Tag Archives: Uffizi

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Mud Angels, Then and Now

Two days after the devastating Florence Flood, November 4, 1966, the twenty-foot torrent that swept through the city was gone, but the piazzas, streets, churches homes, and businesses were buried in mud, naphthalene heating oil, mountains of waste, household goods, wrecked cars and even farm animals that had been swept down the valley. There was no potable water or electricity. Food was in short supply because most of the stores, including the massive Mercato Centrale had been flooded.

Level of the flood water (photo:playingintheworldgame.wordpress.com)
Level of the flood water (photo:playingintheworldgame.wordpress.com)

The federal government was slow to act, but first the Florentines pulled together in solidarity, neighbor helping neighbor, and then as news of the enormity of the disaster spread, volunteers arrived from the neighboring hill towns. The stream of helpers soon became another kind of flood with thousands of people coming from every region of Italy, western Europe and America, pulled by the catastrophic loss of the historic and artistic patrimony of Florence, but also to support the Florentines in their time of greatest need.

Those that came were mostly young, in their teens, twenties and thirties. They filled the hostels and pensiones and even slept in rows of sleeping bags at the train station. With an extraordinary spirit of sacrifice this youthful multi-lingual army shoveled away tons of mud, wiped sticky oil off of marble statues, rescued sodden books, and distributed food and water. Thousands of young people dedicated their time to recover from the mud paintings, books, frescoes, carvings, statues and other works of art.

Mud Angels at rest in 1966
Mud Angels at rest in 1966

They went without warm showers, heated rooms, clean clothes and hot food. Because of their dedication and solidarity they were named “Gli Angeli del Fango” (The Angels of the Mud). The name was apt also because mud was a constant companion at work, while asleep and at meals.

As Robert Clark wrote in his book Dark Water:

“You could call them volunteers, except they hadn’t volunteered or been recruited: they’d simply appeared as though from thin air and set to work.

“It was always cold and always damp where they worked, and often where they ate and slept. There was, of course, a surfeit of Chianti dispensed from immense demijohns just as there was limitless talk and laughter. People fell in love: with art; with one another; with themselves, because how often did you get to be a hero, much less an angel.”

Edward Kennedy in Florence after the 1966 flood
Edward Kennedy in Florence after the 1966 flood

Senator Edward M. Kennedy said in 1966:

“I remember that I was in Geneva at a conference on refugees and I wanted to see what had occurred, so I flew in to Florence for the day. I got to the library about 5 PM and I looked down into the flooded area. There was no electricity and massive candles had been set up to provide the necessary light to rescue the books.

“It was terribly cold and yet I saw students up to their waists in water. They had formed a line to pass along the books so that they could be retrieved from the water and then handed on to a safer area to have preservatives put on them. Everywhere I looked in the great main reading room, there were hundreds and hundreds of young people who had all gathered to help.

“It was as if they knew that this flooding of the library was putting their soul at risk. I found it incredibly inspiring to see this younger generation  all united in this vital effort. It reminded me of the young people in the United States who responded with the same determination as they became involved in the civil rights movement.

“I was still shivering as I boarded the plane that took me back to Geneva, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the impressive solemnity of that scene – of all those students, oblivious to the biting cold and the muddy water, quietly concentrating on saving books in the flickering candlelight. I will never forget it.”

Angelli del Fango in Genoa (photo: http://italia-24news.it)
Angeli del Fango in Genoa in 2014 (photo: http://italia-24news.it)

“[It] was the international community that worked to try to save Florence, this unique patrimony that belonged to the whole world,” said Mario Primicerio, former mayor of Florence on the 30th anniversary of the Florence Flood.

Cleaning up in Genoa (photo: unionesarda.it)
Cleaning up in Genoa (photo: unionesarda.it)

The fall of 2014 has been one of the wettest on record throughout northern Italy. The Arno is rising, but the cities that have seen the worst floods are Genoa and Massa Carrara. Genoa now in the eye of the storm is where a new generation of Mud Angels is coming to the aid of the port city.

Mud Angels in Massa Carrara (photo: lanazione.it)
Mud Angels in Massa Carrara (photo: lanazione.it)

Each day more Mud Angels are joining the struggle in the Liguria region. Most are high school and university students living in Genoa, but they are also from Eastern Europe and Africa and Italy.

Unlike the word-of-mouth organization of the Angeli del Fango of 1966, the modern angels are using social media, Facebook and Twitter, to put out the word about where the needs are greatest. As the rain moves east the Mud Angels will be helping  in the hamlets and towns along the Po Valley. The spirit of world’s youth is answering the call of people in distress and once again they are saving great works of artistic and historical significance.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – The Monument to a Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Twenty Years Ago A Terrorist Bomb Shook Florence

The Uffizi Is Targeted By A Terrorist Bomb

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.

Today an olive tree marks the place where the bomb detonated in 1993
Today an olive tree stands where the bomb detonated in 1993

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.

Apartment of the Nencioni family
Apartment of the Nencioni family

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.

Damage in the Uffizi Gallery from the bomb blast
Damage in the Uffizi Gallery from the bomb blast

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).

Sketch of Roberto Barni's memorial statue
Sketch of Roberto Barni's memorial statue

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.

Terrorist Bomb 5/27/93The 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.

Words by anti-mafia prosecutor Govanni Falcone on Georgofili olive tree
Words by anti-mafia prosecutor Govanni Falcone on Georgofili olive tree

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.

Terrorist Bomb 5/27/93It 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.

Terrorist Bomb 5/27/93D’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.

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.