What to read before coming to Florence

I love to read and I like both fiction and non-fiction.  When friends ask me what they might read to prepare for a visit to Florence, I always recommend R.W.B. Lewis, The City of Florence. It’s a passionate paean to the city, both scholarly and personal at the same time.

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The author, Lewis, who died in 2002, won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Edith Wharton.  You can be sure his book on Florence is a beautifully written tome. Highly recommended.

How art history became an academic (& my favorite) field of study

Before Charles Eliot Norton had become Harvard’s first professor of that discipline, art history had, in general, been considered, not a field of study, but a matter of craft and technique to be taught by painters to other painters.

Scholarship about art, and especially about Italian art, entered a new era as the German universities began developing large-scale historical studies like those of Swiss scholar Jacob Burckhardt, whose Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy was published in English in 1878.

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In Great Britain, tastes were influenced by the work of Norton’s close friend Ruskin in books like The Stones of Venice (1851–1853) and The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849).

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Following Ruskin, Norton loved best in Italy the powerful moral uplift of Dante and of Italy’s medieval Gothic architecture. In Norton’s art history courses, the Renaissance was the unhappy termination of the Middle Ages, which had been the last great era of spiritual unity and well-being.

There was a joke current among Harvard undergraduates that Norton had died and was just being admitted to Heaven, but at his first glimpse staggered backward exclaiming, “Oh! Oh! Oh! So Overdone! So garish! So Renaissance!”

“Norton,” Bernard Berenson commented drily years later, had done what he could at Harvard to restrain “all efforts toward art itself.”

Rachel,Cohen. Bernard Berenson (Jewish Lives) (p. 45). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

 

A woman’s voice…better late than never: Zora Neale Hurston

Cudjo Lewis was getting old, and Zora Neale Hurston had something to prove.

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Hurston, pictured above, was the prolific African American author best known for “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” She was just starting her career in 1928 when she traveled down to Plateau, Ala., to meet with Lewis. The man was in his 80s. He was widely believed to be the last African man alive who had been kidnapped from his village, shackled in the cargo of a ship and forced into slavery in America. Hurston, competing with other anthropologists of the day, set out to document his life more thoroughly than the rest.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/05/02/zora-neale-hurston-87-years-after-she-wrote-of-the-last-black-cargo-the-book-is-being-published/?utm_term=.302e5008051e

Art is a part of daily life in Italy

Italy was a place where art was part of daily routine. It was in the fabric and facades of the buildings and in the way towns and villages.  Aestheticism was instinctive, a common trait, as if it were one of the senses. Artfulness was ubiquitous, from the wrapping of one’s purchases in a shop to the arrangement of food on a plate.

The most common word in the language appeared to be bella, which prefixed everything from the morning espresso to the design of a dress. Great effort – and great importance – was placed on how things looked. Tuscany’s landscape was the ultimate expression of this. It was the view that travellers dreamt of, composed who knew how by diverse hands over centuries.

It even smelled wonderful, of clean air and woodsmoke, of rosemary and new leather, of frying garlic and pungent parmigiano.

Taylor, Alan F.. Appointment in Arezzo: My Life with Muriel Spark (Kindle Locations 859-865). Birlinn Ltd. Kindle Edition.

 

How do I love thee, let me count the ways. Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband in Florence.


The Casa Guidi, as we see it today, has the same number of rooms and the same plan as it was when the Robert and Elizabeth Barret Browningrented it in 1847. The Brownings lived here happily for many years, and Elizabeth died there in 1861.
The Brownings took two years to furnish the apartment, buying at high cost one or two precious pieces such as the golden mirror of the living room, while most of the paintings and other furniture was found in small Florentine shops.

 

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https://www.visittuscany.com/it/attrazioni/casa-guidi-firenze/

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In restoring the property, the Landmark Trust and Eton College tried to maintain the original atmosphere, preventing the apartment from   looking like a museum.


There are currently some paintings and furniture that belonged to    both the Barrett family and the Browning family and that have been   generously donated to Casa Guidi, but overall the furnishings remain similar to those of the 19th century. The walls and ceilings in the  living room and main bedroom and the ceiling of the poet's studio    have been restored with the original colors of the period. All doors and fireplaces are original.


After the poet's death, the Commune commemorated her life placed an  inscription on the door (composed by Niccolò Tommaseo) according to  which her poetry had created a golden ring that binds Italy and      England.

 

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