meetings on the European Union  Crisis,  Civil wars and Immigration, Economic Alternatives to the current Inequality and how to put value before profit, Words we use and abuse, Post Colonialism and the new developments in Africa, Antidotes to our current Dilemmas and more. It was easy to become totally engrossed in arguments, enlightened by some positive prospects, challenged by the global issues knowing we are all in the same boat….if only we all paddled in the same direction.

Margaret AtwoodMargaret Atwood rather than discuss her new book talked mostly of how relevant ‘The Handmaidens’ Tale’ relates to today, the regression we have seen in women’s rights, the challenge we face to restore what we have lost and move forward. To her delight the audience greeted her wearing handmaiden’s caps which the organisation had supplied and which we clumsily put together and clung on to on her entrance. Margaret Atwood haindmaiden audienceAnd at the end of the event a flash mob of ‘handmaidens’ appeared with placards regarding female homicides and women’s rights as ‘Everything is political when you’re a woman‘ and the queue for signing her book wound right around the courtyard.

In between events the piazzas overflowed with book stands, poetry readings, quiet courtyards to relax in and shady parks for time out. An open air ‘free’ event caught my attention as the audience was spellbound, like babes listening to a fairytale, as Antonello Vanoli recounted a sentimental voyage on the roads that made our history – the Nile, the Mediterranean, the Silk Road, the Orient Express to Route 66. An hour’s journey through the centuries with this fascinating storyteller. We were all on board and loving it!

This year I had a bike on loan which was especially handy since I stayed across the causeway and discovered the most beautiful bike path that cruised alongside the lake.

A delightful start to every day

The Historic centre is charming with its majestic buildings, beautiful parks and courtyards and an impressive Cathedral and of an evening the place glowed and flowed with wine and aperitif spritzs!

Mantua Liteary Festival

 

The Mantua Literary festival is truly a magic experience. The only drawback maybe – How do the locals manage to walk on the pavement stones every day…..even in heels??Mantua Pavement

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Villa Medici, Poggio a Caiano Tuscany

Villa Medici Poggio a CaianoLiving in Florence it’s easy to become blasé to the wealth of galleries, museums, palaces and villas that we are surrounded by. So much so that it took a visitor to inspire me to finally visit Villa Medici in Poggio a Caiano on the outskirts of Florence in the province of Prato.  Surprisingly it was free admission, with hardly any other visitors, so we could pick the brains of the local attendants about the Villa’s history despite detailed information on display in each room.

The Villa became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 along with the 11 other Medici villas and 2 gardens as “The Medici villas form the first example of the connection between architecture, gardens, and the environment and became an enduring reference for princely residences throughout Italy and Europe. Their gardens and integration into the natural environment helped develop the appreciation of landscape characteristic Humanism and the Renaissance.”

Villa Medici Poggio a CaianoBegun by Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1445, completed by his son in 1520, and designed by architect Giuliano da Sangallo, the eldest in a large and distinguished family of Florentine architects. Typical of Renaissance architecture it contains Classical elements with its Ionic temple façade, a definite ‘Wow‘ factor on entering the gardens, and barrel vaulted ceilings in the interior. It’s simple elegance and curved staircase is very appealing and we are drawn inside.

Lorenzo the Magnificent loved the Villa, using it as his Summer residence, entertaining numerous guests and fondly rearing pheasants for the hunting season. Glorious weddings and important events were held alongside mysterious tragic events like the death of Francesco I ( son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany) and his second wife Bianca Cappello. They both died of acute arsenic poisoning only hours apart, suspected to be at the hands of his brother fearing exclusion from his inheritance! Another being the sad marriage between Cosimo III and the young cousin of the king of France, Margaret Louise d’Orleans. ‘At only 15 she dreaded the thought of marrying a fat, mournful Italian heir to a now impoverished Duchy and made him suffer for it, spending huge amounts of his money on clothes and entertaining and when he finally let her return to France  she took with her an immense sum as well as wall hangings, beds and valuable articles.’ (Christoper Hibbert – Florence, the Biography of a City) 

And the Villa remains rather sparsely furnished today. After the Medici dynasty the Villa Roman Sarcophagocontinued to be home to royalty and nobles – Hapsburg-Lorraine dynasty and important people like Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister and  King Vittorio Emanuele II when Florence was the Capital of Italy between 1865-1870.

The loggia covers the Roman sarcophagi and we head past into the Court theatre room and then through to the Billiard room  with its beautiful decorated ceiling.

The impressive Grand Hall of Leo X heavily adorned with frescoes whose ‘primary purpose is to celebrate the Medici dynasty through comparison to important ancient historical events.’

The delicately furnished bedroom and marble bathroom were lived in by two important women, Elisa Baciocchi and later the Countess of Mirafiori known as the ‘Bella Rosina‘ mistress and later wife of King Vittorio Emanuele II.

While the study and bedroom of the King seem hardly lavish!

Fortunately Margaret Louise d’Orleans left at least one large tapestry for us to admire, a fabulous hunting scene so intricate it seems more like a painting.

Terracotta Frieze from facadeAnd the original terracotta Frieze from the façade is protected inside, allowing a close Portion of Friezeup view of its 14m long scenes about Mother Earth and the Birth of the Sun and Planets.

Now I only have another 9 Villa Medici’s to visit having seen Villa La Pietra and the gardens of the Villa Medici in Fiesole and today’s most famous Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano!

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A day out with VIPs- Portofino

Santa Margherita churchOnly an hour away by train and we are in the pretty seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure, abuzz with tourists as the cruise ship is in and busy with locals and holiday makers as there is a 4 day special market on ‘Sbarazza Tutti‘ – Get rid of everything sale! The blaze of colourful Summer attire makes the decorated buildings of the town glow under a perfect blue sky. I am mistakenly tempted by some Winter coats in the window and drop in to check the price…..€2,600!!! But after all it was a Moschino and the store definitely not part of the ‘Sbarazza Tutti‘!

A quick glimpse inside the church, although I am more attracted to the black Santa Margherita facadeand white stone mosaic outside so typical of Liguria together with the decorated facades. Santa Margherita Ligure boasts some of the prettiest, a tradition begun in the second half of the XV century, when the rich mercantile aristocracy started to transform the historical medieval centre.

PortofinoBut we are here to explore Portofino, just a short bus or ferry ride away, the picturesque fishing village is considered one of the most chic destinations in Italy, frequented by entrepreneurs, royal families and celebrities and us!. It is peak season and even here, a cruise ship is anchored close by shunting passengers back and forth making the place unpleasantly crowded. Still the crystalline water of the small port packed with boats of all shapes and sizes in front of the colourful facades is definitely picture postcard material. The shop awnings offer welcome shade over the designer shops – Pucci, Rolex, Missoni, Dior and more, and lunchtime diners.

St George church, PortofinoWe head up to get the best view from the little St George church. The rocky  cliff on the opposite side reminds me of the Countess who tragically died in 2001 falling to the sea from her Villa – murder or suicide? The intriguing story continues to fill the gossip pages.Portofino Liguria

On a more worthy note it was Jeannie, the English wife of Baron von Mumm, a German diplomat and photography enthusiast,  who succeeded in convincing the commander of the German detachment of Portofino during the Second World War, to abandon the intentions of destruction of the city. Otherwise we would be unable to enjoy this beautiful place. War bunkers dot the promontory and Castle Brown continued to defend the town as it had done since the XV century. The Castle now belongs to the the town but retains its name from the English consul in Genoa, Montague Yeats-Brown who purchased it for 7,000 lire in 1867 and transformed it into a comfortable villa. The surrounding gardens of the Castle and the neighbouring holiday homes are gorgeous.

 

Portofino + Cannon BayWe explore further, along pretty side streets, mosaic church pavements, more decorated facades and splendid villas that cling to the coastline.

Typical Ligurian stone mosaic

 

The tiny Bay of Cannons is inviting but standing room only so we head for the closest beach area known as Paraggi. Paraggi Beach, PortofinoHowever the crowds deter us and we continue our stroll above the waters edge, enjoying the views back to  Santa Margherita Ligure.Cannot Bay, Portofino


 

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It’s not lousy in Bonassola

View towards LevantoFor those struggling through the Winter in need of a little sunshine, idyllic beaches and crystal blue water, this post is for you. For those dreaming of cycling in the Cinque Terre but overwhelmed by the thought of the steep never ending hills then this alternative could be a better way to start the holiday, cycling Ligurian coast.

For me it was a good day to get away from the crowds in the Cinque Terre and try something different, although I had cycled a small part of the path some years before. The area that I had missed turned out to be the best and is on my list to do again when I have visitors.Google map 5 Terre - Framura

The villages we were to explore are sometimes referred to as the ‘Tre Terre‘ – Levanto, Bonassola, Framura, and there has always been a certain jealous rivalry between them and the Cinque Terre. It’s only a short train ride away to Levanto, our starting point. Hiring bikes was easy, the first rental place we came across being run by a layback American surfer now permanently settled in the area. Two mins ride towards the beach of Levanto and we were already on the Maremonti cycle path inaugurated in 2011, considered one of the most beautiful routes in the whole of Liguria. About 6km of flat bike path with deliciously cool illuminated tunnels with breaks along the way and breathtaking views and idyllic beaches.Cycle path Bonassola-Framura

The track reuses the old railway line, a masterpiece of 1874, electrified in 1926, between Genoa and Pisa. In the 1970s with the duplication of the La Spezia line to Sestri Levante, some sections were abandoned and today they have become the pedestrian cycle path.

Our first stop, after 3kms, is Bonassola, a sweet village with buildings decorated in the typical Ligurian style and a long stretch of pebble beach submersed in umbrellas.

Bonassola

Bonassola and cycle pa

 

 

Crystal clear water entice us but there is barely standing room and we have hardly exercised our biking stamina.

Jack from Surflevanto had fortunately advised us to stop at Porto del Pidocchio ( Louse Port!?) between Bonassola and Framura so we moved on. A break in the tunnel and seeing a line of bikes parked we knew we must be there. Well hidden from view is a narrow inlet surrounded by high black rocks, and alluring blue water that reaches over your head after the first step. A modest crowd dot the beach leaving space for everyone and dwindled over lunchtime. Not a peep of urban noise spoils the tranquility of the place….and no lice in sight!

 

Still we know there is more to come and after a couple of hours in this idyllic spot we need to finish the ride to the third village of Framura 

Immediately out of the tunnel is the tiny port of Framura, brightly coloured fishing boats, canoes and tiny yachts tied up and locals stretched out amidst mermaids and anchors under the watchful eye of the Madonna standing on the rocky outcrop.

The bike path ends here, and a rather convoluted pedestrian walk under, over, and around the railway station leads us to Torsei beach complete with bar doing a roaring trade. Yet there is still ample room to stretch out and sunbake and cool down in crystal clear waterSummertime Liguria


 

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New Madonna at San Bernardino

San Bernardino churchHow does a small village like San Bernardino, in the Cinque Terre, with only 10 permanent residents, 3 dogs and about 5 stray cats manage to keep its community alive? It has certainly been an experience being a part of this village,  warmly welcomed each time I visit, and feeling the need to contribute whenever I can to this small community: helping with maintenance, lobbying the Mayor for better services and listening to the local grumbles. Volunteer labour is an essential part to keeping this village alive, which in the past rebuilt the entire church!

Best of all is helping out at any festivities which are now few and far between. Even our local bar has closed as the younger generation have found work elsewhere so the social meeting point is now sitting by the bus stop. Yet the locals have not lost their resilience and resist by having the world come to them, renting out their rooms and apartments to tourists during the season. When this generation disappear the village will only be for second home owners and tourists passing through unfortunately.

Yet San Bernardino is in the hearts of many, especially those from Corniglia as it is their Sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna. And at the festival to the Madonna early September a procession led by the local priest still hikes from Corniglia to celebrate. In fact it is the religious festivals which unite these communities (like many others throughout Italy) and bring back life and laughter to the hearts of all.

Madonna dei Tarsi statueSan Bernardino is entrenched in the heart of a local sculptor, Giuliano Carro, who having seen the public fountain moved to the opposite side of the church square thought something more spiritual should be placed on the space it left. So after months of study and work, and on finding a large sandstone boulder he took up his chisel and gave life to this statue: Madonna dei Tarsi
Described by the Mayor of Vernazza “as a work that is the result of the sweat of one of our artists who, out of pure passion, driven by boundless love for our places, without asking for anything, in all humility, and satisfied only by the ecstatic gaze of those who will linger and admire his finished work.”

Attendance at the inauguration was a must and with over a 100 people the air was charged with chit chat and laughter, like a huge family gathering. Young and old from Vernazza and Corniglia, and those who introduced themselves to me were invariably called ‘Basso‘ the family generated from this village.

Vernazza mayor with sculptor Giuliano CarroThe honor of unveiling the Madonna was given to the 3 oldest members of the community, looked on rather jealously by the two youngest members. And while Giuliano could hardly get the smile off his face, when asked by the Mayor to say a few words he responded  “I am a man of few words, and work with my hands.” He did however share one of his poems for the occasion (read by another local!)

 

Hands
the sun has not yet dawned
your footprints leave little trace
while you caress
the earth under the moon
step by step, like always,
every day until evening

Respecting it as you would a mother,View from San Bernardino
you love these plants like children
that cling to the rocks,

that challenge the absurd
but which without you
they wouldn’t last an instant

always thinking of your world
you are not afraid of it
for your life, when it ends
in every stone there is a memory
hands passed over a face
as a tear falls between the vines

to the moon, to the sun, to the stars
show your huge hands
hard hands, suffered yet true,
frank hands and outspoken words,
hands full of earth, yet never dirty,
huge hands, full of love

and his comment in the brochure- ‘Stop here for a moment and think about the difficulty and poverty but also the greatness and the dignity of the people that for centuries have shaped this earth. Think of their immense fatigue, their defeats, their will, their strength, their sweat. And then, if you want to, lay a flower, or say a Prayer.’

Mayor, Sculptor, Revered guests of honourThe crowd were almost moved to tears. My amateur video failed to capture the moment the drape fell as I had to join the grand applause and cheers that I am sure could be heard as far as the ferry boats chugging along down below!

It was time to party! You could not believe the amount of food and wine that was passed out to the tables, all volunteered from San B  and Corniglia locals . Generous helpings served by us with pride and affection to all the visitors who ate happily in front of the most panoramic view of the Cinque Terre.

The music blared old favourite songs and the partying and dancing continued on into the night. That’s what brings and keeps this community together.

The Madonna dei Tarsi now quietly sits and keeps an eye on us all and the rest of the Cinque Terre below.Cinque Terre, Madonna dei Tarsi statue

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Andrea del Verrocchio – The Master of Da Vinci

Verrocchio Exhibition brochureFlorence continues to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci with an exhibition of his MasterAndrea del Verrocchio at the Palazzo Strozzi. I must admit I am not a real fan of religious art and totally ignorant of who Verrocchio was so I had left my visit to the exhibition to the last week. I was however beguiled by the gentle serenity of the ‘Madonna’ in the publicity boards around town, her gaze lowered, her hair drawn back beneath a transparent veil so delicately embroidered as was the bodice of her gown, it had to be seen for real. The style was typical of many Renaissance painters that I did know like Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Perugino and of course Leonardo da Vinci all of whom painted the Madonna showing enormous tenderness towards her child, an earthly maternal love.

After the exhibition I explored further and discovered that Verrocchio was born in Florence around 1434-37, originally Andrea di Cione, the son of a construction worker in a family where the money was scarce. After his father’s death he had to support his mother and eight brothers and possibly for this reason never married. He became an apprentice goldsmith in the workshop of Giuliano Verrocchio and later took his name. As an artist with his own workshop Andrea del Verrocchio had such illustrious pupils as Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico del Ghirlandaio and Perugino.
No one shaped Florentine Art in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent more than Verrocchio. Trained as a goldsmith, he discovered a bent for sculpture, emerging as the greatest bronze sculpture of his day. He practised drawing and eventually turned to painting. By c 1470, barely over thirty, he had become a beacon in his own right and with his lively workshop.” (Palazzo Strozzi info)

The bust evokes the ideal of female beauty in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent, merging aristocratic grace with moral values…..and Leonardo drew inspiration from the innovative addition of arms and hands

David Victorious - VerrocchioMarble reliefs and bronze statues of heroes and heroines of the classical world were particularly popular with patrons of the time and it was interesting to see the developments in style and expressions and the attention  to detail was impressive.Alexander the Great - Verrocchio

 

 

 

 

Verrocchio came late to painting yet impressed his fellow artists with his detail on precious jewels, elaborate costumes and drapery bathed in light. His ‘window ledge’ baby Jesus became a new fashion and was copied by many. He studied innovative techniques with Leonardo on the ‘chiaroscuro” effects of light experimenting by painting on fine linen cloth reproducing true drapery soaked in wax or liquid earth modelled on dummies.

In the painting –The Baptism of Christ Vasari tells us “he was assisted by Leonardo da Vinci, his disciple, then quite young, who painted the angels, which was much better than the other parts of the work: and for this reason Verrocchio resolved never again to touch a brush“! Art historians however are not convinced about the legitimacy of the comment as Verrocchio left many works unfinished, being prolific in so many different fields.

He created outdoor sculptures based on classical models, popular in the Winged Boy with DolphinRenaissance and helped forge the fashion for monumental marble fountains, decorated with bronze statues like The Winged boy with Dolphin. He created metal candelabras, equestrian monuments and his work as a goldsmith could be as varied as the small Dove of the Holy Spirit to the gilded copper ball placed on top of the Brunelleschi Dome.

 

 

 

 

Verocchio's gilded copper ball

 

 

Da Vinci-The Virgin with the Laughing Child

 

 

 

And as a surprise finale we were introduced to Leonardo Da Vinci’s only known work of sculpture when he was still a young man, perhaps only 20, modeled in his master’s workshop. The Virgin with the Laughing Child. We have all learnt so much about Da Vinci’s master.

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