Archive for May, 2011


Posted in Cimabue, City Views, Drawings by Bonnie Hull, Duccio, Florence, Gentile da Fabriano, Giotto, Tuscany-Cortona Tour 2011, Uffizi Gallery, Uncategorized, Willamette University Tuscany Program on May 21, 2011 by rphull

On Day 8 of our tour, we shift our base of operations from Cortona on the hill to Florence in the valley of the Arno River, which flows through the city:

Thomas Cole, in his painting of 1837, seems to show just two bridges spanning the Arno, but now there are several more.  The most famous is an old one, the Ponte Vecchio, which is lined with shops selling silver, gold, and jewelry.

Florence is a remarkable city rich in art and history, an Italian crown jewel, and I am pleased that this year’s version of the AHI Tuscany program has us spending three nights in this stylish cultural center, with its centerpiece being  Brunelleschi’s monumental dome of Florence Cathedral:

On the hillside, probably not quite in view in the photo above, is the town of Fiesole, like Cortona originally an Etruscan settlement.  As we arrive, we will have lunch in Fiesole, which offers spectacular views down over Florence:

As Leon Battista Alberti pointed out in the 15th century, that dome really carries.

We will stay at the Grand Hotel Baglioni, once the palace of the Baglioni family, located near the center of Florence:

Here it is by day.  As you can see, it is just a few piazzas from the Cathedral:

(In the lower right hand corner of this photo is the whitish facade of what I believe is the Hotel Universo, where the Florence Program that Adele Birnbaum and I used to lead was headquartered in later years.  The Grand Baglioni is, well, grander . . . .)

From another Florence Program hotel, Bonnie drew this view of the city and we used it for years on the cover of our course readings:

We check into the Grand Baglioni at 2:00, and at 3:00 we split into two groups and head in different directions (the next day, the two groups will exchange itineraries).  One group will go with a guide to the Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David and his so-called Prisoners, intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II but left unfinished (or ARE they unfinished?  There’s debate about that: to modern eyes they seem powerfully expressive in their current state):

It’s the David that truly astonishes, though: He’s HUGE and, of course, grandly nude:

When Michelangelo carved this noble guy, the sculpture was intended for a buttress high up on Florence Cathedral, from where David would oversee and protect the city.  By popular demand, the work was placed instead in the Piazza della Signoria where people could get a better look at him.  He resided in the piazza for generations before being moved into the Accademia in the 19th century (there’s a copy is in the piazza now).

While one group is visiting the Accademia and additional sites, the other group will visit the Uffizi Gallery with me.  For Italian Renaissance painting, the Uffizi is THE world’s greatest museum.  The magnificent collection was assembled by several generations of the Medici family; in addition, over time, important altarpieces located in churches were moved to the Uffizi for protection.

We will walk to the Uffizi, probably passing through Piazza della Signoria . . .

. . . where you can see the copy of David to the left, and a portion of the Uffizi Gallery through the arch of the loggia (now a sort of open air sculpture court).

The Uffizi is a long U-shaped building, designed by the painter, architect, and “first art historian,” Giorgio Vasari, in the 16th century:

This view has us in the U, looking back toward the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria.  That green silhouette figure is more or less blocking our view of the David copy.  Behind us is the River Arno.

The main galleries are on the top floor of the building, in this arrangement:

The tan section is a marbled hallway with windows overlooking the “piazzale” that the building forms; the green sections are the gallery rooms.  From point D, you can look out on the Arno; G is a roof-top cafe, where a recuperative cappuccino may be required.

Some months ago, I sent you all a link to a Google site of a virtual tour of the Uffizi.  Here’s the link again:

If you fiddle around a little bit with this site, you can “enter” all the galleries and view all the works.   Believe me, we will not have the place to ourselves, as the Google photographer apparently did.  We will be amid throngs of art lovers.  BUT–we will be equipped with our “Whispers,” our earphones that will allow you to hear my commentary on selected works (or turn off my commentary if Madonna Fatigue should happen to set in).

We will take the steps or the elevator (both are available) to the top floor.  As we move into the first gallery, we will come face to face with Giotto’s grandly solemn All Saints Madonna (1305-1310):

I will always remember the first time I came upon this work, during Bonnie’s and my first trip to Florence in 1972.  The painting is so big, luminous, and clear in its forms that it really makes an impression, especially since it’s the very first work we encounter.

And Giotto’s madonna is not alone in the room.  She is flanked on the left by the Rucellai Madonna (1280-1285) by the Sienese painter Duccio:

And to the right of the Giotto is another big Madonna panel (1285-1290), painted by Cimabue when he returned to Florence from Assisi (where he did the fresco of the Madonna and Saint Francis):

All three of these Madonnas once resided in Florentine Churches: the Giotto in the Church of Ognisanti (All Saints), the Duccio in the church of  Santa Maria Novella, and the Cimbue in the church of Santa Trinita.  They presided over their own holy spaces.  Gathered together in one room of the Uffizi, they form a kind of summit of grandly monumental women.  They gaze at us solemnly and unflinchingly.  They are serious beings.

We will talk about these impressive figures for a few minutes, before moving on to other delights, including Gentile da Fabriano’s ornate altarpiece depicting the Adoration of the Magi (the adoration of the kings who traveled far to visit Mary and the new-born baby Jesus).  On the first Florence Program, in 1979  (as seen in this photo by our friend Linnea Patrick) Professor Jim Hand and I discussed the piece while the Willamette student Leslie Kinyon took a look at it as well:

It’s mighty clear that people change significantly in the course of thirty years, but art (cared for properly) endures.  When we visit the Uffizi, I will look different but the painting will not.  As the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates stated: Ars longa, vita brevis (usually translated as:  “Art is long, life is short”).  Gentile’s altarpiece (1423) is truly gorgeous, and we will linger over it for a few minutes–while we can!

OK, Travelers: This might be the last post on ITALIANHOURS before departure.  Maybe there will be one more, but in any event Bonnie and I look forward to meeting up with you all in Cortona in just a little over a week.  And don’t forget. Italy is the land of many things, including:




Siena and Florence

Posted in Art, City Views, Florence, Gordon Moran, Palazzo Publico, Siena, Simone Martini, Tuscany-Cortona Tour 2011, Uncategorized, Willamette University Tuscany Program on May 19, 2011 by rphull

A couple of dangling Siena matters:

First of all, I provided the wrong name for our excellent Siena guide in 2008.  Her real name is Dontatella Grilli:

I was informed of this by the art historian Gordon Moran, who knows Siena well and happened to come upon our last ITALIANHOURS post.  At the end of his message, he wrote:  “PS.  In one of your photos, you describe a Sienese guide as Gabriella.  At the same time, she looks very much like Dontatella Grilli.”  We are talking diplomacy and tact in phrasing here, and I appreciate the corrected information very much.

Gordon Moran is a central figure in the debate over the traditional attribution of the equestrian painting of Guido Riccio da Fogliano to Simone Martini.  Here is an image of that painting, as a reminder of which one it is.  The painting is a fresco on the end wall of the council chamber in the Palazzo Publico in Siena.

And here is a closer view of the military man himself:

Mr. Moran is firmly of the belief that this is not a work by Simone Martini, despite what all the textbooks say, and he kindly sent us the link to an English translation of a recent essay that explores some of the reasons why he thinks it isn’t:

Here is the link to another essay, this one by Moran himself and a colleague, on the matter:

I think you will find it interesting to read over one or both of these pieces, as they reflect the nature of art history as a scholarly discipline.  Our approach is much more general, of course, but it is important to realize that the “truths” of art history are the result of debate and reassessment and that some works of art may attain their status on the basis of misunderstanding and misinformation.

By way of review, the equestrian painting, at one end of a long room, faces Simone Martini’s Maesta on the opposite wall:

About this quite glorious painting, there seems to be no doubt that it is a work genuinely by Martini.

Both paintings are in the Siena city hall, the Palazzo Publico, seen here from a different angle than we saw before.  Walking in Siena, one has the impression that there are no cars around, but as you can see, there are a few tucked in here and there.

The major form on the Siena skyline is the tower of the Palazzo Publico . . .

. . . whereas in Florence, the dominant skyline shape is the dome of Florence Cathedral:

It’s on to Florence that we go on the eighth day of our trip, leaving behind the lovely hill towns and moving to a city that occupies both banks of a river, the famous Arno, flowing through a valley.

The English-born American painter Thomas Cole documented Florence in this tranquil, somewhat elegaic painting of 1837.  He shows the same buildings on the horizon that we see today:

On the left is the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio (counterpart to Siena’s Palazzo Publico).  The smaller red dome at center is part of the Church of San Lorenzo.  The tall white tower is the campanile or bell tower of Florence Cathedral, and the big dome is on the Cathedral itself.  This dome is the engineering feat of the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who oversaw its construction in the 1420s.  It’s like a great inflated balloon floating over the city, visible from miles around.

As the Humanist Leon Battista Alberti wrote some years later:  “Who could ever be hard or envious enough to fail to praise [Brunelleschi] the architect on seeing here such a large structure, rising above the skies, ample to cover with its shadow all the Tuscan people . . . .” (Prologue, On Painting).

More on our Florence visit in two upcoming posts.  I’ll have to hurry, though, as departure day is imminent!


Siena: The Palazzo Publico

Posted in Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Art, City Views, Duccio's Maesta, Siena, Simone Martini, Tuscany-Cortona Tour 2011, Uncategorized, Willamette University Tuscany Program on May 2, 2011 by rphull

In the last post, we took a look at Duccio’s Maesta (1308-1311), his enormous altarpiece of many panels that, in its original form, was an elaborately framed, two-sided work–perhaps the most glorious single artwork of the late medieval period.  It honored the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven . . .

. . . and was located inside Siena Cathedral.  Thanks to political links between the City State of Siena and France, the Maesta and the cathedral show a strong French Gothic inflection.  The altarpiece with its pinnacles and upward thrusting momentum has a lot in common with the French Gothic facade of the cathedral in which it was located:

Over the years, the frame was removed and lost and the altarpiece itself dismembered, with some panels making their way into distant collections.  Most of the parts remain in Siena, though, and as noted earlier we’ll be taking a look at them (now in the cathedral’s museum) on the first part of our visit to this elegant and opulent Tuscan city.

Later that day, we’ll visit the city hall, the Palazzo Publico, erected in the late 1200s as the governmental headquarters the city.  Here’s a general view of this imposing edifice,

which provides the backdrop for the Piazza del Campo, site of the festival Palio della Contrade, which features the racing of the horses each August.  Might worth a return trip.  Looks dangerous, though.

The piazza will likely be a little calmer the day we gather there to get ready to enter the Palazzo Publico to see works by the Sienese artists Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

In the council chambers where the city leaders met to deliberate are two famous frescoes by Simone Martini.  At one end of the council chamber, filling the entire wall, is Martini’s version of the Maesta, the subject that Duccio had originated.  Here’s how Martini treated the subject of Mary as a royal figure presenting the princeling Jesus:

So–two Maestas, one by Duccio and one by Martini.  Martini had been Duccio’s student and follows his master’s lead by painting the subject with slender, elongated figures and strong French Gothic overtones (Martini’s virgin wears a robe decorated with the fleur-de-lis).  But Duccio painted an altarpiece made up of panel paintings, while Martini painted a fresco filling an enormous wall.  Duccio painted for the cathedral, while Martini painted his Maesta for a secular setting, the site of governmental deliberation.  Martini’s Mary oversees the deliberations of the council, urging the members toward righteous decisions.

At the other end of the council chamber is another big fresco, traditionally attributed to Martini (some current scholarship questions the attribution, but let’s go with the traditional assumption that the painter was Martini):

This is Martini’s fresco depicting the military man Guidoriccio da Fogliagno, hired by Siena to lead troops to protect the city and bring neighboring villages under Siense influence.  Here’s another view of Guidoriccio and his horse, who wear matching outfits:

Consider the irony, or perhaps the common sense, of the placement of Simone’s two frescoes.  Mary, enthroned as queen of heaven and implicitly queen of Siena, sits in majesty at one end of the room, while at the other end the soldier Guidoriccio patrols the perimeter of the city.  I guess this is a case of covering all bases, of taking out different types of insurance (spiritual, military) just to be sure of comprehensive coverage.

In an adjacent room, the Sala della Pace (Hall of Peace), we’ll see a remarkable set of frescoes by another Sienese master, Ambrogio Lorenzetti.  His paintings fill the upper walls of the room and deal with the Effects of Good and Bad Government (always timely subjects).  Here’s a general view of the Sala della Pace, showing on the right Lorenzetti’s masterpiece, The Effects of Good Government in the City and Country:

That’s the Siena city wall dividing the composition in two.  Within the city, bustling prosperity prevails:

Up among the rooftops just to the right of center, laborers work a construction site.  In the foreground, shops do a brisk business and prosperous citizens stroll to and fro.  The city, under good government, is so pleasant a place that young women dance in the street:

Reminds us of the woman celebrating more recently in the streets of Cortona:

Meanwhile, in the Siena countryside, conditions are flourishing, as well:

Aristocrats head out for a day in the country, while peasants come to town with their produce and products.  Vineyards are bountiful, villas dot the land.  Lorenzetti’s Effects of Good Government projects an ideal, to be sure: this is civic propaganda of a sort, but the vision is of community we all hope for–prosperous, safe, beautiful in its built and natural environments.  Lorenzetti completed this painting in 1339.  The hope for such an idyllic place was dashed by the onset of the Black Death, the Great Plague of 1348.

On the other side of the room, behind us from this view, is Lorenzetti’s depiction of the Effects of Bad Government:

Goodness.  The buildings are dilapidated, a corpse lies in the street.  Ironically, the work itself is in a state of disrepair.  Those splotches are where the plaster has fallen off over the generations.  Clearly, it’s in the city of happily dancing girls, the city of prosperity and good government, that we want to be:

Look at these great gowns.  One features a very nifty dragonfly design.  To this day, Italy is a place of fashionable dress, exemplified by Gabriella, our guide in Siena in 2008:

A final word:  The Sienese artists of the early 14th century were leaders in making art relevant to secular life: daily life in the city and country, government, politics.  Martini’s image of Guidoriccio da Fogliano and Lorenzetti’s of Siena and its environs address life beyond the church, life in the civic and communal realm.  The Sienese artists of this era began to create art about modern life.

That’s all for now.  Ciao!