The Florentine church and convent of Carmelite Sta. Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi

 

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I’ve walked by the closed doors of this church a hundred times and it is always closed.  I nearly fainted recently when I walked by and found the doors open.  Of course, I had to go inside! My first surprise upon entering was this lovely, green, cloister.

As always, I had happened upon a site with a very storied past.

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Before exploring that past, let’s admire the masterpiece within the church:

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The Cappella Maggiore, above, is, in fact, one of the cornerstones of the Baroque in Florence. It was built between 1677-85 to house the saint’s relics. Rich polychrome marbles, bronzes, gilding, statues, frescoes and painted canvases are all combined into one ensemble; it is typical of the decorative sensibility at the time of the Grand Duchy of Cosimo III de ‘Medici, and it is no coincidence that he promoted it.

The chapel was curated by the Roman Ciro Ferri, a pupil of Pietro da Cortona, and was completed by Pier Francesco Silvani. The dome features a fresco of an illusionistic sky showing the Ascent of Santa Maria Maddalena de ‘Pazzi with all the Florentine saints, by Pier Dandini of 1701.

The central altarpiece is by Ciro Ferri himself (Virgin and Saint Mary Magdalene of the Pazzi, 1684) and the two lateral altarpieces by Luca Giordano (Jesus and Saint Mary Magdalene of the Mad and the Virgin presents the Child to Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, 1685).

The four allegorical Carrara marble sculptures in the niches near the corners are to the left of Antonio Montauti (Innocenza, 1723, and Religion, 1738, finished by Gaetano Masoni) and to the right of Innocenzo Spinazzi (Faith and Penance, 1781). The marble putti of the lower band are by Carlo Marcellini and the bronze oval bas-reliefs with stories of the saint by Massimiliano Soldani Benzi.

 

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The church and former convent of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi is located in Borgo Pinti in central Florence.

The Pazzi name was added after the Carmelite order nun Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi, canonized in 1669, whose family patronized the church.

The original convent had been dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen delle Convertite, the patron of once-fallen, now converted women.

The Cistercian order from Badia a Settimo took control of the site in 1332 and moved to it in 1442, while the convent was transferred to San Donato in Polverosa. However, the church and chapter house were rebuilt between 1481 and 1500, with initial designs in 1492 by Giuliano da Sangallo.

The highlighted sentences in the next paragraph tell a sad tale:

The 13th-century interiors were redecorated in the 17th and early 18th centuries, which removed the altarpieces by masters such as Botticelli, Perugino, Lorenzo di Credi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Raffaellino del Garbo. They were replaced by new ones from minor masters such as Carlo Portelli, Alfonso Boschi, Domenico Puligo, Santi di Tito, and Francesco Curradi. In the chapter house is a fresco divided into three lunettes of the Crucifixion and Saints (1493–96) by Pietro Perugino, commissioned by Dionisio and Giovanna Pucci.

Ah, the vicissitudes of changing taste. Out went the masterpieces.  In come the trendy.

The first chapel to the right of the entrance is the Cappella del Giglio (Chapel of St. Mary of the Lily) frescoed with depictions of Saints Filippo Neri, Bernard, Nereo, and Achilleo by the studio of Bernardino Poccetti, with an altarpiece by Domenico Passignano.

The fourth chapel on the right has a stained glass window by Isabella, the daughter of Georges Henri Rouault.

The choir chapel originally contained a fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio but was rebuilt from 1685 to 1701 by Ciro Ferri and Pier Francesco Silvani. Ferri painted the altarpiece and Luca Giordano the flanking pieces. The statues of Penitence and Faith on the right were sculpted by Innocenzo Spinazzi, while Innocence and Religion on the left by Giovanni Monatauti. The bronze reliefs on the altar were made by Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi.

The interior also contains works by Giovanni and Cosimo Bizzelli, Jacopo Chiavistelli, Ottavio Vannini, Cosimo Rosselli, Cosimo Gamberucci, Leonardo del Tasso, Giuseppe Servolini, and Giuseppe Piattoli.

I read the Italian Wikipedia article on this church and discovered that some of the art works originally found here were confiscated by Napoleon and taken to France.  Some works remain there.

 

The simple cortile has some interesting funerary monuments:

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Neoclassical sculptures of this type are rarely signed by the artist.  I found this interesting signature carved onto the left of the funerary bier.

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On the Michelangelo trail in Rome

I’m in Rome!  Woo hoo!  All roads lead here and I couldn’t wait to follow one of them and to enjoy the city without the usual summer hordes of tourists.

I spent the lockdown refreshing my study of Michelangelo and I’m on his trail here in Rome.  I started my visit today by admiring the beautiful Porta Pia.

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The elaborate Porta Pia is a gate in the Aurelian Walls of Rome, designed by Michelangelo for Pope Pius IV.  Construction began in 1561 and ended in 1565, after the artist’s death. A 1561 bronze commemorative medal by Gianfederico Bonzagna shows an early plan by Michelangelo, very different from his final design. 

 

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A new gate was needed because by the mid 16th century,  the newly developing urban area outside the walls couldn’t gain access through the nearby ancient Porta Nomentana from the Via Nomentana. It was decided to add a new gate to the walls, and, according to Vasari, Michelangelo presented three different designs to the Pope, which were beautiful but too extravagant, and the Pope chose the least expensive of the three. Unfortunately, the drawings are not extant and it is not known if  the work was actually carried out to Michelangelo’s original plan.

The gate was, however, Michelangelo’s last architectural work.  He died shortly before the structure was completed. The work was carried out by Giacomo Del Duca, who also built Porta San Giovanni, seen below.

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The Porta Pia is one of the 18 gates inserted in the defensive Aurelian Walls.

 

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Interestingly, the opposite side of the Porta Pia is also quite interesting. It was constructed in 1869 in the Neo-Classic design by Virginio Vespignani.

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The Aurelian wall was breached during the Risorgimento.  This fabulous vintage photograph, dating to after 1870, shows the breach to the right of the gate.

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It was through an artillery-opened breach – known as the “Porta Pia breach” – that on September 20, 1870 Bersaglieri soldiers entered Rome to complete the unification of Italy. A marble and bronze monument is to be found at the exact point of the breach.

This painting by Carlo Ademollo, 1880, shows the Kingdom of Italy troops breaching the Aurelian Walls at Porta Pia during the Capture of Rome.

Here also, on September 11, 1926, the antifascist activist Gino Lucetti threw a bomb against the car transporting Benito Mussolini.  It was without effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palazzo Vecchio (June 2020) Part 2

Here’s the next part of my recent visit to the re-opened Palazzo Vecchio:

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I love the view of the rustic stone through the glass.

 

 

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What a wonderful sink below!  Two spigots that look like fountains:

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The sink is in this elaborate niche:

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Below, you can see the shape of the sink itself:

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Below: the death mask of Dante:

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An amazingly elaborate reliquary:

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Next up, the elaborate Audience Chamber:

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Here’s the ceiling:

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These frescoes “idealize” even war.  I like the colorful tents that housed the troops.  I doubt they were this lovely in real life.

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Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes:

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Palazzo Vecchio, Florence (June 2020) Part 1

One by one, the landmarks of Florence have been re-opening.  With new rules and regulations, one can pay a visit to these famous sites.  I recently enjoyed seeing the Palazzo Vecchio for the first time since the lock down. Very enjoyable to see old friends.

 

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Il Salone dei Cinquecento:

 

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The Salone dei Cinquecento (‘Hall of the Five Hundred’) is the most imposing chamber in the Palazzo Vecchio, with a length of 170 ft and width of 75 ft. It was built in 1494 by Simone del Pollaiolo, on commission of Savonarola who, replacing the Medici after their exile as the spiritual leader of the Republic, wanted it as a seat of the Grand Council (Consiglio Maggiore) consisting of 500 members.

Later the hall was enlarged by Giorgio Vasari so that Grand Duke Cosimo I could hold his court in this chamber. During this transformation, famous (but unfinished) works were lost, including the Battle of Cascina by Michelangelo, and the Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo was commissioned in 1503 to paint one long wall with a battle scene celebrating a famous Florentine victory. He was always trying new methods and materials and decided to mix wax into his pigments. Da Vinci had finished painting part of the wall, but it was not drying fast enough, so he brought in braziers stoked with hot coals to try to hurry the process. As others watched in horror, the wax in the fresco melted under the intense heat and the colors ran down the walls to puddle on the floor. A legend exists that Giorgio Vasari, wanting to preserve Da Vinci’s work, had a false wall built over the top of The Battle of Anghiari before painting his fresco. Attempts made to find Da Vinci’s original work behind the Vasari fresco have so far been inconclusive.

Michelangelo never proceeded beyond the preparatory drawings for the fresco he was commissioned to paint on the opposite wall. Pope Julius II called him to Rome to paint the Sistine Chapel, and the master’s sketches were destroyed by eager young artists who came to study them and took away scraps. The surviving decorations in this hall were made between 1555 and 1572 by Giorgio Vasari and his helpers, among them Livio Agresti from Forlì. They mark the culmination of mannerism and make this hall the showpiece of the palace.

 

Here are some miscellaneous objets that caught my eye on this day.  All of them are in the Salone dei Cinquecento, unless otherwise noted:

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I see the coat of arts of the Medici family all over Florence, but this one is beyond extravagant:

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A sculpture by Michelangelo takes a place of honor in this large hall:

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OK, we have departed the Salone.  All of the following pictures are from subsequent rooms.

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One of the things I like about many Italian stairways is the use of these heavy cords.  I like the way they look and the way they draw on Italian textile traditions.

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The St. John’s Day Fireworks have been an ongoing Florentine tradition for centuries.  It was fun to see this painting depict it from the 16th century.

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Here’s another fanciful coat of arts for the Medici family, this one in fresco:

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And putti carry the crown that will sit on Medici heads:

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Here is the original Verrocchio statue.  A copy sits in its original place in an open courtyard on the ground floor.

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Eleonora’s private chapel is a gorgeously painted small room:

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Pienza, the ideal city

Let’s say you are the Pope.  You’re from a small, Medieval village in Tuscany that really isn’t on the map and you want to do something really great for your hometown.  In fact, you want to make it an important rest stop on a famous road that leads from Rome to Bologna and points north, or to Rome and Naples and points south.  What would you do?

Would you create an “ideal city” and make sure it gets notoriety?

That’s exactly what Pope Pius II did.

Born Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini, (18 October 1405 – 14 August 1464), he became the head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 19 August 1458 until his death. During his 6 year reign, he transformed his hometown into a marvelous Renaissance borgo.

You enter the city through this gate:

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The picture above tells us that Pienza was destroyed on 15 June 1944 and restored by October 1955. If walls could talk.

 

Here is the cathedral Pope Pius II built.

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High water marks

The famous Arno city of Florence has been plagued with floods for centuries.  Walking through the city, you will find many plaques on buildings, showing you the heights the water reached.  It is sobering, to say the least.

On the front of the Pazzi Chapel, to the far left side, two high water marks point out the incredible heights reached in 2 remarkable years.

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See those 2 small white rectangles on the left of the pilaster?  Those mark the flood heights.

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Zeroing in…

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Zeroed in:  you can see the 1966 flood reached the highest level marked.  The lower one (which is still pretty high!) is from 1557 if my reading of the Roman numerals is correct.  The time spans in Italy will always blow my mind!

 

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The Russian Orthodox Church in Florence

I have the good fortune to live 2 blocks from this gorgeous landmark.  It is almost never open for visits, but I got lucky and snagged a ticket for a rare tour recently.

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Known as the Church of the Nativity of Christ and St. Nicholas the Wonderworker (Chiesa della Natività di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo e San Nicola Taumaturgo), The  Russian Orthodox church is located on via Leone X. Its style is a late 19th and early 20th century imitation of the earlier Naryshkin Baroque.

By the end of the 19th century, there was a small but elite Russian colony in Florence.  Their much desired permanent place of worship came to fruition between 1899 and 1903. It was the first Russian Orthodox church to be built in Italy and was designed by Russian architect Mikhail Preobrazhensky (1854–1930), who had trained at Moscow’s Academy of Arts, and was erected under the supervision of Italian architects Giuseppe Coccini (1840–1900) and Giovanni Paciarelli (1862–1929). The church is a fine combination of Russian and Italian artistry.

 

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The church is topped with one large central onion-shaped dome and four smaller ones, all covered with bright turquoise, green and white scales of majolica (manufactured by the Cantagalli factory of Florence) and topped with gilt crosses and chains. Laid out in the form of a Greek cross, the church grounds are surrounded by an iron railing fence with three monumental gates decorated with the double-headed imperial eagle and Florentine lily forged by the Michelucci foundry of Pistoia.

The church itself, constructed in red brick and grey stone (pietra Serena) from quarries near Fiesole, is decorated with 52 semi-circular or ogival arches known as kokočniki (named after the traditional Russian female headdress) and featuring six winged cherubs, like those of the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in St. Petersburg.

Above the doorway, a canopy houses a Venetian-made mosaic icon of “Znamenie,” the mother of God, between stems of flowering lilies. On the north and south sides of the church, two other tabernacles house mosaics of the Peter and Paul.

The splendid wooden entrance door, which came from the private chapel at Villa Demidoff at San Donato, was inspired by Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise. Depicting 22 scenes from the Old Testament, it had won its creator Rinaldo Barbetti first prize in a national exhibition in Florence in 1861.

 

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True impetus was given to the church-building project when Archipriest Vladimir Levitsky (1840–1923) arrived in Florence in 1878. Despite many setbacks regarding, for instance, the designation of the land where the church should be built, Levitsky persevered and, in 1890, travelled to St. Petersburg to present the procurator-general of the synod with drawings prepared by the chosen architect, Preobrazhensky. A decree authorizing the construction of the church was issued in May 1891, but it took another seven years before the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally gave its permission.

 

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Typical of Orthodox churches in northern Russia at the time, the Florence church was built on two storeys: the lower church, designed to be warmer in winter, was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, in memory of the Demidoff chapel. The upper church, cooler in summer, was dedicated to the Nativity and features a magnificent marble iconostasis with icons of the patron saints of the imperial family gifted by the assassinated Tsar Nicholas II, a martyr of the Orthodox Church.

 

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Here’s the article from Wikipedia:

 

Nicholas I of Russia’s daughter Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaïevna first had the idea of building a church for Florence’s Russian community in 1873, but it was only six years later that a large gift from prince Paul Pavlovitch Demidoff of San Donato allowed construction to commence. Pietro Berti was initially taken on to design it by archpriest Vladimir Levitsky, then curate of the Orthodox church at the Russian embassy. However, he later switched to the Russian academician Mikhail Preobrazhensky and the Florentine engineer Giuseppe Boccini.

Preobrajensky’s first designs of 1883-85 were too ambitious, so a temporary church was built on a site acquired by the embassy. This became the parish church in 1888. Levitsky eventually raised enough funds to build a permanent structure and in 1897 the Russian ambassador and foreign minister approved plans produced in 1890 by Preobrajensky.

The first stone was laid on 28 October 1899 at a ceremony attended by count Caracciolo di Sarno, prefect of Florence, general Antonio Baldissera, the Russian ambassador Aleksandr Nelidov and consul general Tchelebidaky.

The lower part of the church (dedicated to St Nicholas the Wonderworker) was consecrated on 21 October 1902 and the upper church (dedicated to the Nativity of Christ) was consecrated on 8 November 1903. However, the building as a whole was only fully completed the following year.

After the 1917 Revolution the church in Florence lost Russian state support and in 1921 it became independent from the church back in Russia despite attempts by Soviet diplomats to claim ownership of the building. From 1920 onwards it was under the jurisdiction of Eulogius and in February 1931 it joined the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe.

Constantine I of Greece died in exile in Palermo on 11 January 1923 and later that year he was buried in the church, followed in 1926 by his mother queen Olga Constantinovna of Russia and in 1932 by his widow Sophia of Prussia. All three sets of remains were moved to the Tatoi Palace in Greece in November 1936, a year after the restoration of the Greek monarchy.

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To visit the church, it is necessary to make an appointment. For further information call +39 055 477986.

The Pazzi Chapel at Santa Croce

Part 6 of my recent visit to the magnificent Franciscan basilica of Santa Croce. You can find the other posts here.

Check out Santa Croce from the front.  I wonder how long we can enjoy the city before the tourists return? Not sure, but I am enjoying every second of the city in its current, quieter state.

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When you leave the interior of the church, walking into the cortile, you immediately see the splendid Pazzi Chapel.  The chapel wasn’t accessible yet when I was there, but even a look from the outside is enough to calm the soul.

 

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The Pazzi is seen in the plan below; note the circle in the plan and that’s the chapel. You can see how the green lawn in front sets it off.  Green grass is a rare commodity in Florence.

 

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