Burning hay in the Tuscan hills

Sometimes old methods are the best for Tuscan vineyards! Having enjoyed unexpected warm weather late March to Easter, warm enough to garden in shorts or laze on a lounge in bikini, we were hit by sudden change and bitter frost. A blanket of white and out came the woollen clothing yet again.

Photo credit Consorzio del vino Brunello di Montalcino

photo credit Consortium Brunello wine Montalcino

The Brunello di Montalcino Wine Consortium was not to be beat and brought out the hay bales, dampened them down and set them alight in the vineyards. An old remedy to warm up the air as temperatures dropped to -9º. As Tommaso Cortonesi, director of the Brunello wine consortium explained “ the straw does not generate fire but smoke that remains low to the ground and thus allows the air to be heated. In addition, the straw burns slowly and we decided to wet it on top in order to produce more smoke and  a slower fire”.

Tuscan vineyards burning hay against unseasonal cold temperatures

Photo credit Brunello di Montalcino Wine Consortium

An ancient technique of conservation and care of the vines handed down from generation to generation and used not only in Montalcino but in some Chianti areas as well. It is still to be seen if it was enough to save the vines which had sprouted early, like so many plants and fruit trees conned into thinking the Winter had passed and Spring was in the air.

Montalcino vineyards burning hay against frost

Photo credit Brunello Wine Consortium Montalcino

Unfortunately I was slow to think it would create any damage to my plants and failed miserably as I discovered my wisteria flower buds burnt to a crisp and looking very sad indeed. My neighbor also saddened to see his geranium plants which were already in flower devastated while mine had hardly even started to enjoy being outside.

You live and learn, and I will have to cut back my wisteria and wait till next year to see any blooms if the frost hasn’t knocked out the plant totally. To cheer me up after 20 years of geranium window boxes I will be off to the nursery for new flowering plants next week when these cold mornings have passed.

In the meantime the swallows have returned to their nests which is always a reassuring sign,

solaria - Montalcino winery

cellar at Solaria vineyard Montalcino

 

and we do hope the  Tuscan vineyards are safe so you can still enjoy a drop of Brunello or Chianti in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

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Uffizi Gallery aiming high on social networks

Uffizi Gallery, FlorenceWhether it be for work or play social networks have become an integral part of our lives and in many cases helping us to survive the trauma of Covid 19. Uffizi Gallery in Florence is no exception and having plunged into social networks only 2 years ago it is rating very high on them and in fact the most followed Museum of Italy.

Since Eike Schmidt took over as Director in 2015, there have been some major changes in the layout and presentation of the works of art, the launch into social networks and the use of popular ‘influencers’ to attract a new audience and increase curiosity and interest. While we may not all agree with the changes he is certainly following his idea of making the Uffizi Gallerypop, cool and a little rock“! Take a look at the recent video on Uffizi’s Instagram as an example of catching the interest of a younger audience, together with placing some works of art at kid’s height.

Uffizi Gallery, Masterpieces at kid's height

Photo credit: www.corriere.it

And for us bigger kids, following uffizigalleries on facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter the posts are a constant delight and a wealth of information. Not just a passive presence but also an opportunity for dialogue and debate. A series of cooking lessons – Uffizi on the plate– based on still life masterpieces by some of our local chefs kept many of us entertained this winter

And we celebrated the arrival of Spring live from the  Botticelli room, 23 March with an intense explanation of the history, mystery and intrigue behind the painting, and the symbolism associated with the over 500 plants and flowers featured.Anenomes Boboli GardensThe impression this year is that of seeing them for the first time, on the green and pristine expanses of the Boboli Gardens, still not open to the public. Anemones are fragile and very delicate flowers, “animated by the wind”, as the word itself, derived from the Greek ἄνεμος (anemos) = wind, says. In fact, they are born on wind-swept meadows at the end of winter, among the blades of grass, with tremulous corollas that the slightest breeze “animates”, shakes, shakes and easily knocks down. A transient and glorious flower, the anemone has always announced Spring. It goes without saying that every day at the Uffizi is Spring.                                                                             The most famous is that of 1482, by Sandro Botticelli.                                                 May the season of Rebirth be for everyone!”Spring by Botticelli

The five most popular works so far from Uffizi Gallery on social media have been dedicated to – Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni, the Laocoonte by Baccio Bandinelli, Pallas and the Centaur by Botticelli, and the Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, and the Gaddi Torso.

The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci

Chiara Ferragni at Uffizi Gallery

Photo credit – www.forbes.it

The influencer who made an appearance was Chiara Ferragni, who has over 20m followers and who Schmidt described as our ‘modern day Venus‘ but I will leave you to judge that. And while many, including me, did not approve of her presence she supposedly increased Uffizi Gallery followers on social networks by 27%, so may have opened up a whole new world to a younger age group, and that’s very encouraging.

Uffizi Gallery also does rather cheeky clips on ‘TikTok’ the one here shows Venus shouting to keep a 1m social distance during Covid 19.

So there is something for everyone from Uffizi Gallery on social networks and it has certainly been a boom for the Museum and an enormous benefit for all of us. Do take a look if you are not already a follower – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok…..

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Twentieth Century Art – Alberto della Ragione Collection, Florence

Florence Art museums open and close according to Covid 19 restrictions, and many have kept us entertained and informed with online presentations.Museo Novecento, Florence

One such Museum is Museo Novecento (Twentieth Century Art Museum) of Florence which is often ignored except for passionate art lovers of the 1900’s like me. Housed in the old hospital of Saint Paolo behind the beautiful Renaissance loggia by Michelozzi. The Museum’s collection is impressive and an important representation of the period. When open the Museum also holds some interesting temporary exhibitions of International artists. However the Alberto della Ragione collection has been the major contribution to the Museum with some of Italy’s well known artists of the time.

An online presentation gave an insight into this fascinating man and somewhat unlikely art collector, Alberto della Ragione. He was a newcomer to Art,  who followed his feelings and often ignored comments from art critics of the time, buying what he liked while delving into the lives of the artists who produced the work.

Born in 1892 in Piano di Sorrento near Naples, he transferred to Genoa for his profession as a naval engineer. He was highly esteemed in his profession, traveling widely around Italy to port cities where he specialized in recuperating sunken vessels. A lover of music and books he ventured into Art buying his first painting in 1928 a Still Life for his dining room. The joy it gave him, started what would become a lifetime passion for Art and a great distraction from his work.

Fortunato Depero 1932 Nitrite in Speed

Fortunato Depero 1932

His spare time became consumed studying Art, visiting exhibitions, being disappointed in some and wanting to understand more about the actual artists active at the time, particularly those not approved of by the fascist regime.

The major part of his collection was bought between 1932-45 crucial years of political turmoil, racial discrimination and World War. In the end he cultivated great friendships with his group of artists, playing an important role as Patron in their development as well as offering refuge to some fearing prosecution for their anti-fascist views and/or Jewish heritage. He bought a Gallery in Milan, offering contracts to the artists thereby giving them a permanent income so they could concentrate on painting.

Renato Guttuso 25.7.43 Portrai of Alberto della Ragione Renato Guttuso, one of the artists in his group and with whom he had a great friendship, rang him on hearing that Mussolini and the fascist regime had fallen. and went immediately to Genoa to celebrate with him. Guttuso insisted on painting his portrait as record of that important day 25/7/1943, including another of his own paintings in the background.

His collection is a wonderful  mix of futurists work – Fortunato Depero, Gino Severini, portraits – Renato Guttuso, Virgilio Guidi, Ottone Rosai: still life – Mario Mafei, Antonio Donghi and landscapes particularly connected to his love of the sea – Filippo de Pisis, Carlo Carra` to name just a few.

Museum Novecento Twentieth Century ArtThe collection is displayed in various sections under themes – Cavalry, Gestures, Suspended Poses; The artist and his world; Still Life; Nudes, the Female; Landscape; Sculpted Paintings, painted Sculptures; Farces; and Faces, Portraits. Here you see only a small selection of  the 250 works of Art that make up the collection.

Gino Severini The Window with Doves 1931In the end the Milan Gallery closed in debt and della Ragione looked for a solution for his collection, drawn to Florence and his Florentine friends as the ideal artistic city. In 1970 he donated his collection to the Council of Florence but unfortunately it never became visible to the public until its inclusion in the Museo Novecento in 2014 when the Museum first opened. . Alberto della Ragione died in 1973, so fortunately never knew of the years delay before his collection could be fully appreciated. The Museum certainly deserves to be included in the list of Florence Art Museums to visit  when life returns to ‘normal.’Francesco Menzio Head of a Woman 1933


 

 

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A new year and new projects – Florence

Florence CathedralA new year has begun and we are still in the midst of Covid19, slowly mulling our way through. On a positive note vaccinations have started, most of our medical staff have been vaccinated and a large number of residents in aged care as a priority. It will be a long process.

Florence has been relatively lucky although the English and Brazilian variants have also appeared recently and we now face additional restrictions as we downgrade into an ‘Orange’ region.  From Monday restaurants and museums will close, more limitations on shopping and restrictions on moving outside Council areas. Already the Piazzas seem unbelievably quiet.Florence Palazzo Vecchio

But this is not to be a post about Covid 19, as I am sure you are all dealing with it in various ways in your own countries and hopefully seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

It has been a time for new project approvals which I thought may be of interest. In Florence approval has been given for the redevelopment of the St Orsola Convent – an enormous complex in a derelict state as long as I have been here! Centrally located behind the Food Market it has had a chequered existence since its foundation as a Convent in 1326, to Monastery, Tobacco Factory in the 1800’s, to Finance Police barracks in the 1980’s when the final destruction to the original architectural feature was done.St Orsola Complex

The Complex is to be developed by a French group Artea and to house a mix of activities and uses – ‘a higher education school, convention center and co-working space, museum / event space housing the grave of Mona Lisa, urban garden that can accommodate permaculture workshops, Artist workshops, café-library, Shops and craft workshops, guest house, fitness and well-being area, and toy library.’Project design Sant'Orsola

The curiosities of its past include the possible grave of the Mona Lisa – Lisa Gheradini considered to be Da Vinci’s model and buried in the convent in 1542. (See my earlier post of 2013)

The second curiosity being the production of the famous Florentine cigar – ‘i Toscani’ which happened by accident in St Orsola when a downpour in August 1815, drenched a large batch of Kentucky tobacco in the convent now a Tobacco Factory. The accident risked turning into a disaster but management decided to produce cigars with the wet tobacco to sell at cost to locals. What no one took into account was that the fermentation initiated by contact with water gave the cigars an unmistakable taste making them famous and  sought after. Production continued in St Orsola until around 1945 when the factory moved to the outskirts of Florence. And here again those buildings are now being used for artistic/cultural events.

The second project is the new bike path between Florence and Prato ( a major city to the North of Florence) The tweet below by the Florence mayor – Dario Nardella indicates “a path of 12km illuminated with recycled asphalt. We will have 600 tons of Co2 less per year. The only time in Italy that two cities of this size have been connected. The work will start within the year, and finish in 2022″Bike Path project Florence-Prato

The project is considered to be a super cycle path of high-capacity, a long-distance cycling infrastructure of European standard, and the first in Italy. The track is to be 4 meters wide equipped with Led lighting and sensors to increase light intensity when people pass and video cameras in strategic points. The project is to also redevelopment  the green areas crossed and shade the runway….. in line with the Green mobility and the EU Green New Deal.

Great to see both projects approved and ready to go, at a time when there has been little to look forward to. Now all we need is to get Covid19 under control and we can fill our Piazzas in Florence again!San Lorenzo church

 

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On Cloud Nine – Picking olives

As Tuscany slid rapidly from a ‘Yellow’ low risk Covid 19 region to ‘Orange’ and then ‘Red high risk’ within in a week I was lucky to be able to still pick olives. It’s time for the new Olive Oil – strictly Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sieve valley under cloud

Sieve valley under cloud

In fact am on Cloud Nine‘ as you can see in the photo. The Sieve valley area completely encased in cloud while we were lucky happily above it all and ready to start by 9.30am. If the property was down in the valley pickers would be unable to start till very late morning as the olives are still damp from the fog and low clouds.The riding school next door amongst the clouds

This year I was picking in an area above Rufina  about 35kms East  from Florence.

Being now in a Red region lockdown travel is only allowed outside of our Council area for work, health or necessity reasons and with a permit. Fortunately Tuscany decreed that only families (not friends) could continue to pick olives on private farms. So it was just as well I could still be included as family even as an ‘ex-wife‘ and continue the tradition of picking which I love so much. Olive pickers in action

In two days of picking, 4 hand pickers and one with a machine we managed to pick  27 crates.  Each crate holds around 24kgs of Olives and on average you need 5-6kg of olives for a litre of extra virgin olive oil. Some trees can produce up to 2 crates, sometimes more, depending on the season and the variety of olives. This year the trees are beautifully healthy, no nasty bugs like last year and laden with wholesome olives. A delight to feel between the fingers.

Temperatures have dropped to cold mornings, around 3-4°C but we have been lucky to have sunshine, and dragging out olive nets, shifting ladders and picking, warms you up pretty quickly. By lunchtime we were soaking up a warm 14-15°C as we ate sausages, oops they ate sausages from the BBQ and I feasted on my veggie pie and of course Fettunta toasted bread with the new oil drizzled on.

At the end of the day we tally up the crates and congratulate ourselves on a good day’s Tow days picking 27 olive crateswork.

On the rainy days we don’t pick so the picking has spread over 3 weeks. We have been to the mill three times already and the last time was last Sunday.

Covid 19 has put pressure on the normal mill activities as many panicked thinking lockdown may limit the possibility of picking so started earlier than usual. And many inundated the mill with more olives than what they had booked in so the mills were often running behind schedule. Our last picking in fact had to be slowed down to accommodate a late booking at the mill, unable to accommodate us earlier. Still it was worth it as the local mill – La Corte uses upmarket equipment in slicer/crushers, temperature control  thus producing a healthier extra virgin olive oil which tastes fantastic….especially if you have picked and crushed immediately after two or three days of picking.

The old wheel grinders of the past are still used in some Mills but the contamination between each producers olives is a high risk as the paste spreads out onto mats to be pressed. You can see that process here.

The information printed on my tin of oil describes its fabulous Nutritional characteristics, and together with its gorgeous green colour and just a touch spicy in flavour when its freshly pressed is why Extra Virgin Olive Oil remains such a part of our daily diet. And love it!

My gloves

 

My new gloves show the signs of the picking and now it’s back into Covid 19 lockdown….who knows for how long? With a possibility of relaxing restrictions 4 December to allow Christmas shopping!Sunset at the end of a day's work

 

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A lockdown that’s not a lockdown

Ponte Vecchio, FlorenceItaly is now in a lockdown that’s not a lockdown, at least not in every Region. And there will be no more singing from the balconies this time! Heavy restrictions continue as Covid 19 numbers explode and medical staff fear it will turn into a Tsnunami. We face a long grim winter ahead and people’s moods have definitely changed as we have absorbed a wealth of information about Covid 19, together with about the same fake news turning many into denial.

The economic situation has never been easy since the GFC of which Italy never fully recovered and the ordinary citizen is finding it difficult to make ends meet. While financial assistance has been offered by the government it hardly covers the losses incurred in businesses. Work continues, often at home what we call ‘smart working’, and factories and retail stores remain open in ‘Moderate Alert ‘ Regions. Hardest hit are restaurants and bars, those involved in the tourist industry, while gyms, fairs, congresses, theatres, cinemas closed at the end of October and museums now at the beginning of November. Even for those still open – retail shops, hairdressers, beauty centres etc are suffering anyway as there is little money circulating and many had spent a lot on readapting their premises with plexiglass, disinfectants, temperature measuring gadgets and various social distancing measures.

Kids have suffered enormously after being relegated to home for 6 months and greeted the new year starting in September with enthusiasm. Now many, especially the teenagers are again back home doing lessons online.

Our public transport system on the reopening could hardly cope with social distancing and reduced clientele, creating swarms of students on buses to and from school and likewise with workers having little option but public transport for their return to work.

Testing has highlighted an enormous quantity of non symptomatic cases, still potentially contagious yet living in small houses/apartments makes self quarantine from the rest of the family not always possible and the virus spread.

Florence bookshopHardest hit have been the regions with the highest density of populations in cities and strained hospital services – Lombardy – Milan, Piedmont -Turin, Campania – Naples, Calabria – Catanzaro. As well as regions in the Alps – Valle D’Aosta,  which initially had a major flow of tourists eager to participate in the snow season. Most of these regions now are considered High Risk areas and have a total lockdown to ensure no entry or exit from the regions apart from work or health motives, and only essential shops remain open. Bookshops unexpectedly have been exempted from closure!. Campania for some reason was classified in the ‘Yellow/Moderate Regional list and their “flame throwing” regional president De Luca is definitely not happy about that having pleaded for a lockdown for the past month. However  Regional classifications towards a lockdown can now become automatic  when their hospital capacity is reduced to a critical level and other health criteria. ‘Orange/Medium to High alert’ regions for now are  Puglia and Sicily which means limited entrance and exit from those regions and other restrictions. All the remaining Regions are considered ‘Moderate Risk”

All I can say is that many are unhappy with the new restrictions. We are learning to live with the virus and strongly advised to limit our contacts and visits to those outside of our families where possible and have a National curfew from 10pm to 5am.

We definitely partied in the Summer and rejoiced at the freedom, and I guess we pay the consequences now. Europe is so interconnected it was difficult to remain in isolation. I was certainly surprised to find two Swiss tourists in my little village in the Cinque Terre in November, wanting to enjoy a quiet holiday, and a bus load of Germans from a Cruise ship doing the same! Italian cruise ships are now stopped and foreign cruise ships will not be allowed to disembark.

It does make my blogging difficult as I would like to continue to show you all the beauty of this wonderful country, be it an exhibition or a delightful place to visit but in these times I am limited to what I can see and do despite being in the ‘Moderate’ classified Region of Tuscany. At least I am surrounded by beautiful Autumn colours.Autumn vineyards Tuscany

For those of you enjoying your new freedom from lockdown, I admit I am jealous yet hope you make the most of it with the appropriate caution. We will come out of it in the end, hopefully with not too much ‘collateral damage’.

Stay safe!

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Beauty beyond Limits, Forte Belvedere, Florence

Iron Ore Hills Siena provinceBack to one of my favourite places in Florence, Forte Belvedere to see what will be the last of outdoor exhibitions this year. The ‘Beauty beyond Limits‘ photographic exhibition by photo reporter Massimo Sestini. Twenty monumental photographic works reproduced in a 5 x 3 metre format, capturing glimpses of Tuscany portrayed from an aerial perspective. Fantastic images full of colour and texture, idealizing our love of geometric order. All part of various initiatives around the concept of ‘Tuscany, Renaissance without End’, promoted  by The Tuscan Tourism Board.

As  the curator Sergio Risaliti says “Sestini wants to show us how photography transforms the landscape into a picture, in pictorial language, with its contents returned to the gaze in terms of structures and figurative terms. The landscape as a work of art is born from the union between the artist, the photographer , the technological tool, the performing gesture decided upstream “,

Aerial view on Florence

Florence, aerial view and the real thing

And he has taken shots of some beloved places, that I never get tired of seeing no matter from what perspective – Florence, Cathedral, the Palio of Siena,  the countryside of Val d’Orcia,….

Landscape of Val d'Orcia, Siena

Val d’Orcia

 

Bike race, dirt roads, Siena

Bike race, dirt roads, Siena

The incredible texture of the landscape shots from 600m or so above is powerful.

 

 

 

 

Sestini also managed to include in the exhibition one of his personal passions whichRolling Stone concert, Lucca started his career in photography, taking photos at rock concerts before he moved onto newspaper reporting. Rolling Stones concert in Lucca 2017.

And of course in the setting of Forte Belvedere it’s a pleasure to wander amongst the photos as well as savour the fantastic view over Florence.View of Florence

While the view and exhibition would normally attract thousands of visitors, this year Covid 19 has sadly left the bar empty and only a few wander the grounds. Still I am sure they are already planning next year’s exhibition at  Forte Belvedere as it has hosted many stunning ones over the years – Gormley ‘Humans’, ‘Sounding of the Gong’, Zhang Huan ‘Soul and Matter‘, Folon and more…

Massimo Sestini continues with an exhibition indoors in Santa Maria Novella church complex that will continue into 2021 with photos related to Dante Alighieri as  it will be 700years since his death. Dante 700.I hope to get to see that, since lockdown is still permitting Museums to remain open….so far.

Florence will have its Renaissance after Covid 19 leaves us!                                          For those coming out of lockdown – Be careful, for those slipping into lockdown – Be patient and everybody Stay Safe!

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A Bird’s eye view on Florence – Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio FlorenceWant a bird’s eye view of Florence? While the options are many – Brunelleschi’s Dome, the Cathedral bell tower or the magnificent panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo, I had never seen Florence from the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was time to go and I was lucky enough to go up just before a storm rolled in and it teemed down on the city.

The Arnolfi Tower takes its name from the architect Arnolfo di Cambio who began construction of the building in 1299. However the tower was already present and incorporated into the Palazzo, hence its decentralized  position. At that time it was known as the ‘della Vacca‘ or ‘cow’ tower owned by the Foraboschi family. ‘Della Vacca’ as cattle usually passed through the streets towards the butchers’ shops, located in Borgo Santi Apostoli and in Via delle Terme. Can you imagine that?! The piazza was in fact not a piazza, but streets, alleyways and housing belonging to families loyal to the Ghibellines. On the defeat of the Ghibellines their houses were expropriated and demolished by the victorious Guelphs, all except for the tower. The Palace of ‘Priors‘ was built to house the Florentine government. A military Palace boasting the power of the city, a fortified building complete with battlements, the square based Guelph and swallow tailed Ghibelline battlements on the tower. An appropriate setting for its governors (Priors) who were locked inside for their two months in office, to avoid corruption and distraction from the outside world!Arnolfo Tower, Palazzo Vecchio

The tower visit has 3 viewing areas, the parapet walkway, and two access points at the top. A narrow staircase taken with enthusiasm by tourists, both local and foreign eager to see the first view over the city. Note the covered holes in the floor of the parapet walkway where liquid lime, stones and other hazardous materials could be launched on besiegers. The 360 degree view on Florence is awesome and this was just the beginning….

Tower of palazzo VecchjioMore stairs as we climb to the top, 95m above the city, almost to the same height as Brunelleschi’s dome on the Cathedral at 116.5m but then that’s including the gold ball and cross. Past the cell ironically called ‘Alberghetto’ – ‘Little Hotel‘ where Cosimo the Elder was imprisoned in 1433 and also the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola before being burned at the stake in Piazza Signoria.

The view of Florence takes everyone’s breath away, it is inebriating! Mobile phones click furiously as we circulate between the battlements to get the best shot.

Florence Cathedral from top of the tower

View on Santa Croce church as the storm rolls inIt’s a long way downIt's a long way down Tower palazzo Vecchio

And of course the obligatory selfie….proof of the visit!View from the top

 

Weather vane Palazzo Vecchio

Photo credit Ron Reznick www.digital-images.net

The last curiosity is that we are just below the wonderful golden weather vane, consisting of a sphere, a rampant lion (the Marzocco) and the Lily of Florence. And as the local proverb goes “if the lion pees in the Arno river then it’s going to rain!” Florentines still heed its warning.

The Palazzo of Priors became the old palace – Palazzo Vecchio from the end of the 16th century when the Medici family moved to the Pitti Palace. It continues today to be the Town Hall of Florence, much admired and respected and highly recommended to visit both inside and up the Arnolfo tower.

 

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Florence frescoes in Brancacci chapel

Santa Maria del Carmine church, Florence church.While it’s still hot, the other best place to get cool is hiding in museums or churches, and Florence has no lack of either. A favourite and lesser known church, very unassuming with an unfinished facade is the Santa Maria del Carmine church.  It houses one of the most important frescoe cycles of the early Renaissance period in the Brancacci chapel. So called, as it was commissioned by Felice Brancacci, a wealthy Florentine Andrea Verga cultural mediator guidewool and silk merchant and politician, to illustrate the life of St Peter in honour of his grandfather Peter who had made the family’s fortune. Also in recognition that the  Great Western schism of the church had been resolved in 1417.

To get the best out of my visit. Andrea Verga, a young enthusiastic ‘cultural mediator’ employed by Muse was my delightful storyteller.

The frescoes make a fascinating story, and as appropriate in educating the population of today as they served to educate the population in the past. They illustrate the artistic developments of the three artists involved, and the political climate with portraits of friends and important statesmen featuring in episodes..

Miraculously the frescoes were spared by the great fire of 1771 that devastated the rest of the church, covering the frescoes with smoke. They were brush cleaned in 1904 but it was not until the late 1980’s that a thorough restoration returned the frescoes to their vivid colours.

Painted between 1424 and 1428 by  Masolino da Panicale and his young pupil Masaccio. Masaccio being considered the first great artist of the early Renaissance and associating with other such greats as Brunelleschi and Donatello. However, the frescoes remained unfinished due to his premature death at only 26 years in 1428, and were completed some 50 years later between 1481 and 1483 by Filippino Lippi.

The Original Sin by MasolinoFrom the fairytale figures af Adam and Eve in ‘The Original Sin‘ by Masolino to the more innovative style of Massaccio who uses light and shade to give more realism to the scene, and more consistency and solidity to the figures as in ‘The Tribute Money’.  Three scenes in one, where Christ shows St Peter  how to get coins from a fish to pay the city entrance tax as the Roman tax collector (in the short orange tunic in the foreground) demands, and St Peter, always in a yellow robe, pays (on the right).The Tribute Money by Masaccio

St Peter preaches and converts the thousands‘ by Masolino (on the upper left) to ‘The Baptism of the Neophytes‘ by Masaccio (on the right). Note the transparent water and the figure shivering as he waits his turn to be baptized. Below left ‘Healing the sick‘ by Masaccio where St Peter on passing has healed a lame man and another two wait to be healed.

Distribution of Alms and death of Ananias by Masaccio In the ‘Distribution of alms‘ my trusty guide Andrea,  tells us that Masaccio came from a very poor family and was easily able to portray the poverty of the time in the mother holding the child wearing a dress too small. It also highlighted the lesson to be learnt as the rich had been encouraged to share their wealth but Ananias had kept some of his share apart and St Peter knowing that he lied calls him out. Ananias fell dead at his feet from shame.

In the ‘Healing of the Cripple‘ and the ‘Raising of Tabitha‘ by both Masolino and Masaccio ( top frescoe below) we were to note the scene of everyday Florentine life in the background – washing hanging out, a monkey sneaking along the facade, a child tugging at his mother’s skirt. The two elegant figures in the centre, one dressed in wool and ermine fur trim, typical of the 13th century (on the right), the other in damask silk customary in the 14th century with velvet turbans indicating the fruitfulness of Oriental trade.Brancacci chapel frescoes

‘The Crucifixion of St Peter‘ and ‘St Peter and Simon Magus before Nero‘ were painted by Filippino Lippi. St Peter crucified upside down as a sign of humility to Christ, as in death we return to our birth position. In the archway staring at us is a portrait of Sandro Botticelli, Filippino’s friend and teacher, and probably a self portrait of Filippino St Peter Enthroned by Masacciowith the beret on the extreme right .behind the blue robe

We can see other famous portraits in ‘St Peter’s Enthronement‘ by Masaccio – in the right corner hardly visible is tiny Masolino beside a self portrait of Masaccio in red robe next to Brunelleschi with the black hat, and Leon Alberto Battista ( humanist and architect) in black robe.
St Peter Raising Theophilus from the dead by Masaccio and Filippino Lippi

The last curiosity I will share is the elaborate ‘photoshop’ that occurred in the scene ‘Raising of Theophilus Son from the Dead‘ Here Theophilus (in pink on elevated stage) is a portrait of Florence’s bitter enemy the Milan tyrant Visconti and in the crowd around the son the Brancacci family had been featured. However as the Brancacci family were exiled from Florence in 1436 for being anti Medici, Filippino Lippi had to redo the heads!

To think such a tiny chapel holds a wealth of information in these frescoes of which one could write about for pages; the political significance, the religious symbolism, the personal differences.  Funnily enough  Masolino and Masaccio are nicknames as they were both officially named Tommaso but nicknamed ‘little Tom’ for Masolino and ‘clumsy or messy Tom’ for Masaccio. I am forever enchanted by the ‘mess‘, particularly of a youngster only in his 20’s!


 

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Tuscan coastline – Castiglione della Pescaia

Tuscany mapAs the blazing heat continues it’s time to explore another favourite beach area along the Tuscan coastline at Castiglione della Pescaia. Roughly a 2 hour drive from Florence down south, Castiglione della Pescaia is beautifully placed in an area known as the Maremma offering long sandy beaches, a medieval historic centre, woodlands for hiking, and even Etruscan tombs nearby at Vetulonia. You always know when you have arrived in the Maremma by lines of umbrella pine trees separating agricultural land or lining the driveway entrance to a property.Castiglione della Pescaia pine trees

View from Buriano castle ruinsWe are staying in a little hilltop village, Buriano, 20kms before Castiglione della Pescaia immersed in woodlands for good morning hikes and where the views are endless and the evenings catch a fresh breeze.

Afternoons spent on the long sandy beaches stretching either side of Castiglione dellla Pescaia. While there are a choice of exotic bathing complexes with Caribbean style umbrellas, business looks bad as many opt, like we do, for the ample free beach areas where there is no problem about social distancing.

Beach traders are back

It’s encouraging to see the boys are back trading along the beach, although I think business is pretty dismal for them as well, as it’s financially a tough time for everyone these days. Still it’s something of a return to ‘normal‘ which is reassuring. The water is warm and enticing and its a delight to laze away the afternoon till sunset.

While Castiglione is well known to Italians and some Europeans it is a little off the beaten track for most tourists visiting Florence. Certainly at the moment it is full of Italian tourists enjoying a Summer break

View of Castiglione della Pescaia fortress

View of fortress Photo Credit: Stefano Ferrari

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The historic medieval town was well guarded by its fortress which sits above the main town of today, offering the best views and some delightful bars and restaurants.

From Castiglione view to Elba islandWithin view from Castiglione is the Island of Elba, another favourite Summer spot for Tuscans, and only one of many in the Tuscan Archipelago. Private boat trips leave from Castiglione to explore the more secluded, while the public ferry for Elba has to be taken from Piombino.Castiglione della Pescaia sunset from the fortress

For us there is more than enough to keep us entertained and to while away the week than take a boat ride. A late evening stroll along the waterfront past the bathing complexes closed for the day and no crazy nightime discos, as in the past due to Covid 19 restrictions, is the perfect end to a great holiday.Castiglione della Pescaia end of the day

For a more bird’s eye of Castiglione della Pescaia see the video here

 

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