Monthly Archives: June 2013

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Common Man Walks Off The Bridge Again

Clet Abraham’s street art is frequently shown by the alteration of common street signs throughout Florence. But his anarchic acts don’t stop with a few signs (remember, he put the nose on the Tower of San Niccolò). In a town mired in a 500-year-old artistic patrimony, Clet continues to bemuse residents and visitors alike. Now the Common Man is back on Ponte alle Grazie.

Clet's Common Man taking a step off the Alle Grazie Bridge (Photo by Francesca Boni)
Clet's Common Man taking a step off the Alle Grazie Bridge (Photo by Francesca Boni)

One night last week, Clet and a couple of friends re-installed Common Man, a life-size black fiberglass statue, without permission, on Ponte alle Grazie, so that once again he is walking off into the future over the Arno River. Make sure you visit him before the powers-that-be mandate his removal … again.

Common Man (Uomo Comune) bears a striking resemblance to the black cut-out figure on Clet’s altered street signs. The bridge-jumping statue, which from a distance looks like it is made of heavy iron, is enjoyed by all (except perhaps the die-hard cultural naysayers) with photographs going viral on the internet. In 2011, Common Man was removed after seven days later city officials, taking weeks and a Facebook campaign to get the statue back into Clet’s possession.

Capturing bothe the Sun and the Moon (Photo by Francesca Boni
Capturing both the Sun and the Moon (Photo by Francesca Boni)

Alexandra Korey of arttrav.com asks “Is lack of permission an essential part of Clet’s art? Position and surprise are elements that contribute to the meaning of the works. Common Man walks perpendicular to traffic on the bridge, proud and determined as he takes the first step in his battle against bureaucracy and the daily grind. His removal, Clet admits, is part of the plan but ‘one can always hope that they might see the light and leave it up, at least for a little while longer.’”

Into the Sunset with Common Man (photo by Francesca Boni
Into the Sunset with Common Man (photo by Francesca Boni)

Alexandra continues by quoting Clet: “The Common Man statue is intended as a stimulus to take an important and risky step. It represents one of those moments on one’s life in which one needs to make a decision even not knowing its consequences (the void below him is this unknowingness). So Uomo Comune decides to take this step, and invites everyone to do it. The irony lays in being part of this dangerous spectacle from the safe side of the railing. The act is permanently frozen in limbo, being a sculpture that doesn’t move and will never finish stepping out, and so will never know if his choice was the right one or not – the only way for us to know is if we were to try it ourselves.”

Tuscan Traveler looks forward to whatever Clet thinks up next to surprise and delight Florence.

Tuscan Traveler’s Picks – Women Artists Now More Visible at the Uffizi

INVISIBLE WOMEN, a documentary based on the book Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, written by American Jane Fortune (The Florentine Press, 2009) won an Emmy award on June 1, 2013, as the Best Documentary in the Cultural/Historical Program category by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The documentary, produced by WFYI Productions of Indianapolis, was recently aired on American public television (PBS).

Tuscan Traveler's Favorite Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (Uffizi)
Tuscan Traveler’s Favorite Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (Uffizi)

“Winning the Emmy is a new boost to my project, which aims to restore and exhibit artworks by women in Florence,’ said Jane Fortune, art collector, philanthropist, as well as Founder and Chair of Advancing Women Artists Foundation. ‘To achieve these goals it takes technology and skill. It takes the commitment of the city’s museum directors, its restorers and its citizens in general, who are eager to finally learn more about these lesser-known works.” (See the website of Advancing Women Artists for an interesting recounting of the restoration of Artemisa Gentileschi’s David and Bathsheba.)

Restored Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (David and Bathsheba)
Restored Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (David and Bathsheba)

“Efforts to safeguard works of art are obviously directed to our cultural heritage in general. What I think we are doing on many fronts is dedicating supplementary attention to works of art by women, through initiatives like restoration and presentation to the public, placing an emphasis on the personalities of these women artists,” said Cristina Acidini, Superintendent of Florence’s Historic and Artistic Ethno-Anthropologic Patrimony and the Polo Museale.

Restoration funded by the Florence Committee of NMWA
Restoration funded by the Florence Committee of NMWA

Suor Plautilla Nelli, Artemisia Gentileschi, Elisabetta Siriani, Irene Duclos Parenti, Elizabeth Chaplin, Lavinia Fontana—the search for women artists in Florence spans hundreds of years and leads the art lover through the halls of the city’s museums, where a sprinkling of representative works gives incentive to further investigation. The whirlwind tourist knows nothing of them, while the art-loving resident lucky enough to happen upon an occasional exhibit aimed at unearthing the city’s hidden cultural patrimony may only vaguely remember their names.

The documentary Invisible Women will have its Italian premiere at Florence’s Odeon Cinema on Tuesday, June 25 at 7pm. Tickets cost 6 euro, with proceeds going to the Advancing Women Artists Foundation which restores and safeguards works of art by women. The Odeon Cinema is a partner in the event, evidence of its ongoing commitment to culture in the city of Florence and of its international nature.

For information on the evening visit the websites of The Florentine (www.theflorentine.net) and the Odeon Cinema (www.odeonfirenze.com). See the Facebook page.

For more information contact: Linda Falcone, Advancing Women Artists Foundation (linda.falcone7072@gmail.com)

Finding Art by Women in the Strangest Places

One of the most interesting, but least visited museums, in Florence is the Garibaldi Museum, maintained by the Associazione Nazionale Veterani e Reduci Garibaldini, in the 10th century tower, Torre della Castangna which stands in Piazza San Martino, on the corner of via Dante Alighieri. It has in its collection a portrait by one of Florence’s most talented artists, working at the dawn of the 20th century, Elisabeth Chaplin.

The Torre della Castagna is interesting in its own right, being one of the least altered medieval towers in Florence. In 1038, the tower was given by Emperor Corrado II to the Benedictine monks of the adjacent Badia Fiorentina in order to help with the monastery’s defenses. In 1282 the tower became the meeting place of the Priori delle Arti, the governing body of the Florentine Republic. The name of the tower came from the fact that the members of the Priori used chestnuts (castagne) to cast their votes.

Torre della Castagna home of the Garibaldi Museum
Torre della Castagna home of the Garibaldi Museum

Today, the tower houses a collection of artifacts having to do with Giuseppe Garibaldi, a central figure in the Italian Risorgimento, since he personally commanded and fought in many military campaigns that led eventually to the formation of a unified Italy.

Among the collection is a portrait of Anita Vignoli (née Castellucci) painted by Elisabeth Chaplin. Anita Castellucci, named by her father after Garibaldi’s beloved Brazilian wife Ana Ribeiro da Silva (commonly known as “Anita”), who fought with Garibaldi. Her Vignoli husband worked to carry on Garibaldi’s legacy into the 20th century. Anita Vignoli is wearing her father’s medals.

Portrait of Anita Castellucci Vignoli
Portrait of Anita Castellucci Vignoli

Elisabeth Caplin, born in France, came from a family of painters and sculptors. In 1900 her family moved to Italy, first to Piemonte and afterwards to Savona in Liguria. It was there that Elisabeth started to teach herself to paint, with no formal training and only the advice of Albert Besnard. When the Chaplin family took up residence at the Villa Rossi in Fiesole in 1905, Elisabeth had the chance to visit Francesco Gioli’s studio and meet Giovanni Fattori. (Her painting of Anita Castellucci Vignoli was painted sometime between 1906 and 1922.)

An almost Invisible Woman - Elisabeth Caplin in Torre della Castagna
An almost Invisible Woman – Elisabeth Chaplin in Torre della Castagna

Chaplin’s visits to the Uffizi Museum were decisive. She learned from copying the classics. From 1905-8, she painted her first large canvases and in 1910 her Ritratto di Famiglia (Family Portrait) for the Florence Society of Fine Arts won her a gold medal. In 1916 she moved with her family to Rome, where she would live until 1922.

Elisabeth Chaplin's self-portrait (Vasari Corridor)
Elisabeth Chaplin’s self-portrait (Vasari Corridor)

She participated in the Venice Biennale in 1914 and in the Paris Salon in 1922 and thereafter. In the 1930’s Chaplin produced numerous frescoes and murals. In 1937 she won a gold medal at the International Exhibition in Paris and in 1939 she was given the French Legion of Honor. She returned to Italy after World War II.

Chaplin donated her entire body of works to Florence. Fifteen of her paintings are on show at Palazzo Pitti’s Modern Art Gallery, while almost 700 (paintings and sketches) are in storage. Why are so many masterpieces by extraordinary women artists hidden from the public eye and from the enjoyment of visitors? See a small part of the story at the Odeon Cinema on June 25.

Open on Thursday afternoon
Open on Thursday afternoon

Mangia! Mangia! – Dante Would Have Loved the Prato Bread Festival

Tourist are frequently surprised when they first taste traditional Tuscan bread that is always made without salt. Tuscans, especially those from Florence and Prato, would not eat it any other way.

The best bread in Tuscany
The best bread in Tuscany

Dante agreed. “Tu proverai si come sa di sale Lo pane altrui, e comè duro calle Lo scendere e il salir per l’altrui scale.” In these lines from the Paradiso of ”The Divine Comedy,” Dante learns of his exile from Florence and is given some idea of the difficulties he will face. ”You shall learn how salty is the taste of another’s bread, and how hard a path the descending and the climbing another’s stairs,” he is told.

Some say the best Tuscan bread is made in Prato. Pane di Prato is justifiably famous throughout the region. There are Florentines who virtually refuse to eat any other bread than Pane di Prato, even if their regard for the rival Pratesi is of a somewhat lesser degree. The bread of Prato was already being sold in the Florentine markets of the 16th century as a prestigious brand. It is said that the Medici served only Pane di Prato at their villa at Poggio a Caiano.

Official Website

Last weekend was the first, and hopefully not the last, annual Festival del Pane di Prato. All of the bread bakeries were showing off their best breads, including the famous bozza, a small quickly rounded loaf with a rustic crunchy crust. The soft middle part of the loaf is honeycombed in appearance and somewhat elastic. When you squeeze a bozza, it springs back into shape. The taste is salt-free, yeasty and slightly acidic.

Hot schiacciata cut up and served to the festival crowds
Hot schiacciata cut up and served to the festival crowds

The Festival served up hot schiacciata for all attendees. Street performers celebrated the bakery theme. Despite the unseasonable rain nobody could be depressed when there is the unlimited supply of yeasty bread.

Making schiacciata with fresh Tuscan olive oil
Making schiacciata with extra virgin Tuscan olive oil

The bread is baked in the pre-dawn hours in a variety of forms that adapt themselves to every need: the cazzottino (‘a small fist”) is for breakfasts and snacks, perfect with a few slices of Pratese mortadella; the filone seems made to be sliced and slathered with flavorful marmalades, or drizzled in local olive oil and sprinkled with salt — the pan con l’olio used for snacks for kids and just about anyone else – or to make the traditional fettunta (toasted, rubbed with garlic and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper) reserved for the dinner table. But the best is the bozza, which goes well with everything and when it is stale and hard as a rock, it becomes the prime ingredient for panzanella, ribollita, pappa al pomodoro and other tasty dishes.

Bread bakers take rolling pins to the streets of Prato
Bread bakers take rolling pins to the streets of Prato

The Pisans get all the blame from some pundits for the salt-less bread made in Prato. Supposedly, they attempted to force Florence to surrender in one of their endless battles against each other by blockading the salt that arrived at the Pisan port, preventing it from reaching Florence via the Arno River. Prato, as Florence’s nearest neighbor, was caught in the fight.

Bread of all kinds at the Festival of the Bread of Prato
Bread of all kinds at the Festival of the Bread of Prato

Others claim that the wide spread poverty in the Middle Ages is to blame – that salt was too costly for the Tuscans to use in bread-making. (It’s hard to credit this story because poor Italian peasants in other regions couldn’t afford salt, but didn’t give up making salted bread.)

I like to think it was the pope’s fault. During the 14th to 16th centuries, it is said, the popes, who controlled much of the Italian peninsula (known as the Vatican States), levied a tax on salt. Pope Paul III raised the tax in 1539 and the Perugians and the Tuscans refused to pay it. The government of Perugia even went to war over the issue – the Salt War of 1540. The Perugians lost the war, but some say the citizens then refused to buy the salt, thus forcing the fornai (bread bakeries) to produce salt-free bread. (Tuscan bread is one of the few that remains salt-free today, but there are many historical references to bread made without salt in other parts of Italy.)

The perfect Pane di Prato
The perfect Pane di Prato

During the 16th century in Tuscany, the Tuscan Medici dukes controlled all of the resources, including salt, for Tuscan towns such as Prato. When they needed cash (for a war or for building a new villa) they raised the price on salt and other commodities. Thus, pane toscano (Tuscan bread) became bread famous throughout Italy for being sciocco, from the word in the Tuscan dialect for “insipid” (to Tuscans “sciocco” also means “stupid”, but that doesn’t fit this situation because they think salt-less bread is anything, but stupid). Those who are not Tuscan make fun of the bread of the region, but Tuscans, like Dante, mourn it when it is not available.

Salt-less Tuscan bread is not intended for eating on its own. It’s usually served along with the main meal and is meant for sopping up thick, rich, spicy sauces. The bread doesn’t compete with the flavors in the dish, both are enhanced.

 

Prato bakers also produce a great wheat bread
Prato bakers also produce a great wheat bread

The Bread of Prato’s lack of salt helps keep it fresh for several days. Since it has no salt to hold in water, it does not form mold – it just becomes hard as a rock when it is stale – thus making it the basis of many of the tasty dishes that are renowned in Tuscan cuisine.

Bread baking and the arts celebrated in the streets of Prato
Bread baking and the arts celebrated in the streets of Prato

The following Italian dishes are made with stale salt-free Pane di Prato:

Ribollita – a twice-boiled thick vegetable soup (ribollita means ‘re-boiled’), made of black and white cabbage, white beans and other vegetables, made thick with crumbled stale Tuscan bread or poured over toasted Tuscan bread.

Pappa al pomodoro – a bread-based thick tomato soup in which stale Tuscan bread is rehydrated and crumbled; then cooked with the tomatoes, basil and garlic to make a tasty pappa.

Panzanella – a summer salad dish. Stale Tuscan bread is soaked in water, squeezed into a damp mass, crumbled into a big salad bowl and cucumber, raw onion, fresh diced tomato and fresh basil leaves are added. The ingredients are tossed thoroughly with some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

 

Cacciucco – a fish chowder from Livorno made of fish, mollusks and crustaceans. The Livornese claim that the recipe should contain at least five types of fish to match the number of ‘c’s in the word cacciucco. Once cooked, the cacciucco is served on a bed of toasted Tuscan bread that has been rubbed with a clove of fresh garlic.

Fettunta – “garlic toast” made with slices of hot toasted Tuscan bread, rubbed with a clove of fresh garlic, splashed with fresh extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with salt. Don’t try to cut into a completely stale loaf of Tuscan bread to make this; it’s too hard to cut. Use slightly stale bread – too dry to eat untoasted, but perfect for fettunta.

(Tuscan Traveler will go anywhere for great bread. Matera bread is a a past and present favorite. While in Prato Tuscan Traveler, of course, stopped at Mattei for a kilo of brutti ma buoni cookies.)

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Life Rules (the book) is coming in Summer 2014. Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – The Monument to a Tragedy

Twenty years ago, in the night between 26 and 27 May 1993, a bomb exploded in Via dei Georgofili, which killed five people, wounded nearly fifty and damaged a part of the heritage of the Uffizi Gallery. (See the posting below.)

The crater left inside the Accademia die Georgofili
The crater left inside the Accademia dei Georgofili

Three paintings were lost, while in total about 200 were damaged (150 paintings and 50 sculptures), between those exposed in the museum, those in the hallway of the Vasari Corridor, and those in storage.

Paintings from the Renaissance destroyed in 1993
Paintings from the Renaissance destroyed in 1993

In 2004, a hundred-year-old olive tree was placed in front of the Accademia dei Georgofili as a living memorial to the victims of the massacre.The tree bears a plaque in Italian and 10 other languages, wishing that “all passersby will remember the barbaric act that took place on May 27, 1993 and all those that suffered will be in our minds and hearts.”

Olive tree placed in 2004 in honor of the victims
Olive tree placed in 2004 in honor of the victims

The tree has not weathered the years in the alley behind the Uffizi well. It is now bandaged and bare.

In 2008, the City of Florence placed a bronze piece depicting the blast was placed on the wall across from the Accademia.

Monument placed in 2008 by the City of Florence
Monument placed in 2008 by the City of Florence

In 2011, President Napolitano came to commemorate a plaque on the wall of the Accademia dei Georgofili with the names of the victims inscribed.

Placed in 2011 on the Accademia dei Georgofili where the victims lived
Placed in 2011 on the Accademia dei Georgofili where the victims lived

This year on May 26, the Uffizi Gallery, together with the Friends of Florence, unveiled a specially commissioned statue, which is placed some 20 meters above ground on the wall of the Uffizi Gallery facing Via dei Georgofili. Made by Tuscan artist Roberto Barni, the 2-meter tall statue in bronze is entitled “I Passi d’Oro” (The Golden Strides). It was presented to the public in the Salone de’ Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio by president of the Italian Senate, Pietro Grasso, with members of the Association of Relatives of the Victims of via dei Georgofili in attendance.

I Passi d'Oro by Roberto Barni
I Passi d'Oro by Roberto Barni

This is the first time the non-profit Friends of Florence Foundation, chaired by Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda, supported the creation of a sculpture dedicated to the commemoration of a tragic episode in Italian history, rather than its usual work of restoration of Renaissance sculpture and paintings in Florence. (The Friends of Florence were instrumental in the restoration of most of the sculptures on the Loggia dei Lanzi.)

Statue by Roberto Barni stands on a stone plinth
Statue by Roberto Barni stands on a stone plinth

The six-foot statue of bronze, covered in gold leaf, depicts a striding golden figure of a man with five small attached figures (representing each of the victims) on a blade of stone. See the video of the unveiling in situ.

The memorial statue walks 60 feet up above the street
The memorial statue walks 60 feet up above the street

Perhaps only the powers that be of the Uffizi Gallery can explain why the impressive six-foot sculpture by Barni is placed so high on the museum’s exterior wall that it can barely be seen. Is this the age-old problem that Florence has displaying modern art where people can actually see it or is it the difficulty of attaching a heavy bronze to the medieval Torre dei Pulci, where there was the most loss of life, or is there some other reason? I, for one, would support the repositioning of I Passi d’Oro.