15 July 2014

Doors of Florence

convenient hatch
While in Florence I started collecting photos of old doors.  I tend to do that when I travel.  So many of the great doors in the historic center of the city are covered in studs. Florentine palazzi were built like fortresses, with their imposing entrance gates opening into central courtyards.
No.129 covered in studs
I noticed even the smaller doors were covered in studs.  Nothing says "come on in" like a door riddled with  nails.

Entrance to the Palazzo Antellesi, with a spectacular auricular crest. Also it was paper recycling night when I took this shot. It's not normally so littered on the Piazza Sta. Croce.
OK to be fair, not all of them are covered in studs. Many of them are only partially covered in studs.

stones and wood and studs at No. 11
a rare example of a painted door at No. 13
partially studded door at No. 14
Centuries of political upheaval and the astonishing wealth of the Florentine families created an architecture that from the outside looks foreboding, closed, cold, while inside they were splendid and open. Much like the Florentine people themselves-  reserved or even off-putting at first, after a few meetings they become warm and amiable.  

As a giant fortress-like palazzo became unnecessary, and over time, infeasible; most of these urban castles were divided up to make apartments, offices, etc., while sharing the original entrance; a phalanx of doorbells illustrating the division of space.
No.4 still has its buchette del vino
Many of the old palaces have a small buchette del vino near the entrance. This was a mini-portal through which noble families could sell wine and olive oil from their country estates without letting the riff-raff into the palazzo.  (There is a great collection of photos of these traditional Florentine niches on facebook.)

No.28 with an unfortunate mail slot
The doors in the historic center are, with rare exception, varnished wood. Painted doors are quite rare.  Unlike Paris, where the wood is usually a cleverly painted faux bois, these doors are simply varnished. I even watched several of them being refinished and was amazed and the thickness (and age) of the wood, and of course wondered what kind of varnish they were using. 

No. 11 with its lovely carved doors
Single entrances stand out for their relatively modest scale.

A single family home with a painted facade and simple doors
And then there are all the clever additional doors, created to make entrances in odd places, as space became more and more valuable.

Even the wee entrance to No.33 is of course fortified with studs
Many of these doors require stooping to pass through. This is especially true of those doors inside large old courtyards, but I found plenty built under windows or stairways all over the old city.

No 1 under the stairs, and it's accessible!
entrance doors hidden under a window, disguised to look like the stone walls
an interior courtyard door, only 5 feet tall and beautifully varnished.

More photos of Florentine doors on my Flickr page

All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, 
Florence February-April, 2014
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05 July 2014

And soonest our best men with thee doe goe

A chapel in the Santissima Annunziata, Firenze.
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and souls deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
John Donne, 1610

Light breaks through the enfilade between chapels inside Santissima Annunziata
  

Until I can create a fitting tribute for my father, I can but offer John Donne, and a black chapel in Florence.


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photos in this post © 2014 by Lynne Rutter
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Crucifix carved by Antonio and Guiliano da Sangallo, 1483

  


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16 May 2014

"Diverging paths of Mannerism"

Pontormo Visitation 1516 (restored 2014) Pieve di San Michele Arcangelo, Carmignano.
During my recent sabbatical in Firenze this winter, posters for the exhibit “Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, diverging paths of Mannerism" began appearing in every street; the glorious image of Pontormo's Visitation (newly restored!) brightening up damp stone walls all over the old city.
In March the show opened in the Palazzo Strozzi, I ran over to see it, and it is one of the most thrilling exhibitions I have seen in a long time.  If you are in Florence anytime between now and 20 July, go see this show! 
Beautifully curated by Carlo Falciani and Antonio Nataliell- the show has a clear purpose, to illustrate the real differences between two painters normally lumped together under the label of "Mannerism."   This may seem, from afar, like a bit of hair splitting, but the exhibit carefully illustrates the routes each artist took to arrive at their own unique styles.  I have to say it was very exciting for me to get to know these painters better; the work is fantastic and the presentation is enlightening.

Rosso Fiorentino, Spedalingo Altarpiece 1518 (unfinished)  Galleria degli Uffizi
Nurture vs Nature
Jacopo Carucci, called Pontormo and Giovanni Battista di Jacopo , called Rosso Fiorentino were both born in the same year, 1494, and received early training together in the studio of Andrea del Sarto.  Pontormo found favor with the Medici and developed a luxe, exaggerated, and colorful style of painting, producing highly stylized and finished work, much of it in Florence.  Rosso had difficulty securing patronage there, owing to his political leanings, and painted a lot of hurried, unfinished pieces, moved to Rome, experimented (and found success) with printmaking, eventually moving to France where he became one of the leading artists the first School of Fontainebleau.
The exhibit starts with a room full of the stunning work Sarto's atelier, and goes on to feature some of the most famous and the weirdest examples of Rosso Fiorentino's earlier work, contrasting this with the colorful paintings Pontormo was producing at the same time.  

Andrea del Sarto Madonna of the Harpies 1517,  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.   Watch and learn, people.
The show did feel a bit like a competition between Rosso and Pontormo, which I felt a bit unfair.  The choices of work on display certainly make Rosso's work look a bit weird, with many examples chosen, from what is available in Florence, being simply unfinished paintings.  Rosso's work is often called anachronistic and indeed his portraits of unidentified patrons look old-fashioned, but as an artist he took some great risks with his work, and he went on to become a superb designer. 

Rosso Fiorentino, Portrait of a Man oil on panel 1522, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti) Florence.
This modestly dressed and now-unknown man was obviously not a Medici supporter.  
Without patronage and a secure, supportive environment it is really difficult to produce such masterpieces as Pontormo was able to do.   Everything in Pontormo's work from the subject to the choice of (expensive) pigments points to large budgets and generous, supportive patrons. 

Pontormo  Deposition, oil on panel 1528, Capella Capponi, Santa Felicita, Florence:   Painted site-specific for this chapel - those colors nearly glow in the dark.  [photo: Lynne Rutter]
Three Muralists Commented:
I went to see the show a further three times, twice with fellow mural artists, Steve Shriver from Los Angeles, and Pascal Amblard from France.  We painters all mentioned this one issue: an artist designing an altarpiece or other large panel is generally doing so site-specific... so the setting is a part of the design.  When I look at a larger painting I immediately think of the problems the artist had to solve and the decisions that needed to be made: how high off the ground will this be, from what angle or distance will the viewer see it, how  much light is in the space and how strong do facial features need to be to communicate given these variables?  Take those altarpieces down and put them in a gallery with a spotlight on them and you are basically removing those variables and possibly judging the work in an unfair light.

Fortunately  in Florence, you can see a lot of wonderful work in situ, from all three of these artists; the most marvelous example I can point to is the Capponi chapel in Santa Felicita, for which Pontormo painted the stunning Deposition as well as the glowing and ethereal Annunciation.  

Pontormo  Annunciation  fresco, Cappella Capponi, Santa Felicita, Florence.  Yes, there is a large thing separating the figures.  And that's awesome.  [photo: Lynne Rutter]
I came away from this exhibit with a much better appreciation of Rosso Fiorentino's work, in particular his work in the newfangled field of printmaking, but also as a daring and skilled decorative artist.  Pontormo comes off as an especially fantastic draughtsman, a great painter with an exuberant sense of color.  But more than anything, this show renewed my interest in the work of Andrea del Sarto.
So then--- I made the trek out to the Vallombrosan convent of San Salvi to see Sarto's Cenacolo.  This is a splendid mural and well worth the visit.
Andrea del Sarto Cenacolo, fresco, 1511-27, San Salvi, Florence  [image via Wikipedia]

Andrea del Sarto Cenacolo, detail, fresco, 1511-27, San Salvi, Florence  
[photo by Lynne Rutter]

I spent a good couple of hours with this one.  Just bowled over.

ArtTrav, a fascinating blog written by an art historian living in Florence,  has a nice article on the restoration of the Visitation by Pontormo.  Also, have a look at this post on how to make a nice morning of a visit to the Cenacolo at San Salvi.

I would also suggest a visit to the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, where there are many site-specific works by Sarto, Pontormo, and Rosso Fiorentino, among others.



"Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, diverging paths of Mannerism" at Palazzo Strozzi  through July 20, 2014.  Allow at least one hour to see the show.

The show is accompanied by a gorgeous catalogue, also available at amazon.com


Tip:  Palazzo Strozzi is open until 11 PM on Thursdays for after- dinner art viewing.





 click on any image to view larger.












06 April 2014

The Dignity of Artful Decay

Painted volteggio in the loggia delle biciclette
Wandering through the Santa Croce District I happened upon this beautiful and curious sight, a painted loggia aging quite gracefully.  Far from abandoned, this is now serving as the entrance to several residential buildings.

Loggia with bicycles
From the courtyard communicating between buildings you can see the loggia where the neighbors are storing their bicycles.

A charming entrance under the loggia
The loggia also shelters the urbane entrances to several apartments.

detail of the ceiling ornament, with music.
The ceiling is painted with mix of neoclassical and grottesca ornament from the early 1800's, using a secco-fresco  technique and a healthy serving of that delicious French Ultramarine Blue, whose invention made decorating with blue not only possible, but fashionable as well.

detail of ceiling ornament: sphinxes, with hats
The ornament features allegorical figures representing the arts (music, architecture, painting, sculpture, etc) alternating with grottesca, classical motifs, vignettes of charming European towns, and scenes with animals domestic or exotic.  Looks like they threw the whole book at this ceiling.

A giraffe and a monkey.  And why not?
Much of the surface is peeling and there may have been one attempt to touch it up in the past, but I actually like the way it looks in this context.  To me, the artful decay adds dignity to this setting.



all photos in this post by Lynne Rutter; Florence, Italy,  April 2014
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27 March 2014

Inside the Walls of Lucca

restored Gothic ceiling of the Duomo di San Martino, Lucca
A day trip to Lucca, an ancient city wrapped in Renaissance-era city walls.
After so many weeks of intensive living in Firenze,  the differences of Lucca were to me absolutely charming. Everything about Lucca feels older and more peculiar than Florence.  A smaller, less crowded place, it feels rather open and still, preserved and isolated by its history as well as its fortified walls.
 
Roman columns adorn the facade of San Michele in Foro
The facade of San Michele in Foro utilizes dozens of ornamental columns salvaged from the ruins of the nearby roman-era amphitheater, and a further collection of patterns in the spandrels above them, while the base and entrance is light and simple, and even modern-looking.

The simple and mystical entrance to San Michele in Foro

Roman amphitheater recycled
Around the Piazza Anfiteatro, which still retains the shape of the Roman amphitheater whose foundations are still hidden beneath it, the homes are built with the memories and stones of many eras.

Spectacular byzantine mosaic atop the austere facade of Basilica San Fredanio
detail of chapel with a self-portrait by  Amico Aspertini

Another mysterious white facade, San Fredanio is capped with a breathtaking Byzantine style mosaic.
Inside, a collection of dream-like scenes tell the story of the  Volto Santo di Lucca, which miraculously found its way to Lucca in 742 AD. This corpus statue was reputedly carved in cedar by Nicodemus, all except the face, which was completed by an angel after the sculptor fell asleep. (This statue is now kept in spectacular fashion in the Duomo di San Martino.)
Housekeepers and those who have lost their keys come to pray to St. Zita, whose body rests enshrined in a glass coffin.
Nearby, an empty chapel is filled with light and faded frescoes.
An empty chapel, painted with quadratura frescoes in the Basilica San Fredanio
The fortifications of Lucca never saw any action until they were converted into a park for biking and strolling and taking in the view. Erling remarked at the endless fun a 10 year old could find in the battlements and tunnels.  Of course we enjoyed exploring them, too.
Lucca's fortifications: a park above, a maze of secret passageways below.

all photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, Lucca, Italy, March 2014
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