Archive for the Florence Category


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!