17 February 2017

Grotesque Obsession: Pulchrior in Luce

In which we relive another great moment found by peering through doorways
"Pulchrior In Luce" ~   More Beautiful in the Light
Coffered ceiling with grottesca decoration by Bernardo Poccetti

Wandering along the Borgo Pinti I found the unassuming entry of an austere-looking palazzo with its giant, stud-riddled door wide open.  Flashes of a grottesca ceiling caught my eye in what is currently the entry to a hotel. So naturally  I inquired inside, and learned that it was known as the Palazzo Marzichi-Lenzi, which is the former palace of the Neri-Ridolfi family whose coat of arms is painted in the center of the ceiling.

The painted ornament is attributed to Bernardino Poccetti (1548 – 1612), also known as Barbatelli, a prolific and famous local artist whose work includes the sgrafitto decoration of the Palazzo Bianca-Cappello; the Medici Villa di Artimino; ceiling vaults of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, and the murals in the grand salon of the Palazzo Capponi. Earlier in his career he was known as a great designer of grottesche, in his later years he painted more monumental and naturalistic figurative murals. This ceiling ornament dates from the early 1580's and was beautifully restored by Gioia Germani in 2001.

With its coffered ceiling this space really looks to me like an oddly empty library or even a stripped-out studiolo. The room feels private, even more so because of the esoteric symbolism in the ceiling paintings. As is often the case this palazzo has been remodeled so many times it's hard to say where the original entry was or how this space came to be used in this way.  

The coat of arms of the Neri-Ridolfi family, presented with a double cartouche and festoons of fruit

The ceiling is made up of  almost-square as well as rectangular  coffers, all of which are slightly skewed and in some cases completely wonky, which as a painter I find to be typical in even newly-built coffered ceilings.  I found the lighting in this space to be extremely difficult, and I was compelled to return with a flash (*gasp*), in order to shoot this ceiling.

 So now, let's have a closer look at these marvelous little paintings, shall we?

"Malio Lumina" features the the stone cold glare of Medusa as "Evil Eyes"

Medusa is a familiar face in Renaissance art. In Greek mythology, the gorgon Medusa's very glance could literally petrify a man, turning him into stone, and she came to symbolize the "Evil Eye."  
Perseus set Medusa's severed and bleeding head on the riverbank while he washed his hands, and her blood turned the reeds into red coral. Thus to protect against the Evil Eye one wears or displays branches or beads of precious red coral. 

Spectacular coral piece on display at l’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence (nfs)

Red "precious" coral  (see first image "Pulchrior in Luce" above) appears a lot in Renaissance art, as the coral is not only beautiful but is reputed to have both healing and protective properties, and it is sometimes seen as a symbol of Christ's blood. Branches of it appear in treasuries and wunderkammers, portraits and altarpieces.
 (Latin geeks, please weigh in on the play on words in these two panels' mottos- Lumina vs Luce.)

"Suo Succo" - its essense
Visitors to my studio will recognize this emblem which has been tacked to my door for some years.
Each of the soffits has symbolic  imagery in the center with a latin motto, resembling the pages of an Emblamata (emblem book) owing in part to the small scale of the individual panels.  However, overall they are just pared-down versions of the same compositions used in many larger grottesche ceilings- with a central image or allegorical figure, corner elements oriented towards the center dividing the panel with an "X",   and symmetrical but not identical pairings of fantastical beasts and ornamental flora. 
Often the grottesche will echo or enhance the central element:  the coral tree is surrounded by pearls, shells, and imaginary sea-creatures;  a bulb springing to life is surrounded by birds, butterflies and garden trellises arranged in a Maltese Cross configuration.  The usual features of the grottesca style are present in masks, birds, vases, harpies and other winged creatures, little garlands and floral scrollwork.

"Tenet Usque" ~ Hold constant
A rudder held straight, surrounded by the four seasons;  the face of the sun with 12 rays, burning torches, harpies (one of which appears pregnant), and landscapes; each detail has some meaning assigned to it.

"Omnibus Idem"~ (the sun shines on) all the same
The exact meaning of this group of images, whether they all reference a particular source, or if they were designed by a scholar or philosopher, is unknown. I approach such things as a painter first and foremost, but years of studying art history tell me there is an interesting story underneath the beautiful painting. In my more recent research I was thrilled to find a detailed 2015 paper on this ceiling by renowned art historian Liana De Girolami Cheney, who clearly knows a lot more about this than I do and has some great insights, but alas, the ornament's true meaning and purpose remains a mystery for now.

"Ex Pulchris Optima Libant"~ from beauty, the best offer

"Te Ipsum" ~ (see)  Thy Self
Is it just me or would these make amazing designs for scarves? 

The Palazzo Marzichi-Lenzi is now home to the Hotel Monna Lisa

all images in this post by Lynne Rutter  2014-2017 



detail of a ceiling in the Uffizi

My heart is broken, I said.  So is your ankle, he said.

The ancient cobblestones in this ancient city are famously treacherous.  We've had a very interesting week figuring out how to navigate with a wheelchair; how to manage 135 stone steps up to our flat on crutches; and how to rest a camera on a crutch while photographing a ceiling.

The universe is telling me to slow down and look where I am going. One stone step at a time.


12 February 2017

Back in Florence

In which we go back, in order to go forward.

A ceiling panel in the Ufizzi Galleries, depicting the destruction of Florence by retreating Nazi troops at the end of WWII.

I was trying to recall the last time I was truly happy.  I think it was three years ago, before all this happened. I had spent a year planning my sabbatical in Florence, and then learned my father had cancer.  His treatment was encouraging, and so we were encouraged to go.  "What else are you going to do?" my father asked me "sit around here and watch me drool?"   And so we passed three months in a rainy Tuscan winter, while I sought out material for my book.  When I called each morning,  my father assured me that despite any rumors of his demise, he was not yet dead.  He and my mother were genuinely interested in what I was doing, shared their own travel stories, asked me for specific photos, told me their news, sometimes bad news.

We made the most of our time, well aware of how limited it was.

Later that year, my father died. And then all too soon after that, my mother got cancer, and all too soon she also died.  My family had to move out of their home in what felt like a terrific hurry.  During all this I could see the avalanche coming and I knew I could not outrun it.  And so I let it wash over me, and bury me, and bury my ambitions and my dreams and my joy, and pretty much everything else.  Every movement required immense effort and caused incredible pain. And so I just stayed there under all that grief, living each moment of it in great detail, until I could no longer breathe.

Where was I before that? In Florence I think it was, three years ago.  And here I am again.