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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14 March 2014

Heraldry: le Arti di Firenze

ceiling in the former Guelph Party headquarters
I passed by an open door and spied heraldic splendor on the ceiling, and my inner geek let out a slightly audible squeal.  On the door reads  Biblioteca Palagio di Parte Guelfa."  People were reading intently and looking serious.   I ventured inside and studied the ceiling trying to read the various symbols, my brain whirring away trying to access what Florentine history I can recall, my hand hovering over my camera bag like a gunslinger waiting for just the right moment to draw.

detail of Guelph party ceiling
Heraldry isn't just for noble families:  I recognized the banners of the Arti,  Florentine guilds who were active in commerce, as well as politics. The shields of two major guilds, the Arte di Calimala and the Arte dei Linaioli e Rigattieri, both textile guilds, take pride of place in the center along with the Florentine city shield, and that of the Guelph party.  The Guelphs, whose shield is white with a red cross, had a complicated and often bloody religious and political rivalry with the Ghibellines, whose shield was red with a white cross.  Theirs was an epic medieval conflict  which persisted in various mutations well into the 15th century.

detail showing the insignia of the Guilds of Florence

Encircling the shields in the center is a marvelous graphic border with the insignia of each of the Florentine guilds: stonemasons, speziale, blacksmiths, innkeepers, tanners, locksmiths, etc.  Surrounding all this is a field of deep blue  patterned with the French fleur de lis, possibly a reference to one of the (brief) periods of good relations between Florence and the French Crown.
Painted entirely by hand, each feature varies just a bit which really adds to the patina and feeling of history.  It almost looks like the banners are fluttering proudly overhead.

It's just great ornament and you all know how I feel about that.

photos by Lynne Rutter, Florence, March, 2014
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02 March 2014

Domenica a Firenze

Sun on the facade of the Chiesa Santa Croce
Flag and drum corps in the Piazza della Signoria
It's carnivale time, there are a lot of kids in costumes roaming about, and the streets are sprinkled with confetti.
Along the Arno, a large rainbow with a strong dose of violet touches down
in the weir near the ponte di San Niccolò.
A sunny Sunday I am walking around Florence with Erling, listening to him talk about Dante, whose name and remarkable profile mark everything from  2 euro coins to statues and pizzerias. Ah, eternal fame.  Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita... as recited by Ruth Draper, naturally.
belltower of San Giuseppe
Today I am once again in mourning over the loss of someone from my past and taking it a bit too hard.  What this is, I tell myself, is nostalgia.  I miss being young and audacious, careening around Florence late at night perched on the handlebars of a rented bike recklessly peddled by my lover.  Seeing the places where I once cavorted so freely breaks my heart.  What is the source of the sadness in nostalgia?  Is the loss of my first true love, or merely the loss of my youth that I mourn?
Now I watch my step on the stone pavement, holding Erling's hand to steady my balance.  The bells in the campanile of the Badia are ringing.  Someday I will be nostalgic for this moment.
History in the walls of the Badia Fiorentina
Dramatic and beautiful, Vespers in the Badia sung by the Fraternità di Gerusalemme