The statue of Dovizia, Firenze

I love to let my mind wander into the distant past, trying to picture the way things might have been.

Last week I was invited to visit a show in the beautiful exhibition space of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze on via Bufalini.  There I bumped into a heroically-sized statue of a somewhat recognisable woman.  “Hey, I know you!” I thought to myself.

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She certainly looked familiar.  I wondered if she was related to one of the four allegorical statues of the seasons occupying the corners of the Ponte Santa Trinita. (Those four statues were done by Pietro Francavilla [Spring], Taddeo Landini [Winter] and Giovanni Caccini [Summer and Autumn] and placed on the bridge in 1608.)

Fortunately, a label attached to the statue revealed the figure and the sculptor: La Dovizia (Abundance) by Giovan Battista Foggini:

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Ah ha! I now knew exactly what I was looking at!  My mind zinged back into two places almost simultaneously, first to the camp and later the Forum of Roman Florence. and then to the Renaissance placement of a statue of Abundance by Donatello.

Both of these past moments happened in the space now occupied by the Piazza della Repubblica in Florence. The giant woman I encountered last week on the Via Bufalini was the statue of Abundance that replaced Donatello’s (now lost) figure on the same column, a replacement which occurred in 1721 (according to the label).

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The column, still topped by a statue, sits at the exact point where the two Roman roads intersected in ancient Florence, the cardo (now via Roma and via Calimala) and decumanus (now via degli Strozzi, via degli Speziali, and via del Corso).

 

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Now I needed to find out more about Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Foggini, to satisfy my curiosity.  He was an artist in Florence (1652 – 1725) who became, in 1676, the court sculptor for Cosimo III. He went on to become the Medici’s Architetto Primario e Primo scultore della Casa Serenissima as well as Soprintendente dei Lavori (1687–1725).

Foggini is best known today as the creator of many small bronze statuary figures and groups. In 1687, Foggini acquired the foundry in Borgo Pinti that had once belonged to the sculptor Giambologna. This allowed him to specialise in small bronzes, produced mainly and profitably for export. His adaptation of Pietro Tacca’s Moors was, for example, the basis of the bronze and ceramic reproductions for the connoisseur market well into the 18th century.

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One of my grad school professors published an article on the Donatello Abundance (“Donatello’s Lost Dovizia for the Mercato Vecchio: Wealth and Charity as Florentine Civic Virtues by David G. Wilkins).  Here are couple of excerpts from that scholarly publication:

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Here is an image of what Donatello’s lost sculpture might have looked like:   Screenshot 2018-10-15 at 11.08.14

You just never know who or what you will bump into in this fascinating city of Florence.

 

 

Villa la Quiete, Firenze

I recently visited, on a lovely parcel of land just outside of beautiful Firenze, a once-magnificent villa known as Villa la Quiete. Located upon the Castello hill, at the foot of the Monte Morello, this villa is considered to be among the most important settings of its kind.  It takes its name from a fresco by Giovanni da San Giovanni entitled, La Quiete, which dominates the winds (see below).

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The Medici family particularly loved this area and owned some of its most beautiful residences, including the Villa di Careggi, Villa di Castello, and the Villa della Petraia. You can locate Villa la Quiete on these 2 Google Earth slides below and, in the last one, also locate the 3 Medici villas just mentioned.

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This parcel of land has lots of history, naturally.  In 1438 it was given by the Florentine Republic to the condottiere Niccola da Tolentino, for his military services. In 1453 the Medici acquired the land, and later Cosimo I passed it to the commander of the Order of Santo Stefano.

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In 1627 the property was again acquired by a Medici, this time by Cristina di Lorena.  She had the palazzo rebuilt, and had a suspended passage constructed (a small variant of the Vasari Corridor), connecting the villa to a nearby Camaldolese monastery.  Cristina also commissioned the painting of la quiete che pacifica i venti, by Giovanni da San Giovanni in 1632.

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Cristina’s name even appears in another fresco, by Giovanni da San Giovani. in which curious anagram masquerading as a hymn inscribed on a scroll supported by putti in flight.

The villa has, thereafter, been known as Villa la Quiete.

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The complex was bequeathed to Cristina’s grandson, the Grand Duke Ferdinando II. Later on, in 1650, the villa was sold to Eleonora Ramirez de Montalvo, who dedicated it as a country retreat for a congregation she founded, the Montalves.  At that time the villa was called Istituto della Quiete.

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After Eleonora’s death, her friend the Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere administered the Institute, and sponsored the construction of the Montalve church, completed in 1688.

Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the last descendant of the Medici family, resided in the villa between 1720 and 1730 and she furnished it with objects from the Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti.

Anna Maria had the villa renovated and redecorated and she installed a beautiful grand garden, bringing water to it by a pipe to the nearby Fonte delle Lepricine.

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The director of this new, vast garden was the botanist Sebastiano Rapi, who just happened to be the person in charge of the Giardino Boboli.  Rapi, with the support of Anna Maria, brought the best botanical and fruit species from the various Medici villas.

Even today, the specimen magnolia trees they selected still grow in a courtyard connecting the garden to the palazzo.

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The garden today remains one of the rare examples of an 18th-century garden, with no changes in the plantings, other than refreshing them.  You can see the layout of the formal, rectangular gardens, lined with pots of lemon trees, in the Google slide:

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The secular order of Montalve, dedicated to the education of girls of good family, only had to abandon their church of San Jacopo di Ripoli in 1886, and they brought their numerous furnishings and works of art with them to the Villa la Quiete.

It was only in 1937 that the order became religious. The villa complex remained for a long time the seat of the education institute, ending only in 1992. The last pupil graduated in 2001.

In February 1992 the villa, together with the entire real estate of the Conservatory of the Montalve alla Quiete, passed University of Florence. A small part of the villa has been used by the University for the Center for Culture for Foreigners and Polo offices. 

It is possible to visit the villa, as I did, only by appointment and in the months of July and August on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. To arrange a visit, contact the Ufficio Servizi Didattico Divulgativi, Sistema Museale D’Ateneo, tel 055-2756444 or by email to edumsn@unifi.it.
In a few days I will be writing a post about the artworks located in the villa.

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Group shot: the Surrealists

The surrealists in the autumn of 1942: in the last row Jimmy Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, John Ferren, Marcel Duchamp and Piet Mondrian, in the center row Max Ernst, Amédée Ozenfant, André Breton, Fernand Léger and Berenice Abbott, Stanley William Hayter, Leonora Carrington. Photography by Hermann Landshoff in the Münchner Stadtmuseum in Munich

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The surrealists in the autumn of 1942: in the last row Jimmy Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, John Ferren, Marcel Duchamp and Piet Mondrian, in the center row Max Ernst, Amédée Ozenfant, André Breton, Fernand Léger and Berenice Abbott, Stanley William Hayter, Leonora Carrington. Photography by Hermann Landshoff in the Münchner Stadtmuseum in Munich

Mandatory photo credit:

Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlung Fotografie / Archiv Landshoff / BPK/Alinari Archives

WARNING:

Permission must be required for non editorial use. Please contact Alinari Archives

Photographer:

Landshoff Hermann

Image date:

1942

Personaggio:

Ernst Max, Duchamp Marcel, Léger Fernand, Guggenheim Peggy (1898-1979), Mondrian Piet, Breton André (1896-1966), Carrington Leonora (1917-2011)

Collection:

BPK/Alinari Arch

The village of Vinci in Tuscany

Travel can be good for your health.  Recently a good friend and I, at the end of a week that for both of us was filled with stress and problems, decided to get the heck out of Dodge for a day.

We left home for a day to wander in the wider, wondrous world of the outer sections of the province of Firenze.

We landed in Vinci, to see the village near the farmhouse where Leonardo was born.

For us, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Vinci is a very, very charming borgo:

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Of course the town is famous because the legendary genius Leonardo da Vinci was born in a nearby farmhouse. Every inch of this little village proclaims “Leonardo!”

The main attraction in the village is the Museo Leonardino, housed inside the building that was formerly the Castello dei Conti Guidi, originally built in the 12th century.

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The castle is located high atop the town’s highest hill. Inside the museo, you encounter a hologram of Leonardo:

 

The museum takes up 3 floors of the castle, showcasing a collection of the original designs found in Leonardo’s notebooks as well as 40 different models of various machines that were he designed.

Most interesting of all of these, to me, was the wooden paraglider that Leonardo created.

 

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Vinci is surrounded by the Tuscan hills and there are various vineyards and olive groves around the town which have remained the same since ancient times.

The town is spread over an area of 54 sq km and the population is close to 14,000. The economy of Vinci is based on agriculture, production of wine and olive oil, pottery and items like paper, clothes and furniture.

 

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After seeing the main exhibition space, you can also climb up to the top of the castle and view the surrounding countryside.

Before you are afforded the spectacular views, however, you must climb an endless set of stairs leading up, up and up.

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Trust me, the view above does not begin to capture the length and height of this stairway.  Several stops are needed on the way up to catch your breath.

The views from the top terrazzo of the Museo di Leonardo are as vast as they are gorgeous.  What a perfectly farmed section of Tuscany, filled with groves and groves of olives and grapes.  The groves are in perfectly formed lines, such as you never see anywhere else.  Wonder how that happened?

 

 

 

 

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Leonardo Da Vinci was born in a small farmhouse which is located just 3 km from the center of the town. You could walk it, if you have a lot of stamina.  On a day of 30 C., I didn’t.  We drove.

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Leonardo da Vinci's birthplace (3)(1)

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A good source of info on Vinci is this:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187903-d8686322-r440453756-Castello_Dei_Conti_Guidi-Vinci_Tuscany.html#

 

Grand Tour photo albums, a travel souvenir

If you were a young, aristocratic European man in the late 18th through 19th centuries, you might well have taken a Grand Tour.  After finishing your formal education, you would take a kind of gap year (or year and a half), traveling to and through the finest European capitals, including, in Italy, cities such as Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples.

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You might have asked Alinari Brothers or another similar firm to create an album for you, comprised of their photographs of your favorite places. The Fratelli Alinari archives in Florence have many of these albums in their archives, and I had the opportunity to look at one of them from 1874.

It begins with a hand-tooled red leather cover.  The book measures roughly 20 x 30 inches.

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The Frontispiece reveals that this album was created in Naples, by the Giorgio Sommer firm.

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This particular album begins with photographs of Torino, Milano, and Venice, as here:

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This album then moves to Firenze, and here are 3 images from this section of the book:

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Next, the book moves on visually to Rome.  Here is a picture of oxen pulling carts through the Roman forum.

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Then it was on to Naples.  The following is a picture of Mt. Vesuvius erupting in 1872.

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I could (and will) spend hours looking through these albums!

According to my guide at the Alinari archives, an album like this would have cost a young gentleman about $1500 in today’s money.

 

The (almost) unknown Florentine museum attached to the refectory of San Michele a San Salvi

Yesterday I posted about Andrea del Sarto’s Last Supper in Florence.  Attached to the same building is a small but fine museum of 15th and 16th century art, in addition to the main event of the Last Supper.

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I might lose my membership in the world of art historians because while I took pictures of a few of the artworks that grabbed my attention in this smallish museum, I didn’t take adequate pictures (or, god forbid, hand-written notes) of the labels that identify the artist.  From the depths of my heart, I apologize.  It was a hot, hot, hot day in Florence and I simply failed to live up to my creed. :-)

 

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But this odd painting certainly did grab my attention!  It is, I assume, a vision of Saint Mary in heaven, bestowing a string of pearls? beads? to someone below her on earth, I would guess?

Anyway, what I liked is the bodiless angels floating around Mary in the shape of a mandorla (almond).  Their heads and wings are kind of creepy, floating as they do around Mary.

 

And, speaking of being surrounded by cherubim and seraphim, look at this oil painting!

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Again, I would be fired as a curator, but I don’t know who painted this work. (But I know where the label is if I need the info; it’s right beside the painting for goodness sake! My art historical training is playing out in this post, as a kind of Catholic guilt.  I am smiling as I write this silly thing.)

But, check out the multitudes surrounding Christ on the cross, above whom is God the Father, and below is Mary and 2 others.

 

But, as entertaining to me as the 2 works above were, the one that really gave me a jolt was this:

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It represents, of course, the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriele tells the Virgin Mary that she will bear the Son of God.  I’ve seen thousands of renditions of this scene, which one of the most hopeful moments in Christian art.

But, what I have never seen before is Gabriel standing on 2 little clouds, one for each foot, that makes it look like he is hover-boarding up to Mary!

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Crazy funny to me!

There are many fine works of painting and some sculpture in this fine museum.

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Vai!  You’ll be glad you did!

How to beat the heat & crowds in Florence & have a major Renaissance painting all to yourself

I don’t usually give this kind of advice or information.

Typically I write my impressions of places I visit, without giving away too much info, mainly because Florence is so heavily visited and information is easily obtainable.

But today I will share a secret. It is good for any time of year, but in summer, it serves 2 purposes.  You will be in peace, perhaps even alone, and you can appreciate an under-known masterwork by a well-known artist.

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So, let’s say it’s over 90 degrees F.; you are in Florence; you love Renaissance art; you’ve visited all of the usual venues (museums/churches/artworks); and you’ve had it up to your eyebrows with the swarms of tourists that engulf this city.  What to do?

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Head yourself over to an empty, cool, beautiful former refectory on the east end of Florence.  It’s easy to get to by taxi or by bus and when you get there you will probably be alone, like I was last week, in the space.

 

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This church of San Michele a San Salvi is one of the most important ancient churches located outside Florence’s (former) circle of medieval walls. The adjacent Cenacle of San Salvi is a real hidden gem of the city.

You can find the location on the right side of this Google map screen shot. It is marked with a pin and titled “Cenacolo di Andrea del Sarto.”

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(For some reason I am not educated enough to understand, the picture above shows the plaque with a citation from Dante’s Purgatorio, which is placed on a wall near the church’s facade.  If you know why it’s there, please leave me a comment!  Grazie!!)

By traveling to this location, you will be rewarded not only with a coolish tranquility but also with a masterpiece:  Andrea del Sarto’s fresco of The Last Supper (called Cenacoli in Italian), which is as monumental as it is beautiful.

You walk into this calm typically Tuscan space (pale walls, red floor, accents of gray pietra serena stone) and this is what you see.  For me, this is where my blood pressure begins to regulate; soon I will be lost in the experience of the painting.

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This relatively unknown jewel of the art of fresco was lovingly described by none other than the world’s first true art historian, Giorgio Vasari. About it he said: “Andrea del Sarto, the flawless painter, is the author of the Last Supper kept in the Great Refectory of the San Salvi convent. [The fresco has] endless majesty with its absolute grace of all the painted figures.”

Here are some details of the glorious painting:

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I simply adore this casual slice of everyday Florentine life captured by Andrea del Sarto in the top of the lunette over the last supper.  One man appears to just be hanging out on a balcony over the people eating, while the other, possibly a server for the dinner, seems to be walking away.

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Not pictured here, but to the right and left of the room, along the walls in glass topped cases, are many sketches for the fresco by Andrea del Sarto.  It is a rare opportunity to see sketches by an artist from this period.  And, to see them in conjunction with the final work is an extraordinary opportunity.

 

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Notice in the picture above, Andrea del Sarto’s treatment of the Trinity.  A 3-faced head shot of sorts.

Who knows!? You might be as lucky as I was and have the place all to your self on the middle of a Saturday in July.  This is almost unheard of in Firenze!

Just outside the refectory is a fountain where the convent members could wash their hands before entering the refectory to dine.

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Utilitarian yet artistic.

 

Here is some info about the venue: http://www.polomusealetoscana.beniculturali.it/index.php?it/177/firenze-cenacolo-di-andrea-del-sarto