The Misericordia of Florence and its great museum

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The Venerabile Arciconfraternita della Misericordia di Firenze (La Misericordia) is a lay confraternity founded in Florence in the 13th century by St. Peter Martyr (St. Peter of Verona) with the aim of extending evangelical mercy to the needy.

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It is the oldest Brotherhood in Florence dedicated to caring for the sick and, in general, the oldest private voluntary institution in the world still active since its foundation (1244). Its lay members, called brothers, still continue to provide part of the transport of the infirm in the city.

To preserve the egalitarian spirit of the company, all of its members wore long black robes (during the Middle Ages the garments were red) and black peaked hoods that cover the face with two holes for the eyes. With this disguise patients never knew if they were being carried to the hospital by a count or a cobbler. It was only in 2006 that the traditional black dress was relegated for use only in ceremonies, due to national regulations.

 

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For a century or so, the confraternity shared space with the Compagnia del Bigallo. In 1525the Misericordia moved elsewhere; but in 1576 it moved to the corner of Via Calzaiuoli, where it has remained ever since.

The Venerable Archconfraternity of Mercy, which has never known a single break in its charity work since its foundation, was established “for the purpose of assisting and accompanying the sick and the accident-prone to hospital and removing bodies from the street”. The latter role was crucial during such disasters as flooding or the plague. The company also collected alms to help poor girls marry and to the bury the dead.

When the association was founded in the 13th century, it was a time when family feuds and plagues were leaving a high number of disabled and dying people in the streets. This group of volunteers banded together to carry the wounded to hospitals and the dead to cemeteries.

 

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The headquarters for the Misericordia is in Piazza del Duomo 20 across the street and to the right of the Cathedral. Even if you’re not in need of any medical attention, you’re welcome to visit the headquarters and the church. It’s customary to leave a small donation. But, whatever you do, don’t fail to visit the museum.  It’s hardly known and here, in the heart of Florence, where the hordes of tourists congest the city, you’ll be almost alone.

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I highly recommend a visit of at least an hour to this interesting place; you will learn all kinds of things about the history of Florence and medicine here.

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Christian Dior in Venice; current photography exhibit at Villa Pisani

This lovely little exhibition, entitled Timeless Elegance, Dior in Venice in the Cameraphoto Archives, is currently on display at Villa Pisani, in Stra, on the Brenta Canal in the Veneto. I enjoyed seeing it very much.

 

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From the website of the Villa:

1951 was a magical year for Venice. Some of the most intriguing views of the city co-starred in the campaign that publicised the creations of the couturier who was capturing all the world’s headlines at the time: Christian Dior.

On 3 September of that same year, Palazzo Labia hosted the “Ball of the Century”: the Bal Oriental, organised by Don Carlos de Beistegui y de Yturbe, attracted around a thousand glittering jetsetters from all five continents. This masked ball saw Dior, Dalí, a very young Cardin, Nina Ricci and others engaged as creators of costumes for the illustrious guests, in an event that made the splendour of eighteenth-century Venice reverberate around the world.

Silent witnesses of both of these events were the photographers of Cameraphoto, the photography agency founded in 1946 by Dino Jarach, who covered and recorded everything special that happened in Venice and beyond during those years.

We have Vittorio Pavan, the current conservator of the imposing Cameraphoto Archives (the historical section alone has more than 300,000 negatives on file) and Daniele Ferrara, Director of the Veneto Museums Hub, to thank for the project to show the photographs of those two historical events to the general public. The location chosen for them to re-emerge into the light of day is one of extraordinary significance: Villa Nazionale Pisani in Stra is the Queen of the Villas of the Veneto and it is no coincidence that it is adorned with marvellous frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo, the same artist whose work also gazed down on the unforgettable masked ball in 1951 from the ceilings of Palazzo Labia.

For this exhibition, Pavan has chosen 40 photographs of the collection shown in Venice by Christian Dior.

In those days, every fashion show would present just under 200 models, calculated carefully to achieve the right balance between items that would be easy to wear and others that made more of a statement. Dior was the undisputed master of fashion in those post-war years. The whole world looked forward to his collections and discussed them hotly. No fewer than 25,000 people are estimated to have crossed the Atlantic every year, just to see (and to buy) his collections. Every time he changed a line (and every new season brought such a change), it was accepted with both enthusiasm and ferocious criticism: the former from his clan of admirers, the latter from those who opposed him.

In any case, no woman who aspired to keep abreast of fashion could afford to ignore the dictates issued by the couturier from his Parisian maison in Avenue Montaigne, where he already employed a staff of more than one thousand, despite having being established only five years before. Dior’s New look evolved with every passing season.

In 1950, he introduced the Vertical Line, in 1951 – as the photographs on show in Villa Pisani illustrate – no woman could avoid wearing his Oval Look: rounded shoulders and raglan sleeves, the fabrics modelled until they clung like a second skin. The essential accessory was of course the hat, for which Dior that year drew his inspiration from the kind traditionally worn by Chinese coolies.

For that autumn, though, he created the Princess line, which gave the illusion of extending below the breast.

In the breathtaking photographs from the Cameraphoto Archives, beautiful Dior-clad models perform a virtual duet with Venice, whose canals, churches and palaces are never a mere backdrop, but co-stars on a par with the great designer’s creations.

The second nucleus of this fascinating exhibition is devoted to the Grand Ball at Palazzo Labia, possibly the most glittering social event of the century.

All the bel monde flocked to Venice on that legendary 3 September. Don Carlos, popularly known as the Count of Monte Cristo, sent personal invitations to a thousand people. Dior, together with a veritable army of young tailors and accompanied by Dalí, was engaged to create the most alluring costumes, all designed to refer to the eighteenth century when Goldoni and Casanova lived here. There were costumes for men and women, but also for the greyhounds and other dogs that often accompanied their owners.

The torches that on that legendary evening illuminated the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, several Grandees of Spain, the Aga Khan, King Farouk of Egypt, Winston Churchill, many crowned heads, princes and princesses, a host of millionaires, such artists as Fabrizio Clerici and Leonor Fini, fashion designers of the calibre of Balenciaga and Elsa Schiapparelli and leading jetsetters Barbara Hutton, Lady Diana Cooper, Orson Welles, Daisy Fellowes, Cecil Beaton (whose photographs, published in Life magazine, gave the world something to dream about), the Polignacs and the Rothschilds.

Welcoming them in the midst of clouds of ballerinas and harlequins was the master of the house and host, who dominated the scene as he promenaded back and forth dressed as the Sun King on a 40 cm high platform. The heir of an immense fortune created in Mexico, Don Carlos spent some of his time living in Paris, where he owned a house designed by Le Corbusier and decorated by Salvador Dalí, and the rest at a chateau in the country. He had bought Palazzo Labia and restored it and was now offering it to his friends.

The aim of this exhibition is therefore to contribute to improving the appreciation and value of the Cameraphoto photography archives, which have been declared to be of exceptional cultural interest by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, since they constitute an inestimable legacy for the wealth and variety of images.

It was with this in mind that the curators chose this nucleus of photographs depicting the clothing designed by one of the most ingenious and iconic fashion designers in history, who in his turn, through his creations, enabled a spotlight to be focused on a tiny fragment of the more than one thousand years of history of the city of Venice, helping us reconstruct the collective memory on which our present day is based.

Curated by Vittorio Pavan and Luca Del Prete, the exhibition is organised by the Veneto Museums Hub e Munus.

 

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Villa Pisani: Cruising the Brenta Canal from Padua to Venice, part 2

I recently posted about this day-long cruise here (here, here and here) and now I pick up where I left off. Our first stop on the cruise after leaving Padua was in Stra at Villa Pisani.  This incredible villa is now a state museum and very much work a visit.  It was built by a very popular Venetian Doge.

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The facade of the Villa is decorated with enormous statues and the interior was painted by some of the greatest artists of the 18th century.

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Villa Pisani at Stra refers is a monumental, late-Baroque rural palace located along the Brenta Canal (Riviera del Brenta) at Via Doge Pisani 7 near the town of Stra, on the mainland of the Veneto, northern Italy. This villa is one of the largest examples of Villa Veneta located in the Riviera del Brenta, the canal linking Venice to Padua. It is to be noted that the patrician Pisani family of Venice commissioned a number of villas, also known as Villa Pisani across the Venetian mainland. The villa and gardens now operate as a national museum, and the site sponsors art exhibitions.

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Construction of this palace began in the early 18th century for Alvise Pisani, the most prominent member of the Pisani family, who was appointed doge in 1735.

The initial models of the palace by Paduan architect Girolamo Frigimelica still exist, but the design of the main building was ultimately completed by Francesco Maria Preti. When it was completed, the building had 114 rooms, in honor of its owner, the 114th Doge of Venice Alvise Pisani.

In 1807 it was bought by Napoleon from the Pisani Family, now in poverty due to great losses in gambling. In 1814 the building became the property of the House of Habsburg who transformed the villa into a place of vacation for the European aristocracy of that period. In 1934 it was partially restored to host the first meeting of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, after the riots in Austria.

 

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From the outside, the facade of the oversized palace appears to command the site, facing the Brenta River some 30 kilometers from Venice. The villa is of many villas along the canal, which the Venetian noble families and merchants started to build as early as the 15th century. The broad façade is topped with statuary, and presents an exuberantly decorated center entrance with monumental columns shouldered by caryatids. It shelters a large complex with two inner courts and acres of gardens, stables, and a garden maze.

The largest room is the ballroom, where the 18th-century painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo frescoed the two-story ceiling with a massive allegorical depiction of the Apotheosis or Glory of the Pisani family (painted 1760–1762).[2] Tiepolo’s son Gian Domenico Tiepolo, Crostato, Jacopo Guarana, Jacopo Amigoni, P.A. Novelli, and Gaspare Diziani also completed frescoes for various rooms in the villa. Another room of importance in the villa is now known as the “Napoleon Room” (after his occupant), furnished with pieces from the Napoleonic and Habsburg periods and others from when the house was lived by the Pisani.

The most riotously splendid Tiepolo ceiling would influence his later depiction of the Glory of Spain for the throne room of the Royal Palace of Madrid; however, the grandeur and bombastic ambitions of the ceiling echo now contrast with the mainly uninhabited shell of a palace. The remainder of its nearly 100 rooms are now empty. The Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni described the palace in its day as a place of great fun, served meals, dance and shows.

 

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Check out this sunken bathtub below:

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Bear with me: in the next few photos I am trying out all of the fancy settings on my new camera:

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To be continued.

Celebrating women art patrons: Tōfukumon’in, Empress Consort of Japan

Tōfukumon’in (1607–1678)
Empress Consort of Japan

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Following more than a century of civil war in Japan, Empress Tōfukumon’in played a pivotal role in shaping culture and aesthetic tastes in the peaceful Edo period. Tōfukumon’in used her endowment from Tokugawa leadership to rebuild prominent Kyoto temples and collect art by her era’s leading artisans. She dabbled in creative endeavors herself, writing poetry and experimenting with calligraphy, and she was particularly interested in fashion and textiles.

Together with her husband, Gomizunoo, Tōfukumon’in fostered more direct relationships between the imperial family and artisans. The empress collected pottery by famed ceramicist Nonomura Ninsei, paintings by Tosa Mitsunobu, and works by other prominent artists and workshops of the day, like Tawaraya Sōtsatu and the Kano and Tosa schools. Her chambers featured artworks that mingled classical styles with contemporary scenes featuring warrior figures and commoners.

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Among her most notable commissions are six painted screens by court painter Tosa Mitsuoki that together comprise Flowering Cherry and Autumn Maples with Poem Slips (1654–81). Against the golden silk backdrop, the artist rendered slips of medieval poetry dangling from finely wrought leaves. The work merges Tōfukumon’in’s interests in literature and painting, and also represents the royal couple’s quest for cultural influence in an era when the feudal shogunate increasingly wrestled control from the imperial family.

Celebrating women art patrons: Hürrem Sultan, a.k.a. Roxelana

Hürrem Sultan, a.k.a. Roxelana (1505–1558)
Empress of the Ottoman Empire

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Titian, La Sultana Rossa c. 1500. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Through her coquetry and mastery of palace intrigue, Roxelana (meaning “the maiden from Ruthenia,” a region in what is today Belarus and Ukraine) rose from sex slavery as a concubine in Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s harem, eventually becoming his first (or most preferred) wife. In the harem, Roxelana learned Turkish, the principles of Islam, and the art of seduction, and she earned a new name, Hürrem—“the joyful one.” Roxelana so enchanted the sultan that he broke with tradition and had multiple children with her. A few years later, he married her—an act that granted Roxelana her freedom.

At the side of one of the most powerful rulers in Ottoman history, Roxelana wielded extraordinary influence over the empire through her philanthropy and prominent public building projects. Her Haseki complex in Constantinople featured a mosque, school, hospital, and soup kitchen. When a fire partially destroyed Suleiman’s harem, Roxelana used the opportunity to move in with her husband at the Topkapi Palace—an unprecedented move among sultanic wives that ushered in an era called “the Reign of Women.” Instead of rebuilding the harem, she encouraged Suleiman to construct a mosque.

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The Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent still stands as a landmark in Istanbul today. In The Women Who Built the Ottoman World (2017), Muzaffer Özgüles suggests that Roxelana “reshaped the patronage of all Ottoman women builders who came after her.”