Rita Hayworth in The Barefoot Contessa; gowns by Sorelle Fontana

In 1954, the film The Barefoot Contessa was released, starring Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart.  I just watched the film on Amazon.it and loved it just for the settings and costumes.  The fashion house of the Sorelle Fontana provided the gorgeous costumes worn by Hayworth and some of the other characters.

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The Sorelle Fontana fashion house was founded in Rome in 1943 by three sisters and Italian designers: Zoe Fontana (1911-1979), Micol Fontana (1913-2015) and Giovanna Fontana (1915-2004).  I’ll be posting strictly about the fashion house soon.

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The Barefoot Contessa is considered one of director/producer Mankiewicz’s most glamorous “Hollywood” films, but it was produced out of Cinecittà Studios in Rome, Italy. The exterior scenes were shot at Tivoli (the olive grove), Sanremo, and Portofino. The film’s Italian production was part of the “Hollywood on the Tiber” phenomenon.

 

The Saturday Review called Ava Gardner “one of the most breathtaking creatures on earth.”  It is hard to disagree.

 

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I took a bunch of screen shots of the film to illustrate this post. The pictures aren’t great, but the costumes are.

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Antico Setificio Fiorentino

A visit to this amazing workshop in Florence has been on my list of things to do for several years.  I finally made it recently and it was above and beyond my expectations.

 

Situated in the Oltrarno, not far from the extant medieval walls of the city, the factory is open to visitors by appointment.  I went with a group from Florence and we had an excellent tour, ending in the showroom where we were surrounded by their beautiful fabrics on rolls and treated to tea and pastries.  A lovely experience in every sense.

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Villa Pisani: Cruising the Brenta Canal from Padua to Venice, part 2

I recently posted about this day-long cruise here (here, here and here) and now I pick up where I left off. Our first stop on the cruise after leaving Padua was in Stra at Villa Pisani.  This incredible villa is now a state museum and very much work a visit.  It was built by a very popular Venetian Doge.

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The facade of the Villa is decorated with enormous statues and the interior was painted by some of the greatest artists of the 18th century.

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Villa Pisani at Stra refers is a monumental, late-Baroque rural palace located along the Brenta Canal (Riviera del Brenta) at Via Doge Pisani 7 near the town of Stra, on the mainland of the Veneto, northern Italy. This villa is one of the largest examples of Villa Veneta located in the Riviera del Brenta, the canal linking Venice to Padua. It is to be noted that the patrician Pisani family of Venice commissioned a number of villas, also known as Villa Pisani across the Venetian mainland. The villa and gardens now operate as a national museum, and the site sponsors art exhibitions.

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Construction of this palace began in the early 18th century for Alvise Pisani, the most prominent member of the Pisani family, who was appointed doge in 1735.

The initial models of the palace by Paduan architect Girolamo Frigimelica still exist, but the design of the main building was ultimately completed by Francesco Maria Preti. When it was completed, the building had 114 rooms, in honor of its owner, the 114th Doge of Venice Alvise Pisani.

In 1807 it was bought by Napoleon from the Pisani Family, now in poverty due to great losses in gambling. In 1814 the building became the property of the House of Habsburg who transformed the villa into a place of vacation for the European aristocracy of that period. In 1934 it was partially restored to host the first meeting of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, after the riots in Austria.

 

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From the outside, the facade of the oversized palace appears to command the site, facing the Brenta River some 30 kilometers from Venice. The villa is of many villas along the canal, which the Venetian noble families and merchants started to build as early as the 15th century. The broad façade is topped with statuary, and presents an exuberantly decorated center entrance with monumental columns shouldered by caryatids. It shelters a large complex with two inner courts and acres of gardens, stables, and a garden maze.

The largest room is the ballroom, where the 18th-century painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo frescoed the two-story ceiling with a massive allegorical depiction of the Apotheosis or Glory of the Pisani family (painted 1760–1762).[2] Tiepolo’s son Gian Domenico Tiepolo, Crostato, Jacopo Guarana, Jacopo Amigoni, P.A. Novelli, and Gaspare Diziani also completed frescoes for various rooms in the villa. Another room of importance in the villa is now known as the “Napoleon Room” (after his occupant), furnished with pieces from the Napoleonic and Habsburg periods and others from when the house was lived by the Pisani.

The most riotously splendid Tiepolo ceiling would influence his later depiction of the Glory of Spain for the throne room of the Royal Palace of Madrid; however, the grandeur and bombastic ambitions of the ceiling echo now contrast with the mainly uninhabited shell of a palace. The remainder of its nearly 100 rooms are now empty. The Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni described the palace in its day as a place of great fun, served meals, dance and shows.

 

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Check out this sunken bathtub below:

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Bear with me: in the next few photos I am trying out all of the fancy settings on my new camera:

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To be continued.

Prato, Florence’s industrial alter ego, and Albina Gori-Pacini, Prato’s poet

Here’s a reprint of a 1988 article in the New York Times about Prato:
By ANNE MARSHALL ZWACKFEB. 7, 1988

PRATO is Florence’s industrial alter ego, the milling ants to Florence’s blithe cricket, as in the fables of La Fontaine. But when it comes to play, it is Prato that does the chirping. Porsches from Prato are parked outside the expensive restaurants of Florence, and it is the matrons of Prato who patronize the fashionable boutiques and jewelers of Florence. Indeed, not without a pinch of envy, the more parsimonious Florentines consider the Pratesi ostentatious.

In the 13th century Prato – 12 miles northwest of Florence – was an important center for the spinning, weaving, carding and dyeing of wool. In the 19th century the cenciaioli (rag men) of Prato started recycling wool on a vast scale. Today the city is said to be the biggest wool-producing center in the world, with 2,000 firms and 60,000 people involved mostly in the recycling of wool, but in every other facet of the wool trade as well. (Recycled wool becomes the short-fiber, carded wool that, for instance, pea jackets are made of, as opposed to long-fiber or combed wool.)

The first merchant of Prato was Francesco di Marco Datini of Iris Origo’s biography, who waited for his ships to come in during the 14th century, and who at a time when accountancy was in its infancy invented the letter of credit. Today Pratese merchants sponsor the arts – a Henry Moore statue dominates one of the main squares and the Pecci Museum of Modern Art will soon be completed.

It is hardly surprising then that the narrow streets of old Prato are full of stores selling cloth and knitting wool. The city has always been known for its scampolai, stores that collect end pieces of material, the leftover stock or spoiled lengths from which they cut away flawed parts, and then sell as samples.

The scampolai are mostly in a network of streets to one side of the cathedral square, and they sell not only local wool but also silk, cotton and velvet. Fabric by the yard (in 36- and 60-inch widths) and sample pieces are available at excellent prices.

In Via Magnolfi every other store is selling samples and cloth by the yard. At No. 25, Bruno Franchi (telephone 38400) has been a scampolaio since 1958 and threatens to close his shop because of his age, but this evidently depends on his wife, Rita, whom he calls la padrona, the boss. The stock is a constantly changing spectrum of wools, silks, striped cotton for shirts, taffeta, toweling and so on, at prices that start at $2.50 a yard for cotton and anything from $4 to $40 for the silks, One item carried all the time is tartan blanketing, very soft and warm-looking wool that sells at $5 for a single-bed size and $11.50 a double.

CENTRO Scampoli (44-46 Via Magnolfi) is a large store selling every possible kind of material as a sample or by the yard. The real bargains are, of course, the samples (24 to 80 inches in length usually) but the material sold by the yard is also remarkably inexpensive. Cotton can be found for $7.75 a yard, linen mixed with rayon at around $14 in lilac, turquoise, lemon yellow and Nile green. There is quilted material for robes or bedspreads at $11.50 to $15, while the panno for which Prato is famous – the wool cloth in colors such as bright blue, geranium red, turtledove gray and muted emerald – retails at $12. If you dig around among the bolts of cloth, you can find silks by Valentino or Galitzine for $27 to $31 a yard, and pure silk Gucci unhemmed scarves – with a defect such as a smudge of color or a blurred outline – that cost less than $20.

At 83 Via Magnolfi there is a store (telephone 20667) that is worth a visit more for the owners than for the shelves of samples. Albina Gori-Pacini is a poet, and one wall is lined with cups and medals and literary awards, while her eight volumes of poetry are kept in an antique chest in an adjoining room. Albina Gori-Pacini and her husband, Dino, have been scampolai since 1933 in a period piece of a store that was once a hotel dining room with fat stone columns and a vaulted ceiling frescoed with vine leaves.

Around the corner to the right, in Via San Giorgio, Franco and Anna Polichetti have a rambling store (telephone 26311) redolent of mothballs with several rooms where you can browse undisturbed. Particularly attractive were the printed velvets retailing from $11.50 to $34.50 and the crushed velvets at $29.

Another street parallel to Via Magnolfi is Via del Serraglio, where, at No. 83, there is a tiny store – with materials spilling out onto the street – called Ditta Marmino. They have a good selection of furnishing materials such as 60-inch-wide Gobelin-style tapestry designs selling at $35 a yard in addition to rasatello, a cotton satin featuring large flowers, English country house-style, for $15 a yard; they also had the same kind of floral designs in cotton for $5 or in a linen mixture for $11.50 a yard. Bold deck-chair striped heavy cotton in blue and white or red and sand sells for $5 a yard.

The largest store with the biggest choice is Renzo Rosati at Nos. 56 and 60 in Via del Serraglio (telephone 24267). Six family members work in the street store and in the warehouse next door; the courtyard of the warehouse is dominated by a large olea fragrans tree that in autumn fills the drab little street with a haunting scent. Mr. Rosati has been in the fabric business since he was 15, and his daughter, Laura, who has been to the United States, speaks English. He sells any length of pure silk in plain colors, prints or Jacquards for $17 a yard. Soft wools in luminous white, deep purple and fuchsia cost $24. Men’s suiting materials signed Ermenegildo Zegna cost $50, while similar cloth in what Mr. Rosati calls ”super merino’‘ is $27. Harris tweed and Scottish-made kilt materials in clan tartans cost $18 a yard, while various shades of soft German-made velvet are priced at $19. This is the store where more enterprising members of the Florentine aristocracy might come to shop, whether to cover a sofa or to make party frocks for their junior jeunesse doree.

It should be stressed that in none of these stores are the materials inexpensive because they are shoddy; the choice and the quality are excellent.

In the Piazza San Antonio, at No. 12, tucked away behind the churches of San Francesco and Santa Maria delle Carceri is a store called L’Angolino del Tessuto di Sorello Scarlini (telephone 21149) owned by sisters named Scarlini. While I was there a group of Pratese ladies-who-lunch were buying materials for evening dresses: pure silks at $15 to $19 a yard, satin at $24 and Lurex at $28 while silk goffering started at $11, crepe de chine silk mixtures at $19; higher priced were chiffons covered in sequins at $43 a yard and silk velvet that looked like astrakhan fur at $32. PRATO: A TOWN FOR FABRICS The Scampolai

The stores mentioned (called scampolai) are open 9 A.M. to 1 P.M. and 3:30 to 7:30 P.M. (They are closed Monday morning and Saturday afternoon.) No credit cards are accepted. Lodgings

At the Villa Santa Cristina (Via Poggio Secco 58, 50047 Prato; telephone 595951) – which also has an excellent restaurant – a double room costs $73 and a single $49. The hotel is closed during August. In the dining room a meal for two with wine costs about $80; it is closed Sunday evening and all day Monday. Dining Out

One of Italy’s better fish restaurants is Il Pirana (Via Valentini 110; telephone 25746), in a less lovely part of the city a short taxi ride from the center. The spaghetti with lobster is a first and second course in one. The restaurant is closed Saturday, Sunday and during August. A meal for two with wine costs about $95. A. M. Z.

 

A note about Albina Gori Pacini, La Poetessa di Prato. Time marches on and Signora Pacini has died since the Times published the article above.

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The wonders of Padua (Padua, part 3)

Padova or Padua is a big subject! I’ve recently posted 2 times about it, here, here, here and here.  And, still, I am far from done!

This post includes a list of the major features that grace this lovely, historic town. But first, a sweet little video about the town itself:

 

Undoubtedly the most notable things about Padova is the Giotto masterpiece of fresco painting in the The Scrovegni Chapel (Cappella degli Scrovegni).  This incredible cycle of frescoes was completed in 1305 by Giotto.

It was commissioned by Enrico degli Scrovegni, a wealthy banker, as a private chapel once attached to his family’s palazzo. It is also called the “Arena Chapel” because it stands on the site of a Roman-era arena.

The fresco cycle details the life of the Virgin Mary and has been acknowledged by many to be one of the most important fresco cycles in the world for its role in the development of European painting. It is a miracle that the chapel survived through the centuries and especially the bombardment of the city at the end of WWII.  But for a few hundred yards, the chapel could have been destroyed like its neighbor, the Church of the Eremitani.
The Palazzo della Ragione, with its great hall on the upper floor, is reputed to have the largest roof unsupported by columns in Europe; the hall is nearly rectangular, its length  267.39 ft, its breadth 88.58 ft, and its height 78.74 ft; the walls are covered with allegorical frescoes. The building stands upon arches, and the upper story is surrounded by an open loggia, not unlike that which surrounds the basilica of Vicenza.

The Palazzo was begun in 1172 and finished in 1219. In 1306, Fra Giovanni, an Augustinian friar, covered the whole with one roof. Originally there were three roofs, spanning the three chambers into which the hall was at first divided; the internal partition walls remained till the fire of 1420, when the Venetian architects who undertook the restoration removed them, throwing all three spaces into one and forming the present great hall, the Salone. The new space was refrescoed by Nicolo’ Miretto and Stefano da Ferrara, working from 1425 to 1440. Beneath the great hall, there is a centuries-old market.
In the Piazza dei Signori is the loggia called the Gran Guardia, (1493–1526), and close by is the Palazzo del Capitaniato, the residence of the Venetian governors, with its great door, the work of Giovanni Maria Falconetto, the Veronese architect-sculptor who introduced Renaissance architecture to Padua and who completed the door in 1532.

Falconetto was also the architect of Alvise Cornaro’s garden loggia, (Loggia Cornaro), the first fully Renaissance building in Padua.

Nearby stands the il duomo, remodeled in 1552 after a design of Michelangelo. It contains works by Nicolò Semitecolo, Francesco Bassano and Giorgio Schiavone.

The nearby Baptistry, consecrated in 1281, houses the most important frescoes cycle by Giusto de’ Menabuoi.

The Basilica of St. Giustina, faces the great piazza of Prato della Valle.

The Teatro Verdi is host to performances of operas, musicals, plays, ballets, and concerts.

The most celebrated of the Paduan churches is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova. The bones of the saint rest in a chapel richly ornamented with carved marble, the work of various artists, among them Sansovino and Falconetto.

The basilica was begun around the year 1230 and completed in the following century. Tradition says that the building was designed by Nicola Pisano. It is covered by seven cupolas, two of them pyramidal.

Donatello’s equestrian statue of the Venetian general Gattamelata (Erasmo da Narni) can be found on the piazza in front of the Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova. It was cast in 1453, and was the first full-size equestrian bronze cast since antiquity. It was inspired by the Marcus Aurelius equestrian sculpture at the Capitoline Hill in Rome.

Not far from the Gattamelata are the St. George Oratory (13th century), with frescoes by Altichiero, and the Scuola di S. Antonio (16th century), with frescoes by Tiziano (Titian).

One of the best known symbols of Padua is the Prato della Valle, a large elliptical square, one of the biggest in Europe. In the center is a wide garden surrounded by a moat, which is lined by 78 statues portraying illustrious citizens. It was created by Andrea Memmo in the late 18th century.

Memmo once resided in the monumental 15th-century Palazzo Angeli, which now houses the Museum of Precinema.

The Abbey of Santa Giustina and adjacent Basilica. In the 5th century, this became one of the most important monasteries in the area, until it was suppressed by Napoleon in 1810. In 1919 it was reopened.

The tombs of several saints are housed in the interior, including those of Justine, St. Prosdocimus, St. Maximus, St. Urius, St. Felicita, St. Julianus, as well as relics of the Apostle St. Matthias and the Evangelist St. Luke.

The abbey is also home to some important art, including the Martyrdom of St. Justine by Paolo Veronese. The complex was founded in the 5th century on the tomb of the namesake saint, Justine of Padua.

The Church of the Eremitani is an Augustinian church of the 13th century, containing the tombs of Jacopo (1324) and Ubertinello (1345) da Carrara, lords of Padua, and the chapel of SS James and Christopher, formerly illustrated by Mantegna’s frescoes. The frescoes were all but destroyed bombs dropped by the Allies in WWII, because it was next to the Nazi headquarters.

The old monastery of the church now houses the Musei Civici di Padova (town archeological and art museum).

Santa Sofia is probably Padova’s most ancient church. The crypt was begun in the late 10th century by Venetian craftsmen. It has a basilica plan with Romanesque-Gothic interior and Byzantine elements. The apse was built in the 12th century. The edifice appears to be tilting slightly due to the soft terrain.

Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico)

The church of San Gaetano (1574–1586) was designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, on an unusual octagonal plan. The interior, decorated with polychrome marbles, houses a Madonna and Child by Andrea Briosco, in Nanto stone.

The 16th-century Baroque Padua Synagogue

At the center of the historical city, the buildings of Palazzo del Bò, the center of the University.

The City Hall, called Palazzo Moroni, the wall of which is covered by the names of the Paduan dead in the different wars of Italy and which is attached to the Palazzo della Ragione

The Caffé Pedrocchi, built in 1831 by architect Giuseppe Jappelli in neoclassical style with Egyptian influence. This café has been open for almost two centuries. It hosts the Risorgimento museum, and the near building of the Pedrocchino (“little Pedrocchi”) in neogothic style.

There is also the Castello. Its main tower was transformed between 1767 and 1777 into an astronomical observatory known as Specola. However the other buildings were used as prisons during the 19th and 20th centuries. They are now being restored.

The Ponte San Lorenzo, a Roman bridge largely underground, along with the ancient Ponte Molino, Ponte Altinate, Ponte Corvo and Ponte S. Matteo.

There are many noble ville near Padova. These include:

Villa Molin, in the Mandria fraction, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1597.

Villa Mandriola (17th century), at Albignasego

Villa Pacchierotti-Trieste (17th century), at Limena

Villa Cittadella-Vigodarzere (19th century), at Saonara

Villa Selvatico da Porto (15th–18th century), at Vigonza

Villa Loredan, at Sant’Urbano

Villa Contarini, at Piazzola sul Brenta, built in 1546 by Palladio and enlarged in the following centuries, is the most important

Padua has long been acclaimed for its university, founded in 1222. Under the rule of Venice the university was governed by a board of three patricians, called the Riformatori dello Studio di Padova. The list of notable professors and alumni is long, containing, among others, the names of Bembo, Sperone Speroni, the anatomist Vesalius, Copernicus, Fallopius, Fabrizio d’Acquapendente, Galileo Galilei, William Harvey, Pietro Pomponazzi, Reginald, later Cardinal Pole, Scaliger, Tasso and Jan Zamoyski.

It is also where, in 1678, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman in the world to graduate from university.

The university hosts the oldest anatomy theatre, built in 1594.

The university also hosts the oldest botanical garden (1545) in the world. The botanical garden Orto Botanico di Padova was founded as the garden of curative herbs attached to the University’s faculty of medicine. It still contains an important collection of rare plants.

The place of Padua in the history of art is nearly as important as its place in the history of learning. The presence of the university attracted many distinguished artists, such as Giotto, Fra Filippo Lippi and Donatello; and for native art there was the school of Francesco Squarcione, whence issued Mantegna.

Padua is also the birthplace of the celebrated architect Andrea Palladio, whose 16th-century villas (country-houses) in the area of Padua, Venice, Vicenza and Treviso are among the most notable of Italy and they were often copied during the 18th and 19th centuries; and of Giovanni Battista Belzoni, adventurer, engineer and egyptologist.

The sculptor Antonio Canova produced his first work in Padua, one of which is among the statues of Prato della Valle (presently a copy is displayed in the open air, while the original is in the Musei Civici).

The Antonianum is settled among Prato della Valle, the Basilica of Saint Anthony and the Botanic Garden. It was built in 1897 by the Jesuit fathers and kept alive until 2002. During WWII, under the leadership of P. Messori Roncaglia SJ, it became the center of the resistance movement against the Nazis. Indeed, it briefly survived P. Messori’s death and was sold by the Jesuits in 2004.

Paolo De Poli, painter and enamellist, author of decorative panels and design objects, 15 times invited to the Venice Biennale was born in Padua. The electronic musician Tying Tiffany was also born in Padua.

 

Liberty of London

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A fixture in the London shopping scene, Liberty is a department store in Great Marlborough Street, in the West End of London. It sells highly curated selections of women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, make-up and perfume, jewelry, accessories, furniture and furnishings, stationery and gifts. The firm is well known for its floral and graphic prints.

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I love any business with a great history and didactic information in a store window.  They could just as well be showing their product line for sale, but they choose to edify.  That’s my kinda store. Especially when it’s Liberty of London!

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While the exterior of this classic London stop has remained in its mock Tudor style best, the interior and the product lines have changed vastly, even in my lifetime.  While I prefer the way the store was when I first visited it with my mother in the 1980s, I have no doubt the management knows how to keep the store vital.  I always enjoy a visit to this lovely emporium on any trip to London.

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Before this summer, the last time I was at Liberty was in the early 2000s with my then 11-year-old red-headed son. At that time, Paula Pryke had a flower shop at the Liberty main entrance.  It was dynamic! Her shop is gone and the store still has a ghost of a flower shop at its front door.  But, I miss seeing Paula Pryke’s gorgeous arrangements there.  He was less interested in Liberty than in going in and out of tube stations and traveling by train.

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Liberty was created by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, who was born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, in 1843. His father was a draper and, beginning work at 16, he was apprenticed to a draper. Later, Liberty took a job at Farmer and Rogers, a women’s fashions specialist in Regent Street, rising quickly up the ranks.

He was employed by Messrs Farmer and Rogers  in 1862, the year of the International Exhibition. By 1874, inspired by his 10 years of service, he decided to start a business of his own, which he did the next year.

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With a £2,000 loan from his future father-in-law, Liberty took the lease of half a shop at 218a Regent Street with three staff members. His shop opened in 1875 selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art from Japan and the East.

Liberty hadn’t wanted to open just another store — he dreamed of an “Eastern Bazaar” in London that could fundamentally change homeware and fashion. Naming his new shop “East India House,” his collection of ornaments, fabrics and objects d’art from the Far East captured the attention of London, already in the crux of orientalist fervor.

It only took 18 months for Liberty to repay his loan, purchase the second half of the store, and begin to add neighbouring properties to his portfolio. From the beginning, the store also imported antiques, with the original V&A museum actually purchasing pieces of Eastern embroidery and rugs for its collection. As the business grew, neighboring properties were bought and added.

In 1884, he introduced the costume department, directed by Edward William Godwin (1833–86), a distinguished architect and a founding member of The Costume Society. Godwin and Liberty created in-house apparel to challenge the fashions of Paris.

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In 1885, 142–144 Regent Street was acquired and housed the ever-increasing demand for carpets and furniture. The basement was named the Eastern Bazaar, and it was the vending place for what was described as “decorative furnishing objects”.

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Liberty renamed the property “Chesham House,” after the place in which he grew up. The store became the most fashionable place to shop in London, and Liberty fabrics were used for both clothing and furnishings. Some of its clientele included famous Pre-Raphaelite artists.

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To show the kind of innovative approach Liberty had for his business, in November of 1885, he brought 42 villagers from India to stage a living village of Indian artisans.

Liberty’s specialised in Oriental goods, in particular imported Indian silks, and the aim of the display was to generate both publicity and sales for the store.

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During the 1890s, Liberty built strong relationships with many English designers. Some of these designers, including Archibald Knox, practiced the artistic styles we now call  Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau.  Liberty helped develop Art Nouveau in England through his encouragement of such designers. The company became associated with this new style, to the extent that even today in Italy, Art Nouveau became known as the Stile Liberty, after the London shop.

In 1882, author and playwright Oscar Wilde went on a tour of the United States, bringing with him a wardrobe full of clothes from Liberty, creating a demand for the store’s fashions with Americans. Wilde was obviously a huge fan of Liberty.

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The iconic Tudor revival building was built by Liberty so that business could continue while renovations were being completed on the other premises.  This great building was constructed in 1924 from the timbers of two ships: HMS Impregnable (formerly HMS Howe) and HMS Hindustan.

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HMS Impregnable (c.1900), one of the two ships used to build Liberty

The emporium was designed by Edwin Thomas Hall and his son, Edwin Stanley Hall. They designed the building at the height of the 1920s fashion for Tudor revival.

In 1922, the builders had been given a lump sum of £198,000 to construct it, which they did from the timbers of two ancient ‘three-decker’ battle ships. Records show more than 24,000 cubic feet of ships timbers were used including their decks now being the shop flooring: The HMS Impregnable – built from 3040 100-year-old oaks from the New Forest – and the HMS Hindustan, which measured the length and height of the famous Liberty building.

The ships were not Liberty’s only association with warfare. Carved memorials line the department store’s old staircase pay tribute to the Liberty staff who lost their lives fighting in WWII for a different kind of liberty – freedom from the regimes of the Axis powers.

One only need to look up to the roof , upon which stands a marvel of a gilded copper weathervane. Standing four feet tall and weighing 112 pounds, this golden ship recreates The Mayflower, the English vessel famous in American history for taking pilgrims to the new world in 1620.

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The interior of the shop was designed around three light wells that form the main focus es of the building. Each of these wells was surrounded by smaller rooms to create a cosy feeling. Many of the rooms had fireplaces and some of them still exist.

 

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Liberty of London was designed to feel like a home, with each atrium was surrounded by smaller rooms, complete with fireplaces and furnishings.

Ever the purveyor of craftsmanship, Arthur Liberty had a furniture workshop in Archway, London. Run by Lawrence Turner, the workshop produced Liberty Arts and Crafts furniture and the intricately carved panels and pillars found throughout the store. The craftsmen allowed his fantasy, ensuring every ornament was a one-off – paving the way for discovery.

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Sadly, Arthur died seven years before the building’s completion and so never saw his dream realised. But, his statue stands proudly at our Flower Shop entrance to welcome you warmly into his emporium of wonder.

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The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner was very critical of the building’s architecture, saying: “The scale is wrong, the symmetry is wrong. The proximity to a classical façade put up by the same firm at the same time is wrong, and the goings-on of a store behind such a façade (and below those twisted Tudor chimneys) are wrongest of all”.

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During the 1950s, the store continued its tradition for fashionable and eclectic design. All departments in the shop had a collection of both contemporary and traditional designs. New designers were promoted and often included those still representing the Liberty tradition for handcrafted work.

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In 1955, Liberty began opening several regional stores in other UK cities; the first of these was in Manchester. Subsequent shops opened in Bath, Brighton, Chester, York, Exeter and Norwich.

During the 1960s, extravagant and Eastern influences once again became fashionable, as well as the Art Deco style, and Liberty adapted its furnishing designs from its archive.

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LIBERTY PRINT ‘CONSTANTIA,’ 1961

In 1996, Liberty announced the closure of all of its department stores outside London, and instead focused on small shops at airports.

Since 1988, Liberty has had a subsidiary in Japan which sells Liberty-branded products in major Japanese shops. It also sells Liberty fabrics to international and local fashion stores with bases in Japan.

Liberty’s London store was sold for £41.5 million and then leased back by the firm in 2009, to pay off debts ahead of a sale. Subsequently, in 2010, Liberty was taken over by private equity firm BlueGem Capital in a deal worth £32 million.

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In 2013, Liberty was the focus of a three-part hour-long episode TV documentary series titled Liberty of London, airing on Channel 4. The documentary follows Ed Burstell (Managing Director) and the department’s retail team in the busy lead up to Christmas 2013.

Channel 4 further commissioned a second series of the documentary on 28 October 2014. This series featured four, one hour-long episodes based on six months worth of unprecedented footage. Series two aired in 2014.

Liberty has a history of collaborative projects – from William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the nineteenth century to Yves Saint Laurent and Dame Vivienne Westwood in the twentieth.

Recent collaborations include brands such as Scott Henshall, Nike, Dr. Martens, Hello Kitty, Barbour, House of Hackney, Vans, Onia, Manolo Blahnik, Uniqlo, Superga, Drew Pritchard of Salvage Hunters and antique lighting specialist Fritz Fryer.

The website for Liberty also has these suggestions for you to watch for as you sally throughout the sprawling store:

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The clock on the Kingly Street entrance of the Liberty store has some words of wisdom for the shoppers who pass by. It says “No minute gone comes back again, take heed and see ye do nothing in vain.” Above the clock, the striking of the hour chime brings out figures of St. George and the Dragon, to recreate their legendary battle every sixty minutes. On each corner of the clock are the angels of the Four Winds: Uriel (south), Michael (east), Raphael (west), and Gabriel (north).

 

Busatti, it’s got what it takes

There’s a revered business association in Italy called the UISI, or the Unione Imprese Storiche Italiane, which in English means: the association of Italian Historical Businesses.

In order to become a member of this august group, a company must have been in business for over 150 years and owned by the same family that started the business originally.  This association was begun in Florence and only includes as members businesses that represent the great tradition and history for which Italy is known.

I only recently learned of this association when I visited a great textile store in the Oltrarno section of Florence.  There are no signs announcing this shop; you must be in the know to find it.

It isn’t hidden, au contraire, it is located smack dab between a very famous little artistic studio of the street artist, Clet, and the ancient church of San Nicola.

Check it out online and visit it if you are in the market for some fine Italian textiles: towels, sheets, draperies, and some ceramics.