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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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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Hooves clicking on Black Marble

Hiking in the National ParkOut in the heat hiking not far from Siena we are exploring an area of Italian marbleblack marble or commonly known here as Serpentine marble. And while we are no longer able to see the quarries where the ‘marble‘ came from, we are conscious that every step we take is on this precious material. Officially it is not really ‘marble’ but a serpentinite, “a metamorphic rock derived from the rock of magmatic origin that formed about 200 million years ago on the bottom of the ancient Ocean Tetide, where it underwent a process of hydration by interaction with sea water.” The name originates from the similarity of the texture of the rock to that of the skin of a snake, easily seen here in the village wall. Serpentine marble in village wall

The territory of Murlo is rich in outcrops of this rock and it was used to create the black and white dichromy in the Sienese Cathedral. Not an easy feat considering we are hiking amongst tough Tuscan hills around 27kms from Siena.


We are also lucky to be hiking with a mix of experts                                                          – our faithful Environmental guide Grazia, to give us all the info on the local flora, fauna and terrain underfoot                                                                                                          – a geologist Andrea, eager to explain the difference in the formation of marble and serpentinite i.e.  “Marble being rocks that having undergone a process of metamorphism at high temperatures and pressures that has made the minerals recrystallize.”                                                                                                                      – and Grazia’s father Ivo, who was born in the area, now a National Park, and keen to recount old farming techniques and memories of times past.

Cathedral SienaAt the time of the construction of the Cathedral, begun in 1215,  the ‘Opera del Duomo‘ responsable for the construction bought or rented land with quarries or rich in building stones,  vineyards and fields to obtain wine and bread for the workers, water for making mortar, and woods for work timber. Historical records show that the serpentine stones were partially worked in the quarry and each block of black marble weighed approx 80-100 kg and was carted by mules Siena Cathedralacross this rather rugged terrain. Unlike Florence there was no substantial river course to use as an easier alternative. In the end transport became so expensive and difficult that the black marble was used less and abandoned by the 14th Century.

We hike through typical Mediterranean vegetation dominated by holm oaks up and down hills, past some vineyards along trails that linked communities, ancient parish churches and monasteries. We are on our way to the Hermitage of Montespecchio, thinking of the poor mules that carted up to 20 tons of marble to Siena each 6 months and in this heat we are hard pressed to cart our small back packs laden only with bottles of water and lunch!

Now only the ruins of the church remain of the Hermitage, which was in its heyday a large complex and a wealthy one both from donations not only of money but also land and a healthy income to the Augustinian friars from the sale and transport of the black marble. The welcome shade renew our energy as we exlore the ruins from the 12th Century and despite the striped walls so typical of Romanesque architecture the place has an exotic almost Asian feel to it.

We are now close to Ivo’s birthplace and he delights in telling us that he was often here, looking for his pigs that sometimes went astray and enjoyed Old Tuscan schoolforaging in the woods. In the past there were large fields of grain and cereals cultivated on rotation, and each family depended on that and their livestock to survive. We pass the farmhouse, converted school, that he walked 3kms to each day with his 8 brothers and sisters, now a private residence used probably only on holidays.

Then next to the delapidated buildings where he’s was born he calls us onto the overgrown area which was once the paved ‘aia’ or piazza, where they would tie a horse in the centre and with his continuous circling thresh the grain with his hooves. They would gather the grain on enormous sieves and toss it into the area to separate the grain from the kernels. At the end of harvesting there would be a big dinner on long trestle tables in the piazza where all the families would meet and party.

Ivo's childhood home

 

The buildings and land were left to the Forestry department which has sadly left the buildings go to ruin and the local vegetation has taken over. There is a definite hint of nostalgia as Ivo reminisces, yet satisfied as we are appreciative of his stories of times gone by.                                                           So next time you are in Siena and enjoying its splendour you can appreciate even more the hard work that went into trasporting the black marble.

Farming tales

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Leonardo Da Vinci and the Battle of Anghiari

Since it is 500 years after the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, Italy is celebrating the anniversary with exhibitions, pageants, and local theatrical performances. The country is floooded with events and is encouraging all of us to explore new places and lesser known facts about Leonardo.Anghiari

Photo credit- Museo della Battaglia e di Anghiari.

 

I had taken up the opportunity to combine my love of hiking on an easy trail between Anghiari and Sansepolcro to follow the itinerary of the Florentine soldiers in the crucial Battle of Anghiari of 29 June, 1440. The Battle, played out on the plain between the two towns, was to be colorfully recounted by various local actors along the trail. Unfortunately the performance was cancelled due to stormy weather predictions.

However curiosity had got the better of me and I drove to Anghiari early morning well before the storm and spent a very pleasant few hours exploring the nooks and crannies of this beautiful medieval village. Along the way to set the mood I stopped at Ponte Buriano bridge to contemplate the scene with Da Vinci, since it is this bridge which features in the background of the Mona Lisa.

Garibaldi at AnghiariGaribaldi welcomed me into the historical centre of Anghiari, a popular statue in towns all over Italy. Shortly after I was to cross the moat, or where it was once, through the drawbridge gateway that protected it from foreign invaders.Anghiari Moat Gate

 

 

 

 

I had stepped back in time; winding alleyways, opened onto intimate piazzas, overlooked by medieval buildings now incorporated into Renaissance palaces. It was beautiful!

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Tuscan Spring(s)

It’s that gorgeous time of year when Nature bursts back to life and everything begins to sprout, infinite green on greens as if every plant wants to show off its uniqueness. There is no chance of ever getting tired of the Tuscan landscape and traveling around in the past weeks has been a delight.Tuscany in Spring

Even on just a short walk from home the surroundings are enticing as the vines begin a new season and the iris, the symbol of Florence since 1252, start popping up all over the place.
At San Polo in Chianti there is the Associazione Toscana Gaggiolo of over 200 farmers who continue the tradition of cultivation of the iris as its delicate essence, derived from the root, is used in the production of perfumes, creams and herbal medicines. In fact it was of great economic importance in Tuscany between the 1800’s and the last century, exporting the major part of the production to France.

Iris Garden Florence

photo credit Iris Garden association, Florence

While in Florence publicity is already up, reminding people to visit the Iris garden just below Piazzale Michelangelo “where you can admire over 1,500 varieties of iris from all over the world in full bloom.” Free entrance and opening for only a month from 25th April – 20th May.

Hot Springs San Giovanni TermeSpringtime is also another favorite time for me to visit the Hot Springs, for a relaxing day of total indulgence for body, mind and soul. Just driving through the rolling velvet hills of Southern Tuscany intermittently broken by the grey of ‘Le Crete’ clay pits is so pleasing to the eye. I must have seen it a thousand times, but every year it has the same uplifting effect. We are on our way to the San Giovanni Hot Springs in Rapolano Terme. It’s a glorious day of sunshine and going to be a pleasant 19 degrees and by the time we get there I am thinking I should have packed the sun cream!
Bathing in any of these Hot Spring establishments feels like living in the lap of luxury.

The Romans knew how to spoil themselves bathing in natural hot springs or their sophisticated bath houses progressing from the warm to hot, steamy room and cleansing off with a massage in the cool room. We like to keep that tradition going!

We pass through the relaxation area, specially signposted with no mobile phones allowed, thank goodness, and slip into the coolest pool. While being invitingly quiet we are View of Internal Hot poolsoon dripping our way up the stairs to soak in the warm pool. Delicious squelchy white mud coats the bottom of the pool, the sulfurous sediments from the Natural Spring. As the blurb goes we are sitting in water “rich in sulphur and calcium bicarbonate…to combat ailments relating to muscular and skeletal system and respiratory disorders…in up to 39 degree water”. So you can see why we are here to soothe our muscles, wash away our aches and pains and simply relax. As the day is so warm the indoor ‘hot pool’ is less inviting and besides the surrounding landscape too good to miss!

San Giovanni Terme Some time out on the lounge chairs and then as the sun starts to set we need to make a move for home. Reluctantly we drag ourselves out of the pool, comforted by the knowledge that we will be back again….and again!

So whatever you may be doing over Easter, I hope you all have fun and a relaxing time somewhere special. Buona Pasqua!Easter


 

 

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Banksy in Florence

 

Banksy Love is in the air

Painted on the wall built to separate Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank

Banksy artworks exploded with abrasive truths in Florence’s elegant Medici Riccardi Palace, an early residence of the Medici family. Such a contrast to Banksy’s urban walls of London or crumbling war torn walls of Palestine and, as far as I know, we have no Banksy street art anywhere round town.  The exhibition has been a great success and in fact extended its closure by a month so we were fortunately still in time to see it.

The story of this artist is unique, his identity still unknown, at best thought to be English, Tiger Barcodeborn around 1973 and still continuing to surprise, shock and delight audiences with his predominantly stencil style artwork.

I read of his early installations, that brought Banksy to world attention -like ‘Turf War’ 2003 which included pigs painted in police colours, sheep painted in concentration camp stripes and a cow covered in images of Andy Warhol’s face. It created something of a furore as ‘animal activists chained themselves to the entrance and just prior to the opening Banksy had left a message to say there were 40 lousy bottles of red wine available but it was best if spectators brought their own’!

At ‘Barely Legal’ in 2006 he stunned audiences with his live painted elephant blending into the décor. A statement on world poverty….although “the meaning of the stunt appeared to be lost on some observers.” (BBC news comment)

We bounced from slogan to slogan:

amidst  satirical and brazen statements against authority :

Banksy’s monkey produced in 2002  ‘attests to the arrogance of humanity towards other Laugh Nowspecies’ and dare I twist that to be a relevant statement on our world of today! Grannies

 

 

 

 

And take a closer look at what his ‘Grannies’ are knitting!

There were also some of his more dramatic pieces as potent in their message today as when they were originally painted.Can't beat that feeling

Inspired by a famous photograph  during the Vietnam war of the 9yr old girl burnt by American napalm bombs running from her village. Banksy is showing ‘the contrast between reality and perception, how the US perceives itself and how it is perceived by others.’Banksy weston super mare

 

The elderly person unaware that death is so close in the form of a gigantic circular saw, is interpreted as Banksy’s unhappy childhood memories by the seaside or an invitation to make the most of every moment?

Other images less dramatic yet as powerful in their message and gathering some embarrassed laughs from the present audience. We were loving it and we had not come to the final shock…….

Girl with BalloonBanksy’s most popular work  ‘Girl with Balloon’  took pride of place, an image known to us all. Even recently it was used on a poster for Climate Change at last Fridays for Future march, the balloon substituted with mother earth. And I am sure Banksy would be supportive of the change.

But the final shock was still to come. We watched the video of ‘Girl with Balloon’ being auctioned at Sotheby’s for the grand price of £860,000 and were as staggered as those present to see it slowly shredded as soon as the Auctioneers hammer came down!

Banksy’s final word on capitalism? He is certainly determined to get his message across but the stunt seemingly backfired. The shredder got stuck and only half of the work was shredded and the Art world is now saying it is probably worth twice as much!?

His works are endless, stimulating, sensational and forever thought provoking, so if you would like to see more, check this video.

Banksy sloganBanksy

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Da Vinci’s CodeX in Florence

Florence at the time of Da VinciThe sound of water flowing, amid digital images of Florence at the time of Leonard da Vinci welcome visitors into the stimulating exhibition of Da Vinci, The Scientist – ‘Water as Microscope of Nature’ The exhibition is a temporary one in the Uffizi Gallery  till the end of January 2019, and one not to be missed.Leonardo da Vinci studies the manuscripts of san Marco convent

The exhibition displays original pages of Da Vinci’s Codex Leicester written between 1504-1508 focusing on water – “investigating its elementary structure, vortex movements, and mechanical and optical properties, as well as the technical solutions for exploiting it to the benefit of humanity…….exploring the analogies between water and air, and between the movements of fish and birds.” (Info at Exhibition)

Scribbled in Da Vinci’s unmistakable left handed scrawl from right to left, that exudes an intensity of concentration and precision. Meticulous designs of water flows, rock stratifications, light reflections, birds in flight and more.  Precise drawings of machines – Da Vinci's invention to dig canalsan odometer to measure distance, a centrifugal pump for draining marshes, underwater foundations for bridges and weirs, solutions to regulate the quantity and velocity of water drawn from siphons,  riverside constructions to combat erosion….the list was endless and fascinating.

He takes the human body as the model for elucidation of the physiology and dynamics of water and blood observationsthe Earth…. he speculates on the dynamic balance of the earth’s gravity….and offers practical advice to seamen from his understanding of hydrodynamics’

The digital presentations of his various machinery are mesmerising in their originality and creativity, providing us with the basis of many modern machines. He was interested in, and obsessively drew, the bit by bit analysis of every moving part in the machine and its contribution to the transfer of motion. The man was a true genius!

He invented a centrifugal pump for draining marshes, a man-saving device for digging canals, studied bird flight and wind currents to create our precursor to flight machines….

His theatrical mechanisms for court pageants, ‘allowing actors to rise and descend and float as if they were flying’ (Walter Isaacson) and from his studies of physics he truly believed that it was possible to build a winged mechanism that would allow humans to fly.

He was known to always carry notebooks which hung from his belt, constantly collecting ideas and scribbling observations of his surroundings from a technical, scientific and artistic point of view. His notes were transferred to the various manuscripts – Codex – of which more than 7200 pages exist today, considered to be only one-quarter of what Leonardo actually wrote, and which he had intended to publishing. “The most astonishing testament to the powers of human observation and imagination ever set down on paper” (Toby Lester “Da Vinci’s Ghost”)

Da Vinci's studies influence his artHis paintings elicit his geological theories on rock stratification as seen in the background of the Mona Lisa, and his studies of the impact of solar rays on the tint of the sky or secondary light he uses on the cheeks of Ginevra de Benci and The Virgin.

Leonardo was known to be slow and methodical in his artistic life, leaving many works of art, as well as machines and instruments unfinished or never started beyond a few draft etchings in his notebooks. After all, he took 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa, carrying it with him on his travels outside of Florence and Italy, constantly adding finishing touches!

Uffizi proudly displays another masterpiece, his unfinished, ‘Adoration of the Magi’ 1481-1482

Da Vinci Adoration of the Magi

Having just finished reading Walter Isaccson‘s biography on “Leonardo Da Vinci” the exhibition was in perfect timing to explore more and see the real documents of the Codex Leicester. An exhilarating experience and a super presentation of the Scientific mind and genius of Leonardo da Vinci.


 

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Getting the Good Oil

It’s one of my favourite times of year – picking olives and more importantly savouring the new extra virgin olive oil. A time to catch up with old friends and share our aches and pains as the days pass and the garage fills with crates of olives.

Besides I am lucky enough to be picking olives in Pienza in Val d’Orcia which in any season boasts fabulous views, rolling hills and cypress lanes, and towers guarding valleys filled with fluffy clouds and evocative morning mist.

Picking olives - Aleardo Paolucci designStaying with my artist friend – Enrico Paolucci, is always a pleasure and despite his father’s passing in 2013, Aleardo’s presence is still strong. From the muraled garage wall denoting country life, and the house filled with Aleardo’s works of art, to Isabella’s fond memories recounted as we pick olives together.Aleardo Paolucci - painting

We have been lucky with the weather, unlike some areas in Italy still battling flood levels and muddy landslides. A few brief showers gave us reprieve over lunchtime and the light breeze dried the trees and olives quickly so we could continue the picking.Picking with battery operated rake

An ingenious local, Giuliano, developed a home made version of ‘leaf and olive separator’ (seen in action here), in recycled material, even including the fan. A true Maker! Since we are not all hand picking, the battery powered raking system pulls more leaves and twigs with olives still attached and the less leaves in the pressing the better. The Olive mill also has their own similar separator system but in the meantime we are doing our best to send them to the mill in the best condition possible.
Separator - leaves from olivesOlives ready for the mill

 

 

 

 

Blessed with some sunshine, and spreading even larger olive nets under the trees meant we were soon down to T shirts only…..and my beloved overalls! The garage quickly filled with crates of Olives ready for the Mill – Frantoio Simonelli Santi in the nearby town of San Quirico d’Orcia. 

Surprisingly the mill is in the historic centre of the town using the traditional method of pressing – stone grinders pressing olives, pips and all, automated machines spreading the olive paste on mats, mats stacked into the presser which is raised, pressing out the liquid – oil and water and finally the centrifuge to separate the water from liquid gold extra virgin olive oil. Strictly cold press and bio!

 

Extra virgin oilive oilThe air is filled with a buzz of the various rake and shake systems as batteries power along until sunset, and our backs say they need a rest. Gloves are worn thin between the thumb and forefinger as we strip the branches of their produce.

In a week we picked 761 kilos of olives and came home from the Olive Mill with 125 litres of fabulous liquid gold. What could be more satisfying!

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The Giraffes of Florence

giraffe gift to MediciOn a visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, my first in some years and to be one of many during the course, I took time out to visit the temporary  Exhibition – Islam and Florence and bumped into my first giraffe – stuffed!

As I was about to take a photo, the staff leapt on me to say “No photos allowed” but to not leave you disappointed ‘this official video’ has captured the giraffe together with many of the fabulous objects on display.

The Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, probably not unaware that a “camelopard” had taken part in Julius Caesar’s triumph in Rome, sent a giraffe as a gift to Lorenzo the Magnificent, which made a spectacular entry into Piazza della Signoria on 18 November 1487. The exotic beast is reported to have been so greatly admired and to have caused such a sensation that even the cloistered nuns were eager to see it. As portrayed in the affresco of Giorgio Vasari in palazzo Vecchio. Unfortunately the giraffe did not last long, breaking its neck in an accident in the stable specially built for it on 2 January, the following year.
The second giraffe, also stuffed, came as a gift from Egypt in 1835, to Leopoldo II and lived in the Boboli gardens for about a year and a half.’ (Uffizi  brochure). The photo above of the affresco shows a mixed reaction amongst the locals and one can only imagine their astonishment at seeing a giraffe in the piazza…..even today! The giraffes sadly came to a sorry end.

Various generations of Medici‘s, from Lorenzo the Magnificent to the Islamic objectsGrand Duke Cosimo I were known to be lovers of the exotic and major collectors of precious items from the Orient together with other private collectors and  antiquarians. The exhibition was split between the Uffizi Gallery and the Bargello museum with a stunning range of exquisite carpets, gilded containers, magnificent jewelled ornaments and arms and delicately carved ivory chests. All beautifully displayed before a background of a thousand and one Oriental stars under soft lighting. ( This photo taken from the brochure does not do them justice).

In amongst the exhibits were also some paintings, indicating how much this exchange of culture influenced artists at the time. A period when Florence was powerful; economically, politically and culturally. A city of rich bankers and merchants ‘wheeling and dealing’ with the world and wanting to boast about their wealth and perhaps, book a place in paradise by commissioning works of art like this one.Gentile Fabriano Adoration of the Magi

Palla Strozzi,  the richest banker of Florence commissioned Gentile da Fabriano to do The Adoration of the Magi’  (1423) a theme often repeated, as many, including the Medici, identified themselves as ‘the Magi‘ of the time!  Heavily dosed with gold and sumptuous costumes in a luxurious ambience with some cheeky non religious details – the page kneeling to remove the spurs, monkeys playing and Palla Strozzi and his father prominently featured in the red hat and with a falcon!

Aureale Arabic Gentile da FabrianoTo show the Islamic influence you need to zoom in on the aureole to see Arabic scripts embossed in the gold.

In class we were told that the Roman elite delighted in eating exotic animals at their banquets, giraffes and zebras included….Possibly even the one in Julius Cesare’s triumphal return?

The ‘Adoration of the Magi’  by
Domenico Ghirlandaio (right 1482-90)) and ‘Procession of Three Kings‘ by Andrea del Sarto (left 1510-11) show in the background, yet  another giraffe as part of the procession. The fascination with these leopard style camels continues….!

As seen in the video, the exhibition had an eclectic mix, making a fascinating tour of past splendours and confirmation of the appreciation, consideration and integration of Islamic culture.

And to keep the kids interested the Uffizi provide a quiz and games of which I have stolen just a couple of examples which I thought you might like to tryCountries of the Orient: Fit the colour to the country and …….how could I go past this join the dots!Kid's stuff

 

 

 

 

 

So enjoy yourselves!


 

 

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Wine, all for a good cause

The grape harvest is well over now as are the Wine Festivals in Italy for 2018, yet they are not solely an excuse to party:

Manarola volunteer Associatiom

The Cinque Terre can be proud  as at each village festival the donations gathered raised enough money to buy a new ambulance, 4 x 4 wheel drive, BUT ….not for the Cinque Terre. In January 2019 it will be sent to a remote town of Senegal!

Grape Harvest festival Cinque Terre

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tourists contributed enormously, maybe not fully understanding where the donation was going, but reassured by the sincere smiling faces. After all, with only a total population of 4500 residents in the Cinque Terre it would have been difficult to raise all the money from residents alone. Besides what a festival in Manarola! Glamorous mermaids and pirates came from the depths of the Mediterranean to join farmers with their  ‘lively’ grapes and vines, parading together amidst lots of fun and laughter. Wine flowed as the band played and locals danced and sang all the way to the Church for the blessing, such a fruitful day.

Volunteers from the “Just for a Smile” Association, who regularly serve on the local ambulance service, worked hard encouraging everyone to donate, no matter how small. They made good use of the party atmosphere and the tourist crowds explaining in their best ‘Italish’ the reason for the funds as well as their fundamental role in providing an emergency health service to both residents and tourists.

So when the final tally of donations is done, the “Gocce di Sorriso” Association hopes to also have enough to fill the ambulance with essential medicines, gauze dressings and disinfectant creams.The ambulance will be loaded onto a container in Genoa provided, almost free of charge, by the shipowner Messina, and sent to Senegal. A great show of solidarity and humanity by all.

While in Florence  we were treated to the presence of the ‘Carro Matto’ – crazy cart  from Rufina. A tradition that goes back to the time of the Florentine Republic in the XII century when a huge pyramid was built on September 29th for the new wine. After receiving the blessing from the church the wine was brought to Palazzo Vecchio where the authority of the time toasted to the governors of the time – the Priori – and to the health of the Florentine people.

A  crazy cart – carro matto  loaded with 2000 fragile flasks of Chianti, masterly loaded and well strapped, pulled by oxen, and in this day and age aided by a truck! An unbelievable spectacle of balance and precision accompanied by an historic procession in the city.Chianti Wine cart on its way home

Crazy Wine Cart RufinaNothing like wine to bring out the best in us, Cin Cin!

Photo Credits: Francesco Zagli

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