Tag Archives: Michelangelo

Dove Vai? – Florence is alive this week with Florens 2012

It seems like just yesterday that Florens 2010 brought a lawn to Piazza del Duomo and a full-sized David moved from place to place around Florence. For the second edition of this global cultural event, the city is graced with seventy olive trees forming a grove around the Baptistry and three historic crucifixes inside. Across town, the piazza in front of Santa Croce, as if by magic, has grown a cross of its own, made of tons of marble.

The grassy lawn, know as the Prato, was the hit of Florens 2010
The grassy lawn, know as the prato, was the hit of Florens 2010

The olive grove is best seen early in the morning or late at night when the fewest people are around. The trees are only a small part of Florens 2012. Every day this week there are lectures, bloggers, food and wine, all of which are described on the Florens 2012 website.

Dwarfed by the Baptistry and Duomo the forest of olive trees are obscure the people
Dwarfed by the Baptistry and the Duomo is a grove of olive trees (photo by F. Boni)

Many of the olive tree are over 100 years old. Those made up of three or four twisted trunks are really branches of a tree that survived the 1985 deep freeze that turned the Arno to ice.

Olive trees older than any of those who enjoy getting lost in the grove
Olive trees older than any of those who are lost in the grove (Photo by F. Boni)

Florens 2012 tries to mix the references to the Garden of Gethsemane with environmental concerns of today. Neither symbol comes to mind as you wander through the trees.

No olive hang from these carefully pruned trees (Photo by F. Boni)
No olives hang from these carefully pruned trees (Photo by F. Boni)

In 2010, the Prato was in honor of Saint Zanobi, but most people just enjoyed the rare feel of grass in this city of stone. These ancient pruned olive trees may only make you think of the drought-caused blight on the 2012 olive harvest and wonder about the high price a liter of extra virgin cold pressed oil will cost in January 2013.

As you move inside the Baptistry, the Garden of Gethsemane gives way to the crucifixion with never-before gathering of three wooden sculptures by Florence’s favorite sons – Donatello, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo.

The Mystery of the Cross inside the Bapistry
The Mystery of the Cross inside the Bapistry

The exposition is know as Mysterium Crucis or Mystery of the Cross. Florens 2012 casts its eyes back 1,700 years (only in Italy can you get away with that) to Emperor Constantine, who in October 312 (they are precise about the month and year) at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, saw a cross accompanied by the words in hoc signo vinces (in this sign you win). The curators ask you to bring your thoughts forward to the meaning of the cross today.

Brunellschi's Crucifix from the Gondi Chapel of Santa maria Novella (1415)
Brunelleschi's Crucifix from Santa Maria Novella (1415)

But you may just want to stop and think about the artists who, each in different decades of the 1400s, carved such masterworks out of wood. Each artist had a very different vision and style, but each was influenced by the iconography and customs of their time.

Michelangelo’s sculpture is the most shrouded in mystery. Supposedly carved for the prior of Santo Spirito, this 1492 crucifix, was rediscovered in 1962, but not attributed to the artist until 2001.

Michelangelo's Crucifix from Santo Spirito (1492)
Michelangelo's Crucifix from Santo Spirito (1492)

If art historians have it right, Michelangelo was still a teenager when her carved the crucifix hanging today in the Baptistry. The delicate carving is interesting in comparison to Donatello’s (1413), which was not appreciated by his contemporary, Brunlleschi, who thought the life-like face of Donatello’s Christ looked more like a peasant.

Crucifixes from 1412, 1415, and 1492 are together for the first time
Crucifixes from 1412, 1415, and 1492 are together for the first time

Moving on to the modern, you must walk across town to Piazza Santa Croce where Mimmo Paladino has hauled in tons of marble to create a cross of his own. This is a very interactive piece with people actually encouraged to write on the gorgeous marble’s creamy white face. Art in public spaces is a theme of this piece, although you might wonder how the gold leaf fluttering off one of the blocks is going to last out 24 hours.

Mimmo Paladino and his design for Piazza Santa Croce (Photo P. Avallone)
Paladino's design for Piazza Santa Croce (Photo by P. Avallone)

Paladino’s cross includes bronze pieces – body parts, large geometric shapes – as well as monumental carved pieces of stone that are attached to rough-hewn block of marble, seemingly just cut out of the hill-side in Carrara.

Kids are loving the artistry of climbing on Paladino's Cross (photo La Repubblica)
Kids are loving the artistry of climbing on Paladino's Cross (photo in LaRepubblicaFirenze.it )

Part of the public interaction is to scale the heights of these blocks. Only in Italy, it seems. In the U.S. there would be at least warning signs or signed releases-of-liability or, most probably, a high fence.

It is hard to see the design from ground level , but that is part of the fun (photo at Artour.com)
It is hard to see the design from ground level , but that is part of the fun (photo at Artribune.com)

Another aspect of the planned interactiveness involves a a stone cutter who goes around carving out the graffiti left by passers-by. The “I luv Mario” and “Forza Viola!” are now carved into the stone for perpetuity or at least until it is sanded down after the exhibit is removed from the piazza.

The final design by Mimmo Paladino in situ (photo by LaReppublicaFirenze.it)
The final design by Mimmo Paladino in situ (photo at LaRepubblicaFirenze.it)

The Santa Croce installation provides the most Kodak moments. It is also the event you will have wished you had seen from the moment the first stone arrived until the last one is removed on November 11, 2012.

Dove Vai? – Sketches by Leonardo and Michelangelo at the Uffizi

The Uffizi’s new exhibition, Figures, Memory, Space. Drawings from Fra Angelico to Leonardo, displays over 100 works by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Mantegna, Michelangelo and Titian. It shows how drawings were used to prepare for major paintings and frescoes and, later in the 15th century, how they became works of art in their own right, particularly with the arrival of print-making from northern Europe.

Labyrinth design heightens the experience
Labyrinth design heightens the experience

The Florence show, divided between two Uffizi locations, combines works from the British Museum’s collection and from that of the Uffizi. Last year it opened to rave reviews in London.

Fifty prints are on view in a free exhibit in the Reali Poste exhibition space off of the Uffizi courtyard. A simple labiranth was created so that each of the sketches can be viewed in its own space and also offers a sense of privacy to the viewer.

Sketches from the 15th century - practice makes perfect
Sketches from the 15th century - practice makes perfect

Alexandra M. Korey best describes the emotional experience of seeing the original sketches of Leonardo da Vinci for the first time and enumerates three reasons you must visit the Reali Poste exhibit. Read her post on arttrav.com.

Not Leonardo, but his teacher Verrocchio, sketched in 1475
Not Leonardo, but his teacher Verrocchio, sketched in 1475

In addition to the detailed and exquisite pictures of figures, limbs and drapery, there are fast, rough sketches by the likes of da Vinci who used pen and ink drawings as a way of brainstorming and arriving at ideas for major works, some of which you will remember from past visits to the Uffizi. “One can sense the excitement as their quills raced over the paper to keep pace with the flow of ideas,” said British Museum director Neil MacGregor about the London exhibition.

Leonardo Di Vinci's sketches of a baby and a cat
Leonardo da Vinci's sketches of a baby and a cat

Brian Sewell, British art critic and media personality, who analyzed the drawings and sketches that made up the British Museum exhibit in the ThisIsLondon blog of the London Evening Standard, wrote, “It is drawing that gives first substance to the idea in the mind’s eye.” A Leonardo da Vinci series of quick rough sketches caught his fancy – two of these, Baby with Cat and Woman, Baby and Cat, can be seen at the Reali Poste exhibit:

Consider Leonardo’s studies of The Virgin and Child with a Cat. A cat? Where did that come from? A cat had no emblematic place in the traditional iconography of such a votive subject — a lamb perhaps, a bullfinch too, even two cherries on a bifurcated stalk to symbolise Christ’s testicles and his wholeness as a mortal man — but not a cat. Leonardo must have seen a cat squirming in the arms of a child, in turn in the arms of a kneeling girl, and recognised in the complication of the momentary torsions of three very different bodies a subject as difficult to pin down as the swirling waters of a whitewater river. The pen cannot move as rapidly as the model, nor record as swiftly as the eye and memory, and everywhere there are overdrawings and corrections. We cannot determine which of the five studies was first to develop on the sheet — they were probably all preceded by eight studies on another double-sided sheet — for it is only with the introduction of the Virgin that we sense the composition of a painting forming in Leonardo’s mind, a composition that in still other sheets developed into an arch-topped panel that in closely confining the energy of the group enhances it. The painting, alas, was never executed, and the drawings now act as records of what might have been. In the beginning was the line and in this case that must be enough.

Michelangelo 1495 pen and ink drawing - The Philosopher
Michelangelo 1495 ink drawing - The Philosopher

Most of the works on display were never intended for public exhibition although today they would be considered masterpieces. A drawing by Raphael for a work commissioned by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, sold in December 2009 for $47.9 million at Christie’s, a world record for any work on paper.

The excellent signage of Figures, Memory, Space. Drawings from Fra Angelico to Leonardo, both Italian and English, describes how the invention of paper, a cheaper alternative to vellum, was key to drawing’s development and distribution. The ever-expanding trade with the Far East is said to have changed the tools and colors of inks, the black, gray, red and white lead, silverpoint, metalpoint, the stylus, chalks, charcoal, and watercolors.

The Reali Poste opens into the courtyard of the Uffizi
The Reali Poste opens into the courtyard of the Uffizi

Once you have enjoyed the free view of 50 incredible designs dating from the 14th to 16th centuries, you can pay 15 euro for a reserved ticket to the Uffizi. Half-way up the arduous stairs to the main gallery, you can pause for breath and view more than 50 more in the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe on the Uffizi’s first floor, including prints that the Londoners did not get too see because they are deemed too precious to leave the gallery.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Graffiti, Then and Now

Graffiti is known worldwide, but word itself has nothing to do with scrawls on walls. In Italy, the words sgraffito and sgraffiti come from the Italian word sgraffiare (“to scratch”), ultimately from the Greek γράφειν (gráphein), meaning “to write”.

Graffiti, the bane of all modern cities in the form of spray paint, in its original sense refers to marks scratched onto a surface with a tapered point. The graffito technique has been used since prehistoric times. Decades ago, my father showed me graffito animals, birds and people carved on the tufa cave walls in northern New Mexico. But in Florence, starting in the 1400s, it was a technique of wall design, where the top layer of pigment or colored plaster is scratched through to reveal an underlying layer.

Elaborate 16th century graffiti on Bianca Cappello's house
Elaborate 16th century graffiti on Bianca Cappello's house

“The historian and artist Giorgio Vasari recorded the graffito technique step by step. First, one paints the wall of a palazzo with a layer of lime plaster, coloured with burnt herbs or other dark pigments. Once the first layer is dry, another is painted on, this time of white plaster, distributed uniformly. On top of this second layer are laid punched-out designs, or stencils, which are reproduced on the wall with powdered charcoal (referred to as tecnica dello spolvero in Italian). A tapered awl is then used to trace the resulting pattern on the wall, cutting through the layer of white plaster to reveal the darker, underlying layer. Thus, by using the same colours as a palazzo’s frescos, the graffito designs could be used to add shadow and depth to the overall decoration.” (FirenzeTurismo.it)

Allegorical graffiti on the façade of Palazzo Ramirez de Montalvo
Allegorical graffiti on the façade of Palazzo Ramirez de Montalvo

My favorite examples of historic graffiti in Florence were created during the second half of the 16th century, when the graffito technique was used to design Mannerist allegories incorporating grotesque (meaning in the style of the “grotto”) designs and figures. These are still partially visible on the façade of the Palazzo Ramirez de Montalvo in Borgo degli Albizi and fully realized on the House of Bianca Cappello (grotesque sgraffito decoration by Bernardino Poccetti, 1566) on Via Maggio.

When using the term graffiti to mean defacing buildings, Michelangelo has the dubious pleasure of allegedly being one of the first famous graffiti artists – not with paint, but in the caveman version of scratching a design with a sharp point. On the corner of the Palazzo Vecchio, the one nearest to the Uffizi Gallery, any visitor to Florence can find a carving of a man’s face.

Did Micheangelo deface the front of the Palazzo Vecchio?
Did Micheangelo deface the front of the Palazzo Vecchio?

There is more than one version of the story, but the artistry is attributed only to Michelangelo. One version states that ever willing to take a dare, and supremely confident, Michelangelo turned his back, carving free-hand without looking, into the pietra serena of the city hall’s wall, he etched his own profile into the stone. Another variation has it that he carved blindly the likeness of a personal foe, so that Florentines would never forget the man’s face.

Sanctioned graffiti for OPEN YOUR EYES TO Comics DAY
Sanctioned graffiti for OPEN YOUR EYES TO Comics DAY

Last week, a one-day comics festival, OPEN YOUR EYES TO Comics DAY, came to Florence. Via del Corso was decorated with four modern graffiti wall decorations – sanctioned by the mayor. These were not scratched into walls, but painted on to wallboard. They won’t last 400 years, but they are better than the scourge that defiles most of Florence’s walls.

To be continued …

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: www.bml.firenze.sbn.it