Galileo Museum, Florence

In all the time I’ve spent in Florence over the years, I have never, ever set foot in the Galileo Museum.  So, today I finally went.  Science in general is not my cup of tea, but this museum is much more than a science museum.

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For starters, here’s the view from the museum.  Hello up there, San Miniato!

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Not bad, right?!  I know.

You also can enjoy the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio from the museum:

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So, here’s how my visit went today.

For starters, I learned right off the bat that the basis for this incredible collection of scientific instruments and realia is courtesy of the Medici family. No surprise there, I suppose; I had just never thought about it.  In the case of this scientific collection, it is one of the later Medici (not the Renaissance era family) who put these amazing things together and bequeathed them to Firenze.  Here is Grand Duke Peter Leopold’s very interesting “chemistry cabinet.”  I’ve seen a lot of bunsen burners in my school days, but I’ve never seen a cabinet made of the finest woods and high quality finishing.  It is quite something.

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Neither of the pictures below do the cabinet justice.  There were just too many attractions in this room for me to focus on the cabinet itself.

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Here’s some interesting information about the collection and Grand Duke.

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Now, what I hadn’t known before today is that many scientific discoveries were performed for the European elite at their evening parties. Read the English text in the following slide, which discusses how these soirees would feature chemistry tricks, etc.

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I think the following panel tells the story most succinctly: electricity took the place of the quadrille.  Who needs to dance when you can be amazed when things light up and other “magical” effects.

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The 18th century was truly an age of discovery, as the following quote lays out:

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And, of course, if you are going to present scientific parlor tricks to the upper crust, you have to have some impressive and attractive equipment.  To wit: this label in English:

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Indeed, and here is a sampling of some of them.  They are presented in a very effective exhibition manner in this very handsome museum.

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Check out this portrait of an Italian scientist named Giovanni Battista Amici. What I immediately noticed was his unusual hairdo.  I wonder if he or his portraitist considered maybe combing his hair?

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Giovanni Battista Amici (1786-1863) was an Italian astronomer, microscopist, and botanist. He was the director of the observatory at Florence, where he also lectured at the museum of natural history. Amici died in Florence in 1863.

Amici is best known for the improvements he effected in the mirrors of reflecting telescopes and especially in the construction of the microscope. He was also a diligent and skillful observer, and busied himself not only with astronomical subjects, such as the double stars, the satellites of Jupiter and the measurement of the polar and equatorial diameters of the sun, but also with biological studies of the circulation of the sap in plants, the fructification of plants, infusoria etc. He was the first to observe the pollen tube. He invented the dipleidoscope and also the direct vision prism and the “Amici crater” on the Moon is named in his honor.

Back to the exquisite instruments.  These glass objects were mind-blowing in that they are hundreds of years old and fragile and some of these delicate vials and decanters are really large.

 

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As the museum exhibition makes clear, there was a boon for the manufacturers of these delicate and finely calibrated pieces of equipment.  The high echelon of society that enjoyed watching evening entertainments composed of science demonstrations often wanted to have some of their own objects.  Hence: a boom in the manufacturing.

 

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Here’s how you weighed yourself if you were uppercrust:

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And then there was the advancements in clock-making.

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Another genre of objets produced to amaze high society were paintings contrived so that you see one picture (a gentleman) when you look at it straight on, and you see a second picture (the gentleman’s wife?) when you look at the mirror attached to the top of the painting.  I’m an art historian and I’ve never seen anything like this.  Italy has a way of amazing me, almost daily.

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And then there are the armillary spheres and globes! The next set of pix are all of one spectacular Florentine 16th-century armillary sphere:

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And then there are the globes, both terrestrial and celestial:

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And the maps!  The elaborate 15th-century map below shows the known world.  Asia is a land mass to the west of Europe here.  The New World had not yet been imagined.

 

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And did you know, because I didn’t until today, that the Medici had plans to get involved in the great age of discovery:

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And then there are the atlases:

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And who might this be?

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Amerigo Vespucci, don’t you know.  He was a Florentine of course. I’ve seen his tomb in the Chiesa Di San Salvatore di Ognissanti.  (FYI: Sandro Botticelli is buried there too.)

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More instruments, beautifully displayed:

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The cabinet pieces:

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I’ve saved my favorite objets for last: the thinest, most beautiful glass vessels:

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See those tall, thin extensions of certain glass pieces above?  Those are glass and a part of the object.  It is absolutely stunning. And they are old! How did they survive?

 

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And finally, the important man for whom this collection is named:

 

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Fra Fillipo Lippi fresco cycle in Prato duomo; Prato cathedral Part 2

Late last week I had the great pleasure of visiting Prato with a new friend who was born and raised there.  There is nothing like visiting a lovely small Italian town with someone who knows their way around.  My friend showed me things I would have found on my own!

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I wrote a post on the Duomo of Prato, where I discussed the architecture and sculpture.  The Duomo is such a rich repository of masterworks that it needs several posts.  Today I will deal only with the Far Fillips Lippi frescoes created between 1452-66.

Let’s start with this basic premise: these paintings are gorgeous and in excellent condition!  I have waited an art historian’s lifetime to see them and they did to disappoint.

This is the apse end of the basilica in all of its glory.  The Far Fillipo Lippi frescoes are in the chapel in the center:

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These frescoes show the master, Fra Filippo Lippi, at his finest. They were produced slowly and sporadically between 1452 and 1466.

The enormous scale of the choir, and consequently the painted subjects, were a far cry from the intimacy of the Brancacci Chapel.  The cycle has been restored recently, revealing powerful yet sensitive images produced with verve and facility during a late period in Lippi’s development.

The Prato frescoes were both an artistic and a physical challenge for the aging painter, and, particularly in the large scenes on either side of the choir with stories of St John the Baptist and St Stephen, scholars believe that a significant share of the execution may be attributed to workshop assistants.

Below: View of the chapel filled with the fresco cycle

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South Wall

Below: overview of the right (south) wall of the main chapel

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Beginning at top, coming down, we begin with “The Birth and Naming St John”

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The Birth and Naming St John (detail)

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The 2nd fresco down from the top: “St. John Taking Leave of His Parents”

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St. John Taking Leave of his Parents (detail)

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St. John Taking Leave of His Parents (detail)

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Third scene down from the top: Herod’s Banquet

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Herod’s Banquet (detail)

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Herod’s Banquet (detail)

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Herod’s Banquet (detail)

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Herod’s Banquet (detail)

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Herod’s Banquet (detail)

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The Beheading of John the Baptist, scene to the far left of the main fresco

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North Wall:

View of the left (north) wall of the main chapel

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Beginning at top of fresco on North wall: St Stephen is Born and Replaced by Another Child

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St Stephen is Born and Replaced by Another Child (detail)

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St Stephen is Born and Replaced by Another Child (detail)

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2nd Fresco down from top, The Disputation in the Synagogue

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The Disputation in the Synagogue (detail)

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The Disputation in the Synagogue (detail)

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The Disputation in the Synagogue (detail)

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The  Disputation in the Synagogue (detail)

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Third fresco down from the top: The Funeral of St Stephen

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The Funeral of St Stephen (detail)

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The Funeral of St Stephen (detail)

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The Funeral of St Stephen (detail)

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The Funeral of St Stephen (detail)

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The Funeral of St Stephen (detail)

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Scene to the far right of the main fresco: The Martyrdom of St Stephen

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St Alberto of Trapani

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St Alberto of Trapani

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Allora, I have shown you the main paintings within this fresco cycle and explained the location.  Now let me simply share the pictures I took with my phone.  My phone was never pointed at anything more beautiful…and that is saying something!

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The cathedral in Prato, Part 1

The beautiful Prato Cathedral (aka il Duomo di Prato) is dedicated to the 1st Christian martyr, Saint Stephen.

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The original church of Saint Stephen was built in a green meadow (“a prato”) after an appearance of the Virgin Mary near the first-known settlement in Prato, the Borgo al Cornio. That village was located in the present-day center of Prato.

The first building was a small parish church, documented to AD 994 as the Pieve di Santo Stefano. The expansion of the church began in the 15th century and transformed the modest building into one of the most lovely Gothic-Romanesque buildings in Tuscany.

The current structure dates from the Romanesque period of the 12th century: the nave, side walls and greater part of the bell tower remain from this date. The upper stage of the bell tower was constructed in 1356.

La Sacra Cintola

During the 14th century, the cathedral acquired an important relic, the Sacra Cintola or Belt of the Holy Virgin. With this immensely valued relic, a larger and grander church was desired. Accordingly, the building was enlarged by the addition of a transept, which is attributed to Giovanni Pisano but is probably the work of a pupil of Nicola Pisano. The Cintola Chapel was also built at this time to house the relic.

In the early 15th century, a new façade was given to the cathedral, built in the International Gothic style. Placed right in front of the old facade, the intervening space provided a narthex or corridor leading to a highly unusual bit of  church architecture: the external pulpit, built by Michelozzo and decorated by Donatello between 1428 and 1438.

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The seven rectangular relief sculptures that Donatello created for the outer face of the exterior pulpit designed by Michelozzo are reminiscent of his sculptures for the Cantoria in the Florence Duomo.

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Both sets of sculptures treat the figure of the dancing cherubs and are formed in front of subtly colored mosaic background, which gives the surfaces a very lively appearance.

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In 1967 the Donatello works were removed from the exterior pulpit and are kept in the cathedral’s museum. Reproductions were installed on the exterior of the pulpit, and provide a very similar ambience.

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The façade has a single central portal with a lintelled doorway surmounted by a Gothic arch. In the lunette over the door is a glazed terracotta sculpture by Andrea della Robbia depicting the Madonna with Saints Stephen and John.

Below the central gable, a decorative clock is set into the façade, in place of a central window. It is surrounded by segments of the contrasting marble and forms part of the harmonious design.

Inside the church stands a notable Renaissance pulpit in white marble (1469–1473). The parapet has reliefs by Antonio Rossellino, portraying the Assumption and the Stories of St. Stephen, and by Mino da Fiesole portraying the Stories of St. John the Baptist.

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The base is decorated with sphinxes.

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Here are some pictures of miscellaneous elements inside the Duomo, all of which caught my eye:

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The sarcophagus rests on pieces of simulated fruit: they appear to be pomegranates and this is the first time I’ve ever seen such a treatment.

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A floor pattern in one of the chapels:

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Capitals derived from designs of angels; who needs an acanthus leaf when you can use an angel instead????

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A small staircase leads from the old church to the 14th-century transept, which has five high cross vaults, each ending in an apse divided by pilasters. The presbytery has three works by the American artist Robert Morris (2000–2001).

In the south arm of the transept is the Renaissance tabernacle by the Da Maiano brothers: the Madonna with Child terracotta (1480) is by the more famous Benedetto.

The chapels can be accessed through a 17th-century balustrade in polychrome marble, for which parts of the Renaissance choir were re-used (including crests and cherubims).

In the south arm of the transept, the Vinaccesi Chapel houses a notable Deposition of Christ from the 13th century. It also has 19th-century frescoes by the Pratese painter Alessandro Franchi.
Chapel of the Sacred Girdle – fresco by Agnolo Gaddi
Next is the Assumption Chapel, which was frescoed in 1435-1436 by the so-called Master of Prato and by a young Paolo Uccello, who painted the Stories of the Virgin and St. Stephen, completed by Andrea di Giusto in the lower section. They show a bizarre fantasy of enchanted figures caught in a wide range of brilliant colors, and surrounded by Brunelleschi-like architecture.

In the main chapel, or chancel, Filippo Lippi and Fra Diamante painted the Stories of St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist. On the lower north wall are depicted the Obsequies of St. Stephen, in which Lippi portrayed Pope Pius II, set in a Palaeo-Christian basilica, as an imposing figure in scarlet costume. On the right is the artist’s self-portrait. On the opposite wall is Herod’s Banquet, showing a large hall in which Salome is performing her ballet, and the handing over of the head of John the Baptist to Herodias. The altar is by Ferdinando Tacca (1653).

The Manassei Chapel was frescoed by a pupil of Agnolo Gaddi in the early 15th century with Stories of St. Margaret and St. James. The last chapel on the left, the Chapel of the Inghirami, houses a funerary monument attributed to Benedetto da Maiano and a stained glass window from the early 16th century.

Cintola Chapel
The Cintola Chapel (Italian: Cappella del Sacro Cingolo) is located under the last arch of the north aisle, next to the counter-façade. It houses the Sacra Cintola or Girdle of Thomas, the belt which, according to the tradition, was given to Saint Thomas by the Virgin Mary during the Assumption. It was brought to Prato in the 13th century.

The chapel has frescoes of Stories of the Virgin and the Cintola by Agnolo Gaddi (1392–1395), which are notable for their luminous colors. Also noteworthy is the panorama of Prato in the Michael’s Return scene.

The 18th-century altar, which encloses the Cintola, is crowned by a marble Madonna with Child (c. 1301), and is considered one of Giovanni Pisano’s masterpieces.

I’ll be writing more posts  covering the frescoes and cortile of the Duomo.  Stay tuned!

These marble floors…oh, if only they could speak about what they have seen!IMG_5892