The waterlilies of Claude Monet

Yesterday I saw the new film, The Waterlilies of Monet, at the Odeon theater in Florence.  I didn’t know much about the film, just that it featured Monet and his waterlily paintings.  That was enough to get me there.  I’m happy I saw it.

The film is a bit strange, part mystical, part historical.  I don’t think it will have wide appeal, but it appealed to me.  Here’s info from the press release, in first Italian and then a rough translation. And the film’s trailer.

Milano – Per soli tre giorni, il 26, 27 e 28 novembre, in esclusiva nei cinema LE NINFEE DI MONET. UN INCANTESIMO DI ACQUA E DI LUCE. Un percorso, narrato da Elisa Lasowski de Il trono di spade, che ci porta alla scoperta del più grande progetto pittorico di Claude Monet: le Grandes Décorations, le ninfee.

For just three days, on November 26th, 27th and 28th, exclusively at MONET’s WATERLILIES cinemas. A SPELL OF WATER AND LIGHT. A journey, narrated by Elisa Lasowski of The Game of Thrones, leads us on a discovery of Claude Monet’s greatest pictorial project: the Grandes Décorations, the water lilies.

Il film, prodotto da Ballandi Arts e Nexo Digital, condurrà il pubblico a Parigi, tra il Musée Marmottan, il Musée de l’Orangerie e il Musée D’Orsay, a Giverny con la Fondation Monet, la casa e il giardino dell’artista, e tra i magnifici panorami di Étretat. A guidare gli spettatori alla scoperta dei luoghi, delle opere e delle vicende del maestro, ci sarà Elisa Lasowski, attrice ne Il Trono di Spade, mentre la consulenza scientifica sarà affidata allo storico e scrittore Ross King, autore del best seller Il mistero delle ninfee. Monet e la rivoluzione della pittura moderna, edito in Italia da Rizzoli.

The film, produced by Ballandi Arts and Nexo Digital, takes the public from  Paris, between the Musée Marmottan, the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Musée D’Orsay, to Giverny with the Fondation Monet, the artist’s house and garden, and shows the magnificent views of Étretat. Guiding the audience’s discovery of the places, works and events of the master, is Elisa Lasowski, actress in The Game of Thrones, while the scientific advice will be entrusted to the historian and writer Ross King, author of the best seller The mystery of water lilies; Monet and the revolution of modern painting, published in Italy by Rizzoli.

Il grande progetto di Monet
Seguendo il percorso della Senna, il film prende le mosse da Le Havre, dove Monet trascorre il primo periodo della sua vita artistica, e risale il fiume verso gli altri paesi dove ha dimorato: Poissy, Argenteuil, Vétheuil, e infine Giverny. Qui, a 70 anni di età e ormai quasi cieco a causa della cataratta, mentre piovono le bombe della Prima Guerra Mondiale, Monet concepisce il progetto di dipinti di enormi dimensioni, nei quali lo spettatore possa immergersi completamente. Il soggetto, le sue amate nymphéas. Dopo dieci anni, nel Musée de l’Orangerie di Parigi, la sua speranza trova finalmente il giusto compimento, nelle magnifiche sale ovali da lui stesso disegnate. Nel maggio del 1927, l’amico George Clemenceau inaugura finalmente il museo dedicato alla Grand Décoration.

The great project by Monet
Following the route of the Seine, the film starts from Le Havre, where Monet spends the first period of his artistic life, and goes up the river to the other areas where he lived: Poissy, Argenteuil, Vétheuil, and finally Giverny. Here, at 70 years of age and now almost blind because of the cataract, while the bombs of the First World War are raining down, Monet conceives the project of paintings of enormous dimensions, in which the viewer can immerse himself completely. The subject, his beloved waterlilies. After ten years, in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, his paintings find superb fulfillment, in the magnificent oval rooms he himself designed. In May 1927, his friend George Clemenceau finally inaugurated the museum dedicated to Grand Décoration.

19th century Florence

Here are wonderful images of how Florence looked as late as 1870s:




The façade was then left bare until the 19th century.
In 1864, a competition held to design a new façade was won by Emilio De Fabris (1808–1883) in 1871. Work began in 1876 and was completed in 1887. This neo-gothic façade in white, green and red marble forms a harmonious entity with the cathedral, Giotto’s bell tower and the Baptistery, but some think it is excessively decorated. The whole façade is dedicated to the Mother of Christ.




This is an oil painting of La Porta di San Gallo by Odoardo Borrani, c. 1880.  I admire it for its flavour and for showing us how the medieval walls around Florence still looked.   

The city walls surrounding Florence were widened and rebuilt many times over the millennia .

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  1. In the 2nd century A.D. Florence had 10,000 inhabitants and was surrounded by a 1st wall

2. After the fall of the Western Roman empire, the city suffered deeply and in the 6th century it had only 1000 inhabitants: a 2nd city wall was built, protecting a smaller area than the earlier Roman one.

3. Florence flourished again, and, at the beginning of 10th century the city was surrounded by a wider 3rd wall, which for the first time extended itself to the river Arno.

4. The building of the 4th wall was begun in 1078: Florence was a 20,000 inhabitants city and the Duke of Tuscany had moved his capital from Lucca to Florence. The new city walls surrounded also Piazza del Duomo, but the quarters of Oltrarno remained still unprotected.

5. In the years 1173-1175, the city built a 5th city wall: for the first time a defence wall was built also in Oltrarno, due to the increasing importance of the dwellings around the churches of San Felice, San Jacopo in Soprarno and Santa Felicita. Three city gates were built in Oltrarno (near today’s Piazza San Felice, Costa de’ Magnoli and Piazza Frescobaldi), but a real stone wall was not built: the protection consisted of palisades connecting the gates and houses whose outer façades were built without windows in order to offer more protection.

6.  A 6th wall was planned by at least 1284 (possibly under direction of Arnolfo di Cambio). These walls enclosed a very wide area and protected the whole city with all its newer and outer dwellings. The gates were 35 meters tall, and were decorated with religious frescoes (the Madonna and Saints); originally, on the square in front of each gate was also a statue of a famous Florentine writer or poet. The building of the walls was completed in 1333 – and finally the quarters of Oltrarno received a complete protection.
In 16th century, the city prepared to face the army of the German emporer, Charles V, and in 1530 new fortifications were added around San Miniato al Monte. After that, Grand-duke Ferdinando I commissioned Bernardo Buontalenti to build a fortress; it was completed in the years 1590-1595 near the gate of San Giorgio and was named Fortress of Santa Maria, but became rapidly known as Fortezza Belvedere.

Between 1865 and 1871 Florence was provisory Capital of Italy: the city walls were demolished in order to build the new ring road. Only the walls in Oltrarno survived, with all their towers.

In 1998 a part of the wall between the gate of Porta Romana and Piazza Tasso has been restored and opened to visitors.

Facciata del Duomo in costruzione, 1871 circa.

I finally go to the insane asylum

It finally happened.  I snapped, and needed to get to the asylum asap!


Actually, I’m kidding.  But for a while yesterday I thought I might lose my marbles.  I was joining a very sophisticated Florentine educational institution for a guided tour of the old grounds of Florence’s historic psychiatric hospital and it seemed as if fate was against my plan.  (Maybe she thought they would keep me if I got there?). It took 2 buses and a taxi to get me to a place I could have walked to easier and faster. I made it just in time to join the tour.  Live and learn; next time I’ll walk.

So, the place: as you can see in the plaque above, I was about to enter the Manicomio di Firenze, ospedale psichiatrico. Founded by Vincenzo Chiarugi, the psychiatric hospital was opened in 1890 (an earlier hospital was on Via San Gallo).

Almost 100 years later, in 1968, this hospital located on Via di San Salvi #12, was shuttered.  The city has been attempting to refill the site with various cultural and non-profit organisations ever since.  It would be a shame not to use this large campus, composed of 32 hectares and housed in 20 buildings, for something.  It is prime property on the outer eastern edge of the city. You can find it with the big red pin below:

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Below is a map of the San Salvi grounds, showing how the buildings are laid out and a key to how they are/will be used:


Here’s how the guided tour was advertised to an erudite audience:

“Come with us to walk along the tree-lined avenues of (hospital) San Salvi, a unique place immersed in the city and at the same time quite isolated. Here, in what was once a very active psychiatric hospital– the “crazy” poet Dino Campana was here for a while–as well as important and respected people involved with the field of psychiatry.   Today – among the various cultural associations that have a home here – La Tinaia cooperative and the Chille della Balanza theatrical group make it a social and artistic destination, thanks to shows, events and meetings.”

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day in Florence, following a week of continual rain, and we viewed the campus in this amazing autumn sunlight:


Two well-known Italian photographers, Carla Cerati and Gianni Berengo Gardin, documented, in chilling photographs, the story of San Salvi and its inmates, with “harsh images of women and men prisoners, jailed, bound, punished, humiliated, reduced to suffering and need.” If you Google Manicomio Firenze, you can find vintage photographs of the hospital and the patients.  It was gruesome.

As I was leaving the campus, this old rusted iron gate seemed to sum up the history of the place for me.  The key hole especially records the memory of patients locked in.




Farmacia di San Marco

Fate is truly fickle.

You take 2 historic pharmacies, founded in Florence long, long ago. I’m speaking of the le farmacie di San Marco and di Santa Maria Novella. Santa Maria is still going strong, while the farmacia di San Marco shuttered its doors in 1995.  It obviously had a good run!

I’ll be discussing the components of the facade below, but first please notice the little niche with a shelf above the lunette over the door.  There was once a small marble statue, depicting the lion of San Marco, placed there.


I’d never heard anything about the San Marco pharmacy, although I wasn’t surprised to learn the there once was a farmacia attached to this church complex.  It was customary for conventi (in Italian, a convent denotes what in English we would call a monastery) to have a farmacia, selling medicinal products that the monks created.

But, many times a week I ride or walk by the old entrance to the pharmacy of San Marco on Via Cavour in Florence.  The pharmacy is now defunct, but it is lovely that the authorities who closed the shop in 1995 left the old, 19th-century facade.  It speaks volumes and is a charming relic of days gone by.


The San Marco pharmacy was established in 1450 by the Dominican friars, along with its twin, the still operating Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella. Cosimo de’ Medici had a particular interest in San Marco and there is little doubt that his patronage helped the church in all of its endeavors.


The Dominicans were known to be people with considerable culture. The  medicinal preparations they created inspired confidence.

What were the medicines they had on offer? We know they sold at least the following:

  • The Alchermes, much appreciated by Lorenzo the Magnificent
  • Anti-hysteria water, for nervous ladies
  • Elixirs for the stomach
  • Rose water


We know that the monks drew from long-held botanical remedies and experimented with others.  They made their medicines by dissolving the helpful plant material (whether from the flower, the leaves, the roots, or the stems) in alcohol.  Their various products could take the forms of a tincture, a solution, a suspension, an infusion, a potion, elixir, extract, essence, quintessence and or a concentrate.



My favorite product listed on the engraved stone menus is “Coca.”  This would indicate coca cola, which was invented as a medicinal elixir by a pharmacist in Georgia, USA, in the 1880s.  So, that gives us a date for the facade of the old pharmacy.  Would that we could see the earlier versions, now long lost.

I just love the concept of an American elixir on sale in the Florentine pharmacy.








If you can, like I can, picture how this pharmacy must have seemed when these engraved stone tablets were new, then let your mind wander back in time.

The following info on the farmacia comes from:

The Ancient Pharmacy of San Marco was established by friar Antonino, with the generous support of Cosimo de ‘Medici, called il Vecchio, during the reconstruction of the San Marco complex in 1435. From 1450 the pharmacy, whose production was initially reserved for use inside the convent (monastery), was open to the public. The stone lintel of the ancient entrance, is one of the oldest examples of commercial signage with the logo “Fonderia: e: S. Marco pharmacy”, with a minimalist setting in a beautiful pre-humanistic character characterized by broken bar of A.

Among the most famous productions of the pharmacy was an alchermes, particularly appreciated by Lorenzo the Magnificent, and antihysteric water. In 1498 the stomatologic elixir, the Dominican liqueur, the herbal tea, elastin and Scots pine syrup were created.
Then rose water from 1700, about which the Dominicans wrote: <<Thanks to the peculiarity of the singular Rose of Bulgaria, from which it is directly distilled, rose water is miraculous to delay the sad prodromes of old age: wrinkles. Warmed up in a bain-marie, it will restore tiredness and vivacity to your eyes ».

Later, absinthe and the “Bolivian” coca were included among the specialties of the pharmacy. (If this writer is correct, then my assumption about Coca Cola is incorrect.)  The pharmacy was closed in 1995.

The series of gray marble signs of the mid-19th century that surround the entrances give account of the many products of the pharmacy with a composition that incorporates a real typographic sample with graceful, linear, Tuscan, italics and ornate characters.





Famous 19th-century Americans in Florence: Horatio Greenough, sculptor


From the book by Clara Louise Dentler: Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 3.30.23 PM


Where Greenough lived, worked, or exhibited in Florence:

  1. in a villa a mile out of Florence, thought to be opposite the Collegio della Querce on Via Piazzola
  2. he built a beautiful octagonal studio for the exhibition of his works at the corner of Piazza della Liberta’ (then called Piazza Maria Antonietta) and Via Santa Caterina
  3. places he lived include Casa le Blanc on Costa San GiorgioPalazzo Pucci-Baciocchi on Via de’ Pucci; and the popular Villa Brichieri.



Piazza Beccaria, Firenze, and the former Alhambra Theater

Here’s an aerial photo of Florence’s Piazza Beccaria, taken sometime between 1945 and 1980.

The photo can be dated because on the left we see the home of the G.I.L. (Gioventù Italiana Littorioand, on the other side of the avenue, the Alhambra theater.  Both structures were demolished in order to build the Archivio di Stati, constructed in 1980.



The Gioventù Italiana del Littorio (Italian Youth of the Lictor) was the consolidated youth movement of the National Fascist Party of Italy, established in 1937 to supervise and influence the minds of the young. The GIL was in particular established to counteract the influence of the Catholic church. You can read more about the organization and the building in Florence here:ù_Italiana_del_Littorio.


The Teatro Alhambra was built in 1889 and demolished in 1961. Here are a couple of vintage photos of the theater:



Il famoso teatro, al suo posto ora c’è il palazzo del giornale La Nazione.



And here’s a program from the Alhambra:


ALHAMBRA. Programma. Lunedì 2 giugno 1890.

More on Alhambra theater here: