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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Raffaello, 500 years after his death

Self portrait 1506 Uffizi GalleryIn the midst of Covid19 Lockdown is the celebration of Raffaello, the great Renaissance painter and architect, 500 years after his death on the 6th April 1520.

A grand exhibition  ‘Raffaello’  has been organised in the Quirinal Stables in Rome to open on the 5 March until 20 June. However Covid 19 changed all that, although the exhibition may still be extended.  Over 100 paintings and designs are in the exhibition from all over the world, 40 of which have come from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence which has an extensive collection of Raffaello‘s work.

In such a brief lifespan (1483-1520) Raffaello produced some remarkable and beautiful masterpieces, in paintings, frescoes and designs. Born in Urbino ( Le Marche) he lost his mother at 8 years and was orphaned at 11 when his father died. His father had been a painter and recognised the potential in his son, introducing him to the well known painter Perugino where Raffaello completed his apprenticeship. At 17 he had already surpassed his master in technique and skill in composition, perspective and sensitivity to his subject.

The Engagement of the Virgin Mary 1504

 

Raffaello’sThe Engagement of the Virgin Mary’ 1504   (Pinoteca Gallery Brera, Milan)  has definite similarities to his master, Perugino‘s work ‘The Marriage of the Virgin’ yet if you compare the two the pupil has outclassed his master in perspective and naturalness in the figures.

In 1504 he arrived in Florence, which at the time was experiencing a moment of great creativity with artistic masters such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Raffaello studied their work and develops his own ‘in which naturalness of gesture and idealized beauty are in perfect balance.’

He still remains very attached to his birthplace and is sought after for his talents, producing many portraits of important members of society – like the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Uffizi Gallery)Duke and Duchess of Urbino

and an important Florentine couple – the merchant Agnolo Doni and his wife Maddalena Strozzi 1506 (Uffizi Gallery)Agnolo Doni and wife Maddalena Strozzi 1506

 

Madonna of the goldfinch 1505/06He works on some variations on the theme of the Virgin, a subject which will accompany him throughout his life, like the Madonna of the Goldfinch also part of the Uffizi Gallery collection.

His fame reaches Rome, where he moved to in 1508 to become the official painter of Pope Julius II and his successor Leo X. In 1508 he began the frescoes in the Vatican Rooms and papal apartments. He was also called upon to continue the frescoes of legendary figures and mythological episodes in the grandiose Villa Farnesina, home to a wealthy Sienese banker, Agostino Chigi.

This is definitely on my list of places to visit next time I am in Rome as his ‘Triumph of Galatea’  a nymph standing on a shell drawn by dolphins fleeing from the amorous advances of the dreaded Polyphemus, has to been seen in real life.

The Veiled Woman 1516

Raffaello was officially engaged to married but seemed reluctant, and is known to have had many affairs. The great love of his life being the baker’s daughter Margherita Luti ‘La Fornarina‘ depicted here by Raffaello (Palazzo Pitti, Florence)

His bride to be died in 1520 and Raffaello suddenly on his 37th birthday. Giorgio Vasari, painter and historian of the time wrote it was from ‘exhaustion and excessive passion’ and historians today believe it was from some mysterious illness.

His last commissioned and unfinished work the  ‘Transfiguration’ was placed on his coffin. There was a grand funeral, attended by large crowds and important people of the day. Raffaello‘s body was carried by four Cardinals and buried in the Pantheon in Rome with an extraordinary epitaph:

‘To the memory of Raffaello, son of Giovanni Sanzio of Urbino, the most eminent painter and rival of the Ancients. Behold his almost breathing images and you will easily see the alliance of Nature and Art. With his works of painting and architecture he swelled the glory of Popes Julius II and Leo X. He lived 37 virtuous years and died on the day of his birth, April 6 1520.

This is Raffaello, in his life great Mother Nature feared defeat and in his death she feared herself to die.’

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Who was Natalia Goncharova?

Self Portrait with yellow lillies 1907-08It’s always a pleasure to discover a new artist, and Natalia Goncharova was totally new to me and a delightful discovery. Intriguing because she was Russian, unconventional and painted in my favourite period of Contemporary Art, the same time as Picasso, Gaugin. Balla, Matisse and others. Multitalented as she designed sets and costumes for the Russian ballet and continued painting and illustrating right up until her death in 1962.

Palazzo Strozzi in Florence housed the exhibition and her paintings were a fabulous blast of colour, a unique mix of artistic styles, ‘forging her own unique fusion of tradition and innovation of East and West’ having spent a considerable part of her life in Paris mixing with various European artists and styles.

Born in 1881 in the Tula Province of Russia, Goncharova spent many of her Summers Goncharova in traditional peasant dresson her family’s estate and photos show her in traditional costumes of Tula with her mother and cousin.

In 1901 she meets her lifelong partner Mikhail Larionov, also an artist, and despite their ‘open‘ relationship their creative partnership lasts for their entire lifetime.

Her work is exhibited in Paris and they are both influenced by the Parisian artists and styles, Cezanne, Gauguin and les Fauves ‘the wild beasts‘ like Matisse.

There was an ample description of her life which included her Avant-garde approach – 1910 she is the first woman artist to show nudes in Russia and is arrested and charged with pornography and offending public morality but fortunately acquitted at her trial!

Goncharova Futurist body Art‘In 1913, together with Larionov and Ilia Zdanevich, Goncharova holds body painting performances and they saunter down the most elegant streets of Moscow with their faces painted with images, uttering offensive words intended to shock conservative passers-by in accordance with the principles of futurist body art‘!The Harvest (5 of 9 parts) 1911-12

 

 

 

 

All part of the development of a distinct Russian style of Futurist painting which they  call Rayonism, a new way to express energy and movement incorporating Russian folklore and traditions in a pre-revolutionary Russia.

Such a fascinating life story and such a complex artist and not only as she moves into designing sets and costumes for the Russian ballet – on religious themes, influenced by the byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, Italy and early Tuscan  Renaissance artists,

and Spanish dress when the Russian ballet performs in Spain. Intricate and delicate designs yet bold in their portrayal.

The selection of works exhibited gave a wonderful overview of Natalia Goncharova‘s artistic career and enticed me to find out more and hopefully to see again in a future exhibition. As she said “The art of my country is incomparably deeper than anything that I have come to know in the West”

 

And what you see here is only a part of what was on display!

After living together for over 50 years Natalia and Mikhail marry in 1955, to ensure that the surviving partner can inherit the other’s paintings. In 1962 Natalia Goncharova dies and her work is left to Mikhail Larionov. He remarries in 1963 to Alexandra Tomilina and dies in 1964. In 1985 Tomilina leaves their entire collection to the Soviet Government, but there is a legal tussle from the French Government during 1988-89 who claim several of Goncharova’s works in lieu of death duties!


 

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The Botany of Leonardo da Vinci

Santa Maria Novella church, Florence

It seems appropriate to finish the year with a post on Leonardo Da Vinci since we have been commemorating 500th anniversary of his death with all sorts of events. Besides it’s fascinating to learn more about his genius as a Scientist, Botanist, Biologist and more; his holistic approach and prolific notes and designs crammed onto every page of the Codes.

This time the exhibition – The Botany of Leonardo  focused on ‘the philosophical and technical content of the time in which Leonardo Da Vinci lived in order to explore his study of the forms and Leonardo Atlanticus codeprocesses of the plant world in greater depth, through his outlook as a “systemic” thinker, highlighting the connections between art, science and nature’ ( Exhibition Notes). 

I was fortunate to be taken through the exhibition with a guide who added a little more spice in the introduction to Leonardo sharing details essential to understanding his scribblings since he was left handed and wrote from right to left. At that time left Leonardo's left handed scripthandedness was considered the devil’s hand and children were punished severely. Leonardo instead had been rather pampered by his paternal grandfather who indulges his left handedness and encourages his studies with a private teacher so he never comes under the stricter teachings of the classics and humanities. As a child born out of wedlock, the freedom allowed in his grandfather’s care means he is spared from the dogmas of the time developing a ‘freethinking attitude full of experience and experiment that foreshadows the scientific methods developed more than a century later by Bacon and Galileo.’  (Walter Isaacson “Leonardo da Vinci”). Examples of Leonardo’s writing are only easily read in a mirror reflection.

Model of furnaces used for chemical and pharmaceutical productionThe guide continued to emphasize Leonardo‘s respect of Nature as he experimented with alchemical processes, studying the cause and effect, and despising anyone who tried to replace Nature and break its laws, manipulating it for their own end. Two model furnaces were on display from St Mark’s Foundry similar to what Leonardo designed having recognized the power of fire in transforming materials, in particular metals.

The Refactory housed the main exhibits and we are welcomed immediately by a live plant wall with a projected ceiling decoration of Leonardo‘s from the Sforza

Castle in Milan where he had spent many years in the service of Ludovico il Moro. His codes cover extensive scientific studies on light, perspective, urban planning and architecture, engineering, mechanics, human and animal anatomy, an endless search to understand the complexities of his surroundings with an interdisciplinary perspective.

He sees similarities between processes, structures and patterns e.g. his study of the human body and blood circulation is compared to the vital sap that nourishes trees, or tributary branches of a river.

Building on ancient Roman theories Leonardo discovered the principles of what we nowPhyllotactic tower call phyllotaxis – the set of rules governing the arrangement of leaves along a branch, explaining how this arrangement helps the plant to receive air, light and water. Used in green architecture today.

He understands that plants respond to environmental stimuli, growing towards the light and the extent to which they are effected by gravity. Plants on a slowly turning wheel had been planted at various angles and only those upright were doing well, and those upside down were in a very sorry state.

And of course Leonardo, the artist, wrote endless recipes on preparing pigments, dyes and oils from the plant world for paintings and drawings.Leonardo's plants in The Annunciation

His meticulous studies being reproduced in his paintings and drawings of plants.

 

 

 

da Vinci's vitruvian treeThe exhibition was truly fascinating with so much more than can be described here. And catering to today’s world, ended with an invite to do a ‘Selfie‘ inside the ‘Vitruvian Tree’  one of Leonardo da Vinci‘s most famous drawings – ‘focusing on the measured relationships of the natural world, in search of the divine proportion between man and the living system’ ( exhibition notes). An invite to place ourselves within the regular forms of geometry and the equally perfect forms of Nature.Leonardo's vitruvian man

 

 

 

The man was a genius. His attention to detail is incredible, with such an advanced scientific approach that makes me think we are moving backwards while he was way ahead of us!


 

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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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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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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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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.

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The Silent tales on silos

Silos in VicWhile I am back to the cold Winter of Italy now, and welcomed back with a dose of flu, my memories of a superb Aussie trip remain vivid. I have been submersed in the endless Australian outback for most of January; experiencing its wildness, drooping under its heat, forever stimulated by its quirky elements, blown away by its beauty and entranced by the monotonous countryside that make it so typically “Aussie”.

Having read about the relatively new development of painted silos we were on a mission to explore these unique artistic sites along the Art Silo trail. We drove more than four hours from Melbourne through miles and miles of dry wheat lands, dotted sparsely with gum trees that offered little shade to the occasional herds of sheep seeking shelter from the harsh sun. We had come all this way, lured by the tales of the  wheat silos now boasting magnificent murales spread over 200 kms in 6 locations by 6 different artists. We were on the lookout for silos looming 30m tall mostly built around the 1930’s and now no longer used for storage for transport by rail. Lured also by such fanciful Aussie place names with Aboriginal heritage like Patchewollock,  – ‘putje’ meaning plenty and ‘wallah‘ meaning porcupine grass, Rupanyup meaning ‘branch hanging over water’, Brim signifying ‘spring of water’Patchewollock General Store

Patchewollock was to be the start of our Silo trail and having seen the relative remoteness of the town and its limited services we opted for the charm of an old weatherboard church converted into a B&B at the nearby town of Sea Lake – probably taking its name from the salty Lake Tyrrell, a desolate mirage of a Lake!

Patchewollock Art SiloOur first silo was painted by a Brisbane artist Fintan Magee in Oct 2016 and depicted a local farmer ‘Noodle Hulland‘ seemingly chosen for his slim build appropriate to the narrow silo and with such a classic farmer look. The striking blue of his shirt and jeans sitting so comfortably against the crystal blue sky.Preparation Patchewollock

 

 

 

 

Our next meeting with local characters – Geoff and Merrilyn Horman, was at Lascelles silo. The faces of the couple appear like enormous photographs, homage to a proud couple whose families have farmed the area for four generations. Painted by Melbourne artist Rone.

While these grain silos are now closed, in the past they were a place for the farming communities to come together during harvest, exchange news and stories and re-connect with old friends while the grain was loaded. Strengthening community ties just like Italians do at grape or olive harvests. To now see these people captured for real for all the world to see, must be a point of enormous pride, a great tribute to the farming community.

Rosebery SiloAnd we were still only at the beginning, our next Silo was at Rosebery by artist Kaff-eine. Highlighting the young female sheep farmers now so much a part of the local farming scene alongside the more traditional stockman image. Look closely and you will see me  propped between the silos to give an idea of the scale of these monsters. The video clip below shows the small community of Rosebery and what this Wimmera Mallee region is all about.

 

 

Moving on to Brim where the whole movement began in 2016 with the first mural by Guido Van Helten. A quartet of multi generational male and female farmers.Brim Silo

As the blazing sunshine  and cloudless sky continued we ventured on to the Sheep Hills silo depicting Aboriginals from the Barengi Gadjin Land Council, painted by local Mebourne artist Adnate.

And finally our last Silo at Rupanyup painted by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. This time featuring two local teenagers dressed in their sports gear – Ebony Baker and Jordan Weidmann. They will certainly have something to show their children when they grow up!

In between these Silos we found many still waiting on their murals, so there are sure to be more in the future as well as across the other States which have already taken on Mallee Fowl sculpturesboard the same idea. The experience for us has been  awesome and a real eye opener on life in this wheat farming area, where hearts and souls are as big and hard working as the Silos themselves. And it’s not only the Silos that are enormous, even the Mallee fowl get pretty huge!

It’s time for us to drive into our evening stay at the Horsham caravan park to relax after the gruelling heat of the day.The sunset over the river a perfect end to a superb day on the Art Silo Trail.


Silo map with Sea Lake


 

 

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