The church and convent della Calza, with a Last Supper by Franciabigio

Just inside the ancient gate of Porta Romano, lies a simple church and attached convent (in Italy, convent can mean monastery or convent or both) dating to the 13th century. An almost unknown (relatively speaking, at least, to the hordes of tourists who descend on Florence every year) masterpiece of  Renaissance paintings is housed here: a beautiful cenacolo, or a painting of The Last Supper. Florence is so fortunately rich in these frescoed depictions of that fateful dinner.

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The church dedicated to San Giovanni Battista, in Piazza della Calza, was founded as a hospital in 1362.  There were once many oratories, hospitals and shelters for pilgrims and travelers along the present via Senese and via Romana. These were major roads leading to Florence.

At the end of the 14th century, the convent was established by the Gerosolimitan nuns. They commissioned Franciabigio to paint The Last Supper in 1514 in their refectory. Unfortunately, the sisters soon had to leave the hospital, during the 1529 siege of Florence.

The nuns were replaced in 1531 by Jesuati friars (not Jesuits) who changed the dedication of the church from Hospital of Saint John the Baptist  to San Giusto. They  used the hospital as a charity for children, an ecclesiastic boarding-house, and eventually as a seminary. The church and the convent became known by the name “della calza” (sock) which was a name derived from the long white hoods that the monks wore over their left shoulders. The hood was shaped like a sock and the name stuck.

The picture below is not authentically one of the della calza habits, but it shows the shape of the hood and how it was worn.

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From this nickname of “the sock” came the name of the church, the convent, and even the square.

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The true hidden gem kept inside is the Cenacolo by Franciabigio, still preserved in the ancient refectory.

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Mother Superior Antonia de’ Medici entrusted Francesco di Cristofano, called Franciabigio (1482-1525), to portray a specific scene, during the Last Supper, just after Christ says: “Truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

Franciabigio thus knowing, deep sadness in the countenance of Christ. Judas, the only figure on the outer side of the table, reacts strongly to the words of Jesus: his sudden movement causes his wooden stool to tip over. All around the table, the expressions of the Apostles register various states of confusion.

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One can notice each reaction and recognize each Apostle because the artist added their names, painted along the strip which runs above their heads. The painter added here the date A(nno) S(alutis) MDXIIII (A.D. 1514) and his signature, through a twisted shortened monogram (FRAC).

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On the painted floor, you can even distinguish the name of the Mother Superior Antonia (SVORA AN), marked on the lower left side, under the table, between the second and third Apostle.

Franciabigio carefully fashioned magnificient details; along the fine linen tablecloth you see ceramic jugs, breadrolls, glasses with red wine, and sliced watermelon. Some of the jugs feature the typical Medici coat-of-arms (the one with the red spheres) referring to Mother Superior Antonia and the Red Cross of the Order of Knights of Malta to whom the nuns originally belonged.

Giorgio Vasari describes (Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects) how Franciabigio “was very keen on studies of perspective” and human anatomy. We see that throughout and especially in the accurate position of the wooden shutters painted along the wall.

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A fascinating contrast is given by the dark green wall and the light of the crystal clear sky in the background, where the painter depicted the old Florentine town walls (the destroyed gate of San Pier Gattolino).

For the Jubilee in 2000, the fresco was restored.

Just a quick word about the Church of San Giovanni Battista della Calza:

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My quick walk through the church introduced me to this arresting sculpture near the entrance to the small church.

I was alone in the church and had free rein to poke around.  In a small room off the church itself I noticed an amazing della Robbia fountain.  You never know what treasures you will happen upon in this fascinating city.

And, finally, I can’t leave this post without mentioning that, depict the austerity of this church, some major paintings were once a part of the church.  They are now in the Uffizi:

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Santa Trinita, another look

Recently I posted about Santa Trinita and I just had another chance to pay it another visit.  It was a sunny day following a week of rain, and it just felt good to be out and in the sunshine.  You might notice that the city of Florence has begun decorating for Christmas already!

The Mannerist facade by Buontalenti:

The beautifully carved central doors:

You must never forget the fabulous column and Roman statue in the piazza outside the church:

 

Once more, the facade:

 

 

Inside the church we are fortunate to see the extant old Romanesque facade of the church. Luckily for posterity, they didn’t destroy it when they constructed the new front for the church:

 

One either side of the central door, inside the church are these tombstones and paintings:

 

The interior:

 

 

 

 

 

The Chapel containing the (presumed) Donatello:

 

 

 

The statue of Mary Magdalene by Desiderio di Settignano:

 

 

The Brenta Canal

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The Brenta is an Italian river that runs from Trentino to the Adriatic Sea just south of the Venetian lagoon in the Veneto region.

During the Roman era, it was called Medoacus and near Padua it divided in two branches, Medoacus Maior and Medoacus Minor. The river changed its course in the early Middle Ages, and its former bed through Padua was by then occupied by the Bacchiglione.

The 108 mile long stretch was first channelled by the Venetian Republic in the 16th century, when a canal was built from the village of Stra to the Adriatic Sea, bypassing the Venetian lagoon.

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The Brenta canal made use of the system of rivers and canals that had connected the Venetian cities with each other and with the Venice lagoon since ancient times. The goods directed from the hinterland to the Serenissima Republic of Venice passed on these river routes: building materials such as wood, marble, stones from the Vicentine Hills and trachyte from the Euganean Hills as well as grains and other agricultural products. The transport took place with barges called bùrci pulled along the horse banks.

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In construction the canal, the Republic of Venice imposed hydraulic changes (which several times required the engineering advise of Leonardo Da Vinci) which diverted the main river course further south, moving it away from the Venetian lagoon and leading it to flow directly into the Adriatic Sea. These hydraulic works are represented by the cuts of the Brenta Nuova and the Brenta Nuovissima, and consist of sluices and mobile bridges that have made the river navigable.

A branch of the Brenta, named Naviglio del Brenta, was left to connect directly Venice and Padova (which was a kind of second capital of the Venice Republic). The Brenta canal runs through Stra, Fiesso d’Artico, Dolo, Mira, Oriago and Malcontenta to Fusina, which is part of the comune of Venice.

With this new stretch of the Brenta connecting Venice with Padua, it came to be called the Riviera del Brenta by the 16th century.  Wealthy Venetian families began to build elaborate river houses which they called villa (“villa” in the language of the time meant “country”). This was a perfect situation for these patrician families because there new homes could be easily reached from Venice with their gondolas. In fact, it has been said that with all the new building along the Canal, it was almost as if the Brenta canal was an extension of Venice’s Grand Canal.

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It also became the custom of aristocratic Venetian families to spend summer holidays in their new country houses. These homes could be reached by richly decorated, luxurious wooden burchielli, or ships.  

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These vessels had elegant cabins, with three or four balconies. The interiors were finely decorated and adorned with mirrors, paintings and precious carvings. On the way to the lagoon they were propelled by wind or oars, while on the route from Fusina to Padua along the Brenta Riviera, they could be pulled by horses.

Cargo was carried on traditional barges known as burci.

After 1797 , with the fall of the Venetian Republic and the consequent decline of the Venetian patriciate, the burchielli fell into disuse.

 

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Among the first villas to be built, and one of the most important, is Casa Foscari designed by Andrea Palladio at Malcontenta (located shortly after the gates of the Moransani). The illustrious Foscari family was established by the 15th century, when a Foscari was a popular doge in the Venetian Republic for 34 years.

Another Palladian villa, which was built for Senator Leonardo Mocenigo around 1560-61, was destroyed. But its very existence, along with Casa Foscari, shows how quickly patrician settlements multiplied on the shores of the Brenta Canal. In the Mocenigo Villa, the architect created a rather original design with respect to the typical pattern of Venetian villas, which he later published in the second of his Four Books of Architecture. Sadly, that villa fell into disrepair by  the late 18th century and was demolished.

After the Foscari and Mocenigo ville, most new homes along the canal were not as important architecturally. They were mostly homes of modest size. But the trend for vacationing along the canal, and the taste for villa life, was well established. Homes known as barchesse contained large rooms and were almost always ornamented with decorative frescoes.  Extant examples include buildings of the Villa Valmarana, the Villa Contarini Venier in Mira (currently the seat of the Regional Institute for Venetian Villas), and the Villa Foscarini Rossi in Stra.

Thus,  the villeggiatura (life of the villas) understood in its original meaning, the Riviera del Brenta has become other than a residential and productive facility, a touristic infrastructure of great importance that ideally links the Euganean Hills to the Laguna, the thermal baths of Abano to the beaches of the Lido, and again, Padua toVenice.

 

 

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naviglio_del_Brenta

http://lamalcontenta.com/index.php/en/riviera-of-brenta/description

Antonio Foscari, Acque, Terre e Ville, in “Ville Venete: la Provincia di Venezia”, I.R.V.V, Marsilio, Venezia 2005, pp. XXX-XLII

Antonio Foscari, Tumult and Order, Lars Mueller Publisher Zurigo, 2011

http://lamalcontenta.com/index.php/en/archive

The church of Santi Michele e Gaetano, Florence

So many churches, so little time.  You really have to manage your real life if you want to find time to see everything!

At least, that is my excuse as to why, before now, I have never before been in this famous Florentine church.  Plus the fact that when I pass it, I am usually in a hurry to go somewhere else nearby.  Like, for example, lunch or a glass of wine at the Cantinetta Antinori, one of my favorite places in this amazing city.

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But, I did stop in and have a gander at the church recently and wow, I was blown away. First of all, it was twilight in beautiful Florence at that moment, and the streets nearby were filled with shoppers and tourists and the whole atmosphere was electric. The city felt alive.

Usually, when I happen to be in front of this church, it is closed.  Just bad timing, because of course the church is open everyday, but at specific hours.

Because it was open and I had time, I entered.  I felt the richness of the interior immediately. And I was sorry it took me so long to visit.

Unlike so many Italian churches, this interior was well lit and the contrast of the dark building materials with the colored marbles and gold highlights lit the place up like a Christmas tree.  The effect was quite something.

The church was also full of people, unlike so many Italian churches. The church interior felt alive and it was kind of a magical moment to me.  I thought of how happy the founders would have been to know that in 2019, their church was an active part of the city’s life.  What more could an architect or patron hope for?

 

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I wonder why it is that I am always, always most attracted to sculptures holding up the vases of holy water in these churches?

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The two matching marble holy water fonts at the entrance were sculpted in the form of shells supported by angels by Domenico Pieratti.

 

 

 

The pictures below aren’t great, but smack dab in the middle of the ceiling over the transept, was the Medici shield.  Never subtle, always evident.  I love the Medici family!

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Let’s have a quick look at what Wikipedia tells us about the church:

San Gaetano, also known as Santi Michele e Gaetano, is a Baroque church in Florence, located on the Piazza Antinori.

A Romanesque church, dedicated solely to Saint Michael the Archangel, had been located at the site for centuries prior to its Baroque reconstruction. Patronized by the Theatine order, the new church was dedicated to Saint Cajetan, one of the founders of the order, though the church could not formally be named after him until his canonisation in 1671.

Funding for this reconstruction was obtained from the noble families in Florence, including the Medicis. Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici was particularly concerned with the work, and his name is inscribed on the façade.

Building took place between 1604 and 1648. The original designs were by Bernardo Buontalenti but a number of architects had a hand in building it, each of whom changed the design. The most important architects were Matteo Nigetti and Gherardo Silvani.

In 2008, the church was entrusted to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a traditional institute of clerical life which exclusively offers Mass in Latin according to the pre-Vatican II Roman Rite.

The façade has three portals: the center portal has a triangular tympanum surmounted by reclining marble statues representing Faith and Charity, sculpted by the Flemish artist, Baldassarre Delmosel. In the center above the door is the heraldic shield of the Theatine order; higher above is the shield of Cardinal Giovanni Carlo de Medici, a prominent patron. Above the side doors are a statue of St Cajetan (right, by the same Delmosel) and St Andrew Avellino (left, by Francesco Andreozzi).

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The interior is richly decorated as is customary in Baroque churches (uh, hello…the interior is like a jewel box!)

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Along the cornice are 14 statues depicting apostles and evangelist, sculpted by Novelli, Caccini, Baratta, Foggini, Piamontini, Pettirossi, Fortini, and Cateni. With each of these statues is a bas-relief depicting an event in the life of each saints.

 

 

 

Andrea del Castagno, The Last Supper in the Cenacolo of Sant’ Apollonia, Florence

If you’ve been to Florence, you know how the hordes of tourists can dampen the spirit of art appreciation.  Think of the Uffizi and you know what I mean.

But, there are several places in Florence where you can view Renaissance art up close and personal and rarely have another soul in the room with you.

One of the most amazing of these places is housed within this entrance:

 

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I mean, really, would you even know there was anything at all inside, let alone a masterpiece?

There are no lines at this former convent and no crowds. Few people even know to ring the bell at the nondescript door. What they’re missing is an entire wall covered with the vibrant colors of Andrea del Castagno‘s masterful Last Supper (c. 1450).

The end wall of the large refectory was decorated with frescoes, although these were never known to the outside world since the nuns were strictly cloistered. It was only with the suppression of the convent in 1860 that the existence of this masterful fresco of the Last Supper was revealed. Interestingly, it was initially attributed to Paolo Uccello, but then finally to the true painter, Andrea del Castagno (1421-1457).

Castagno created a richly colored composition, filled with interesting details. For one, the deeply colored “marble” panels fill the middle-ground register and the depiction of black and white ceiling tiles follow a strict linear perspective system.  The long white tablecloth  sets off only one figure: the darkly hued figure of Judas the Betrayer, whose face is painted to resemble a satyr, an ancient symbol of evil.

Another three frescoes were discovered above this one in the 1950s. Three scenes are represented: the Resurrection, the Crucifixion, and the Entombment of Christ. At the time of the restoration in 1952, the three frescoes were removed to be preserved, thus revealing the splendid sinopie that were painted over.

So, here’s the single sign that tells the observant visitor that something wonderful is kept within this sober facade.

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Here is the experience of the refectory:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Some introductory information about the artist:

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