Siena and Florence

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:

http://www.finestresullarte.info/en/speciale-guidoriccio-da-fogliano.php

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

http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/96ce/6_MalloryMoran.pdf

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!

RH

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