Stop and think: the handkerchief

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Today everyone uses disposable paper tissues and almost all mothers carry them in their handbags for everyone in the family to use.

But, what preceded the lowly “kleenex?”

Well, according to Professor M. Fanfani, the handkerchief was invented in Italy, just like the fork and the napkin.  I tend to think that the napkin and handkerchief both were created in various cultures because humans need these objects and surely someone would have thought of a good product solution.

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But readers know I love all things Italian and so of course I am going to go along with the professore and accept the fact that while various cultures no doubt had their own objects for cleaning the face and nose, the first rarified version no doubt was of Italian origin.  Most good things were. :-)

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So, let’s read and consider his thesis on the handkerchief.

 

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The use of the handkerchief, like that of the fork and napkin, was born in Italy and its use had more to do with the prestige of its possession, than its strictly hygienic reasons.

 

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As with so many details about life in Italy, paintings from the period give us a window into the daily life of some Italians.

In the works of Ghirlandaio, an attentive chronicler of the Florentine costume, this delicate accessory is a standout.

Handkerchiefs were rare and expensive; for example, we know that King Henry IV had only five of them in 1594.

We learn that blowing one’s  nose with the handkerchief (instead of with your fingers, or with the wide sleeves of a shirt) was a refined sign of nobility or high social standing.

 

 

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Ghirlandaio often recorded in paint the upper bourgeoisie in Florence. The possession and showing of an embroidered kerchief indicated status.

Who knew?

 

 

This text (which I’ve modified in English) appeared on a Facebook post recently
written by Prof. M: Fanfani.

Grand Tour photo albums, a travel souvenir

If you were a young, aristocratic European man in the late 18th through 19th centuries, you might well have taken a Grand Tour.  After finishing your formal education, you would take a kind of gap year (or year and a half), traveling to and through the finest European capitals, including, in Italy, cities such as Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples.

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You might have asked Alinari Brothers or another similar firm to create an album for you, comprised of their photographs of your favorite places. The Fratelli Alinari archives in Florence have many of these albums in their archives, and I had the opportunity to look at one of them from 1874.

It begins with a hand-tooled red leather cover.  The book measures roughly 20 x 30 inches.

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The Frontispiece reveals that this album was created in Naples, by the Giorgio Sommer firm.

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This particular album begins with photographs of Torino, Milano, and Venice, as here:

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This album then moves to Firenze, and here are 3 images from this section of the book:

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Next, the book moves on visually to Rome.  Here is a picture of oxen pulling carts through the Roman forum.

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Then it was on to Naples.  The following is a picture of Mt. Vesuvius erupting in 1872.

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I could (and will) spend hours looking through these albums!

According to my guide at the Alinari archives, an album like this would have cost a young gentleman about $1500 in today’s money.

 

The (almost) unknown Florentine museum attached to the refectory of San Michele a San Salvi

Yesterday I posted about Andrea del Sarto’s Last Supper in Florence.  Attached to the same building is a small but fine museum of 15th and 16th century art, in addition to the main event of the Last Supper.

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I might lose my membership in the world of art historians because while I took pictures of a few of the artworks that grabbed my attention in this smallish museum, I didn’t take adequate pictures (or, god forbid, hand-written notes) of the labels that identify the artist.  From the depths of my heart, I apologize.  It was a hot, hot, hot day in Florence and I simply failed to live up to my creed. :-)

 

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But this odd painting certainly did grab my attention!  It is, I assume, a vision of Saint Mary in heaven, bestowing a string of pearls? beads? to someone below her on earth, I would guess?

Anyway, what I liked is the bodiless angels floating around Mary in the shape of a mandorla (almond).  Their heads and wings are kind of creepy, floating as they do around Mary.

 

And, speaking of being surrounded by cherubim and seraphim, look at this oil painting!

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Again, I would be fired as a curator, but I don’t know who painted this work. (But I know where the label is if I need the info; it’s right beside the painting for goodness sake! My art historical training is playing out in this post, as a kind of Catholic guilt.  I am smiling as I write this silly thing.)

But, check out the multitudes surrounding Christ on the cross, above whom is God the Father, and below is Mary and 2 others.

 

But, as entertaining to me as the 2 works above were, the one that really gave me a jolt was this:

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It represents, of course, the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriele tells the Virgin Mary that she will bear the Son of God.  I’ve seen thousands of renditions of this scene, which one of the most hopeful moments in Christian art.

But, what I have never seen before is Gabriel standing on 2 little clouds, one for each foot, that makes it look like he is hover-boarding up to Mary!

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Crazy funny to me!

There are many fine works of painting and some sculpture in this fine museum.

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Vai!  You’ll be glad you did!