The statue of Dovizia, Firenze

I love to let my mind wander into the distant past, trying to picture the way things might have been.

Last week I was invited to visit a show in the beautiful exhibition space of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze on via Bufalini.  There I bumped into a heroically-sized statue of a somewhat recognisable woman.  “Hey, I know you!” I thought to myself.

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She certainly looked familiar.  I wondered if she was related to one of the four allegorical statues of the seasons occupying the corners of the Ponte Santa Trinita. (Those four statues were done by Pietro Francavilla [Spring], Taddeo Landini [Winter] and Giovanni Caccini [Summer and Autumn] and placed on the bridge in 1608.)

Fortunately, a label attached to the statue revealed the figure and the sculptor: La Dovizia (Abundance) by Giovan Battista Foggini:

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Ah ha! I now knew exactly what I was looking at!  My mind zinged back into two places almost simultaneously, first to the camp and later the Forum of Roman Florence. and then to the Renaissance placement of a statue of Abundance by Donatello.

Both of these past moments happened in the space now occupied by the Piazza della Repubblica in Florence. The giant woman I encountered last week on the Via Bufalini was the statue of Abundance that replaced Donatello’s (now lost) figure on the same column, a replacement which occurred in 1721 (according to the label).

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The column, still topped by a statue, sits at the exact point where the two Roman roads intersected in ancient Florence, the cardo (now via Roma and via Calimala) and decumanus (now via degli Strozzi, via degli Speziali, and via del Corso).

 

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Now I needed to find out more about Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Foggini, to satisfy my curiosity.  He was an artist in Florence (1652 – 1725) who became, in 1676, the court sculptor for Cosimo III. He went on to become the Medici’s Architetto Primario e Primo scultore della Casa Serenissima as well as Soprintendente dei Lavori (1687–1725).

Foggini is best known today as the creator of many small bronze statuary figures and groups. In 1687, Foggini acquired the foundry in Borgo Pinti that had once belonged to the sculptor Giambologna. This allowed him to specialise in small bronzes, produced mainly and profitably for export. His adaptation of Pietro Tacca’s Moors was, for example, the basis of the bronze and ceramic reproductions for the connoisseur market well into the 18th century.

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One of my grad school professors published an article on the Donatello Abundance (“Donatello’s Lost Dovizia for the Mercato Vecchio: Wealth and Charity as Florentine Civic Virtues by David G. Wilkins).  Here are couple of excerpts from that scholarly publication:

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Here is an image of what Donatello’s lost sculpture might have looked like:   Screenshot 2018-10-15 at 11.08.14

You just never know who or what you will bump into in this fascinating city of Florence.

 

 

Famous 19th-century Americans in Florence: Horatio Greenough, sculptor

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From the book by Clara Louise Dentler: Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 3.30.23 PM

 

Where Greenough lived, worked, or exhibited in Florence:

  1. in a villa a mile out of Florence, thought to be opposite the Collegio della Querce on Via Piazzola
  2. he built a beautiful octagonal studio for the exhibition of his works at the corner of Piazza della Liberta’ (then called Piazza Maria Antonietta) and Via Santa Caterina
  3. places he lived include Casa le Blanc on Costa San GiorgioPalazzo Pucci-Baciocchi on Via de’ Pucci; and the popular Villa Brichieri.

 

 

The reasons why Italian cemeteries are so interesting to visit

Wealthy middle-class Italians of the 19th century seldom established art collections as their counterparts did in Britain and Germany. Their most conspicuous expenditure on visual art was on funerary sculpture, on the creation of vast, ornate, often beautiful monuments to deceased members of their families.

EBBtomb Tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Florence

The erection of these was traditionally a private matter even for public figures – the Venetian Republic did not provide them for its doges – except in the case of remote heroes such as Dante, who was awarded a dismal cenotaph in Florence’s Santa Croce in 1829.

The state concerned itself with public statues of heroic and exemplary men, works that could be seen not in a chapel or a cemetery but in the middle of a square.

Gilmour, David (2011-10-25). The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples (Kindle Locations). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

 

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!

In and under Orvieto

Above and underground in Orvieto

This past week I have been very lucky to have a very dear friend visiting, and so I’ve been playing a bit more tourist than I normally do in Italy. We wanted to get out of Florence a bit, so we headed to nearby Orvieto, somewhere I have never been, and only about two hours on the regional (slow) train. Orvieto is located on a (very tall) hill, so we took the funicular from the bottom of the hill where the train dropped us off to the old town, and then headed straight for the main piazza del Duomo. We picked up tickets for our main interest first, and while we waited headed into the Duomo. Orvieto’s Duomo is pretty low-key overall, but the chapels are what are most noticeable and they are much more ornate than the rest of the empty-feeling church.

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The church is similar in feel to the Duomo in Siena, but as previously noted the chapels here are what are incredibly ornate. One chapel in particular was created for a piece of bloody cloth from when the wafer began to drip with the actual blood of Christ to convince a doubting priest. The cloth and host were taken to the pope, a miracle was declared and the chapel was built where the cloth is enshrined to this day. The majority of the frescos in that chapel were done by Luca Signorelli, and are said to have influenced Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel. The influence is obvious; Signorelli’s figures are incredibly muscular.

After viewing the church we headed from the beautiful city aboveground to under the ground, to the main attraction of Orvieto and what we were most excited to see: the Orvieto underground. During the time of the Etruscans thousands of man-made caves were dug out of the hillside and they are spread throughout the city. I tried to find an example of the map that you can see there, but was unsuccessful, but imagine a small Italian town city map: now draw thousands of red circles all over it and you’ll have an idea of how many caves there were and the reach of them. We took a guided tour in English, and were able to get some backstory on the caves and see them up close and personal.

The caves look pretty much like you would expect– they are caves after all– but what is perhaps most surprising is the temperature drop after you descend even just one level down into the caves. It is so much cooler there, and it is no surprise that the Etruscans used the caves for things such as olive oil making. Below you can see an ancient olive oil press. The straining mat is modern, but something similar would have been used to press the oil out of the olives and prevent pieces of the olives from joining the oil.

IMG_1979The caves were incredibly extensive; we felt we had seen so much, but in reality we only covered two tiny circles on the map of thousands. At one point our guide pointed out that while it seemed we had covered a lot of ground, it had all been vertical, and there certainly were a lot of stairs– this was not a tour for those who can’t do stairs– or the claustrophobic! The caves were quite spacious, but the tiny staircases and passages between them, not so much.

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Many of the rooms in the caves were studded with holes, as you can see in the photograph above. For a long time they believed that these holes had a different purpose, but now archeologists are pretty certain that they were used to raise pigeons, which are actually a pretty common food in Orvieto, one of the things the city is known for (the others being ceramics, Orvieto classico wine from Trebbiano grapes, and olive oil). The pigeons were self-maintaining, because they would fly out the window that was ever-present to eat, and also bring back food for their young. Unlike other animals such as rabbits, people did not have to put in as much effort to raise them.

After some time the caves reached their final hurrah when the people of Orvieto were forbidden from digging out any more caves due to the instability of the area; landslides, thanks to the instability caused by the caves were increasing and there was fear that the entire city might disappear. Now there are spikes driven through the hill to protect the city, but the caves are now an archeological and historical site as opposed to a functional one.

Orvieto, being a hill town, had beautiful views, and we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering and enjoying them before heading back to Florence on the train. Below you can see a convent (I believe) from the hillside where we entered the underground caves.

IMG_1975Orvieto was sacked by the Romans, but the city withstood their attacks for two years thanks to its prime hilltop position: easy to defend. There are walls around the city as well, and facing the train station you can climb atop for the best view of the valley below.

IMG_1984Sometimes living in Florence it’s easy to forget that Italy isn’t really a land of cities. I’m lucky enough to have a view of the hills from my balcony, but visiting a small hill town is a good reminder of what Italian life is really like for most people– in the past, and in the present.

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· · in Escapes, Europe, Off the Beaten Track, Out & About. ·

Lorenzo de’ Medici’s sculpture garden

Lorenzo de' Medici and His Artists in the Sculpture Garden

 

Ottavio Vannini – Michelangelo Showing Lorenzo il Magnifico the Head of a Faun, surrounded by the other sculpture students

 

 

Young Michelangelo Carving a Faun's Head

 

Young Michelangelo Carving a Faun’s head by Emilio Zocchi

 

The Piazza San Marco on the former Via Larga, which is now Via Camillo Cavour, was where Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Sculpture Garden was situated in Florence. In the map below, you can get a sense of where the garden was in relationship to Piazza San Marco. The sculpture garden would have been where the words “Army Facility” show below.

 

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The Google map showing a satellite view, gives an even better sense of this former garden area.  Think away the Army building to the south end of the space, where Via Cavour and Via degli Arazzieri intersect, and you can see that there is still garden area in the site of the former Medici garden.

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Created with the hopes of becoming a great educational institution for studying art, Lorenzo de’ Medici curated a garden full of antique sculptures for artists to come and sketch as part of their artistic practice. Lorenzo also added sleeping and dining quarters so that students could easily live among the work they were studying. Francesco Granacci and Bertoldo di Giovanni are two of the many people to enter through its doors.

The most famous story of Michelangelo’s time in the Garden surrounds Michelangelo’s Faun statue. When Lorenzo saw this statue, he jokingly told Michelangelo that he looked too perfect to be an old faun. Michelangelo than took his drill and knocked out one of the teeth in the mouth of the Faun.

He showed his subtraction to Lorenzo who gained much amusement and pleasure from Michelangelo’s ability to listen and act on his critique.  Although the Faun statue has not been found, the two works of Michelangelo’s attributed to this time period are the Battle of the Centaurs and the Madonna of the Stairs.