One minute you’re over the Appenine mountains in Tuscany…
And the next minute (well, 12 hours later, counting connections) you are over the western USA. Where it’s winter. And it’s cold. And dry.
And kind of starkly beautiful.
Check out that weird shape in the earth below, covered with snow. Alien symbols for UFOs? When I was 13, I would have thought so.
To me, the patterns and colors are beautiful.
How’s my goal of living in Italy working out? Pretty well. It hasn’t been easy or fast, but it has been steady.
I came to Florence at the end of November in 2016. I arrived with a student Visa, which let me live in Italy beyond the 90 days any American can stay in Europe as a tourist. I stayed in Florence for 11 months and successfully obtained the all important Permesso di Soggiorno with that Visa. The Permesso expired after 8 months, regardless of the fact that I had already paid for Italian language school for 12 months. Lesson 1: there is no logic.
I returned to the states in October of 2017, going from Florence to Chicago where it was necessary for me to go to the Italian Consulate to apply for an elective residency Visa. Such a Visa allows Americans like me, if we are fortunate enough to receive the Visa, to live in Italy under certain circumstances. Chicago was necessary for me because my home is in Denver and that’s the way that cookie is divided. I filed the myriad documents needed to show my eligibility for the elective residency Visa, and then went to Denver to wait its hoped-for arrival.
Fortunately, I received the Visa. But, it has certain conditions. I won’t enumerate them all, but one of the most important ones is that I am not allowed to have gainful employment in Italy. I cannot receive any payment from anyone in Italy. Doing so could result not only in my Visa being revoked, but the Italian government could prohibit me from ever setting foot in Italy again. It’s a powerful rule.
I returned to Florence in December of 2017, armed with my new elective residency Visa. The first step, then, once within the country, is that within 8 days, one must apply for the Permesso di Soggiorno. I applied for this before Christmas in 2017 and then began to wait for its arrival.
Some people will receive their Permesso within a month, or so they say. Others, like me, are not so lucky. I waited for 8 months to receive word that my new Permesso was ready for me to pick up at the police station, or the dreaded Questura.
In July of 2018, I received a text message telling me to appear at the Questura on a certain date in early August, at a certain time. I did as I was asked. I turned in my old, expired, student-based Permesso, and received my new one. Unfortunately, my new Permesso was already expired when I received it. You read that right. Welcome to Italy.
The true impact of this situation on my daily life was nil. As long as one re-applies for a new Permesso within a short period, and keeps the receipt of that application with them at all times, typically no problems will result. Fortunately, I have never been stopped by the police in Italy and asked to show my documents. Theoretically, even if the police did stop me and ask for my documents, the receipt of the new Permesso application would suffice.
I filed my new application for a new Permesso in late September of 2018. Of course I kept a copy of the receipt for fees paid for that application with me at all times.
And then I began the wait for my new Permesso.
So, what is the importance of this waiting period on my life? Again, on a daily basis it is unnoticeable. However, there are other steps that one needs to do to truly function in present day Italy after one receives the Permesso.
For example, I tried to open a bank account in Italy in the winter of 2017, while I had my student Visa and my related Permesso. With the assistance of an Italian friend, we could not find a bank that was willing to open an account for me. I suppose I was considered to be too transient to bother with.
At that time, I was warned about opening an Italian bank account in any case. Still not having one, I cannot tell you exactly why people recommended I NOT open an account, should I ever find a bank that was willing to let me. Why? As I understand it, bank accounts here are very different from what I’m used to in the USA. For starters, it is quite costly to maintain an account here. In any case, no bank would open an account for me if I didn’t have a current Permesso di Soggiorno. Although I never tried to open an account with just my receipt, perhaps I could have done so. It just didn’t seem worthwhile to try, so I didn’t. For months I expected to receive my new Permesso and then I would try. That was my plan
Once I received my elective residency Visa and had an actual, unexpired Permesso di Soggiorno, I could follow other steps. First among these is applying for a Certificato di Residenza. I still don’t understand why this is important to have, but it is. There are certain things I just accept here and just accept that it makes no sense to me. The Serenity Prayer comes in handy.
After obtaining the Certificato di Residenza, one can apply for the Carta d’ Identita, which is necessary to have before applying for an Italian health care card which would allow me to seek medical treatment in Italy should the need arise. Up until such time, it is incumbent upon me to maintain a private traveler’s health insurance policy to cover unforseen events. As a matter of fact, proof of such a policy is a necessary document needed to apply for both the elective residency Visa and also for the Permesso di Soggiorno.
So, I’ve been waiting since last September (2018), for my new Permesso di Soggiorno. Six months went by, 7 months, 8 months, 9 months, 10 months and then, finally, I received a text message telling me my new Permesso would be ready for me to pick up at the Questura last week. I went with baited breath, wondering if it would already be expired again.
This time, I got lucky. True, I had to wait 11.5 months for the thing, but at least I got one that does not expire for 12 months! I’m suddenly completely legal, not needing any receipts for anything, at least for a year! Then I get to do the whole thing over again.
So, how did I celebrate? I did so by immediately (the next week) applying for my Certificato di Residenza. I was informed by knowledgeable people and blogs that this would arrive 45 days after I applied for it. Then I could apply for the Carta d’ Identita.
Imagine my surprise, after going to the correct government office in Florence, when the clerk told me she could produce and give it to me that same day! She asked me if I wanted to apply for the Carta d’ Identita and I mostly certainly did. She gave me the forms to sign and submitted them. She said I should receive it within a week (I’ll expect it within a month, if I’m lucky).
Once I have that in hand, I intend to apply for the Italian health care card which, if I understand things correctly, will allow me to seek medical assistance if the need were to arise, which I obviously hope it will not!
And, bonus, in the meantime I met an Italian who works with a lot of English speakers, and she told me that she thought I could apply for a “bank account” with the Italian postal system. Say what?
It turned out, she was correct. I went into the Post Office in Florence last week and opened an account that seems to be something like a bank account…even if it is with the postal system. I have a new debit card and the ability to wire money into this account from the US. For the first time since I arrived in Italy in November of 2016, I will be able to pay my rent to my landlord’s bank account. Up until now, I’ve had to take cash out of the ATM over the period of a few days to get enough money together to pay my rent.
All of a sudden, I feel like I’m living in the 21st century again. However, I’ve been in Italy long enough to know that any number of things could and may still go wrong. I’ll check in again once money has successfully been wired from the states to my post office bank account and I’ve paid my rent. Fingers crossed.
And, next week, I’ll apply for a health insurance card. Step by slow step, my life in Italy is becoming complete.
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.
If there is a more beautifully constructed space on earth than Sainte-Chapelle, then I have yet to find it! Glass and color and stone have never been more masterfully combined than in this place. It’s alchemy.
Feast your eyes!
The Sainte-Chapelle, an architectural gem set within the Palais de la Cité, was founded by King Louis IX (later to become Saint Louis) in the mid-13th century to house the relics of the Passion.
Originally at the service of the monarchy, the building is composed of the lower chapel, used by the Palace staff, and the upper chapel, reserved to the King and his entourage, where the relics were kept. The stained glass windows, set in the Flamboyant Gothic architecture, are one of a kind.
Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel) – Upper Chapel, Paris, France
First, I take you on a guided tour starting at the facade and going into the upper and lower chapels, ending with a video of the exterior work that is going on now. For you history buffs, my usual spiel is at the end. :-)
The Sainte-Chapelle (holy chapel) is the royal chapel in the Gothic style, within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century, on the Île de la Cité in the River Seine in Paris.
Construction began after 1238; the chapel was consecrated on 26 April 1248. The Sainte-Chapelle is considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns – one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom, later hosted in the nearby Notre-Dame Cathedral until the 2019 fire, which it survived.
Along with the Conciergerie, the Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité. Although damaged during the French Revolution, and restored in the 19th century, it has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collections anywhere in the world.
The royal chapel is a prime example of the phase of Gothic architectural style called “Rayonnant,” marked by the feeling of weightlessness and strong vertical emphasis. It stands squarely upon a lower chapel, which served as parish church for all the inhabitants of the palace, which was the seat of government. The King Louis IX was later recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church. His title became Saint Louis.
The Sainte-Chapelle, in the courtyard of the royal palace on the Île de la Cité (now part of a later administrative complex known as La Conciergerie), was specifically built to house Louis IX’s collection of relics of Christ, which included the Crown of Thorns, the Image of Edessa and some thirty other items.
Louis purchased his Passion relics from Baldwin II, the Latin emperor at Constantinople, for the sum of 135,000 livres, though this money was actually paid to the Venetians, to whom the relics had been pawned. The relics arrived in Paris in August 1239, carried from Venice by two Dominican friars.
Upon arrival, King Louis hosted a week-long celebratory reception for the relics. For the final stage of their journey they were carried by the King himself, barefoot and dressed as a penitent, a scene depicted in the Relics of the Passion window on the south side of the chapel.
The relics were stored in a large and elaborate silver chest, the Grand-Chasse, on which Louis spent a further 100,000 livres.
The entire chapel, by contrast, cost 40,000 livres to build. In 1246, fragments of the True Cross and the Holy Lance were added to Louis’ collection, along with other relics. The chapel was consecrated on 26 April 1248 and Louis’ relics were moved to their new home with great ceremony.
As well as serving as a place of worship, the Sainte-Chapelle played an important role in the political and cultural ambitions of King Louis and his successors. With the imperial throne at Constantinople occupied by a mere Count of Flanders, and with the Holy Roman Empire in uneasy disarray, Louis’ artistic and architectural patronage helped to position him as the central monarch of western Christendom. In this way, the Sainte-Chapelle fit into a long tradition of prestigious palace chapels.
Just as the Emperor could pass privately from his palace into the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, so now Louis could pass directly from his palace into the Sainte-Chapelle.
More importantly, the two-story palace chapel had obvious similarities to Charlemagne’s palatine chapel at Aachen (built 792–805)—a parallel that Louis was keen to exploit in presenting himself as a worthy successor to the first Holy Roman Emperor.
The contemporary visitor entering the courtyard of the Royal Palace would have been met by the sight of a grand ceremonial staircase (Grands Degres) to their right and the north flank and eastern apse of the Sainte-Chapelle to their left.
The chapel exterior shows many of the typical characteristics of Rayonnant architecture—deep buttresses surmounted by pinnacles, crocketted gables around the roof-line and vast windows subdivided by bar tracery.
The internal division into upper and lower chapels is clearly marked on the outside by a string-course, the lower walls pierced by smaller windows with a distinctive spherical triangle shape. Despite its decoration, the exterior is relatively simple and austere, devoid of flying buttresses or major sculpture and giving little hint of the richness within.
No designer-builder is named in the archives concerned with the construction. In the 19th century it was assumed (as with so many buildings of medieval Paris) to be the work of the master mason Pierre de Montreuil, who worked on the remodelling of the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis and completed the south transept façade of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Modern scholarship rejects this attribution in favor of Jean de Chelles or Thomas de Cormont, and the hand of an unidentified master mason from Amiens.
The Sainte-Chapelle’s most obvious architectural precursors include the apsidal chapels of Amiens Cathedral, which it resembles in its general form, and the Bishop’s Chapel (c. 1180s) of Noyon Cathedral, from which it borrowed the two-story design. As has often been argued, however, the major influence on its overall design seems to have come from contemporary metalwork, particularly the precious shrines and reliquaries made by Mosan goldsmiths.
The Parisian palatine chapel, built to house a reliquary, was itself like a precious reliquary turned inside out (with the richest decoration on the inside). Although the interior is dominated by the stained glass, every inch of the remaining wall surface and the vault was also richly colored and decorated. Analysis of remaining paint fragments reveals that the original colours were much brighter than those favoured by the 19th-century restorers and would have been close to the colors of the stained glass. The quatrefoils of the dado arcade were painted with scenes of saints and martyrs and inset with painted and gilded glass, emulating Limoges enamels, while simulated rich textiles hangings added to the richness of the interior.
Above the dado level, mounted on the clustered shafts that separate the great windows, are 12 larger-than-life-sized sculpted stone figures representing the 12 Apostles (six of these are replicas—the damaged originals are now in the Musée du Moyen Age). Each carries a disk marked with the consecration crosses that were traditionally marked on the pillars of a church at its consecration. Niches on the north and south sides of the chapel are the private oratories of the king and of his mother, Blanche of Castile.
The most famous features of the chapel, among the finest of their type in the world, are the great stained-glass windows, for whose benefit the stone wall surface is reduced to little more than a delicate framework. Fifteen huge mid-13th-century windows fill the nave and apse, while a large rose window with Flamboyant tracery (added to the upper chapel c. 1490) dominates the western wall.
Arranged across 15 windows, each 15 metres high, the stained glass panes depict 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments recounting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris.
Despite some damage, the windows display a clear iconographical program. The three windows of the eastern apse illustrate the New Testament, featuring scenes of The Passion (center) with the Infancy of Christ (left) and the Life of John the Evangelist (right). By contrast, the windows of the nave are dominated by Old Testament exemplars of ideal kingship/queenship in an obvious nod to their royal patrons. The cycle starts at the western bay of the north wall with scenes from the Book of Genesis (heavily restored).
The next ten windows of the nave follow clockwise with scenes from Exodus, Joseph, Numbers/Leviticus, Joshua/Deuteronomy, Judges, (moving to the south wall) Jeremiah/Tobias, Judith/Job, Esther, David and the Book of Kings.
The final window, occupying the westernmost bay of the south wall brings this narrative of sacral kingship right up to date with a series of scenes showing the rediscovery of Christ’s relics, the miracles they performed, and their relocation to Paris in the hands of King Louis himself.
Above, the Sainte-Chapelle rises above the rooflines of the royal palace. Miniature by the Limbourg brothers, c. 1400
Much of the chapel as it appears today is a re-creation, although nearly two-thirds of the windows are authentic. The chapel suffered its most grievous destruction in the late eighteenth century during the French Revolution, when the steeple and baldachin were removed, the relics dispersed (although some survive as the “relics of Sainte-Chapelle” in the treasury of Notre Dame de Paris), and various reliquaries, including the grande châsse, were melted down.
The Sainte-Chapelle was requisitioned as an archival depository in 1803. Two metres’ worth of glass was removed to facilitate working light and destroyed or put on the market. Its well-documented restoration, completed under the direction of Félix Duban in 1855, was regarded as exemplary by contemporaries and is faithful to the original drawings and descriptions of the chapel that survive.
The Sainte-Chapelle has had various stages of restoration from the 1970s onwards. Air pollution, the elements, and the large number of visitors all cause damage to the stained glass windows. Also, in 1945 a layer of external varnish had been applied to protect the glass from the dust and scratches of wartime bombing. This had gradually darkened, making the already fading images even harder to see.
In 2008, a more comprehensive seven-year programme of restoration was begun, costing some €10 million to clean and preserve all the stained glass, clean the facade stonework and conserve and repair some of the sculptures. Half of the funding was provided by private donors, the other half coming from the Villum Foundation.
Included in the restoration was an innovative thermoformed glass layer applied outside the stained glass windows for added protection. The project was completed in 2015 in time for the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Louis, who had ordered the construction of the chapel.
The Strada di Valoresi from Villa La Foce.
And the surrounding area.
Oranges and Italian art:
Because of a combination of new artistic techniques and some apparently reasonable, but mistaken, assumptions about the history of citrus, oranges appeared frequently in paintings by any number of the great masters of the Italian Renaissance.
In making the break from Byzantine scholasticism to the new humanism of the Renaissance, artists began setting their religious figures against naturalistic backgrounds. Not having seen the Holy Land, they glibly set their Annunciations and Resurrections in Italian villas and on Italian hills.
Crusaders, among others, had long since reported that orange trees flourished in Palestine, so, as a kind of hallmark of authenticity, the painters slipped orange trees into masterpiece after masterpiece, remaining ignorant to their deaths that in the time of Christ there were no orange trees in or near the Holy Land.
In his “Maestà,” the Sienese painter Duccio di Buoninsegna showed Jesus entering Jerusalem through the streets of Siena, past orange trees in full fruit.
Fra Angelico painted Jesus resting under an orange tree.
It was almost unthinkable for a great master to do a “Flight into Egypt” without lining the route with orange trees.
A “Last Supper” was incomplete without oranges on the table, although there is no mention of oranges in the Bible.
Titian’s “Last Supper,” which hangs in the Escorial, shows oranges with fish.
A Domenico Ghirlandaio “Last Supper” goes further: a mature orange grove is depicted in murals behind the Disciples.
The deterioration of Leonardo’s “Last Supper” has been too extensive for any oranges in it to be identified, but in all likelihood, according to Tolkowsky, they were there.
Most painters thought of the Annunciation as occurring indoors, and Paolo Veronese, for one, moved orange trees indoors to authenticate the scene, setting the plants in trapezoidal pots, of the type in which orange trees were grown in his time in northern Italy.
Fra Angelico also used orange trees to give a sense of the Holy Land to his “Descent from the Cross,” which was otherwise set against the walls of Florence, and, like many of his contemporaries, when he painted the Garden of Eden he gave it the appearance of a citrus grove.
Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes in a family chapel of the Medici show Melchior, Balthasar, and Gaspar looking less like three wise kings from the East than three well-fed Medici, descending a hill that is identifiable as one near Fiesole, dressed as an Italian hunting party, and passing through stands of orange trees bright with fruit.
Actually, Gozzoli’s models for the magi were Lorenzo de’ Medici; Joseph, Patriarch of Constantinople; and John Palaeologus, Emperor of the East.
The orange tree was more than a misplaced landmark. It was also a symbol of the Virgin, erroneously derived from an earlier association that medieval theologians had established between Mary and the tall cedars of Lebanon.
Thus, countless paintings of the Madonna or of the Madonna and Child were garlanded with orange blossoms, decorated with oranges, or placed in a setting of orange trees.
Mantegna, Verrochio, Ghirlandaio, Correggio, and Fra Angelico all complemented their Madonnas with oranges.
Sandro Botticelli, in his “Madonna with Child and Angels,” set his scene under a tentlike canopy thickly overhung with the branches of orange trees full of oranges.
In the Neo-Latin of the Renaissance, oranges were sometimes called medici— an etymological development that had begun with the Greek word for citron, or Median apple.
It is no wonder, therefore, that in art and interior decoration the Medici themselves went in heavily for oranges. In Florence, oranges are painted all over the ceilings of the Medici’s Pitti Palace.
The Grand Duke Francesco de’ Medici was one of the world’s earliest collectors of citrus trees, and in Tolkowsky’s view the five red spheres on the Medici coat of arms were almost certainly meant to represent oranges.
When Botticelli painted his “Primavera,” under a commission from the family, he shamelessly included Giuliano de’ Medici as the god Mercury, picking oranges.
Botticelli also painted his “Birth of Venus” for the Medici.
It was Venus, and not the Hesperides, according to a legend current at the time, who had brought oranges to Italy.
Botticelli’s model was Simonetta dei Cattanei, wife of Marco Vespucci and Giuliano de’ Medici’s Platonic love. Simonetta came from Porto Venere, where Venus was alleged to have landed with the original oranges, so Botticelli painted her in the celebrated scallop shell bobbing on the gentle swells off Porto Venere, and lined the coast behind her with orange trees.
Giuliano’s son, Giulio de’ Medici, who became Pope Clement VII, commissioned Raphael to design a villa for him with a great double stairway leading to a sunken garden full of orange trees.
All this was bound to engage the envy of royalty in the north, and at the end of the fifteenth century, in an expedition often said to mark the dividing point between medieval and modern history, Charles VIII of France went to Italy intending to subdue the peninsula by force of arms. Instead, he fell in love with Italian art, architecture, and oranges. When he returned to France, every other man in his retinue was an Italian gardener, an Italian artist, or an Italian architect. Charles was going to transform the castles and gardens of France.
McPhee, John (2011-04-01). Oranges. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.