Category Archives: Dove Vai?

Dove Vai? – Art and Pathology Meet in New Exhibit

For those visiting or living in Florence, only a short time is left to experience one of the most unique and wonderful exhibits for those interested in either the art of wax modeling or the science of medical-surgical pathology practiced in the 1800s.

The free exhibit, called Oltre il Corpo, L’uomo (Besides the Body, the Man), will end February 12, 2011.

Oltre il Corpo, L'Uomo - Besides the Body, the Man
Oltre il Corpo, L'Uomo - Besides the Body, the Man

Fans of the anatomical wax collection of the La Specola Museum, who want to take the experience up a notch must go immediately to the newly constructed entrance (one of the few successful modern pieces of architecture in Florence) of the Careggi Hospital and then, find the permanent Center of Knowledge and Art (Osservatorio dei Saperi e delle Arte) exhibit space (to the left of the main entrance hall).

Illustration published in 1843 of a surgical blepharoplasty
Illustration published in 1843 of a surgical blepharoplasty

Whereas the anatomical wax models at Museo La Specola show the body in its perfect and healthy state, the creations at the Pathology Museum, from which curator Elisabetta Susani selected prime examples for Oltre il Corpo, L’uomo, are sometimes shocking representations of diseases that were treated in the 1800s. One of the most interesting is a the wax model side by side with the skeleton of a child with an incurable case of hydrocephalus.

1842 wax model of woman with ectropion of the eyelids
1842 wax model of a woman with ectropion of the eyelids

Look more closely and you find that the disease and the treatment are surprisingly modern. An example of this is a patient with ectropion (congenital or cancerous turning out of both upper and lower eyelids) who was treated with a surgical technique similar to one found today. The exhibit shows both the wax model of the diseased state and the surgical intervention, as well as the published illustration of the procedure.

If you are 3,000 miles away from Florence, you can see a video tour of the exhibit.

The Pathology Museum of Florence

The Pathology Museum was created in 1824 at the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, built in 1288 by the father of Dante’s muse Beatrice. It wasn’t until 1742 when there was a move to create a medical academy to formalize the sharing of information among doctors and scientists.

It took another eighty years to establish the Florentine Medical-Physical Society. One of the first acts of the Society was to set up a Pathological Museum. It was not a museum for the public, but rather a repository for information about the pathology and medical-surgical treatment of diseases.

Regulations for conducting autopsies in the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova were established. Each autopsy was to be presided over by the director of the Pathological Museum. The deceased patient’s clinical history was put on file. The diagnosis made by the patient’s doctor was to be compared with the results of the autopsy. The organs, removed by surgical procedures were consigned to the Museum. In cases where patients were cured, their doctors were required to send the Museum a report on their post-operative care.

Skeleton of child with hydrocephalus
Skeleton of child with hydrocephalus

Due to the difficulty of ensuring correct conservation of the pathological materials, it was decided to have some duplicates fabricated in wax. The Museum’s model-makers studied the techniques practiced in the other wax-modeling laboratory in Florence, La Specola.

Surprisingly realistic models were fabricated, providing a fascinating glimpse of the major pathologies in the 19th century. The collection of anatomical wax figures includes numerous wax reproductions, mainly the work of Giuseppe Ricci, Luigi Calamai and Egisto Tortori.

1865 wax model of woman with tubercular scrofula
1865 wax model of woman with tubercular scrofula

A remarkable example of symbiosis between science and art, the wax models were important, above all, for their value in teaching, allowing professors to illustrate the most important diseases to future physicians without having to depend the dissection of cadavers or the preservation of diseased organs.

The Museum attracted illustrious researchers in European medicine and resulted in the creation of one of the first Departments of Pathology in Europe, sited at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova.

The Institute of Pathological Anatomy and the Museum were moved to Careggi Hospital in 1959. At present, the Department of Human Pathology and Oncology, instituted in 2000, manages the Museum’s collections.

Osservatorio dei Saperi e delle Arti (OSA)

Address: Largo Brambilla 3, New Entrance of  Careggi Hospital

Take the #14 ATAF city bus to the stop half a block within sight of the Careggi Hospital entrance.

Open: Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm, Saturday 10am – 1pm (Free)

Ends: February 12, 2011

Dove Vai? – Uffizi Exhibit of Self-Portraits of “Invisible Women”

At the Uffizi Gallery’s free exhibition space, Sala delle Reali Poste, an exciting exhibit has just opened. Called Autoritratte: ‘Artiste di capriccioso e destrissimo ingegno’’  (Women Artists Self-Portraits: “Women artists of wit and great ingenuity”), offers a rare opportunity to view eighty of the museum’s historic collection of self-portraits that range from the 16th century to the late 1800s. The quotation in the title is from Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, in which he mentions only one woman, the 16th century sculptor Properzia de’Rossi, whom he praises for her inventiveness and technical skill in being able to carve the entire passion of Christ on a peach stone.

1790 "mirror" self-portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-LeBrun
1790 "mirror" self-portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-LeBrun

Many of the portraits on display at the Sala delle Reali Poste are from the Uffizi’s storerooms and have never been hung in the museum.

Starting with the “self in the mirror” style of portrait that women painted to dispel the notion that their paintings were “from the brush of a man and of high merit, rather than from that of a woman” (Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni), the exhibit moves in chronological order to encompass self-portraits executed in a variety of media.

British artist Lynne Curran's tapestry portrait in a box (2010)
British artist Lynne Curran's tapestry portrait in a box (2010)

Curator of the exhibition, Giovanna Giusti, director of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art at the Uffizi, has been preparing the show for the last three years. An interview with her in The Florentine sheds light on her choices and motivations.

Late 19th century Florentine ceramic of painter Angelica Kauffman
Late 19th century Florentine ceramic of British painter Angelica Kauffman

Jane Fortune, author of Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, tells us, “The Vasari Corridor … has a collection that includes 1,630 self portraits, yet only 400 are exhibited. The collection was started in the seventeenth century by Cardinal Leopoldo, and only 10 of the displayed works were created after 1900. Self portraiture, one of the most easily accessible themes for female painters, was a well-respected genre in Florence and many women have been honored by the coveted invitation to paint their own image for the Medici collection. However, only 6.5 percent of the works on display are by women, a statistic that translates into 27 exhibited works by 21 women.”

1968 serigraph by Nikki de Saint Phalle - Why Don't You Love Me?
1968 serigraph by Nikki de Saint Phalle - Why Don't You Love Me?

Giovanna Giusti made a special request of modern female artists to donate self-portraits to the exhibition, resulting in twenty self-portraits by women to be included forever in the Uffizi’s (Vasari Corridor) collection; including those by Vanessa Beecroft, Lynne Curran, Elisa Montessori, Patti Smith, and Tinca Stegovec. We can only hope that some of these will be hung in the Vasari Corridor after this exhibit

Elisa Montessori (Genova) with her self-portrait photo collage (1977)
Elisa Montessori (Genova) with her self-portrait photo collage (1977)

At the opening, both Italian artist, Elisa Montessori and Tinca Stegovec, a Slovenian graphic artist, were present and mingled with the over-flow crowd.

Curator Giovanna Giusti with Tinca Stegovec by two of the artist's works
Curator Giovanna Giusti with Tinca Stegovec by two of the artist's self-portraits

Autoritratte: Artiste ‘di capriccioso e destrissimo ingegno’

Reali Poste, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

December 15, 2010 to January 30, 2011

Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm; closed December 25 and January 1.

Free entrance.

Workshops for children on Mondays.

Self-portrait of Vanessa Beecroft and her adopted babies (2006)
Self-portrait of Vanessa Beecroft and her adopted babies (2006)

Dove Vai? – Travel To Italian World War II Sites with Anne Saunders

One of the joys of living in Italy is not only the chance to visit places where Renaissance artists, poets, dukes and popes wandered the same hallways and alleys, but to visit locations where no less dramatic, but much more recent history took place.

To Americans under 60 years of age World War II in Europe is often a vague set of facts found in a history book – a short chapter or two. Italy, like Normandy, provides a full semester’s course on the sociological background, politics, alliances, military strategies, and both tragic and victorious outcomes, especially from 1942 to 1945 – the Italian Campaign.

American Sicily-Rome WW II Cemetery at Anzio/Nettuno
American Sicily-Rome WW II Cemetery at Anzio/Nettuno has a special interest in the American Cemeteries, located at Anzio/Nettuno and Florence. So it is a pleasure to find that Anne Saunders, an American researcher, has compiled a guide to almost every location in Italy where one can undertake a full study of the history of World War II and the Italian Campaign.

Front Cover
Front Cover

A Travel Guide to World War II Sites in Italy describes and provides directions to over one hundred World War II museums, monuments, cemeteries and battlefields. The tours, with complete directions, travel times, maps and other helpful hints, focus on a particular city or region, following the Allied and German armies as they battled from southern to northern Italy.

American soldiers in battle Lucca (November 1944)
American soldiers in battle outside of Lucca (November 1944)

It might be more accurate to call this book “A Short History and Travel Guide of the Italian Campaign” because in this small volume (100 pages) Anne provides concise descriptions of the years leading up to Italy’s alliance with Germany, the Allied landing in Africa and Sicily, and the subsequent important battles and strategic decisions that led to the German surrender. Sections recounting the history lead into to description of the pertinent museums, cemeteries (American, Commonwealth, German, Polish, French and others), memorials and monuments.

Gothic Line near Lucca
Gothic Line near Lucca

I learned that the Gothic Line was built by forced labor and that I want to go immediately to see the dramatic mountainside German Military Cemetery at Traversa where more than 30,000 German soldiers are buried. My only quibble with Anne’s book is that she fails to describe the beautiful flower gardens in which the Commonwealth soldiers are buried – not on the outside of the plots, but actually around each tombstone, as if they lie in an English country garden forever.

Commonwealth Beach Head Cemetery in Anzio
Commonwealth Beach Head Cemetery in Anzio

Anne, a true researcher, provides an exhaustive bibliography and even a list of films about the Italian Campaign.  She also provides hotel and transportation suggestions. Archival WWII photos illustrate the guidebook. For more information regarding the Italian campaign, read about WWII Italy and/or visit Anne’s complete and informative online page of news and links.

Anne Saunders has a BA from Wellesley College, MA from Columbia University, and PhD from the University of South Carolina. She taught for over twenty years at the College of Charleston, where she is now a research associate. A lifelong fan of Italy, she spent four summers there doing research for the guidebook. I would like to know more about how she got the inspiration to undertake the years of travel and study that resulted in this informative and very helpful guide.

Connect to Anne’s Amazon Author Page. To view the book’s table of contents and selected pages, click on its Amazon web page. Visit where to buy for a list of stores and web vendors in the USA, Canada, the UK, Italy, and elsewhere.

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

Dove Vai? – The Laurentian Library by Michelangelo, Library # 6

The Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) in the cloister of the Church of San Lorenzo is not a library where the visitor to Florence can hang out in comfy chairs, but it is one of the most important libraries in Florence –  well worth a visit. The Laurentian was designed by Michelangelo and houses one of the largest neo-classical collections in the world. It is used today by scholars.

Stairway in the Vestibule of the Laurentian Library
Stairway in the Vestibule of the Laurentian Library

Designed by Michelangelo

The Laurentian Library was commissioned in 1523 by Giulio d’Medici, who became Pope Clement VII. Michelangelo came under intense pressure to work quickly; the correspondence between him and Pope Clement is said to be one of the most fascinating records of a creative dialogue between a 16th century patron and an architect.Construction began in 1525, but when Michelangelo left Florence in 1534, only the walls of the reading room were complete. Architects Tribolo and Ammannati continued the project, based on plans and verbal instructions from Michelangelo. The library opened in 1571 and is one of Michelangelo’s most important architectural achievements.

Reading Room
Reading Room

The vestibule, a large box-shaped entry (19.50 meters long, 20.30 meters wide, and 14.6 meters high), was built above existing monastic quarters with its entrance on the upper level of the cloisters. Originally, Michelangelo had planned for a skylight to allow more light into the Library’s entrance hall, but the Pope believed that it would cause the roof to leak, so a high band of windows was incorporated into the west wall. Solely for decorative purposes, blank tapering windows, framed in gray pietra serena, circumscribe the white interior of the vestibule, separated by paired columns set into the wall.

There may have been a carved wooden ceiling (matching that in the Reading Room) planned for the entry hall, but today the area is covered in a canvass painted to look like intricately carved wood.

Stairway designed by Michelangelo
Stairway designed by Michelangelo

The Stairway

The lower half of the vestibule is virtually filled with an out-sized staircase that announces the importance of the Library. This is the singular most popular part of the Library for most visitors – one of the most famous stairways in the world.

The planned design of the stairs changed dramatically over time. Originally in the first design (1524), two flights of stairs were placed against the side walls and formed a bridge in front of the reading room door. A year later the stairway was moved to the middle of the vestibule. Tribolo attempted to carry out this plan in 1550, but nothing was built. Ammannati then took on the challenge of interpreting Michelangelo’s ideas to the best of his ability using a small clay model, scanty material, and Michelangelo’s instructions. Reportedly, Michelangelo envisioned the stairs to be made of a dark wood, but the final construction incorporated fine-grained sandstone, pietra serena, quarried in Fiesole, near where Michelangelo lived as a small child.

Detail on Michelangelo's Stairway
Detail on Michelangelo's Stairway

The staircase leads up to the Reading Room and takes up half of the floor of the vestibule. The treads of the center flights are convex and vary in width, while the outer flights are straight. The three lowest steps of the central flight are wider and higher than the others, almost like concentric oval slabs. As the stairway descends, it divides into three flights. “The dynamic sculpture of the staircase appears to pour forth from the upper level like lava and compress the floor space of the vestibule.” (Fazio, et al. in Buildings Across Time)

Design for the Entry Door

Michelangelo created this sketch for the door between the vestibule and the Reading Room. One side of the original sketch shows the side of the door visible from inside the library, while the vestibule side is shown on the back of the page.

Sketch of Doorway into Library
Sketch of Doorway into Library

The door needed a blank panel above the opening for a dedicatory inscription on the vestibule side and this is shown in all the sketches. In the finished design, more space had to be found as Clement wanted a Latin inscription of between 100 and 140 letters (Twitter – inspired by Michelangelo and the Pope?).

The Reading Room

The long narrow Reading Room runs the full length of one side of San Lorenzo’s square cloister. There are two blocks of bench seats separated by a center aisle with the backs of each serving as desks for the benches behind them. At one time, large illuminated manuscripts were chained to the desks to discourage theft. The Reading Room is well lit by the stained-glass windows that run along the both walls. The newly restored windows display the crest of the Medici. The wide central aisle between the desks is made of large creamy white and burnished red terra cotta tiles in geometric designs.

Desk and Bench Combination
Desk and Bench Combination

Mid-way down the Reading Room, the desks on the right side are separated by a short walkway that ends at the entrance of a square, vaulted domed room, now used for conferences and meetings.

The Collection

The Laurentian Library houses one of the most important and prestigious collection of antique books in Italy. The humanistic interests of Cosimo de’ Medici (Cosimo the Elder) in the early 15th century led him to collect manuscripts from all over Europe, as well from Greece and the Middle East. His friendship with Niccolò Niccoli, with whom he shared a passion for collecting ancient manuscripts of the works of classical authors, resulted, in 1437, in the inheritance of most of Niccoli’s library.

Cosimo’s son Piero added more volumes and his grandson Lorenzo (the Magnificent) completed the collection with the acquisition of hundreds of Greek texts.

The library, although kept largely intact, weathered the trials and tribulations of the Medici family. In 1494, following the sentence of exile imposed on Lorenzo’s son Piero (the Unfortunate), and thus, the banishment from Florence of the whole of the Medici family; the library was confiscated by the city government and absorbed into the library of the San Marco monastery. In 1508, the collection was recovered by Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici (the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who later became Pope Leo X) who transferred it to Rome. His successor Clement VII (Giulio de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo’s brother Giuliano) brought the collection back to Florence in 1523 and immediately commissioned Michelangelo to design a library to house it.

Exhibit of health/diet books
Exhibit of health/diet books


Usually, there is a curated exhibit of historic books from the Laurentian Library on display in space adjacent to the Reading Room. The current show is Díaita. Le regole della salute nei manoscritti della Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (historical books about diet and the rules of health). Past exhibits have included monsters and fantastical creatures found in illuminated manuscripts and the historical “shapes” of  books, including papyrus and scrolls.

Laurentian Library

Address: Piazza S. Lorenzo, 9

Telephone: +39 055210760

Hours:  Monday through Saturday: 9.30am – 1.30pm

Closed: Sunday

Entrance: 3 euro

Current Exhibit:  February 13 to June 26, 2010

Web Site:

Tuscan Traveler’s Tale – Vasari Corridor is Open to All (Not!)

After three days, the reservation line reports all of the spots on the Percorso del Principe tours have been filled.  Tuscan Traveler suggests that such popularity calls for more tours on more days…

The Vasari Corridor, also known as the Percorso del Principe (Path of the Prince), is open to the general public until July 2010 on a limited schedule. A special part of the city’s historical heritage that has been under the control of few select guides and museum officials (often costing the visitor more than 100 euro for a short tour) has been declared open to all by the new mayor of Florence.

A Unique Opportunity

Visitors to Florence know that to miss the Uffizi, the Ponte Vecchio with its famous gold merchants, and the gaudy splendors of the Pitti Palace is to miss Florence’s best-known sites.

What many tourists do not know is that along this same sightseeing path they also have a unique opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Renaissance nobility. Here they can view a vast collection of paintings usually reserved for the pleasure of a select few. It is called the Vasari Corridor.

Vasari Corridor seen from the Uffizi Gallery
Vasari Corridor seen from the Uffizi Gallery

The Vasari Corridor is an aerial passageway that connects the Palazzo Vecchio on one side of the River Arno to the Palazzo Pitti on the other. It passes over roofs and bridge of the Ponte Vecchio, and through galleries, mansions and churches. At over 500 meters (.33 miles), it is the longest single passageway of paintings and portraits in the world.

In 2010, the Italian Cultural Ministry and the City of Florence, urged on by Mayor Renzi, created a special “Prince’s Itinerary”, Il Percorso del Principe, as a guided tour to introduce the public to the Vasari Corridor. Still relatively unknown, it is one of the most exceptional and, until recently, hidden treasures of Renaissance architecture and art.

Tour participants not only see a fabulous art collection, but also are shown a hidden route with unique views and unexpected secret glimpses of the classic Florentine cityscape while walking above the heads of tourists swarming the streets below.

History of the Corridor

In the 1540’s, Cosimo I, an enlightened despot who ruled Florence and all of Tuscany, lived with his Spanish wife Eleonora di Toledo and their children above the “shop” in the Palazzo Vecchio, the Florence City Hall. Eleonora was in charge of the family finances and disliked living in the Palazzo Vecchio. In 1549, she found a house she did want, and so purchased the Palazzo Pitti from the debt-encumbered Pitti family, rivals of the Medici clan. She had the palace remodeled and enlarged. The façade grew to over 670 feet in length, becoming the grandest of the Renaissance palaces and the seat of the Medici dynasty for the next 200 years.

View of the Corridor Crossing the Ponte Vecchio
View of the Corridor crossing atop the Ponte Vecchio

Eleonora moved her family out of the city hall, thus forcing Cosimo to commute almost half a mile through the city streets to the government offices. A man with many enemies and one who did not mix well with the general public, Cosimo had to travel with a contingent of bodyguards. Each day they had to traverse a narrow chaotic bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, which in the 1500’s was lined with malodorous tanneries and butcher shops.

Using the occasion of his son Francesco’s 1565 wedding to Joanna of Austria as an excuse, Cosimo commissioned his architect Giorgio Vasari to design an above-ground walkway from his home to the offices. Vasari, a true man of the Renaissance – architect, painter, author and art historian – took only six months to design and direct the building of the Corridor. Cosimo did not own all of the property between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti. Vasari thus had to get permission to build the Corridor through other people’s towers, mansions and businesses. When the Mannelli family refused permission for the corridor to pass through their tower, situated at the south end of the Ponte Vecchio, Vasari designed the passageway to be built around, but attached to, il torre dei Mannelli.

Spy windows allow the dukes to see out without being seen
Spy windows allow the dukes to see out without being seen

Cosimo claimed that the architectural wonder was for the amazement of the wedding guests and to remind the citizens of Florence of his power and authority, but he also gained an escape route from either home or office and a way to spy on the Florentines from above many of the busiest thoroughfares. The Corridor was also eventually used as a nursery for many generations of Medici children; and the elderly, infirm and lazy could be wheeled through the corridor in basket chairs. Apparently, however, the stench of the Ponte Vecchio remained a problem because in 1594, Cosimo’s son Fernando decreed that the butchers and tanners would be ousted and replaced by gold- and silversmiths.

The Tour

The Percorso del Principe Tour begins in the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio. It always numbers less than 20 participants and lasts about two hours. The tour group meets in the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, proceeds to the Hall of the Five Hundred, Il Salone dei Cinquecento, where an Italian-speaking guide presents a short history lesson regarding the Medici, the Palazzo Vecchio and the Vasari Corridor.

The itinerary includes parts of the Palazzo Vecchio Museum. Each group is escorted through a number of governmental chambers to Eleonora’s Green Room, La Camera Verde, in the former Medici family apartments on the second floor. From there the group crosses a short sky bridge, part of the original Corridor, over Via della Ninna, and enters the east wing of the Uffizi Gallery. Tour participants have a chance to examine only the east hallway of the Uffizi – the ticket does not allow for free re-entry into the Gallery that holds the largest collection of Italian medieval and Renaissance art in the world.

The main branch of the Vasari Corridor is entered via a doorway located at the beginning of the west corridor of the Uffizi. The passage drops down a long stairway flanked by paintings from the Medici collection and then traverses the top of the arcade on the north bank of the Arno, turns right over the shops on the Ponte Vecchio, and continues on through to the Boboli Gardens of the Palazzo Pitti. Visitors exit into the garden and can remain there for the rest of the day.

Arno River seen from Mussolini's windows
Arno River seen from Mussolini's windows

Small windows all along the Corridor provide excellent views of the river and the city. The best view is in the center of the Ponte Vecchio through two large sets of windows that look west down the Arno. These windows were not part on the original design, but were installed at the direction of Mussolini during World War II because Hitler and Mussolini wanted to look at the view while they held private meetings in the Corridor.

German dynamite damaged the Vasari Corridor
German dynamite damaged the Vasari Corridor

By some reports, Hitler’s fondness for the Corridor and the Ponte Vecchio spared both when the retreating Germans blew up all of the other bridges crossing the Arno as the Allies advanced on Florence in August 1944. The Corridor, however, was damaged by the dynamite set at the ends of the Ponte Vecchio to block passage over the Old Bridge.

Near the south bank of the river, the Corridor passes through the interior of the church of Santa Felicita. A Corridor window looks over the gray and white pietra serena interior of the chapel, and a door enters a high rear balcony, similar to an exclusive box at the opera, where the Medici family attended services in comfort and privacy.

The Medici's balcony inside Santa Felicita
The Medici's balcony inside Santa Felicita

Past the church, the tour ends in the Boboli Gardens, next to the elaborate grotto designed by Bountalenti in the 1580s. At the end of the tour, participants may remain in the massive Giordino di Boboli to explore its many acres of walkways and gardens. Laid out for Eleonora di Toledo by Niccolo Tribolo in 1550, it is one of the finest examples of an Italianate landscape design.

The Collection of Paintings and Portraits

The paintings in the Corridor are arranged in three major groups.

The first collection, which starts at the doorway from the Uffizi Gallery and ends as the Corridor turns on to the Ponte Vecchio, is a group of 17th and 18th century paintings by Italian and other European artists. Acquired by the Medici clan, Cardinal Leopoldo de’Medici at his death left a collection of 730 paintings, 318 sculptures, 1,245 drawings, 589 small portraits, and thousands of medals and other objet d’arte. A small portion of his collection is displayed in the Corridor, including a number of paintings from the school of Caravaggio. Notable among the first collection are pieces by Guido Reni, Gerrit van Honthorst, Empoli, and Guercino.

The Medici collection along the first hall of the Vasari Coridor
The Medici collection in the Vasari Coridor

Next, as the Corridor starts across the Ponte Vecchio, there is the world’s largest collection of self-portraits, arranged chronologically, of Italian and other European artists. Cardinal Leopoldo, inspired to start the series, collected over 80 portraits in the 17th century.  The set was then augmented by earlier pieces obtained by other members of the Medici family.  Still more were added throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries by artist donation and acquisition by the Uffizi.

Only a portion of the total collection of self-portraits is hung on the Corridor walls at any one time. Those now on display include Giorgio Vasari, Titian, Correggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Velasquez, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Antonio Canova, Delacroix, John Singer Sargent, and Carlo Levi. The last displayed, but not the last to reach the Gallery, is a self-portrait donated by Marc Chagall in 1976. A fake Leonardo da Vinci is also displayed – it was part of the Medici collection, but was found by x-ray to be painted over a 17th century Magdalene.

A special gallery - rarely seen
A special gallery - rarely seen

The last group of paintings, displayed in the Corridor where it turns toward the Boboli Gardens, is a collection of Medici and Hapsburg/Lorraine family portraits, many of them of the children. These give valuable insight into the attire and mannerisms of wealthy seventeenth and eighteenth century nobility.

Uncertain Future

Few tourists get to see the inside of the Vasari Corridor. The facility is frequently closed for months at a time, and the unique construction and length of the Corridor requires that tours must be undertaken in small groups guided by Uffizi personnel. There are ongoing discussions about whether the collection in the Corridor should be taken down and tours discontinued due to security and preservation concerns. Now there are rumors of a possible years-long restoration project planned for the corridor.

Details for the 2010 Tours

In 2010 until July 7, tours are available four times on Wednesdays (9:30, 11:30, 2, & 4), two times in the morning on Thurday (9:30 & 11:30) and two times in the afternoon on Fridays (2 & 4).

Tickets to the Percorso del Principe cost 19 euro and allow you to stay in the Boboli Garden at the end of the tour.

Tours are given only in Italian, but the viewing of the Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi hallways and the Vasari Corridor is so interesting it’s worth the wait as explanations are made to Italian-speaking visitors.

Reservations should be made well in advance by calling +39 055.294.883 or through the Florence museum web site  (The title of the tour is Percorso del Principe and the person taking your reservation will likely not understand if you say “Vasari Corridor”.)

If you are in Florence, tickets can be bought without reservation (if available) at the ticket office on the back of Orasanmichele on Via Calzaiouli or the ticket office at the Pitti Palace.  If you make a reservation in advance, you redeem it and purchase your tickets at Door # 2 at the Uffizi Gallery.

The tour group is requested to meet 15 minutes before the tour time at the “Percorso del Principe” sign in the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio

Dove Vai? – The Davanzati Palace: A Place to Escape the Crowds

Museo di Palazzo Davanzatti
Museo di Palazzo Davanzati

The Davanzati Palace Museum is finally – after over 15 years of restoration – open to the public and is well worth a visit. An added benefit is that the madding crowds of Florence haven’t found it  – yet.

The Palace, built by the Davizzi family around mid-14th century, was purchased in 1578 by the Davanzati family and remained in their possession until 1838, when it was divided into several separate apartments, causing severe damage to the mix of Medieval and Renaissance interior design.

In 1904, it was purchased, restored to its 14th century structure, and filled with 14th to 16th century furnishings by the antique dealer Elia Volpi, who opened it to the public in 1910 as Museum of the Old Florentine House. The contents of the museum kept changing because Volpi kept selling pieces of the collection, including virtually all of the contents in a controversial auction held in New York in 1916. (Volpi was sued, thereafter, for allegedly selling a fake Rubens and a fake Van Dyck – see the 1919 NY Times article.)

Main Staircase       (C. Keene)
Main Staircase (C. Keene)

Volpi sold the palazzo in the 1920s to two Egyptian brothers. In 1951, the Italian State purchased the empty building, restored and refurnished it and opened it once more to the public in 1956.

The Palace’s most important feature is its architectural structure, which represents a rare example of 13th century noble home, showing the transition stage from the medieval tower house to a grand Renaissance building. The original façade opened into a ground floor three-arch loggia (porch – now closed) and was used as a cantina and mercantile space. A 16th century loggia replaced the medieval battlements at the top of the building.

Courtyard Light
Courtyard Light

The interior courtyard gives access to the stone and wood staircase with rampant arches leading up to the four upper floors. There are large audience halls, dining rooms, bedrooms and agiamenti (toilets – a rarity in elegant houses of the period). All the rooms have floors in cotto and ceilings in wood. The walls of many of the rooms are decorated with frescoes and decorations that are quite popular in Florentine 13th century homes, representing curtains and coat of arms. The most beautiful rooms are the Sala dei Pappagalli (the Parrot Room) and the bedroom with scenes of the tale of the Lady of Vergi and her knight.

The present arrangement of the Museum reconstructs the setting of an old Florentine home, with furniture and household tools from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Bedrooms display ornate beds and linen chests, while the audience hall on the first floor exhibits a rare 16th century Sienese painted cabinet, a 15th centry painting showing the Game of Civettino and a marble bust of a child by Antonio Rossellino.

16th Century Bassinet     (C.Keene)
16th Century Cradle (C.Keene)

The kitchen on the third floor exhibits furniture and ordinary daily household items, together with working tools, like looms, warping machines and spinning wheels.

Included in a separate display is a very fine collection of lacework and samplers, ranging from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

The only disconcerting thing about a visit to this unique museum is that you cannot count of all four floors being open on any particular day at any specific time. Your four euro ticket may give you access to all four floors (a bargain) or it may only provide you a glimpse of the ground and first floor (interesting, but perhaps not worth the price).  It may help to ask before you buy your ticket. It may not.

The Parrot Room
The Parrot Room

Palazzo Davanzati

Address:  Via Porta Rossa 13 – Firenze – Tel. 055 2388610

Hours: Weekdays: 8.15 am – 1.50 pm; open second and fourth Monday of the month.

Holidays: 8.15 – 1.50 pm – open first, third and fifth Sunday of the month.

Closed on: the second and fourth Sunday of the month; the first, third and fifth Monday of every month. December 25, January 1, May 1

Entrance: 3 euro

Dove Vai? – Searching Venice for a Glass Mosquito

Tuscan Traveler took a brief sojourn in Venice with a very short wish list. The first priority was to eat as much great seafood as possible. That done, the search was on for the glass menagerie that includes tiny hand-made mosquitoes.

Tiger Mosquitoes by Bruno Amadi
Tiger Mosquitoes by Bruno Amadi

Bruno Amadi presides over a zoological garden of fragile plants, animals, fish, birds and frogs in a narrow back ally near the San Polo church. But the bugs are the best – a house fly so life-like you will want to swat it, mosquitoes balancing on spindly legs thinner than a human hair, and beetles in iridescent colors.

Mr. Amadi works with glass rods (lumi) and a flame to create his masterpieces. He first consults reference books and the National Geographic Magazine to assure that his creations are true to life. He will spend hours getting the spots on a Poison Dart Frog just right.

A Grasshopper Eyes a Sweet Pea Lunch
A Grasshopper Eyes a Sweet Pea Lunch

Venice is full of glass, but after you see the work of Bruno Amadi and almost pick up one of his pea pods to savor the spring sweetness, you will never be satisfied with fake ladybugs and seahorses seen in windows around every other corner.

Lume di Amadi

Address:  San Polo 2747, 30100 Venezia (Vaporetto Stop: San Sivestro)

Telephone:  +39 041.38.089

Hours: Mon. – Sat. 9am – 12:30pm, 3pm – 6pm (wise to call ahead)

Dove Vai? – Piazza del Capitolo, Library #5

Through a small ally the grand Piazza del Duomo, about half way along the south side of the cathedral, there  is a little square, Piazza del Capitolo, at one time known as Corte dei Visdomini for the noble family whose tower still stands near by. The Capitolo was (and is today) the Chapter of the Florence Duomo and has governed the actions of the priests, canons, provosts and other dignitaries of the cathedral and its predecessor church, Santa Reparata, since the before the 8th century.  Some say the Chapter goes back to Bishop Saint Zanobius in the 5th century.

Facade of San Piero Ciel D'oro - Inside the Capitolo Library
Façade of San Piero Ciel D'oro - Inside the Capitolo Library

In the tiny square there was an ancient parish church called San Piero Ciel D’oro, dating from the 8th century – long before the cathedral was conceived. After the building of the Duomo, the parish church was turned into a place of study. It was by decree of Pope Nicholas V (15th century) that Archbishop Saint Antonius Pierozzi created one of the first “public” libraries in Florence and placed it under the control of the Cathedral Chapter.

Illuminated manuscript from the 14th century
Illuminated manuscript from the 14th century

“This house of wisdom” as it is called in a Latin inscription over the doorway was used for meetings of the Cathedral Chapter and served as the Chapter’s archive. Documents show that the Chapter was very active in city government and in the powerful artistic and business guilds that virtually controlled Florence throughout the Renaissance.

Over 300 years old - archival books wait on open shelves
Over 300 years old - archival books wait on open shelves

The hegemony exercised by the Florentine upper classes on canonical appointments is clear in the frequent recurrence of noble family names such as Medici, Strozzi, Corsini and Albizi. Giovanni de’Medici (later Pope Leo X), was a member of the Cathedral Chapter.

A plaque in Latin, higher on the façade, recalls the visit to the Cathedral Chapter of Pope Pius VII, on June 1st 1815, on his way to Genoa to negotiate peace in Italy.

Today, the library contains 5, 500 books printed after 1500 and 85 manuscripts from earlier centuries. Most of the original books and documents have since been relocated. The library books first went to the Opera del Duomo and then, in 1778, the collection of many of the early manuscripts were transferred to the Laurentian Library and the printed volumes (post 1500) went to the Magliabechiana Library (now the National Library).

Dramatic sky fresco arches over the library reading room
Dramatic sky fresco arches over the library reading room

The library is used for research on religious and historical subjects. Letters of request and reference must be presented to use the facility.

Eye of Providence at the center of the ceiling fresco
Eye of Providence at the center of the ceiling fresco

But for the lucky few who are granted access, they will sit under a frescoed sky, watched by the all-seeing Eye of Providence.

Dove Vai? – Galileo First Editions at Biblioteca Biomedica, Library #4

The Year of Astronomy was celebrated in 2009 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s invention of the telescope. It was also a special opportunity to see the Florence Biomedical Library and its collection of first edition books published by the scientist, including the volume that brought him before the Inquisition.

Exhibition of Galileo First Editions at Florence's Biomendical Library
Exhibition of Galileo First Editions at Florence's Biomedical Library

The Biblioteca Biomedica is located in the Careggi Hospital complex. Galileo’s books came to the library from the collection stored at the ancient (built in 1288, but still in use) Santa Maria Nuova Hospital, located near the Duomo. It was a bit disconcerting to realize that over a million dollars worth of books and manuscripts were on such casual (though securely locked) display.

Galileo writes the handbook for his calculating compass
Galileo writes the handbook for his calculating compass

The oldest book I saw was the Operazioni del compasso. Written in Galileo’s workshop in Padua and printed in Bologna in 1609. Only 60 copies were printed. (One was just sold at auction for over $500,000.) Galileo may have issued the Operazioni del compasso in order to establish his sole priority as the inventor of the “geometrical and military compass,” a calculating and observation device that he had begun manufacturing in 1597. It was a mathematical device – a sort of calculating ruler based on the principle of proportional magnitudes – that brought speed and accuracy to computations about armaments and their trajectories. Galileo’s compass remained unsurpassed until the advent of the slide rule in the mid-nineteenth century. His pamphlet is the first published work on an analogue calculator. The success and popularity of Galileo’s instrument naturally made it attractive to imitators, and Galileo deliberately omitted any illustration of the compass in his treatise as a deterrent to unauthorized copying.

Discoursing with the Pisans over water displacement and other things
Discoursing with the Pisans over water displacement and other ideas

Galileo’s important (and unendingly titled) treatise on hydrostatics, Discorso al serenissimo Don Cosimo Il Gran Duca di Toscana intorno alle cose, che stanno in su l’acqua, o che in quella si muovono (“Discourse to the Serene Don Cosimo II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Concerning the Natation of Bodies Upon, Submersion in, the Water”). Written in 1612, the “Discourse” constituted Galileo’s first direct attack on Aristotelian science. Written in the context of an ongoing dispute on the nature of buoyancy between Galileo and a group of pro-Aristotelian Pisan professors, the Discourse on Bodies in Water represented an attempt by Galileo to transfer the dispute from a narrowly focused to a more general and systematic approach. In it Galileo refuted the Aristotelian view that a solid body’s ability to float is a function of its shape, demonstrating instead the truth of the Archimedean principle that flotation depends on the relative densities of the floating body and the fluid.

Galileo in dialogue with Copernicus and Ptolemy
Galileo in dialogue with Copernicus and Ptolemy

DIALOGO”, now known as the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo), written by Galileo in 1632, compared the Copernican system with the traditional Ptolemaic system. In the Copernican system the Earth and other planets orbit the Sun, while in the Ptolemaic system everything in the Universe circles around the Earth. The first edition at the Biomedical Library has a beautiful woodcut frontispiece of Galileo, Copernicus and Ptolomy discussing the universe. This was the book that, in part, led to Galileo’s Inquisition trial and subsequent excommunication by the Pope.

Galileo’s formal use of the term and title Dialogo allowed him to explore his Copernican theories fully within the rubric of the “equal and impartial discussion” required by Pope Urban VIII, thus getting around the initial scrutiny of the Inquisition, which, in fact, granted it a formal license to be printed, believing it to be a book discussing tides, not knowing that the subtitle would reference “two chief world systems”. (The name by which the work is now known is extracted from the subtitle.) The book was dedicated to Galileo’s patron, Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and was a bestseller.  The fact that so many copies went into circulation throughout Europe was its salvation because within a year Galileo was convicted of “grave suspicion of heresy”, and the Dialogo was then placed on the Vatican’s Index of Forbidden Books, from which it was not removed until 1835.

Biblioteca Biomedica

Viale Morgagni, 85 · 50124 Florence
Tel. 055.4598055, Fax 055.4221649

Director: Dr. Laura Vannucci