Monthly Archives: July 2010

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – It’s a Sunflower Year in Tuscany

“A Sunflower Year?” asked Francesca as we drove through the rolling Tuscan hills southwest of Siena. I pointed out to this Florentine that some years there were no sunflowers to be found in Tuscany, but in others the golden flowers created the Tuscan landscape of movies and postcards and tourists’ fantasies. 2010 is a Sunflower Year.

Southern Tuscany during a Sunflower Year
Southern Tuscany during a Sunflower Year

Twelve years ago, the first Italian film I saw was Il Ciclone. I’ve seen it about three times because as a failing beginning Italian language student, I’ve taken a lot of classes. It seems to be the film-of-choice for first-level Italian language teachers. Not because it’s easy to understand – most of the actors have Florentine accents – but because it is funny. The parts I remember the best are the scenes when the cute guy on a scooter speeds to the family farmhouse through fields of sunflowers. It was the perfect depiction of my dream of the Tuscan countryside – not vineyards or olive groves, but with fields of yellow flowers surrounding a golden rustic house with a terra cotta roof.

Tuscan Traveler's Fantasy Tuscany Made Reality
Tuscan Traveler's Fantasy Tuscany Made Reality

So why are some years filled with sunflowers and in others nary a bloom to be found. I had a client – a photographer and painter – who wanted to take photos of Tuscan sunflowers. We traveled the back roads from Florence to Siena to Montepulciano for five days before we found one field near Montalcino.

Of course, the answer that comes to mind is that Italian farmers are rigorous in their husbandry of the fertile soil and therefore, rotate their crops to preserve the nutrients and decrease the pathogens to allow for healthy crops every year. But it is incredible to think that Italian farmers are so cohesive to agree en masse that they should all grow sunflowers in a given year. Especially on the years that the sunflower crops have failed dismally when lack of rain wilted them on the stalk just as the flowers came into bloom.

Fields of Sunflowers on the Chianti Back Roads
Fields of Sunflowers on the Chianti Back Roads

No, of course, it is all about subsidies. It appears that the Italian government and the European Union have for years subsidized certain crops and that determines a Sunflower Year. Now in the age of biofuels, new subsidies have been created to Save the Planet. (Of course, the cost and amount of CO2 emitted from farming sunflowers and burning sunflower biofuel far outweigh the value of the relatively small amount of fuel that can be obtained from the plant.)

Turning its Face to the Tuscan Sun
Turning its Face to the Tuscan Sun

But after the momentary distraction brought by the realities of farming in Italy and EU subsidies, I am back in my golden haze, loving Tuscany during the summers when millions of the giant flowers turn their faces to the sun. I wish every year was a Sunflower Year.

Dove Vai? – The Bardini Museum

Just over a year ago, the Bardini Museum in Florence opened to the public again after long and accurate restoration work aimed at re-establishing the configuration that its founder, the antiquarian Stefano Bardini, had originally given the exhibition. Bardini trained as a painter and became famous as a restorer and art dealer. He created a collection of artwork with a deep passion for the Renaissance and skill at unearthing medieval Florence. All can now enjoy this distinctive museum, which was actually the antiques showroom where Bardini sold thousands of pieces that now grace the galleries of museums as well as private collections throughout the world.

Bits and pieces of ancient Florence for sale by Bardini
Bits and pieces of ancient Florence for sale by Bardini

Bardini’s blue walls have been restored from the ochre preferred by some early 20th century conservator. On account of its uniqueness, many, including Jacquemart-Andrè in Paris and Isabella Stewart Gardner at Fenway Court in Boston, imitated the blue color employed by Bardini. In fact, Mrs. Gardner worked hard to get the exact color of blue to show off her marble sculptures in the same way Bardini knew it would highlight the creamy white of those pieces he had for sale. See her correspondence with Renaissance art expert, Bernard Berenson, on the subject.

In 1881, Bardini acquired the deconsecrated church and convent of San Gregorio facing piazza dei Mozzi in the Oltrarnoand. He set about transforming it into his opulent residence, restoration studio and showroom. Bardini donated the palazzo to the Municipal Administration of Florence in 1922 as a museum.

One of the oldest ceramic figures in Bardini's collection
One of the oldest ceramic figures in Bardini's collection

The building is remarkable for its use of doors, windows and moldings of old fragments originally belonging to ruined churches and villas. The ceilings are magnificent examples of Venetian glass and Tuscan woodwork ranging from the 15th to the 17th centuries.

The collection comprises sculptures, paintings, furniture pieces, ceramic pieces, tapestries, as well as fragments of the old center of Florence, salvaged before its destruction in the 1860s to make way for the new national government buildings. These items are displayed on the ground and the first floors according to a layout that fully reflects the character of a typically private collection. In addition to Roman sarcophagi, capitals, Roman and Gothic relief work, there are also other remarkable examples like the work of the Della Robbia brothers (15th and 16th century), works attributed to Donatello and to Nino or Giovanni Pisano, in addition to the famous “Charity” by Tino di Camaino (1280 app.-1337).

St. George slays the dragon
Pollaiolo's St. Michael Archangel slays the dragon

The most outstanding painting of the collection is perhaps St. Michael Archangel by Antonio Del Pollaiolo (1431-1498), although there are many other precious works among the collections of weapons, 15th century polychrome stuccoes and wooden sculpture. The original of the famed bronze of the wild boar, Il Porcellino, (Pietro Tacca, 1612) a copy of which draws crowds in the Mercato Nuovo, sits bored in a small alcove of its own.

Il Porcellino - the original bronze inspired by an ancient Roman marble
Il Porcellino - the original bronze inspired by an ancient Roman marble

The museum is rarely visited by tour groups, making it the perfect place to visit on a hot summer day in Florence. It is only open three days a week – Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 11am to 5pm.

Address: Via dei Renai, 37

Phone: 055.234.2427

Ticket Price: 5 euro