Villa Demidoff and Giambologna’s Il Gigante

As I sit in Denver on a very cold February morning, my mind wanders back to Tuscany and warm weather.  I’m almost always behind in my posts and so I take this moment to post about Villa Demidoff.

In 1568, Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, purchased a great estate in the hills outside of Florence and commissioned the famous architect, Buontalenti, to build a splendid villa as a residence for Bianca Cappello.  Bianca was the Grand Duke’s Venetian mistress.  The villa was built between 1569 and 1581, set inside a forest of fir trees.

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While very little of Buontalenti’s villa survives, at least we still have this fabulous and very large statue of Il Gigante, set facing a pond filled with water lilies.

The lilies are absolutely gorgeous in late August. I had never seen anything as magnificent as the first time I saw this lake of waterlilies in bloom!  And, the statue ain’t bad either.

 

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OK, ripping my eyes away from the pink flowers, I walked around towards the back of the statue:

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Giambologna was the creator of this amazing sculpture:

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Il Gigante, also known as “the Colossus of the Apennines,” is an astounding work of art. Giambologna designed the lower part as a hexagon-shaped cave from which one can access, through a ladder, to the compartment in the upper part of the body and into the head. The cavity is filled with light that enters from the eye holes in the head.

The exterior of the statue is covered with sponges and limestone pieces, over which water pours into the pool below.

We know that originally, behind the statue, there was the large labyrinth made from laurel bushes. At the front of the giant was a large lawn, adorned with 26 ancient sculptures at the sides.

Later, many of the antique statues were transferred to the Boboli Gardens, and the park became a hunting reserve. As a part of the Pratolino estate, it was abandoned until 1819, when the Grand Duke Ferdinando III of Lorena changed the splendid Italian garden in the English garden, by the Bohemian engineer Joseph Fritsch. The part was increased from 20 to 78 hectares.

 

The park, which had been owned by Leopoldo II since 1837, was sold upon his death to Paul Demidoff, who redeveloped the property. Demidoff’s last descendant bequeathed the property to Florence’s provincial authorities.

And I feel better already.  I can feel my cold, clenched muscles relax under the spell of the Tuscan sunshine. Soon I will be there again.

Leonardo’s advice on aging

Today is my birthday (and Michelle Obama’s!) and, as I mark how fast the years go by, it seems like the right time to mention these cool street lights in Milan. They hang near the famous refectory where Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie. It is sage advice for us all:

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Acquisita cosa nella tua gioventù che ristori il danno della tua vecchiezza e se tu intendi la vecchiezza aver per suo cibo la vecchiezza adoprati in tal modo in gioventù che a tal vecchiezza non manchi il nutrimento. Leonardo da Vinci

My poor translation goes something like this.  I think it captures the intent if not the poetry:
Acquire in your youth that which will restore the damage of your old age. And if you intend old age to have wisdom, then you’ll need to acquire the nourishment in your youth. Leonardo da Vinci

 

 

Sforzesco Castle, Milan

Wow. Just wow.  I don’t know why I never paid a visit to this astounding place before now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, last, but certainly not least, you don’t see a lot of elephants in Italian art, but here is a big exception to the rule.

 

The Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan

Yikes! Nothing like being met by an army! The outstanding collection of armor below is just one of the many parts of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum that will amaze you in Milan.

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The Poldi Pezzoli Museum is housed in the original 19th-century mansion built by Milanese aristocrat, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli (1822-1879).  His parents and grandparents had already begun the family’s art collection and he built his palazzo in this tony section of Milan to house the collection it as he continued to enlarge it.  When he died, he left his collection and house to the Brera Academy. The Poldi Pezzoli Museum was opened to the public in 1881 on the occasion of the National Exposition in Milan and has since become an archetype for other famous collectors.

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The Poldi Pezzoli is one of the most important and famous house-museums in the world. Located near the landmark Teatro La Scala and the world-renowned fashion district, this house-museum is beloved by the Milanese and international public.

The Poldi Pezzoli is a member of the Circuit of Historic House Museums of Milan, a city network established in 2008 with the aim of promoting the Milanese cultural and artistic heritage.

During World War II, the museum was severely damaged and many paintings were completely destroyed. The palazzo itself was rebuilt and in 1951 it was reopened to the public.

Not all of the house was restored as it appeared during Poldi Pezzoli’s life, but it was instead fitted out as a museum. The grand entryway, with its fountain filled with koi and its spiral staircase are original, as are at least 2 of the piano nobile galleries.  You’ll recognize them right away in the pictures below.

The outstanding collection includes objects from the medieval period to the 19th century, with the famous armor, Old Master paintings, sculptures, carpets, lace and embroidery, jewels, porcelain, glass, furniture, sundials and clocks: over 5000 extraordinary pieces.

Let’s begin at the entry way.  What a greeting!

 

 

 

Below: the view of the fountain from atop the staircase:

 

 

I was a bit obsessed by the fountain; can you tell?

 

 

Allora, moving on:

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Angels in the architecture:

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Dragons on the pottery:

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I love the way they display the ceramics: why not affix objets to the ceiling?  It is a wasted flat space otherwise.  Genius.

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Moving on to the important objets: Piero del Pollaiuolo magnificent Portrait of a Young Lady.

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Botticelli’s The Dead Christ Mourned:

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Bellini:

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Ah, the glass.  It gets me every time:

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The panel below made me laugh.  I love how the sculptor included the slippers at the side of the bed! In this dastardly scene of homicide, don’t forget the slippers!

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Since 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, the world is paying homage to the great artist with myriad exhibitions.  The Poldi Pezzoli joins them with a major painting, on loan from the Russian Hermitage Museum, just for the occasion. Leonardo painted this work during his time living in Milan.

 

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Palazzo di Brera, Milano

Milano’s beautiful Palazzo di Brera was created along with the Accademia di Belle Arti in 1776 to serve the students studying at the University.

The Jesuits built the Baroque palace at the end of the 17th century as a convent (the word convent is used for monasteries in Italy). After they were unceremoniously expelled, the  Palazzo Brera was remodeled in the neoclassical style.

Napoleon took control of Italy and declared Milan the capital.  He filled the Brera with works from across the territory. As a result, it is one of the few museums in Italy that wasn’t formed from private collections, but rather by the Italian state.

When the Palazzo di Brera was taken away from the Jesuits by Queen Maria Teresa of Austria, it was meant to become one of the most advanced cultural institutions in Milan. It still lives up to that status today. Besides the Academy and the beautiful Art Gallery, the palazzo holds the Lombard Institute of Science and Literature, the Braidense National Library, the Astronomical Observatory and a Botanical Garden maintained since he 1700s.

 

Inside the cortile, Canova’s heroic statue of Napoleon:

 

 

 

 

 

The entrance to the palazzo:

 

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There is a garden at the back of the palazzo.  The fortified walls and turrets of the building complex seen back here are massive and medieval, and very unlike the sophisticated facade of the palazzo. This Orto Botanico comprises a tiny corner of the hectic city has aromatic herbs, wildflowers and a small vegetable garden for research.

 

 

 

 

The Palazzo di Brera started life as a Jesuit college built on green land just outside the old city walls and its name reflects the location. In fact, the district, palace, and gallery all take their names directly from their locale as the Medieval dialect. The word “brayda” means “grassy clearing”. The word slowly evolved into “brera” or “bra;” it is also the root word of Vernona’s Piazza Bra.

Inside the Palazzo di Brera resides the beautiful Biblioteca Braidense:

 

 

 

 

More about Canova’s statue of Napoleon:

 

The plaster model for the bronze statue:

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What caught my eye at the Brera?  These works:

 

Andrea Solario, Madonna of the Carnations:

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I loved Carlo Crivelli’s amazing panel paintings, which are actually somewhat 3-d.  I’ve not seen that before in paintings of these kinds:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another luscious work by Carlo Crivelli: Madonna and Child.

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Some of the altarpieces in the Brera collection are sumptuously beautiful; breathtaking, actually.

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This random lion caught my eye and I don’t even remember from what painting!  I was a bit agog at the Brera. I started feeling the Stendhal syndrome, big time.

 

Raphael:

 

 

 

 

 

Piero della Francesca:

 

 

 

A ubiquitous scene, all over Europe: