How the French eat

As the writer Alice B. Toklas said, the French bring to the table “the same appreciation, respect, intelligence and lively interest that they have for the other arts, for painting, for literature and for the theatre.” This history of thoughtfully prepared meals and passion for terroir, the combination of earth and climate that distinguishes a wine, has made Paris an ideal place to practice the art of savoring.

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude (p. 40). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The case for time alone, with art

[The painter] Delacroix [was] himself a proponent of alone time. (His former apartment and studio on the beautiful Place de Furstenberg is a museum as well.)

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“How can one keep one’s enthusiasm concentrated on a subject when one is always at the mercy of other people and in constant need of their society?” he wondered in his journal. “The things we experience for ourselves when we are alone are much stronger and much fresher.”

Research suggests this is true. One study, part of a project supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, found that visitors who attended an exhibition at a fine-art museum with other people found it significantly less thought-provoking, were less convinced by the exhibition design, and were less able to enjoy the museum space in silence than those who toured the museum alone.

Those who went with companions experienced the beauty of the artworks to a lesser extent, and were less able to experience a deep connection to the art. For the study, more than five hundred and fifty visitors to the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen in Switzerland were given an electronic data glove to wear as they toured the museum. The glove enabled the researchers to record the paths of the participants, as well as other information, including the time they spent in front of the artworks, their speed, heart rate, and fluctuations in skin conductance level, a potential indicator of emotional processes.

The subjects also filled out visitor surveys before entering the exhibition and after leaving it.

The study, published in the journal Museum Management and Curatorship, found that conversation interfered with visitors’ making a connection to the art. People who weren’t discussing the art with a companion were more frequently and more strongly emotionally stimulated by it. They were able to “enter the exhibition with ‘all of their senses open and alert’ to a greater degree.”

When I go to a museum with friends, I remember the outing. When I go alone, I remember the art.

Certainly, visiting a museum as a social occasion is a wonderful way to spend time with people we love. But there are also upsides to going by oneself, as the research suggests.

A person’s response to a work of art may be an emotional, private experience. There are paintings and sculptures you want to fall into, wrestle with, or simply sit across from in silence.

Indeed, while conventional wisdom holds that social interaction helps museum visitors learn by discussing what they’re seeing with fellow attendees, a study published in Curator: The Museum Journal, challenged that notion, showing that there is no meaningful learning advantage to going with others or going alone; both can be equally beneficial, just in different ways.

In the weeks after their visit, “solitary visitors were just as likely as paired visitors to have discussed the things they had seen or learned with family or friends,” researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, reported. For the study some forty solo visitors and forty visitors in pairs were observed and interviewed duringtheir visit to the Queensland Museum.

Four weeks later, 40 percent of participants took part in a follow-up telephone interview. When asked how being on their own contributed to their experience, the most common response was that it allowed them to explore the exhibition at their own pace.

Other reasons offered related to having greater choice and control, and freedom from distraction. Participants had responses like “I can look at what I want to look at,” “I can get more immersed in it,” “I can feel what I feel without input from others,” and “You miss more when you are in a group.”

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude, Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Palazzo Farnese, Roma

The French Embassy:   I made a quick trip to Rome this past week to visit the Palazzo Farnese, a reservation made several months ago.  You have to reserve early and provide lots of personal information if you want to pay a visit to the French Embassy in Italy!

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Today the Palazzo is owned by the Italian Republic.  In 1936 an arrangement was made with the French to house their embassy for 99 years at the high cost of $1.00 per annum.   The Italians have a similar arrangement in Paris.

 

 

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See those men behind me?  They are there to make sure only authorized people enter the Embassy.  Trust me, they do a good job! Even with my reservation, I almost wasn’t let in (it seems they needed my actual passport, not just a photocopy that serves me in 99.9% of cases….ummmm… I won’t be making that mistake again).

 

 

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This pair of matching fountains stand symmetrically in front of the Palazzo.

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I was there as an art lover, of course, scheduled to take a tour in Italian of the many beautiful objets that adorn the fabulous palace.  Chief among them being the fabulous frescoes by Carracci!

 

But, before moving to the frescoes, let’s look at the incredible building!

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Above is an overview of this very important Renaissance palazzo, located in a prime area of central Rome. First designed in 1517 for the Farnese family, the building expanded in size and conception to designs by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger when Alessandro Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534.

The palazzo’s construction involved some of the most prominent Italian architects of the 16th century, including Michelangelo, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta.

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Above is an engraving of the Palazzo with the two matching fountains.

 

Let’s talk frescoes!

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Several of the palazzo’s main salons were painted with elaborate allegorical programs including the Hercules cycle in the Sala d’Ercole or the Hercules Room; the “Sala del Mappamondo” or The Room of Maps; and the well known The Loves of the Gods  (1597–1608) by the Bolognese painter Annibale Carracci.

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In 1595, Annibale and Agostino Carracci had traveled to Rome to begin decorating the Palazzo with stories of Hercules, appropriate since the it housed the famous Greco-Roman antique sculpture of the hyper muscular the so-called Farnese Hercules.

Annibale developed hundreds of preparatory sketches for the major work, wherein he led a team painting frescoes on the ceiling of the grand salon with the secular quadri riportati of The Loves of the Gods.

Although the ceiling is riotously rich in illusionistic elements, the narratives are framed in the restrained classicism of High Renaissance decoration, drawing inspiration from, yet more immediate and intimate, than Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling as well as Raphael’s Vatican Logge and Villa Farnesina frescoes.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the Farnese Ceiling was considered the unrivaled masterpiece of fresco painting for its age. They were not only seen as a pattern book of heroic figure design, but also as a model of technical procedure; Annibale’s hundreds of preparatory drawings for the ceiling became a fundamental step in composing any ambitious history painting.

The lucky French, to occupy this magnificent building!

You knew I would soon veer to art, didn’t you?

Oranges and Italian art:

Because of a combination of new artistic techniques and some apparently reasonable, but mistaken, assumptions about the history of citrus, oranges appeared frequently in paintings by any number of the great masters of the Italian Renaissance.

In making the break from Byzantine scholasticism to the new humanism of the Renaissance, artists began setting their religious figures against naturalistic backgrounds. Not having seen the Holy Land, they glibly set their Annunciations and Resurrections in Italian villas and on Italian hills.

Crusaders, among others, had long since reported that orange trees flourished in Palestine, so, as a kind of hallmark of authenticity, the painters slipped orange trees into masterpiece after masterpiece, remaining ignorant to their deaths that in the time of Christ there were no orange trees in or near the Holy Land.

In his “Maestà,” the Sienese painter Duccio di Buoninsegna showed Jesus entering Jerusalem through the streets of Siena, past orange trees in full fruit.

Fra Angelico painted Jesus resting under an orange tree.

It was almost unthinkable for a great master to do a “Flight into Egypt” without lining the route with orange trees.

A “Last Supper” was incomplete without oranges on the table, although there is no mention of oranges in the Bible.

Titian’s “Last Supper,” which hangs in the Escorial, shows oranges with fish.

A Domenico Ghirlandaio “Last Supper” goes further: a mature orange grove is depicted in murals behind the Disciples.

The deterioration of Leonardo’s “Last Supper” has been too extensive for any oranges in it to be identified, but in all likelihood, according to Tolkowsky, they were there.

Most painters thought of the Annunciation as occurring indoors, and Paolo Veronese, for one, moved orange trees indoors to authenticate the scene, setting the plants in trapezoidal pots, of the type in which orange trees were grown in his time in northern Italy.

Fra Angelico also used orange trees to give a sense of the Holy Land to his “Descent from the Cross,” which was otherwise set against the walls of Florence, and, like many of his contemporaries, when he painted the Garden of Eden he gave it the appearance of a citrus grove.

Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes in a family chapel of the Medici show Melchior, Balthasar, and Gaspar looking less like three wise kings from the East than three well-fed Medici, descending a hill that is identifiable as one near Fiesole, dressed as an Italian hunting party, and passing through stands of orange trees bright with fruit.

Actually, Gozzoli’s models for the magi were Lorenzo de’ Medici; Joseph, Patriarch of Constantinople; and John Palaeologus, Emperor of the East.

 

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The orange tree was more than a misplaced landmark. It was also a symbol of the Virgin, erroneously derived from an earlier association that medieval theologians had established between Mary and the tall cedars of Lebanon.

Thus, countless paintings of the Madonna or of the Madonna and Child were garlanded with orange blossoms, decorated with oranges, or placed in a setting of orange trees.

Mantegna, Verrochio, Ghirlandaio, Correggio, and Fra Angelico all complemented their Madonnas with oranges.

Sandro Botticelli, in his “Madonna with Child and Angels,” set his scene under a tentlike canopy thickly overhung with the branches of orange trees full of oranges.

In the Neo-Latin of the Renaissance, oranges were sometimes called medici— an etymological development that had begun with the Greek word for citron, or Median apple.

It is no wonder, therefore, that in art and interior decoration the Medici themselves went in heavily for oranges. In Florence, oranges are painted all over the ceilings of the Medici’s Pitti Palace.

The Grand Duke Francesco de’ Medici was one of the world’s earliest collectors of citrus trees, and in Tolkowsky’s view the five red spheres on the Medici coat of arms were almost certainly meant to represent oranges.

When Botticelli painted his “Primavera,” under a commission from the family, he shamelessly included Giuliano de’ Medici as the god Mercury, picking oranges.

Botticelli also painted his “Birth of Venus” for the Medici.

It was Venus, and not the Hesperides, according to a legend current at the time, who had brought oranges to Italy.

Botticelli’s model was Simonetta dei Cattanei, wife of Marco Vespucci and Giuliano de’ Medici’s Platonic love. Simonetta came from Porto Venere, where Venus was alleged to have landed with the original oranges, so Botticelli painted her in the celebrated scallop shell bobbing on the gentle swells off Porto Venere, and lined the coast behind her with orange trees.

Giuliano’s son, Giulio de’ Medici, who became Pope Clement VII, commissioned Raphael to design a villa for him with a great double stairway leading to a sunken garden full of orange trees.

All this was bound to engage the envy of royalty in the north, and at the end of the fifteenth century, in an expedition often said to mark the dividing point between medieval and modern history, Charles VIII of France went to Italy intending to subdue the peninsula by force of arms. Instead, he fell in love with Italian art, architecture, and oranges. When he returned to France, every other man in his retinue was an Italian gardener, an Italian artist, or an Italian architect. Charles was going to transform the castles and gardens of France.

McPhee, John (2011-04-01). Oranges. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.