What if?

What if you woke up today in Florence and decided you wanted to live in a fantasy world?

Let’s say you thought to yourself  “wouldn’t it be cool if I could go into a Renaissance palace in the center of Florence, and be a welcome guest?”

And, further, wouldn’t it be groovy if, when you were in that Renaissance palace, as a welcome guest, you could sit down for a while on a very comfortable, velvet covered chair, and enjoy a glass of nice local wine, while something amazing entertains you.

And, to increase the fantasy, what if this entire experience was air-conditioned, while Florence sizzles in the heat of the summer outside?

And what if I told you that this is actually not a fantasy, but something you could truly experience?!  How fast would you beat it there?

 

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One of my favorite places in Florence ticks all of the boxes above.  I love going to this place!

The classic art nouveau/deco interior is gilded and gorgeous and makes an average evening at the movies feel like an elegant affair!  And an added bonus is, it has air conditioning!  A great place to pass a summer evening in broiling Florence.

So, let’s start with the building, which is the Palazzo Stozzino, constructed in 1450s and 60s.  Here t’is!

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Work on the palace began in 1457. None other than Filippo Brunelleschi is thought to have designed it, but several other architects, among them Michelozzo, also had a hand in the edifice. The façade is attributed to Michelozzo, at least in the lower part, with its rusticated stone facing. Higher floors have been changed during various periods of renovation; they were changed a lot in the 19th century. 

Inside the Renaissance palace was a courtyard surrounded by an elegant porch with columns; it is thought Michelozzo designed the cortile and that it was built around 1460. The Palazzo Strozzino took its name after the larger Palazzo Strozzi.

The entire area around the palazzi Strozzi and Strozzini was changed during the 1860s, when Florence became the capitol of Italy.  Many buildings were razed.  Fortunately, these two palaces were spared.

The story goes that it was the suggestion of a famous Italian actress, Eleonora Duse, to transform the Strozzino into a cinema. Apparently the people who owned the palace in the 1920s were considering turning the building into a luxury hotel.  Duse is said to have convinced them into building this stately cinema instead. 

At any rate, it was somehow decided to create a cinema in the Strozzino’s courtyard. The Cinema Teatro Savoia was designed by noted architect Marcello Piacentini in 1920 and finished in 1922; the theatre was lavishly inaugurated in December of 1922.

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At the same time, two of the palace’s facades were redesigned, and a circular temple-shaped lantern was placed on a corner with bronze nude efibici, by the sculptor Marescalchi. 

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Inside the cinema, the sculptor Giovanni Gronchi created the lacunars and stucco plaques, and sculptor Antonio Maraini designed the three Muses in gilded and polychromed wood on the boccascena.  Other specialized artists and firms created the elaborate decorative interior.

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The theatre was later re-named Cinema Teatro Odeon, and it is now operated by the Cinehall Group. It remains a first-run single screen cinema. Many films are shown in their original language version (with Italian sub-titles).

The Odeon has long been a preferred meeting point for members of Florentine cultural and artistic life.  Guests such as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald visited the theatre, as have directors and actors of Italian neorealist cinema, as well as contemporary artists such as Isabelle Adjani, Angelica Houston, Bernando Bertolucci, Kenneth Branagh, Roberto Benigni, Nanni Moretti and Paolo Sorrentino.

The prestigious and elegant spaces of the Cinema Odeon Theater include  a large open room, with a stage holding the movie screen, and has a total capacity of 594 seats, divided into the large stall (with 334 seats) and stylish balcony (seats 260).

Fortunately for us, the Odeon still maintains the harmony and beauty of its original art deco/nouveau style; its tapestries, statues, and colored glass skylight are admired by its many visitors.

The original furnishings of the grand room were red velvet; the furnishings were renewed in 1987 and replaced with yellow gold velvet. Theoriginal wooden chairs remain in the balconies. 
On Via dei Sassetti a plaque reads: "Built in the MCMXXII on behal of S.A. Toscano Immobiliare Sindacato - Restored in the MCMXXXVIII".

The Odeon Cinema is a vibrant cultural centre, often hosting cinema
festivals. One of the leading is “50 Giorni di Cinema Internazionale”, which takes place in winter, showcasing movies and directors from
diverse cultures.

In addition to the entertainment venues and offices of the German Management, the building houses the Departmental Department of Tobacco Growth and the Department of Economic Development of the City of Florence, and in the basement a historic disco, the Yab.

Palazzo Strozzi: an incredible, historic building now repurposed as a superb exhibition space

The Palazzo Strozzi is a superb example of Renaissance civil noble residential architecture in the historic center of Florence.  And it has been repurposed to delightful service of the modern world.

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Today the palace is used for temporary international expositions, like the one I viewed yesterday, devoted to Bill Viola.

 

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Before looking at the exhibition, let’s discuss the incredible building:

Filippo Strozzi the Elder (1428 – 1491), the banker and statesman, commissioned the structure after his return to Florence in November of 1466.

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As a major Medici rival, Strozzi wanted to build the most magnificent home in the city to assert his family’s prominence.  The palace may as well have been intended as a political statement of his own status.  Based on the wishes of Strozzi himself, the palazzo would be built to look like a small fortress in the heart of the city.

The palace was begun in 1489 and designed by Benedetto da Maiano.

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The Strozzi palace was clearly inspired by the Palazzo Medici, with its rusticated stone exterior, but it is much larger and has more harmonious proportions than its predecessor.  Whereas the Palazzo Medici was sited on a corner lot and thus has only two main sides, the Stozzi is surrounded on all four sides by streets. The Strozzi palace faces the historical  and fashionable Via de’ Tornabuoni, as well as the Piazza Strozzi and on Via Strozzi. The building thus required three imposing entranceways, each flanked by rectangular windows. The Strozzi family’s coat of arms is found in the upper floors.

The siting of the Strozzi in the center major streets provided the challenge of how to integrate a cross-axis in keeping with the Renaissance desire for strict internal symmetry.  As a result, the ground plan of Palazzo Strozzi is rigorously symmetrical on its two axes.

The Strozzi family acquired a great number of buildings in this area were acquired during the 70s and demolished them all to to provide enough space for his new home.

The original architect, Benedetto da Maiano, died in 1497; Simone del Pollaiolo (il Cronaca) took over and was responsible for the completion of the palace. Pollaiolo died in Florence in 1508, but is credited with the design and finish of the central courtyard or cortile, surrounded by an arcade inspired by Michelozzo.

The external facade is adnorned with splendid torch holders, flag holders and rings to tie horses made by Niccolò di Nofri, an iron-worker known as il Caparra.

Unfortunately, Filippo Strozzi died in 1491, long before the construction’s completion in 1538.  Strozzi’s children were the first to live in the palazzo, moving in around 1505.  Ironically, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici confiscated the palazzo in the same year, not returning it to the Strozzi family until thirty years later.

The palazzo remained the seat of the Strozzi family. Although the family lived in Rome for centuries, the palazzo was returned to its original splendour in the mid-1800s with the Princess Antonietta, and then with Prince Piero, who, from 1886 to 1889, had the building renovated by architect Pietro Berti.  In 1937 the family sold the building to the Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni, and many changes were made to the edifice.  It was later given to the city of Florence in 1999. It is now home to the Institute of Humanist Studies and to the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi.

Since July 2006, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi has been able to create a rich and innovative calendar of events and exhibits, in these areas of the building: Piano Nobile, la Strozzina and Il Cortile.

The Gabinetto G.P. Viesseux and the Renaissance Studies Institute both have also occupied the building since 1940.  Here also is the seat of the Istituto Nazionale del Rinascimento and the noted Gabinetto Vieusseux, with a library and reading room.

Today the palace is used for temporary international expositions like the now-annual antique show, founded as the Biennale dell’Antiquariato in 1959, fashion shows and other cultural and artistic events.

 

 

 

 

Allora, on to Bill Viola and his video art.

In the exhibition “Electric Renaissance,” Viola seems to have taken certain Renaissance masterpieces and created video dialogues with them.  I would say he is tremendously fortunate to have been able to borrow the original Italian artworks and, even if you don’t love Viola’s work, you will be rewarded with a small, select group of historic masterworks.  For example:

Here’s his dialogue between his video of 3 contemporary women greeting each other, in relationship to Pontormo’s

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Other installations stand on their own.  This screen is about 200 feet long by 15 feet high.

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Summer reading.

I know, the calendar hasn’t officially cleared summer for take off.  But, as I write this in Florence on Saturday evening at 6:30 p.m., the temperature is 91 degrees F.  Summer has arrived, secondo me. If it gets much hotter than this, I may have to move way way up north to Scotland.

Keeping cool for me requires a lot of good reading material.  My latest enjoyment has been found in this great non-fiction tome, filled with art intrigue, a connection between Italy and the US, and historical context of the 1960s and 1970s.  A fun book to read, and not just for art historians, I promise!

 

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The Boston Raphael: A Mysterious Painting, an Embattled Museum in an Era of Change & A Daughter’s Search for the Truth by Belinda Rathbone

Great summer reading.

Villa i Tatti; inside the palazzo and library

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I’m a rule breaker and a rebel.

The following pictures were not allowed.

I’m not sorry. :-)

 

Somehow I feel Bernard Berenson would understand me.  I mean, he took a few liberties (ahem) in his gathering and collecting of Italian paintings.  Ahem.

If the Villa would like to lock me up for having snapped these pictures (with no flash), I’d be happy to do time at the Villa.  Just let me know.  I’ll be right over to start my incarceration.

 

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Villa Farnesina

Well, darn it!  I made a big mistake.  I left my camera cord in Florence so I can’t transfer my photos from my camera to my computer for another couple of weeks.  So, I am going to have some big holes in my posts until I get back home to Florence.  Oh well, what can you do?

Until then, here are some shots I snapped with my phone camera at the gorgeous Villa Farnesina today.  The place is so amazing, even the phone shots are pretty great!  Also, the weather….70 degrees and sunny skies.

Allora, on to the Villa, the quintessential Renaissance palazzo.

The Villa’s exterior:

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Before we head inside, let’s have a history lesson.

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Villa Farnesina: a Renaissance suburban villa in the Via della Lungara, in the district of Trastevere in Rome.

The villa was built for Agostina Chigi, a rich Sienese banker and the treasurer of  Pope Julius II.  Between 1506–1510, the Sienese artist and pupil of Bramante, Baldassarre Peruzzi, aided perhaps by Giuliano da Sangallo, designed and erected the villa.

The novelty of this suburban villa design can be discerned from its differences from that of a typical urban palazzo (palace). Renaissance palaces typically faced onto a street and were decorated versions of defensive castles: rectangular blocks with rusticated ground floors and enclosing a courtyard.

This villa, intended to be an airy summer pavilion, presented a side towards the street and was given a U shaped plan with a five bay loggia between the arms. In the original arrangement, the main entrance was through the north facing loggia which was open. Today, visitors enter on the south side and the loggia is glazed.

Chigi also commissioned the fresco decoration of the villa by artists such as Raphael, Sebastian del Piombo, Giulio Romano, and Il Sodoma. The themes were inspired by the Stanze of the poet Angelo Poliziano, a key member of the circle of  Lorenzo de Medici.

Best known are Raphael’s frescoes on the ground floor; in the loggia depicting the classical and secular myths of Cupid and Psyche, and The Triumph of Galatea. This, one of his few purely secular paintings, shows the near-naked nymph on a shell-shaped chariot amid frolicking attendants and is reminiscent of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

This same “Galatea” loggia has a horoscope vault that displays the positions of the planets around the zodiac on the patron’s birth date, 29 November 1466. The two main ceiling panels of the vault give his precise time of birth, 9:30 pm on that date.

On the piano nobile, Peruzzi painted the main salone with troupe l’oeil frescoes of a painted grand open loggia with city and countryside views beyond. The perspective view only works from a fixed point in the room otherwise the illusion is broken.

In the adjoining bedroom, Sodoma painted scenes from the life of Alexander the Great, the marriage of Alexander and Roxana, and Alexander receiving the family of Darius.

The villa became the property of the Farnese family in 1577 (hence the name of Farnesina). The Villa’s second owner, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, became Pope Paul III in 1534, and the Farnese family’s wealth and influence continued to soar. Also in the 16th century, Michelangelo proposed linking the Palazzo Farnese on the other side of the Tiber River, where he was working, to the Villa Farnesina with a private bridge. This was initiated, remnants of a few arches are in fact still visible in the back of Palazzo Farnese towards via Giulia on the other side of the Tiber, but was never completed.

Today, the Villa is owned by the Italian State; it accommodates the Accademia dei Lincei,  a long-standing and renowned Roman academy of sciences. Until 2007 it also housed the Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe (Department of Drawings and Prints) of the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Roma.

The Villa’s interior (better photos are coming, in about 2 weeks; see above):

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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.