Ognissanti, Firenze

The moon shone brightly last night (which was Thanksgiving night, in the United States) over the Renaissance city.


Earlier today I posted about a concert I once heard at the Franciscan church called Ognissanti.  As luck would have it, I had the chance to spend some time last night admiring the interior of the church when it was beautifully lit up in the early evening.


Ognissanti has a harmonious Baroque facade, as seen from the piazza that separates it from the Arno river. The chiesa was originally built in the 1250s by the Umiliati, but it later became a Franciscan church.  It was renovated c. 1627 in the Baroque style, by architect Bartolomeo Pettirossi.

Here’s how it looks in the daytime:


In 1637 the church was given this façade, based up designs by Matteo Nigetti. Fortunately, the glazed terracotta lunette depicting the Coronation of the Virgin and placed over the central doorway was conserved. While the lunette resembles the work of Luca Della Robbia, it is now attributed to Benedetto Buglioni. Buglioni was almost the only artist working in the glazed terra-cotta style made famous by the Della Robbia workshop after that enterprise ended.


Ognissanti was among the first examples of Baroque architecture to penetrate this Renaissance city. Its two orders of pilasters enclose niches and windows with elaborate cornices. The campanile, of  late 13th and early 14th-century construction, sits back from the front of the church, on the east side.

The church’s interior is equally grand and richly ornamented.  It received the same Baroque style remodeling as the exterior in the early 17th-century, when the apse was rebuilt with a pietre dure high altar and, later, in 1770, the incredible sotto in su perspective painting was added to the vaulted nave ceiling.



To start with the perhaps the most important aspect of this venerated church, we turn to Giotto’s celebrated Madonna and Child with Angels (c. 1310), which was painted for the high altar of this church.


This outstanding painting by Giotto was completed in Florence. Today, if you wish to see the masterpiece, you will find it in the collection of the Uffizi.  Giotto’s capolavoro is not only one of the finest works in the Uffizi, but it shows the exact moment when painting in Italy turned from Gothic to a proto-Renaissance style.

Cimabue_-_Maestà_di_Santa_Trinita_-_Google_Art_Project  In the Uffizi galleries, Cimabue’s celebrated altarpiece (above), which was created for the same type of setting and dealing with the same subject matter as Giotto’s altarpiece, one can witness the changes in artistic approach.

But, although the Ognissanti is missing its famous and beautiful altarpiece, it is fortunate to have another work now attributed by Italian scholars to Giotto: the large crucifixion. Giotto painted this large-scale (15 feet tall) cross c. 1315 for the Umilati friars who then held this church.


The Crucifixion is displayed under the Medici coat of arms in the left transept of the church.


Only recently was this Crucifixion recognized as a work by Giotto. For decades it sat, unappreciated, in the storerooms of Ognissanti. There was a rumor that it was by Giotto, but no one was certain.  But then, it was restored!

The restoration of Giotto’s Ognissanti Crucifix was started by Paola Bracco in 2002. The majestic tempera on panel, now believed to have been painted by Giotto and his workshop around 1310-1320, had been sadly neglected for centuries. Kept in the sacristy of the church of Ognissanti, it was rarely seen and the vigorous modelling of the flesh tones of the figures, and the many precious details of the pictorial surface, were hidden by layers of varnish from previous “restorations” and centuries-old grime.

Fortunately, this monumental work is now back in the Florentine church, after a careful 8-year restoration.


In the Crucifix (painted in egg tempera), Christ is represented as Christus patiens, suffering, about to expire. The tension in the muscles of the arms is treated with delicacy, and the ashen flesh colors are very impressive. The body hangs on a very decorative Cross, an overflowing mosaic of starred crosses, squares and ellipses. The ‘beams’ of the Cross are painted in bright, but deep and intense blue, the precious lapis lazuli inlaid with greater or lesser amounts of lead white, as in the sloping pedestal to which Christ’s feet are pinned (by a single nail). The blue is crossed by thin red lines, cinnabar blood with more purplish glazes. On the forehead are a few drops of “pure red lacquer,” the color of blood, which springs from Christ’s flesh in response to the crown of thorns.

Here are some other fascinating artifacts from Ognissanti:


Last night I discovered that Sandro Botticelli is buried within the church, near his beloved Simonetta Vespucci.


Botticelli who is buried in the church near his beloved, Simonetta Vespucci.

Amerigo Vespucci is also interred here:


Here’s an unusual funerary monument found within the church.  I am not certain whose head this portrays…


And I end this long post with a photo of a significant Neoclassical funerary monument, found within the center of this important church.


Bernini, the film

I was fortunate enough to see the newly-released film, Bernini, in the Odeon Theatre in Florence this week.  OMG, it is fantastic.

The director of this beautiful guided tour through the Villa Borghese in Rome was directed by Francesco Invernizzi; Anna Coliva, Luigi Ficacci, and Andrea Bacchi are key presenters. Titolo originale: Bernini. Genere Documentario – Italia, 2018.


From the movie release, we are informed: La selezione di oltre 60 capolavori in esposizione alla Villa Borghese di Roma è stata definita dagli esperti di arte come il ritorno a casa di Bernini. A cinque secoli dalla nascita dei maestosi gruppi scultorei dell’artista, attraverso riprese inedite ed esclusive, i protagonisti di questa grande Mostra raccontano ed analizzano i dettagli delle opere giunte dai più prestigiosi musei del mondo per questa straordinaria occasione.

The selection of more than 60 masterworks on exhibition at the Villa Borghese in Rome has been defined by experts as a return to the home of Bernini. Five centuries after his  birth, we appreciate the majestic sculptural groups Bernini created, through the unprecedented and exclusive shots. Experts of this great exhibition recount and analyze the infinite details of the sculpture, with Bernini works borrowed from the most prestigious museums in the world for this extraordinary event.

“No artist defined 17th-century Rome more than Gian Lorenzo Bernini did, working under nine popes and leaving an indelible mark on the Eternal City. And there is probably no better place to appreciate his talent and genius than the Borghese Gallery in Rome, the villa — now a museum — built by his first patron, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, where Bernini revealed his talent for capturing tension and drama in stone. But during the remarkable exhibition titled “Bernini,” visiting may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” The New York Times

The Neptune Fountain in Florence is disassembled for restoration

Nine bronze statues, depicting nymphs, fauns and satyrs, were removed with a crane and taken to a workshop in via Livorno, where they will be restored by Ires e Nicola Salvioli Restauri. Work on the fountain began in February 2017, using funds donated by the Salvatore Ferragamo fashion house, which is providing 1.5 million euro throughout the project. The bronze statues will be restored not only on the outside but on the inside as well, which has deteriorated substantially due to water and atmospheric agents.


In 1559, Cosimo I de’ Medici held a competition for the creation of the city’s first public fountain, with Bartolomeo Ammannati and his Neptune design eventually taking the prize, judged the best for its clear exaltation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany’s glorious seafaring achievements. The sculpture was completed in 1565 and inaugurated for the wedding of Francesco I de’ Medici and the Grand Duchess Giovanna d’Austria on December 10 of that year. Close observers might notice that Ammannati used Cosimo I’s features to depict the strapping Neptune rising above the other figures.


La melegrana, the pomegranate

This is the season of this beautiful fruit and pomegranates are spilling over the counters in markets and alimentare all over Italy.


In this splendid painting by Botticelli in the Uffizi, we encounter a seasonal fruit, beautifully portrayed. According to the Facebook page of Conosci i luoghi di culto della Toscana:

La melagrana è un frutto tipico di questo periodo dell’anno, in cui tradizionalmente il confine tra il mondo dei vivi e il regno dei morti si assottiglia, l’ombra si impadronisce degli ultimi spazi luminosi e tutti noi iniziamo un cammino di riflessione e ripiegamento verso l’interno. L’involucro della melagrana è come uno scrigno che custodisce qualcosa di molto prezioso: tantissimi chicchi di un color rosso brillante che non può non far pensare al sangue e a tutta la sua simbologia. Frutto sacro a Venere e a Giunone e simbolo del percorso iniziatico di Persefone, la melagrana è spesso raffigurata come attributo delle grandi dee madri, coloro che presiedono al ciclo nascita-vita-morte-resurrezione. Colei che dà la vita, colei che la toglie.

Translated to English: The pomegranate is a typical fruit of this time of year, a time in which the border between the world of the living and the kingdom of the dead is less obvious (i.e. today is All Soul’s Day). The shadows overtake the last of summer and fall’s bright spaces and we all begin a journey of inward reflection. The tough skin of the pomegranate is like a casket that holds something very precious: many grains of a bright red color that make us think of blood and its symbolism. Pomegranate is the fruit sacred to Venus and to Juno and symbol of the journey of Persephone. Moreover, the pomegranate is often portrayed as the attribute of the great mothers, the goddesses who preside over the cycle of birth-life-death-resurrection.