25 January 2015

Every wand'ring bark

Sunset at Land's End, San Francisco
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove 

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope Love and the Maiden, 1877  Legion of Honor, San Francisco

O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark,

North tower of the Golden Gate Bridge
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Sea Monster from the baroque set painted for my wedding in 2010

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116


03 January 2015

Ancient Patterns: Battistero di San Giovanni

detail of the mosaic floor, Baptistry, Florence
I collect patterns and details.  I just do.  I will spend over an hour staring at the floor in a dark historic site while everyone else is snapping shots of the famous gold mosaic ceiling and walking through the other side in less than 5 minutes on their way to the next famous spot. Then I will go back and do it again the next day. And maybe the next as well.
You understand why I do this.  Of course you do, that's why you are here.

mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence

The Baptistry of St. John is one of Florence's oldest buildings, having been built on the remains of 4th century octagonal church which was built on the remains of a Roman-era tower.  The present building dates from 1059, and the intricate marble mosaic floors were added circa 1209.  
Surprisingly, the oldest ornamental patterns in this space are also the most modern-looking. 

mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
Similar patterns are also found in St. Mark's in Venice and other Romanesque and Byzantine interiors, many of them influenced by ancient Oriental and Arabic designs.
All of these patterns are unified in this room only by their limited palette of red, black, and white (with the occasional yellow). They are laid out on the floor in an asymmetrical grid divided by borders, with little or no repeated elements;  a marvelous collection of  flat but intricate designs that create a rich atmosphere indeed.

mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence

mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence

If you can believe it, there are even more photos of these floors in my Flickr album: Battistero di San Giovanni, Firenze

need more now?

Modern mosaic floors at New Ravenna

Dover Edition: Historic Designs and Patterns in Color from Arabic and Italian Sources


23 November 2014

The Beauty of Austerity

Renaissance courtyard featuring arches supported by classical pietra serena columns
Many of you know me as a "more is more" kind of gal,  but I can assure you, I do admire minimalism, and respect the clean, empty space of purpose when I see it.  The lovely courtyard above is found behind the (magnificent) AquaFlor perfume shop, in the Palazzo Serristori Corsini Antinori in Florence (circa 1520.)
All around Florence are beautiful examples of simple, austere architecture, a good many of them designed by Brunelleschi such as the Ospedale degli Innocenti, and the churches Santo Spirito and San Lorenzo. The look is created with simple plaster walls supported by columns and mouldings of pietra serena, the native sandstone, and of course, excellent proportions.

San Felicita- a Baroque remodel still retains the calm
Despite being crammed with colorful art (generally added later) most of the Renaissance interiors in Florence retain a calm environment and a cool serenity that begs you to listen, wait, breathe.  It's a formula that works as well in later architecture, and I think it's the defining architectural style of Florence, even today.

The most notable example of this austere architecture I can find is the Pazzi Chapel, (if not designed then certainly influenced) by Brunelleschi, completed in 1460 in the first cloister of the Basilica of Santa Croce.  It is simply the most composed, serene, purest example of Renaissance architecture in Florence. It speaks directly to the desire for simplicity, and peace, and all sorts of ideals about geometry, order, and being bigger than the sum of one's parts. 

Interior dome of the Pazzi Chapel, Santa Croce
I was floored by this breathtaking space the first time I set foot in it (in 1980, under the guidance of my mentor Dr. Otto Mower) and regularly return when in Florence for a dose of mind-clearing symmetry.

Altar, Pazzi Chapel, Santa Croce.  Where's that light coming from?
These last two photos were taken in February while I hovered in and around Sta Croce during a lighting storm, awaiting word of my father's condition after he had emergency surgery thousands of miles away. I could think of no better place to keep it together.  I got the message, don't go to pieces, it's not all up to you.
OK so I was finished with this post, and then I heard about THIS:
Opera di Santa Croce Firenze, the non-profit institution that operates and maintains the Franciscan church has announced a crowd-funding campaign to restore the loggia that forms the entrance to the Pazzi Chapel.

The ornamented loggia of the Pazzi Chapel - photo Marco Badiani
This 15th century loggia is an important document in Florence's architectural history, a sampler of every Renaissance feature you can shake a stick at:  a cupoletta by Luca della Robbia; lacunaria with carved rosettes; a terra cotta frieze border of cherubs; classic columns; borders of dentils, guilloche, acanthus, egg and dart, and basically the whole nine yards.   Austere? Serene?  Non c'è modo!  More of a celebration of everything going on at the time.  More is more!  
These details are now literally falling apart and require immediate attention.  

- Read more about the Pazzi Chapel and the restoration efforts at the fabulous ArtTrav blog.
- Donate to the only Kickstarter campaign ever to be launched by a 720 year old church!  UPDATE:  FUNDED!
- Join the TwitterChat and share your thoughts:  Monday, November 24, 2014  at 10pm CET | 4pm EST | 1 pm PST

photos in this post by Lynne Rutter unless otherwise noted
Many of these architectural terms are in the Glossary!


14 September 2014

La Bottega dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore

La bottega dell'opera di Santa Maria del Fiore
Just behind the Duomo, on the narrow street Via dello Studio,  is a noticeably short building at no. 33,  with a wide glass window and doorway.  Look inside at La Bottega dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the light-filled workshop where features of the Duomo and Baptistry are maintained and restored: an old statue being reproduced, mosaic borders and tracery windows being repaired. 

A few steps away at no 19 is the wonderful art supply shop Zecchi.

Firenze, March 2014

02 August 2014

Pseudo-Kufic: A Secret Ornamental Language

Giotto Madonna and Child (detail) 1320 National Gallery, Washington DC
Have you ever noticed decorative borders in certain Byzantine or Renaissance paintings that don't seem to make any sense? Beautiful, calligraphic, gibberish... ?

Unknown Spanish Artist, The Resurrection,  1420, Legion of Honor, San Francisco
G. dal Ponte: Madonna and Child with Angels, 1430

Last week I was visiting the Legion of Honor with my good friend and fellow decorative artist, Bruce Thalman, and I was studying some embossed, gilt halos in Medieval and Early Renaissance paintings, as I am wont to do, when I noticed something in the border of a cloak worn by the figure of Jesus in an anonymous panel from the 15th century.   "Pseudo-Kufic"  I said.
"Gesundheit" Bruce replied.

A great number of paintings of the late Byzantine and Early Renaissance era used a similar design device: arabesque lettering, painted as the embroidered decoration in the hems of garments or edges of carpets.  This script is known as Pseudo-Kufic.

Giovanni dal Ponte: Madonna and Child with Angels (detail) 1430 Legion of Honor, San Francisco
Influenced by exotic artifacts brought back from the Middle East through both conflict and trade with the Ottoman Empire,   Early Renaissance painters embellished their work with complicated patterns and eastern-style scripts in an effort to create an "oriental" atmosphere, especially with regard to persons or scenes from the Holy Land.   Eastern Kufic script was a particularly ornamental style of calligraphy dating from the 11th century, whose design lent itself well to borders.

Fragment of a 13th Century Qur'an in Persian Naskh and Eastern Kufi scripts, Library of Congress
Giotto Madonna and Child, 1320 National Gallery, Washington DC
There are many famous examples by Giotto, Massaccio, Gentile di Fabriano, and others who used Psuedo-Kufic, faux Arabic, Phags-pa Mongol script, and even faux Hebrew lettering in gold, to emphasize the rich, exotic impression of the Eastern world. (I find it this an extremely attractive era in art history.)  It may have been a statement about the cultural universality of the Christian faith; a reverence for history in general; or possibly the ambitions of the church at that time.    

Gentile da Fabriano:  Adoration of the Magi (detail) 1423 Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Psuedo-Arabic lettering and Mamluk patterns in the halo of the Virgin
I recall an afternoon at the Accademia in Florence where I spent about 20 minutes discussing this decorative lettering with Erling, who has an interest in languages as well as cyphers. It's not like I can read Arabic or Hebrew myself, but I could tell this wasn't a real language somehow.  Nevertheless I was trying to figure out if there was a pattern, and wondering if Giotto had invented his own alphabet, or whether each artist had a code worked into their own singular version of this calligraphy.  And if so, could I decipher it?  The following day, several hours in Hall 2 of the Uffizi, turned this into a minor obsession.
I still notice it all over the place.

Paolo Veneziano:  Virgin and Child (detail) 1354, Louvre Museum. Psuedo-Kufic hem embellishes a rich, oriental fabric.
Lorenzo di Niccolo: St Paul (detail) c. 1400 Legion of Honor, San Francisco 
decorative Pseudo-Kufic script on the sleeve of the Apostle
By the 16th century, orientalism in religious artwork all but disappeared, as the Italian churches wanted to emphasize a more Roman context to their history.
And now... ?

more about:
Pseudo-Kufic  at Wikipedia
and at  Res Obscura


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