It has been 90 years since Salvatore Ferragamo left the U.S. to return to Italy to find the master craftsmen to realize his unique designs for high quality handmade shoes. His company is marking this milestone with an exhibition at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum, called 1927 – The Return to Italy.
The Ferragamo Museum is one of the most creative in the world. This exhibit, curated by Carlo Sisi and designed by Maurizio Balò, sends visitors inside the Roma, the transatlantic ocean liner sailing from the United States to Italy in the 1920s, which carried Salvatore back to Italy. The exhibition seeks to convey the artistic and manufacturing atmosphere of Florence in 1927.
Salvatore Ferragamo was born in 1898 in Bonito, near Naples, the eleventh of 14 children. After making his first pair of shoes at age nine, for his sisters to wear on their confirmation, young Salvatore decided that he had found his calling. He always had a passion for shoes. After studying shoemaking in Naples for a year, Ferragamo opened a small store based in his parent’s home. In 1914, at age 16, he emigrated to Boston (in the belly of a much rougher ship than the Roma), where one of his brothers worked in a shoe factory.
After a brief stint at the factory, Ferragamo convinced his brothers to move to California, first Santa Barbara then Hollywood. It was here that Ferragamo found success, initially opening a shop for repair and made-to-measure shoes, which soon became prized items among celebrities of the day, leading to a long period of designing footwear for the cinema. However, his thriving reputation as ‘Shoemaker to the Stars‘ only partially satisfied him. He could not fathom why his shoes were so beautiful yet hurt the foot, so he proceeded to study anatomy at the University of Southern California.
After spending thirteen years in the United States, Ferragamo returned to Italy on the Roma in 1927, this time settling in Florence, where he began to fashion shoes for the wealthiest and most influential women of the century with a workshop of Florentine shoemakers.
The exhibition fills eight rooms that recall the inside of the ship, where visitors can learn of Salvatore’s influences in artwork by Giovanni Colacicchi, Mino Maccari, Alberto Martini, Thayaht, Giò Ponti, Rosai, Balla and Fortunato Depero, as well as various pieces from Florentine ceramic manufacturer Richard-Ginori. As always, a film was created especially for the show.
The exhibition, as described by the curator, “explores the various elements of Italy’s 20th century visual culture, taking from it the themes and works of art that directly influenced or indirectly informed the poetics of Ferragamo’s creations without overlooking the many cultural and social aspects that characterized the post-WWI period up to the eve of the Fascist regime’s authoritarian rise.” Along with the display of shoes there are the elegant artistic garments of the 20s and 30s and unique designs of printed fabric from the era, as well as finely crafted artistic objects, photographs and advertisements.
A new Salvatore Ferragamo Creations 1927 Capsule Collection was launched in conjunction with the opening of the new exhibition 1927 The Return to Italy at the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo. The six-piece capsule collection, $1,090 to $2,900, reproduces original Salvatore Ferragamo designs from this period.
One of the most famous British legends is that of King Arthur and the sword in the stone, first found in Robert de Boron’s Merlin in the late 12th century. According to the various versions of the story, the sword could only be pulled out of the stone by the true king of England.
A similar, much less well-known, story of an earlier date, can be found originating from the Italian region of Tuscany. It has been suggested by some that the Italian tale was inspiration for the British legend. This is the sword in the stone of San Galgano.
Galgano Guidotti was born in 1148 in the small town of Chiusdino, Italy in the province of Siena. This strong blond boy reportedly wanted to be a knight and save the maiden. But though he became a knight, trained in the art of war, he was said to be arrogant and vicious and rather than saving the maiden, he broke many a heart. His mother Dionisia stepped in and found him a fiancée. But still he terrorized the region.
One day, Archangel Michael appeared to him, showed him the way to salvation in Montesiepi, an uninhabited ridge, near his hometown. The next day Sir Galgano announced that he was going to become a hermit and took up residence in a cave. He was reportedly ridiculed by friends and relatives for his choice. They thought he had gone mad. His mother asked him to get rid of the ragged clothes, dress as befitted his station and, at least, go and say goodbye to his fiancée, perhaps thinking he would change his mind once he had seen the maiden again.
Being an obedient Italian son, he complied. Along the way, his horse threw him and Archangel Michael stepped in again and raised him up, directing his feet back to Montesiepi. The archangel directed his gaze to the top of the hill where he saw a vision of a round temple with Jesus and Mary surrounded by the Apostles; then the angel told him to climb the hill and the vision faded. When he reached the top, Archangel Michael bade him to renounce worldly pleasures.
Galgano stated that giving up his riches and his fiancée would be as hard as splitting a rock, illustrating his point by attempting to plunge his sword into a large stone. The sword reported slid through the solid rock, where it remains today in the Rotonda di Montesiepi.
Another version of the story is that Galgano was convinced that his vision deserved a symbolic act; he decided to plant a cross. Since he had no way to make one of wood, he planted his sword in the ground. The earth solidified into stone and the sword could not be removed.
Galgano never left the hill again. Locals and visitors said that he lived in poverty, accompanied by wild animals, as well as the local farmers, who came to talk and ask his blessing. Others came to be followers of Galgano as religious monks. One day an assassin, disguised as a monk (some say he was sent by the Devil) came to kill Galgano; the wolves that lived with Galgano killed the man and gnawed at his bones. We know this because the bones of the murderous soul lie in a reliquary near the tomb of Galgano.
One year later, after the attempted killing, Galgano the Religious Hermit died (1181). The funeral was reportedly attended by bishops and three Cistercian abbots. The next year the Bishop of Volterra gave Montesiepi to the Cistercian monks to build a shrine to Galgano’s memory. They began building in 1185, erecting a beautifully unique round temple (Rotonda di Montesiepi) over the purported tomb (also where Galgano’s hermit’s hut was located) and where the sword remained in the stone. (Most of Galgano’s monkish followers in life left, scattered over Tuscany, becoming Augustinian hermits.) The Rotonda di Montesiepican be visited today.
San Galgano is reported to be the first saint whose canonization was conducted through a formal process by the Catholic Church. Consequently, much of San Galgano’s life is known through the documents of his canonization, which was carried out in 1185, just a few years after his death. Nineteen miracles were recorded as part of the canonization process.
After Galgano’s death his scalp reportedly continued to grow blond curls to the amazement of the faithful. The miraculous head was placed in a reliquary in a side chapel, and the chewed bones of the arms of the assassin in another. The crowds of pilgrims who came, hoping for more miracles or to be healed of some malady, were so numerous that the Cistercians were authorized to build another monastery, named after San Galgano, a short distance away.
By 1220 a large Cistercian abbey was built below Galgano’s hermitage. This sect claimed him as a Cistercian saint. It was one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings of Italy. The monastery became powerful, with monks from San Galgano appointed to high offices throughout Tuscany, becoming absentee caretakers of the monastery and temple.
The Abbey knew 100 years of great prosperity until 1364, then followed a slow decline. Eventually a local lord removed and sold the lead supporting the roofs of both the round temple and the abbey in 1548. The temple roof survived, but the roof of the abbey collapsed. When a local noble stopped to visit a century later, he found grass in the nave, and just one monk, dressed in rags.
The Pope suppressed the abbey in the early 1700s and declared the round temple to be a parish church. The round chapel still stands, containing both the sword in the stone and the gnawed forearms of the would be assassin. The walls of the abbey are also still standing, and it is a hauntingly beautiful place at all hours of the day.
For centuries, the sword in the stone was commonly believed to be a modern fake. Relatively recent research, however, has shown that the sword is indeed from the 12th century, based on the composition of the metal and the style of the sword. The researchers also discovered, with the aid of ground-penetrating radar, that there is a cavity measuring two meters by one meter beneath the sword, perhaps containing the body of San Galgano. Lastly, carbon dating of the other curiosity of the chapel – a pair of desiccated arms and hands, confirmed that they are also from the 12th century.
The head of San Galgano has also had an interesting afterlife. First, a intricate medieval reliquary was created for the miraculous cranium. It is now displayed – empty – in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Siena. As Cristina Amberti, the best tour guide in Siena and the province, asserts, “It is a real masterpiece.”
But Cristina goes on to inform us that the skull of San Galgano is now contained in a reliquary in the San Michele church (Prepositura di San Michele Arcangelo) in Chiusdino. This evocative reliquary was created in 1977 by goldsmith Bino Bini. The modern reliquary is made in embossed silver designed to recall the rock into which the saint thrusted his sword.
Cristina adds another touring note: There is a chapel attached to the Rotonda di Montesiepi with frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, painted in 1340 with scenes from San Galgano’s life. Lorenzetti was one one the greatest Sienese masters of Medieval art, the one responsible for the world famous Allegory of Good and Bad Government. The San Galgano frescoes were detached last year and moved to the Museum of the Santa Maria della Scala Hospital in Siena, across from the Duomo, where they are now being restored by the famed restauratoreMassimo Gavazzi.
Find Cristina Amberti on Facebook and at SienaTours. Tuscan Traveler recommends that you take a tour with her to understand Siena and its history to the fullest.
Florence’s cathedral museum, known officially as Museo dell’ Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (Museum of the Works of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), hosts the world’s largest collection of Florentine Medieval and Renaissance sculpture. It reopened to the public on October 29, just in time for Pope Francis’s visit, after an expansion and renovation project lasting two years. The 45 million euro project was funded by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, and was design by Adolfo Natalini and Guicciardini & Magni Architects.
The museum is the anchor for what is known as Il Grande Museo del Duomo, which also includes the Duomo, the Campanile (Giotto’s Bell Tower), the Cupola (Brunelleschi’s Dome), the Baptistry, and the Crypt.
Inside the Museum
Known more simply as the Opera del Duomo or Duomo Museum, it now contains over 750 marble, bronze and silver sculptures and reliefs, including works by Michelangelo, Donatello, Arnolfo di Cambio, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Andrea Pisano, Antonio del Pollaiolo, Luca della Robbia and Andrea del Verrocchio, among others.
The museum displays the original artworks that have been removed from their positions from the façades of the Duomo, Bell Tower, and Baptistry (thereafter replaced by copies) or taken out of daily liturgical use, either for conservation or modernization.
New displays effectively highlight Donatello’s Maddalena, sculpted in wood; the original bronze doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Florence Baptistry, known as the “Doors of Paradise”; Michelangelo’s unfinished Pietà; and 27 silk and gold embroidered panels designed by Antonio del Pollaiolo.
The Gallery of Brunelleschi’s Dome (1418–36), on the first floor, is one of the most educational highlights of the museum, housing 15th century wooden models including one attributed to Brunelleschi himself, period materials and the tools used to build the dome. The gallery also contains two large wooden models of the Lantern and of the Dome and video provides a virtual view of the building of the edifice.
Because the space of the museum doubled in the new renovation, visitors can also see many works previously held in museum storage, including forty 14th and 15th century statues and fragments of the cathedral’s original medieval façade, which are effectively displayed on a full-sized model made of resin and marble dust of the version designed by Arnolfo di Cambio (1296) that was subsequently destroyed in the 16th century and replaced in 1887 by the present façade. The new Duomo Museum project was under creative direction by Monsignor Timothy Verdon. He is reported saying that the biggest problem was “how to exhibit more than 100 fragments of the cathedral’s lost medieval facade, dismantled in 1586-87, forty statues, many monumental in scale, and some sixty architectural elements”. The medieval façade was rebuilt on the basis of an extant 16th century drawing. The grand room is entitled Salone del Paradiso.
Michelangelo’s Pietà used to be displayed in a small niche room off a stairway in the old museum. Now it has its own room, the Tribuna di Michelangelo. This was Michelangelo’s next-to-last sculpture that, according to contemporary sources, “he meant to adorn the altar near which he expected to be buried in a Roman church. Begun around 1546-1547, the Pietà was abandoned at the end of 1555, when Michelangelo mutilated it: a destructive act due to the elderly master’s frustration at finding flaws in the marble block. Pieced back together, the work was acquired in 1671 by Cosimo III de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and placed in the crypt of the Basilica of San Lorenzo; in 1721 it was transferred to the Duomo and set opposite the Holy Sacrament altar.” (museumflorence.com)
American Director of the Museum
Monsignor Timothy Verdon was born in the United States (Weehawken, NJ, 1946). He is an art historian with a Ph.D. from Yale University.
His first interest in Italian art started as a teenager with visits to the New York City Metropolitan Museum. His first visit to Italy was a trip to Venice at the age of 18. He planned to immerse himself in Renaissance art and based his future studies on the use of iconography in Renaissance and Medieval art.
He has lived in Italy for 47 years and since 1994 has been a Roman Catholic priest in Florence, where he directs both the Diocesan Office of Sacred Art and Church Cultural Heritage and the Cathedral Foundation Museum (Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore).
Author of books and articles on sacred art in Italian and English and has been a Consultant to the Vatican Commission for Church Cultural Heritage and a Fellow of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Villa I Tatti), and currently teaches in the Florence Program of Stanford University.
Monsignor Verdon’s decisions to make this not only a museum containing the past, but to use the communication tools of the present, served to create one of the most relevant museums in Italy for visitors of all ages and interests.
The combined ticket for the Baptistry, Bell Tower, Dome, Crypt and museum is €15 (Children 6 to 11, €3; under 6, free). Entry to the cathedral is free.
Getting to view the collection of the Museo Bellini, located along the Arno in Florence, takes a bit of work. To understand its history, having some understanding of Italian helps. But for a new experience, a tour through the Bellini collection is as memorable, as it is fun.
To get in, you start by phoning or ringing the bell. Then make an appointment for a tour and turn up at the appointed time. The fee of 15 euro gets you three visits within a year.
As you walk in to the entry hall a mishmash of the ancient and the modern might make you wonder what is ahead. As you climb the stairs you are transported back to the early 20th century when Luigi Bellini, Sr. controlled the collection. It was the practice of antiquarians (Bardini, Contini, Volpi, Romano, Stibbert, Horne) to create “homes” filled with art that they might sell or trade or from which they couldn’t bear to be parted. The Bellini collection has this feel—fourteen rooms of a Renaissance home, but with a few touches that are medieval.
The visitor will find here a fresco of the school of Giotto, a bust by Donatello, a portrait by Tintoretto, a Della Robbia Madonna, a bronze by Giambologna, Ceramic from Xanto Avelli Rovigo, a Gothic tapestry, carved-wood Sansovino chest (armadio). Just when you have caught your breath the small doors enclosing a Fra Angelico gold-leafed Madonna are opened. There are ancient tables and chairs, a 19th century couch Luigi Sr. deemed “too modern”, statues, fountains, vases, minature bronzes, reliquies, carpets, and last but not least, a collection of crowns. Even if you don’t understand a word of Italian, the tour is fascinating.
Some say that this passion for collecting and selling started in Ferrara with Vincenzo Bellini (1708-1783), who after twenty years as a priest, developed an obsession for ancient coins. He was one of the most illustrous numismatists of his time, even selling coin collections to Austrian Emperor Francis I. His son, Vitaliano, expanded the business into antiques and his grandson Giuseppe moved to Florence and eventually became an antiquarian with a store on Via della Spada.
A few generations later the most well-known antiquarian in the family, Luigi Bellini Sr. (1884-1957) was born in Impruneta. At nineteen he took off for New York to make an international name for himself, bringing clients back to the gallery in Florence. In the 1920s, he moved the business to a more impressive location on Lungarno Soderini, where the museum is today. He needed more room for both his business and his collection.
“You start as an antique dealer and end up being a collector without realizing that the germ of antiquity has infected you, it debilitates and consumes you and you will never recover. It is worse than tuberculosis,” he wrote in his autobiography.
A decade later, in 1931, he acted on his interest in contemporary art by opening a gallery with a couple of partners in Palazzo Spini-Feroni (home of the Museo Ferragamo, which has included pieces from the Bellini collection in its new exhibit). The gallery opened with an exhibition dedicated to the sculptor Arturo Martini and the painter Primo Conti. This venture did not last the test of time.
Following the war, Luigi Sr. concentrated on antiquities and rebuilding the city. He was instrumental in the reconstruction of the Ponte Santa Trinita “as it was and where it was”, by setting up an committee chaired by Bernard Berenson, the famed American art critic. They obtained substantial contribution for the reconstruction of the bridge, which had been dynamited by German troops, from wealthy American bankers. (Bellini’s own building on Lugarno Solderini sustained severe damage when the Carraia Bridge was also blown up.)
Four years before his death, Luigi was the prime organizer of the 1953 national exhibition of antiques held in Florence at Palazzo Strozzi. It was the precursor of the present Biennial Exhibition of Antiques held regularly at the Palazzo Corsini across the river from Museo Bellini.
The Bellini Museum and Gallery, 2015
Luigi Sr.’s grandson, Prof. Luigi Bellini, Jr., and his great-grandaughter Sveva are still active in the Biennial Exhibition, as well as other projects, including Luigi Jr.’s 2004 exhibition entitled “Bellini Collection Presents the Renaissance of Florence” at the Museum of Imperial Ming Nanjing in China. This was the first exhibition at the Imperial Museum to showcase western art.
For the past 130 years the Bellini collectors have shared a desire to live the past while at the same time be present in the modern life of Florence. Through the status symbol of their collection and the role of protector of the past, they strengthened their relationship with the nobility of the city while becoming acknowledged experts in private collecting choices and exhibition content.
Lugi Sr., who controlled the collection between the first part of the 20th century, was known to believe anything created after the 1800s was too modern to be part of his private universe, but he was happy to support and advise the exhibits at Palazzo Spini-Feroni, which highlighted the works of Giorgio de Chirico, Mario Sironi, and Filippo de Pisis. Today Sveva Bellini produces exhibitions in the ground-floor exhibitions space introducing the most modern of Italian artists. The present exhibit with free entry, on display until June 4, is called Woodenkammer: Ogni Forma é Nella Natura.
Sveva, however, does not disturb the evocative collection on the primo piano of the the palazzo that invokes the passion of her great-grandfather, and generations before him, with rooms of ancient artworks styled in homage to earlier centuries. The masterpieces, the everyday objects and the walls and stairs are history revived, reaching into the present.
In the wake of the tragic 1966 flood of Florence, then-curator of Florentine museums Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti put out a call for Italian and international artists to donate art to replace the masterpieces that had been lost in the flood. As part of this campaign, the City of Florence accepted hundreds of notable works by artists from all over the world.
Thirty-two were by female artists including those whose donations have now been recently restored: Antonietta Raphael Mafai, Amalia Ciardi Duprè, Carla Accardi and Titina Maselli. This restoration project, sponsored by the Advancing Women Artists Foundation (AWA) in collaboration with the Musei Civici Fiorentini, was led by Dr. Antonella Nesi, curator of Florence’s 20th century Civic Collections, and undertaken by Florentine restorer Rossella Lari.
After decades in storage, these and other works collected at Ragghianti’s behest have found a home at the newly-opened Museo Novecento in Florence. The 20th century art in Florence finally got scholarly and popular attention in 2014, first with the opening of the new museum dedicated to this period, and then at the end of September with a temporary exhibition at the Galleria di Arte Moderna at Palazzo Pitti called ‘Spotlight on the XX Century’ (Luci sul ‘900).
AWA has also agreed to restore a total of 28 paintings and sculptures to be exhibited at the Museo Novecento in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the flood.
As part of a project to safeguard and promote a hidden part of Florence’s heritage, the Advancing Women Artists Foundation has also published a new book about the female artists whose art forms part of the Florentine Civic Collections. The book by Linda Falcone and Jane Fortune, When the World Answered: Florence, Women Artists and the 1966 Flood, published in October 2014 by The Florentine Press, provides additional and timely insight into this period.
With this book, the team continues Jane Fortune’s quest to bring to light Florence’s “hidden” female artists. Her book Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, which became the basis of an Emmy-award winning PBS documentary, sought out examples from the Renaissance through the Early Modern period.
With When the World Answered, they wondered if 20th century Florence continued to be a powerhouse for female talent and what prompted the “Flood Ladies” to donate their art to Florence.
In four years of research and writing, interviewing surviving “Flood Ladies” and their families, Falcone and Fortune discovered women whose contributions to Futurism, Magic Realism and Abstractionism in Italy are worthy of in-depth study. This book tells the stories of 23 of these women artists because “their stories must be salvaged along with their art if we are one day to understand the true significance of their contributions.”
On October 21, the Museo Novecento will be hosting a premiere event for the living artists and their family members, with the book’s authors, top museum executives and Vice Mayor Cristina Giachi.
The public event is scheduled for Wednesday October 22, 2014, at 6:30pm when the authors will present their book at the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (via Orsanmichele 4, Firenze), a venue that has supported women artists since Artemisia Gentileschi became its first female member in 1616. After the talk, attendees will be invited to visit the headquarters of this prestigious institution. The event is free and open to the public with registration at the following link: floodladies-talk.eventbrite.it
To enhance the connection between the flood, women artists and the City of Florence, The Florentine, licensed guide Alexandra Lawrence and the Advancing Women Artists Foundation will be offering a series of guided walks. On Saturday October 25 at 10am, the group will meet at Santa Croce and walk towards Le Murate, visiting and talking about some of the important spaces and artworks affected by the flood of 1966.
Saturday November 8 at 10am there will be a visit to the Museo Novecento focusing particularly on the newly restored works by female artists.
Both walks cost 33 euro including guide and book, plus museum entrance fees. To reserve, please contact Alexandra Lawrence at email@example.com.
For more information, contact: The Florentine Press, Alexandra Korey, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: +39 055 2306616
Advancing Women Artists Foundation (AWA),Linda Falcone, Director, email@example.com.
Recently, a photograph from the 1850s in Florence was posted online. It’s one of my favorite photos of the Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore, and it got me thinking once again about the wedding cake façade of the cathedral because once upon a time it looked like this.
I always tell people that even though the Duomo was finished in the 1400s, the ornate façade wasn’t added until the late 1800s. The way I put it is: In the 1400s they held a competition for the design of the façade and nobody won … and then they ran out of money and then one hundred years passed … and then another century and then another and four-hundred years later, Florence was going to be the capital of the new Italian state and they couldn’t have an ugly Duomo, so they held a competition … and nobody won … so they put a committee together and came up with the present façade that everybody, except for architectural purists, loves.
But I wasn’t completely sure this was absolutely accurate. I decided to dig around in my library and online.
The façade of the Cathedral in pink, white and green marble, the statues, rose windows, mosaics and cusps of Gothic inspiration is the fruit of the historic and romantic taste of the architect, Emilio de Fabris (1808-1883), who, until his death, designed and directed the construction that went on for a decade (1876-1886) with input from several architects who had attempted to produce acceptable earlier designs, among them Giovanni Silvestri (1822), Nicola Matas di Ancona (1842) (who just finished the design of the façade of Santa Croce), and Gian Giorgio Muller (1843-44).
The 19th century project was the second façade for the Duomo. The first only covered the bottom third of the front exterior wall of the cathedral. It was conceived by Arnolfo di Cambio and left unfinished at his death (circa 1302-1310). We can get an idea of what Arnolfo’s façade looked like from a drawing by Bernardino Poccetti found in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. Poccetti’s sketch was created in 1587, when the decision was made to dismantle Arnolfo’s half-finished façade and substitute it with a more complete and modern one.
Between 1302 and 1587, there was another attempt to clothe the front of the cathedral. In 1490, the cathedral was declared to be in unsound condition. In the records of the Woolmaker’s Guild, which was responsible for the Duomo’s original construction, is a notice that the design for the original façade was contrary to all architectural rules and orders. The authorities resolved on its reconstruction. This decision was zealously supported by the most influential citizen of the day, Lorenzo de’ Medici. A meeting to consider the matter was convened within the cathedral itself, but, though many eminent artists attended, the discussion ended without coming to a satisfactory conclusion.
The first competition for its completion was announced in 1491, but the jury put off choosing the winner because they did not find any of the presented projects particularly convincing. In one of the upper floors of the Museo Opera del Duomo there are various models and architectural drawings proposed for the new façade to replace the one by Arnolfo.
The façade was left in its unfinished state until the reign of the Grand Duke Francesco I (1575-1587). Finally, the Gothic façade of Arnolfo was torn off in 1587. The court architect Bernardo Buontalenti proposed that the Medici Grand Duke undertake the project by including it in the program intended to modernize the city that had already been started in Vasari’s time. Buontalenti took part in the 1586 competition with a model of classical Baroque inspiration, which we are probably lucky was not carried out. Other participants in the competition included the sculptor Giambologna and Don Giovanni Medici (1566-1621), the illegitimate son of Cosimo I and Eleonora degli Albizzi (he was the architect of the Chapel of the Princes in San Lorenzo).
As part of the removal process, some of the original marble Arnolfo elements were integrated into the new flooring that was being laid in the interior of Santa Maria del Fiore. A few statues were transported out of Italy and ended up in museums in France and England. But most of the sculptural elements and statues were stored inside the Opera del Duomo, later converted into the present Museum.
These statues can still be seen today in a room on the ground floor. Five were sculpted by Arnolfo himself: St. Zanobus, St. Reparata, the Madonna and Child (1296) with unusual glass eyes, the Madonna of the Nativity and the interesting Pope Boniface VIII, a solidly constructed sculpture whose partial rigidity seems to emphasize the impression of power and authority of the personage. (Dante would have argued against the inclusion of the hated Pope who he reserved a place in the eighth circle of hell in the the Inferno.)
The 1586 competition resulted in no decision, no construction.
A new competition was held in 1633, this time won by the Academy of Fine Arts. The execution was entrusted to the Opera del Duomo’s architect, Gherardo Silvani. The first stone was laid in 1636, but two years later everything was suspended because of the fierce criticism of the project by Silvani himself, who had also unsuccessfully presented a model of his own in the 1633 competition. At this time there was also some sort of scandal that erupted over the project. The new unfinished façade was condemned and removed.
In 1689, on the marriage of Prince Ferdinando, the second son of the Grand Duke Cosimo III, with Duchess Violante Beatrice of Bavaria, the rubble and cement on the front of the cathedral were covered with a coating of paint, representing columns and other architectural decorations. These eventually faded away, worn by time and weather, over the hundred and sixty years that passed before the Cathedral project was revived.
In 1843 Nicola Matas di Ancona proposed a design for the façade. Other architects argued for their own designs. In 1859 a new competition was held. Politics intervened and another competition was commenced in 1861. The judges were dissatisfied with all of the proposals. In 1863, another competition was held. In 1865, the year Florence became the capital of Italy, a new panel of judges awarded the prize to Emilio de Fabris.
But, subsequent discussion rendered that decision null and void.
Another competition was called for. This time, the panel was chaired by Pietro Salvatico. He liked Emilio de Fabris’s design, but wanted some changes. A bit of back and forth ensued and in 1876, five years after the capital of Italy moved to Rome, the work on the present façade of the Duomo began. Ten years later, it was completed.
Then the critics began to weigh in, viewing the design and execution as those that would be expected from a committee, which attempted a modern concept while having to incorporate four hundred years of architectural history in the design. Architectural purists may not like the Duomo’s façade, but most of us are in awe every time we see it.
When a Florentine speaks of anything which was destined never to be completed, he would compare it to the cathedral, “La non sarà; già l’opera di Santa Maria del Fiore.” (“It will never be finished; yes, indeed, like the works of Santa Maria del Fiore.”)
Firenze Card vs. Amici degli Uffizi Pass Revisited
Attention: Effective as of June 15, 2015, the Regional Secretary of the former Superintendency of the State Museums of Florence stipulated that Amici deli Uffizi members, holding valid membership and ID cards, are eligible for the free entrance and the priority pass to the Uffizi Gallery only. This severely limits the benefits of the card.
It allows me to return again and again to my favorite museums (i.e. re-entry).
The organization uses the money to restore art and to promote free exhibitions of art not usually seen in Florence museums.
It has a family offer that allows families with up to two adults and two children under the age of 18 to get cards for a total of 100 euro. The definition of “family” is inclusive so grandparents and grandchildren, multiple generations, and couples of all sorts can qualify.
But then I slowly came to see the value of the 50 euro (no family plan) Firenze Card for my clients and visitors because:
It is accepted by twice as many museums (state- and city-run). This includes the Galileo Museum, Palazzo Strozzi and the Palazzo Vecchio.
It has a Wi-Fi card that works at most spots around the city.
It is accepted as a city bus pass.
I did not like these aspects of the Firenze Card:
It expires after 72 hours.
It does not allow re-entry into a museum.
I could only see the value for people who were in town for three or four days, no longer.
I even did the math to see who should get a Firenze Card and who should get the Amici deli Uffizi Pass.
HOWEVER, two things happened in May/June that changed my mind.
First, the city raised the cost of the Firenze Card to 72 euro, but still no discount for children or elders (except minors and over 65ers with EU passports) and no family plan.
Second, the Italian state government decreed that all of the world’s children under the age of 18 have the right to enter the state-owned museums (Uffizi, Accademia, and Bargello, among others) for free. (If you are over 65 and have a U.S. passport, apparently you still have to pay full price.)
I think 72 euro for 72 hours is much too expensive for the number of museums a normal person can fit into three days (this does not include my friend Barbara, who is normal, but who could get her money’s worth). To just break-even you would have to see the the three most expensive museums – Uffizi, Accademia, and Strozzi – as well as the Bargello, Galileo, Palazzo Vecchio, Brancacci Chapel, Museo San Marco and at least two of the museums in the Pitti Palace. (To be fair, if I add the cost of the reservations to the Uffizi and the Accademia (4 euro each) because you get in with the Card just as fast as those with reservations, then you can cut off one museum to break-even with the card.) This includes my assumption that “free” bus rides and “free” WiFi are basically worthless to the three-day visitor to Florence.
If you have kids with you (even teenagers, or especially teenagers) you are probably only going to visit the Uffizi and the Accademia on a three day visit. Since those tickets are free, you do not need to buy a Firenze Card for them. But should the parents get a 72 euro Firenze Card? The question that I can not find an answer for is: If the parents have a Firenze Card, can their kids skip the line with them or do the children need a reservation? (The museums still charge 4 euro per child for the reservations.)
Presently, I think families should get the Amici deli Uffizi Card (for a family of four the math works out to 25 euro per person with no questions about reservations). Individuals who love to power through museums, only have three days in Florence, and hate to pay their hotel 9 euro a day for WiFi should get the Firenze Card.
But What About The Duomo?
Just to make it a bit more confusing this summer, the Opera del Duomo decided that they wanted to “simplify” the ticketing process for the the various sites at the Duomo. The so-called Grande Museo del Duomo was created in July (always fun to try out a new system in the middle of the high tourist season). Now you do not have a choice of paying only to climb the dome. Instead, you have to buy a 10 euro ticket that includes entry to Galleria dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (the museum), Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, Baptistry of San Giovanni, and the Crypt of Santa Reparata (inside the cathedral).
Entry for the cathedral itself is still free and the Grande Museo del Duomo ticket does not get you through the line any faster.
Holders of the Firenze Card do have free entry to the Grande Museo del Duomo, but must stop by the ticket office for a pass to enter the venues. Holders of the Amici degli Uffizi Pass must pay to get into the sites in Piazza del Duomo (except the free entry to the cathedral).
Ticket offices are another change at the Duomo. If you want to climb Brunelleschi’s Dome you do not get into line at the north door until you buy the ticket at one of the four ticket offices (bell tower, crypt, museum, or in the “Art & Congress” building across from the entry door of the Baptistry (very poor signage, but good bathrooms for a fee).
One final note: The Galleria dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (the museum behind the Duomo) is virtually closed until 2015 (the ticket office is open). The only exhibits on display are the original Ghiberti “Doors of Paradise” from the Baptistry and the “Deposition” by Michelangelo, as well as a couple of lesser-known statues, one of which was damaged by a guy from Connecticut a couple of weeks ago. I wish they would add the “Mary Magdalene” by Donatello to the small collection, but maybe there is not enough space to protect the statue.
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).
“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.)
“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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
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.
In 2011, President Napolitano came to commemorate a plaque on the wall of the Accademia dei Georgofili with the names of the victims inscribed.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Twenty years ago, a little more than one hour after midnight, May 27, 1993, a massive explosion echoed throughout Florence. It was a true case of domestic terrorism.
A stolen white Fiat Fiorino van, loaded with explosives, was driven into the city center and parked under the Torre dei Pulci in Via dei Georgofili. The car bomb (280 kilograms of Pentrite and T4 (both components of Semtex) mixed with a small quantity of TNT) was detonated blasting a crater ten feet wide and six feet deep. Fragments of metal debris landed as far away as Via dei Calzaiuoli.
The terrorists were the members Cosa Nostra in Sicily. This was an act of intimidation.
The explosion killed five people: municipal police inspector Fabrizio Nencioni; his wife Angela, the live-in custodian at the Accademia dei Georgofili; their daughters, nine-year-old Nadia and seven-week-old Caterina; and a 22-year-old architecture student Dario Capolicchio, who lived in a nearby apartment. Another 33 people were hospitalized for injuries.
To the mafia the dead were just ancillary damage. The Uffizi Gallery was the main target of the blast. The structural damage to the museum cost more than a million dollars to repair. Although the reinforced window glass of the museum shattered, it protected most of the artworks from the full force of the blast. Three paintings were completely destroyed, thirty-three others were damaged and three statues were broken.
The damage was far greater to the fifteenth-century Torre dei Pulci, home since 1933 to the Accademia dei Georgofili, established in 1735, the world’s first learned society of agronomy and scientific agriculture. The building imploded and crumbled to the ground, completely destroying the apartment of the Nencioni family. Over one thousand of the Accademia’s 40,000 rare books, manuscripts and historic archives were irretrievably lost.
The Florentines pulled together as they had after the extensive damage in World War II and the Arno Flood in 1966. A month later a memorial for the dead filled the Piazza della Signoria where the orchestra and chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino played in concert. It took three years to reopen the Accademia dei Georgofili. Work on parts of the Uffizi Gallery and the Vasari Corridor took much longer.
This year, on May 26, the twentieth anniversary brings a number of events and presentations about the events in the early morning of May 27, 1993, including the presentation of a permanent memorial to the victims, a statue by sculptor Roberto Barni, commissioned by the Friends of Florence, the Associazione tra i Familiari delle Vittime della Strage di Via dei Georgofili, and the Uffizi Gallery organizations. The sculpture is called I Passi d’Oro (The Golden Steps).
Domestic Terror Planned and Carried Out By the Mafia
The attack on the Uffizi and Accademia dei Georgofili bore similarities to a bomb targeting anti-mafia campaigner and television host (The Maurizio Costanzo Show) Maurizio Costanzo, which had exploded in the fashionable Roman neighborhood of Parioli 13 days earlier, injuring 23 people.
The Cosa Nostra’s involvement in the bombing was confirmed a month later, in July 1993, when three bombs were detonated, almost simultaneously: one in Milan (at the Pavilion of Contemporary Art, where five people died) and two in Rome (at the cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano and at the church of San Giorgio in Velabro).
Evidence was soon found suggesting that the bombs were placed by Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian organized crime syndicate. These terrorist attacks were meant not only to deter, by way of warning, its members from turning state’s witness, but also to force the over-ruling of Art. 41 (bis) of the Penitentiary Law of August 1992, which imposed harsh living conditions on prisoners, especially those accused of being members of mafia organizations, severely curtailing their contact with those outside prison.
After the arrest of mafia boss Totò Riina from Corleone in January 1993, the remaining bosses, among them Giuseppe Graviano, Matteo Messina Denaro, Giovanni Brusca, Leoluca Bagarella, Antonino Gioè and Gioacchino La Barbera came together a few times (often in the Santa Flavia area in Bagheria, on an estate owned by the mafioso Leonardo Greco). They decided on a strategy to force the Italian state to retreat in its pressure on the Cosa Nostra. The Graviano brothers were seen as the organizers of the operation, in particular to select the men who would carry out the bombings.
It was nearly ten years before some of the perpetrators were brought to justice. In 2002, for ordering the bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan, bosses Giuseppe and Filippo Graviano each received a life sentence for the bombings. For their part, Leoluca Bagarella, Totò Riina, Bernardo Provenzano and Matteo Messina Denaro (still a fugitive), along with another ten members of the clan were also sentenced to life imprisonment.
Finally, this month, two decades after the horrific acts, Sicilian fisherman Cosimo D’Amato, 68, was sentenced to life imprisonment for supplying explosives for Mafia massacres in Rome, Florence and Milan. He was convicted on testimony from a former mafia member Gaspare Spatuzza. Police say that D’Amato recovered large amounts of TNT, later used in several mafia bombings, from World War II remains he found in the sea. D’Amato is related to other members of the mafia involved in the Falcone and Borsellino slayings.
D’Amato is also being probed for a role in supplying the dynamite used in a massive explosion that killed anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca, and three bodyguards in May 1992. That explosion occurred on the motorway near the town of Capaci near Sicily’s regional capital. Falcone is considered a national hero. The 21st anniversary of Falcone’s murder was marked with ceremonies in Palermo Thursday.