The Textile Museum, Prato

Prato, just a short distance from Florence, has a long and celebrated history of textile manufacture.

In honor of this long local tradition, Prato is also home to a fine textile museum, the Museo del Tessuto, dedicated to the city’s historical and contemporary textile production and art.

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Even today, Prato is one of the largest industrial districts in Italy, the largest textile center in Europe and one of the most important centers in the world for the production of woolen yarns and fabrics.

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The Museo is the largest cultural center of its kind in Italy. It celebrates the Prato district, which has been identified with textile production since the Middle Ages. Today the district boasts over 7,000 companies operating in this sector.

The Museum was founded in 1975 within the “Tullio Buzzi” Industrial Technical Textile Institute, as the result of an initial donation of approximately 600 historical textile fragments.

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These were added to examples which had been gathered over the years by the Institute’s professors for students to consult and study. Since then, the collection has  grown thanks to the contribution of the Buzzi Institute Alumni Association and other important civic institutions, such as the Municipality of Prato, Cariprato and the Pratese Industrial Union.

In 2003, the new, permanent home of the museum was inaugurated in the restored spaces of the former Campolmi factory, a precious jewel of industrial archaeology situated within Prato’s old city walls.

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Prato began to specialize in textiles in the 12th century, when garment manufacturing was regulated by the Wool Merchants’ Guild.

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The political and economic decline experienced in Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries caused a drop in textile activities, but it resumed in the late 18th century with the production of knitted caps made for Arabian markets.

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In the Prato area, industrial activities got under way at the end of the 19th century, with the introduction of mechanization (to which the brilliant local inventor Giovan Battista Mazzoni made important contributions) and with the intensification of textile working processes. The industrial take-off was also supported by foreign investors such as the Koessler and Mayer families of Austria, who created a company that lasted for decades and became locally known as the fabbricone, the big factory.

The lower costs of carded wool processing, caused by the gradually increasing production of recovered wool obtained from shredding old clothes and industrial scraps (“combings”).

Basically, up to World War II the Prato textile industry was divided in two production circuits: one based on large vertically integrated companies with generally low-level standard productions (rugs, military blankets, etc.) made for export to the poorer markets (Africa, India, etc.); the other based on groups of firms carrying out subcontract work for the production of articles designed for the clothing markets.

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Between the postwar period and the early 1950s, the outlets towards low-level standard production markets rapidly disappeared. The production system underwent a rapid evolution, and the result was not so much the decentralization of subcontract work but an original form of reorganization largely based on the widespread distribution of work among small-scale enterprises (the so-called “industrial district”). The two dynamic factors of the new system were: (a) the subcontracting firms, which carried out the actual production and (b) the front-end firms, which were involved in product design.

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Below, some miscellaneous shots of the museum.

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Il Duomo, Prato

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The Prato Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Stefano) is a handsome Roman Catholic Church in Prato, Tuscany, Central Italy. It is one of the most ancient churches in the city, already in existence in the 10th century. It was built in several successive stages in the Romanesque style. The church contains a number of notable works of art, in particular fine sculpture.

 

Prato’s church of Saint Stephen was built in a green meadow (in Italian: prato) after an appearance of the Virgin Mary near the village of Borgo al Cornio (the present center of Prato). The first building was a small parish church. which the earliest document dates to AD 994.

The expansion of the church began in the 15th century and transformed the modest building into one of the most lovely Gothic-Romanesque buildings in Tuscany.

The video below shows the annual celebration during which the relic, the so-called “sacred belt or girdle” of the Virgin Mary is shown.

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The church we see today dates from the Romanesque period of the 12th century: the nave, side walls and greater part of the bell tower remain from this date. The upper stage of the bell tower was constructed in 1356.
The church’s exterior pulpit by Donatello and Michelozzo:

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In the 14th century, the cathedral obtained a relic, the so-called Sacra Cintola or “Holy Belt” of the Virgin Mary and the church was re-envisioned.  The 2nd facade was built, allowing a transept to be constructed between the old facade and the new one. This space gives way to a new, exterior pulpit, built by Michelozzo and decorated by Donatello, between 1428 and 1438.

The exterior pulpit was constructed on the right front corner of the facade.

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The seven original reliefs of the parapet were removed from the pulpit in 1967 and can be seen today in Prato’s cathedral museum.  Here they are, photographed inside the museum:

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The church was built with a Latin cross ground plan in Romanesque style.  The aisles are separated from the nave by elegant columns of green serpentine, the capitals being attributed to Guidetto. The vaults, designed by Ferdinando Tacca, were added in the 17th century.

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The north aisle houses a notable Renaissance pulpit in white marble (1469–1473). The base is decorated with sphinxes. The parapet has reliefs by Antonio Rossellino, portraying the Assumption and the Stories of St. Stephen, and by Mino da Fiesole portraying the Stories of St. John the Baptist.

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The Assumption Chapel in the transept was frescoed in 1435-1436 by the so-called Master of Prato and by a young Paolo Uccello, who painted the Stories of the Virgin and St. Stephen. They show a bizarre fantasy of enchanted figures caught in a wide range of brilliant colors, and surrounded by Brunelleschi-like architectures.

In the main chapel, or chancel, Filippo Lippi and Fra Diamante painted the Stories of St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist.

On the lower north wall are depicted the Obsequies of St. Stephen, in which Lippi portrayed Pope Pius II, set in a Palaeo-Christian basilica, as an imposing figure in scarlet costume. On the right is the artist’s self-portrait. On the opposite wall is Herod’s Banquet, showing a large hall in which Salome is performing her ballet, and the handing over of the head of John the Baptist to Herodias. The altar is by Ferdinando Tacca (1653).

The Manassei Chapel was frescoed by a pupil of Agnolo Gaddi in the early 15th century with Stories of St. Margaret and St. James. The last chapel on the left, the Chapel of the Inghirami, houses a funerary monument attributed to Benedetto da Maiano and a stained glass window from the early 16th century.

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August 12, 1944, in the mountains outside of Lucca

The Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre was a Nazi German war crime, committed in the hill village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema in Tuscan, in the course of an operation against the Italian resistance movement during the Italian Campaign of World War II.

On the morning of August 12, 1944, the German troops entered the mountain village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema, accompanied by some fascists of the 36th Brigata Nera Benito Mussolini based in Lucca, who were dressed in German uniforms.

The soldiers immediately proceeded to round up villagers and refugees, locking up hundreds of them in several barns and stables, before systematically executing them. The killings were done mostly by shooting groups of people with machine guns or by herding them into basements and other enclosed spaces and tossing in hand grenades.

At the 16th-century local church, the priest Fiore Menguzzo (awarded the Medal for Civil Valor posthumously in 1999) was shot at point-blank range, after which machine guns were then turned on some 100 people gathered there. In all, the victims included at least 107 children (the youngest of whom, Anna Pardini, was only 20 days old), as well as eight pregnant women (one of whom, Evelina Berretti, had her stomach cut with a bayonet and her baby pulled out and killed separately).

After other people were killed through the village, their corpses were set on fire (at the church, the soldiers used its pews for a bonfire to dispose of the bodies). The livestock were also exterminated and the whole village was burnted down.

All of this was accomplished in three hours. The SS men then sat down outside the burning Sant’Anna and ate lunch.

These crimes have been defined as voluntary and organized acts of terrorism by the Military Tribunal of La Spezia and the highest Italian court of appeal.

However, extradition requests from Italy were rejected by Germany. In 2012, German prosecutors shelved their investigation of 17 unnamed former SS soldiers (eight of whom were still alive) who were part of the unit involved in the massacre because of a lack of evidence.

The statement said: “Belonging to a Waffen-SS unit that was deployed to Sant’Anna di Stazzema cannot replace the need to prove individual guilt. Rather, for every defendant it must be proven that he took part in the massacre, and in which form.”

The mayor of the village, Michele Silicani (a survivor who was 10 when the raid occurred), called the verdict “a scandal” and said he would urge Italy’s justice minister to lobby Germany to reopen the case. German deputy foreign minister Michael Georg Link commented that “while respecting the independence of the German justice system,” it was not possible “to ignore that such a decision causes deep dismay and renewed suffering to Italians, not just survivors and relatives of the victims.”

Sources, Wikipedia and http://paradiseofexiles.com/liberation-day-in-italy/

The 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death

2019 is the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci and Italy is doing it up right to mark the occasion.  All over Italy, but especially in Tuscany and Florence in particular, and in Milan, exhibitions are celebrating his art and life.

I love the comic relief one get’s from a poster like the one below.  At least we can have a little fun with the fact that he often wrote backwards!

 

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Busatti, fine Italian textiles

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What does it take to become a member of the Italian Historical Businesses Union? (the UISI in Italian: Unione Imprese Storiche Italiane)?  This art association was begun in Florence and allows as members only companies that make items of great Italian tradition and excellence and have been owned by the same family for more than 150 years.

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The Busatti company, producers of fine Italian textiles, is a proud member.

I recently visited the Busatti showroom in the Oltrarno section of Florence.  I’d been hunting for some of the beautiful cotton towels known as nido d’api (bee’s nest) in Italian, or waffle weave in English.  This fine company had the towels I was hunting, in a beautiful array of hues.  I chose the color I call “French blue, ” even though these are obviously Italian made!

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Since 1842 the Busatti family has been weaving textiles in the cellars of the Palazzo Morgalanti in Anghiari, a Tuscan village.  The company can actually trace it’s ancestry further back than that: they had the first machines in Italy that could card wool in the late 18th century. When Napoleon invaded, his troops started producing uniforms for the Grande Armee in Anghiari.  To dye them the blue they wanted, they restarted cultivating a flower known in Italian as guado.  This is “woad” in English, a yellow-flowered European plant of the cabbage family. It was once widely grown, especially in Britain, as a source of blue dye, which was extracted from the leaves after they had been dried, powdered, and fermented.

In 1842 Busatti established itself as a producer of fine cotton textiles, using steam-powered machinery.  In the 1930s, the electric versions of the same looms were first utilized.  It was in the 1930s that the company acquired its current structure and look.

Busatti is still synonymous with quality and tradition, but also of innovation.  They can customize any of their production of tablecloths, draperies and toweling, and can make use of their exclusive embroideries when desired.

The Busatti business can trace its unique history starting with the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (Gran Ducato di Toscana), the contribution to Italian unification with a Garibaldi family member, through 2 World Wars and many economic crises. Fortunately, the company just keeps chugging along in Anghiari. As you wind through wooded hills to visit the ancient, walled town, it seems that nothing has changed there for hundreds of years. The illusion persists in the vaulted 16th-century showrooms of Busatti (www.busatti.com), where linens are still woven on 19th- and early-20th-century looms.

Clients include Miuccia Prada and Valentino, who order made-to-measure table sets in linen and cotton and me, who chooses ready-made, but still gorgeous, towel sets.

 

The “antique camellias” in Lucca, Italy

For years I’ve wanted to experience the festival of the Antiche Camelie della Lucchesia, but fate had other ideas.  However, this year, I prevailed.  And it was soooooo worth the wait!!

 

 

On a beautiful Sunday at the end of March, my good friend and I went on a mission to find the blooming camellia festival or die trying.  Fortunately, she found it without any problem.  She is a very smart cookie, that one.

 

Here are some of the fruits of our labor:

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And of course I brought home a beautiful white specimen with a gorgeous name to grow on my Tuscan terrace:

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Fra Fillipo Lippi fresco cycle in Prato duomo; Prato cathedral Part 2

Late last week I had the great pleasure of visiting Prato with a new friend who was born and raised there.  There is nothing like visiting a lovely small Italian town with someone who knows their way around.  My friend showed me things I would have found on my own!

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I wrote a post on the Duomo of Prato, where I discussed the architecture and sculpture.  The Duomo is such a rich repository of masterworks that it needs several posts.  Today I will deal only with the Far Fillips Lippi frescoes created between 1452-66.

Let’s start with this basic premise: these paintings are gorgeous and in excellent condition!  I have waited an art historian’s lifetime to see them and they did to disappoint.

This is the apse end of the basilica in all of its glory.  The Far Fillipo Lippi frescoes are in the chapel in the center:

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These frescoes show the master, Fra Filippo Lippi, at his finest. They were produced slowly and sporadically between 1452 and 1466.

The enormous scale of the choir, and consequently the painted subjects, were a far cry from the intimacy of the Brancacci Chapel.  The cycle has been restored recently, revealing powerful yet sensitive images produced with verve and facility during a late period in Lippi’s development.

The Prato frescoes were both an artistic and a physical challenge for the aging painter, and, particularly in the large scenes on either side of the choir with stories of St John the Baptist and St Stephen, scholars believe that a significant share of the execution may be attributed to workshop assistants.

Below: View of the chapel filled with the fresco cycle

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South Wall

Below: overview of the right (south) wall of the main chapel

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Beginning at top, coming down, we begin with “The Birth and Naming St John”

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The Birth and Naming St John (detail)

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The 2nd fresco down from the top: “St. John Taking Leave of His Parents”

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St. John Taking Leave of his Parents (detail)

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St. John Taking Leave of His Parents (detail)

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Third scene down from the top: Herod’s Banquet

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Herod’s Banquet (detail)

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Herod’s Banquet (detail)

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Herod’s Banquet (detail)

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Herod’s Banquet (detail)

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The Beheading of John the Baptist, scene to the far left of the main fresco

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North Wall:

View of the left (north) wall of the main chapel

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Beginning at top of fresco on North wall: St Stephen is Born and Replaced by Another Child

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St Stephen is Born and Replaced by Another Child (detail)

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St Stephen is Born and Replaced by Another Child (detail)

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2nd Fresco down from top, The Disputation in the Synagogue

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The Disputation in the Synagogue (detail)

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The Disputation in the Synagogue (detail)

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The Disputation in the Synagogue (detail)

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The  Disputation in the Synagogue (detail)

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Third fresco down from the top: The Funeral of St Stephen

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The Funeral of St Stephen (detail)

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The Funeral of St Stephen (detail)

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The Funeral of St Stephen (detail)

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The Funeral of St Stephen (detail)

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The Funeral of St Stephen (detail)

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Scene to the far right of the main fresco: The Martyrdom of St Stephen

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St Alberto of Trapani

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St Alberto of Trapani

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Allora, I have shown you the main paintings within this fresco cycle and explained the location.  Now let me simply share the pictures I took with my phone.  My phone was never pointed at anything more beautiful…and that is saying something!

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A short note on Pietrasanta and the artist Romano Cosci

Yesterday I had the chance to see the Carnevale parade in Pietrasanta.  I want to add a short note on the town itself.

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Above and below are picture of Pietrosanta’s duomo.  A service was ongoing when I stopped inside.  It is actually a pretty rare event that I find a service going on in the many churches I visit throughout this country. Who’d a thunk it?

It was nice to observe.  And, il duomo is quite wonderful, filled with interesting paintings and sculptures.

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As ever, the simple local bars serve cappuccino to die for.  Starbucks, eat your heart out.

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The deconsecrated church of Sant’ Agostino today serves Pietrasanta and environs as a beautiful exhibition space for local artists.  I first had the pleasure of joining my dear friend, Grayce Murabito and her friend, the actor Eddie Albert (was in Roman Holiday), in viewing an exhibition there about 35 years ago.  I hadn’t been back until yesterday.  Somewhere I have photos of lovely Grayce standing in front of the sign advertising the exhibition of her husband’s works: the painter and sculptor, Rosario Murabito.

(The church itself is fascinating: Built in the 14th century, it was annexed to the convent and the ospedale dei Mercanti. The façade recalls architectural and sculptural decoration of the Cathedral of San Martino di Lucca. There are numerous tombstones on the floor and sections of fresco cycles from the 14th-15th centuries. The former church was deconsecrated before the mid 1980s, and has subsequently been used for temporary exhibitions, especially in the summer months. For information you can contact the “Russo” cultural center, in via sant’Agostino 1, call 0584.795500 or visit the website http://www.museodeibozzetti.it. See also www.comune.pietrasanta.lu.it and official page http://www.facebook.com/comunedi.pietrasanta?fref=ts )

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Romano Cosci, painter and sculptor, was born near Lucca in 1939. He was trained in the fifties in the stimulating atmosphere of the sculpture workshops and the art foundries of Pietrasanta (where he worked and lived) under the guidance of artists – prestigious artisans like Leonida Parma and Ferruccio Vezzoni and had as a teacher and friend Pietro Annigoni. Until 1986 he taught pictorial disciplines in the artistic high schools of Carrara and Grosseto. His work, with equal parts of talent and poetry, make use of an extraordinary range of expressive media, passing through fresco, marble, bronze, terracotta, mosaic and every other kind of 2-d design.  He died in 2014.

 

 

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A couple other views of lovely Pietrasanta:

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