The Bargello

So you want to start an art museum in a prison. That’s essentially what happened when Florence’s oldest civic building became the headquarters of the chief of police, then was changed into a prison under the Medici. Later when the valuable collections of the Renaissance princes was split up, the cultural artifacts and some Etruscan bits went to the Archaeological Museum, the paintings went to the Uffizi, and the sculpture went to the Bargello, which became the finest collection this side of the Vatican Museum and antiquity. In the former prison are works of Michelangelo, Donatello, and Ghiberti.

bargello group sitting2

We practiced sitting in line for a while, then climbed the broad courtyard stairsbargello stairs2 to the logia where President Davies got some lessons about taking panorama pictures with her phone camera.


pam learns panorama

Then we entered the great hall with Donatello’s         St. George, an early marble David, and his famous and controversial androgynous bronze David. Here also were Verocchio’s David and the competition panels of Brunelleschi and Ghiberti.

We returned to the ground floor for the Michelangelo’s Bacchus and his portrait bust of a burly Marcus “et tu” Brutus, before managing a group portrait of our own with a crowned marble lion we naturally dubbed “Rex.”
bargello lion group3

Masaccio Day: Get Me To The Churches On Time

Monday, May 19

This is a day devoted to Masaccio. We began with the church of Santa Maria Novella, very close to our hotel and another example of the competition so characteristic of Renaissance Florence. We have seen the competition between artists for commissions like with Brunelleschi and the Dome over Florence Cathedral or Ghiberti and Brunelleschi with the panels for the Baptistery doors, or between wealthy families for political power, or the common folks representing their neighborhoods in calcio matches. Now we have competition between churches– Santa Maria Novella, a Dominican Church and Santa Croce, a Franciscan church. They vied with each other for artists to decorate their churches and for wealthy patrons to foot the bill.

Jackie, Kenna, and Sarah at Santa Maria Novella

Jackie, Kenna, and Sarah at Santa Maria Novella

Santa Croce was beautified by Giotto’s frescoes of the Life of Saint Francis, and Santa Maria Novella is famed for Masaccio’s revolutionary experiment in perspective in his “Holy Trinity” fresco. These two lived a century apart, but the rivalry became more

Morgan and Malinna, & Masaccio's Holy Trinity

Morgan and Malinna, & Masaccio’s Holy Trinity

personal when Brunelleschi told Donatello that in his Crucifix for a Santa Croce chapel he had “put a peasant on the cross” because the suffering of Christ seemed all too human. Donatello responded by challenging Brunelleschi to do a better job with the crucifix he was planning for Santa Maria Novella. Later, when he went to see how Brunelleschi was faring with his work, Donatello was so astounded by his success that he dropped the eggs he as carryin in his tunic.
From Santa Maria Novella, we walked down Via del Moro to its intersection with Via Belle Donna where there is a maker about five feet up on the wall of a building noting how high the Arno’s waters rose in Florence during the 1966 flood. From here we walked across the Arno to the church of St. Mary in Cosmidine to see the Masaccio frescoes in the Branccaci chapel there. The frescoes depict events from the life of St. Peter, and they reveal Masaccio’s interest in conveying realistic figures in real space using single point perspective. In the “Tribute Money” panel, the figures surrounding Jesus are solid, casting shadows on the ground, and the architecture creates perspective lines that converge on the head of Christ. In other panels Masaccio creates scenes using the buildings and streets of Florence with figres and faes rawn from Florentine citizenry, including beggers and cripples. A naked boy kneels on a pile of bones before St. Peter, and beneath the inverted cross of St. Peter’s crucifixion are the instruments to his torture. The frescos of the Brancacci Chapel are a monument to Masaccio’s ground-breaking use of perspective and his unflinching dedication to the realism achieved by the observation of detail.


In The Brancacci Chapel

In The Brancacci Chapel



The Arts and Sciences

Sunday May 18

This was a day for the arts and the sciences.  We began by walking to the Uffizi Gallery to see the most important collection of medieval to baroque paintings in Italy, perhaps in the entire world.  Works of Giotto, Ucello, Botticelli, Leonado da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Pontormo and Carravaggio are all on display.

The Start of the 10K DJ Radio Run

The Start of the 10K DJ Radio Run

But first we had to fight our way past 12,000 people in the Piazza Signoria preparing to run in a 10K marathon for charity sposored by a local radio satation.  Yesterday it was antique cars, and today it is purple t-shirt clad runners from all over Tuscany and beyond. The daughter of our hotel owner is running in the race, but we can’t find her in the rowd.  It was easier to find  Botticelli’s Primavera in the Uffizi.

Some recent restoration has been done on the Primavera, revealing a painting underneath it, evidently by the same artist who meddled  with Michelangelo’s panels on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The Primavera Before Restoration and After:
primivera real

The Pre-Primavera

The Pre-Primavera

After the Uffizi we explored the Galileo Museum of Science just behind the Uffizi.  The new art of the Renaisaqnce relied heavily on the icoveries of philsopher/scientists in the fields of perception and perspective, while Galileo and his contemporaries were discovering new ways to look at the cosmos. In the Renaisance, scientists were interested in the world around us and in the heavens above, and in questions about how it all really worked. We saw early maps of the world, and maps of the solar system, astrolabes, and sextants, telescopes and microscopes, and experiments in motion and acceleration.

Siena: The Rival City

Saturday May 17

This morning we set out for Siena, the sworn enemy of Florence during the Renaissance. They competed in everything: commerce, calcio, cathedrals, wine (Chianti v. Brunello), and the chiant classico logocommissioning of important artists. Legend has it that there was long ago a dispute between the two city-states over territorial boundaries. They decided to settle the matter with two knights who would start riding from each city one day at the first cock crow, and where they met would be the boundary. The Sienese chose a white rooster and the Florentines a black one that they kept without food in a dark room for many days. On the appointed day they released the angry bird at midnight and it immediately crowed, giving the Florentine knight a handsome head start and Florence more land. The black rooster is now the logo for the best Chianti , and the road the rooster traveled is now known as the Chianti Classico Black Rooster road.

There are only two patron saints of all Italy. One is Saint Francis; the other is Saint Catherine (1347-80). We saw Catherine’s tomb with her headless body in Rome at the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Siena, in the church of San Domenico, proudly displays her head. Siena, when it comes to saints, is one up on Florence.

Michelle & Page and San Domenico

Michelle & Page and San Domenico

Sarah, Kenna, and Jackie Siena Cathedral behind them

But when it comes to cathedrals, Florence is the clear winner. Trying to surpass Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori, the Sienese planned to enlarge their existing church by extend the south transept and making it the nave of a new super-sized

Malinna compares stripes

Malinna compares stripes

cathedral. The exterior and interior walls and columns of the old cathedral are distinguished by their pattern of back and white stripes whih would have been continued in the new structure. But like with a lot of government projects the city ran out of money, and now the façade of the new church stands alone a hundred yards from the church, connected by a single wall. We climbed the façade for a magnificent view of the city and the campio (the civic center of the city) where the annual Palio is run which pits the 17 contrada (local districts) of the city against eachother in a wild, no holds barred horse race.

Clay and Kaylee with the Campio beyond

Clay and Kaylee with the Campio beyond

While in Siena, we witnessed the remnants of another kind of race involving many more horses. This is the annual all Italy mille miglia car race which used to be a seven day all night endurance race from Rome to Venice and back over torturous roads with Ferraris, Fiats, Aston Martins, Porches, and Jaguars competing. Now, after too many deaths, it is a milder antique car rally, with time trials along the way, which goes through several majors cities along the way, Siena being one this year. Ryan Murphy caught Jay Leno passing by in a 1951 Jaguar that was driven by race car legend Sterling Moss in the mille miglia of that year.

Ryan's photo of Jay Leno

Ryan’s photo of Jay Leno

Getting On Line In Florence

Getting on line in Florence is not the same thing as connecting to the internet. The wi-fi is actually pretty good here. We’re talking here about standing on line, the age old military maneuver of hurry up and wait after a forced march across town through narrow cobble-stoned medieval streets.

For example, here we are lined up at the Galleria dell’Accademia waiting to see Michelangelo’s David while a heavily fed loose-bowelled pigeon perched ominously above us on a wire, taking aim at the enemy down below like a WW II tail gunner. He definitely seems to have caught Fallon Kelly’s attention in the photo below:

on line at academia

And here we are sitting on line at Santa Croce:

online st croce

And then again at the Duomo “climb the Cupola” entrance.

online cupula

And yet again at the Baptistery.

on line baptistery

It has become such a habit that we seem to “line up” when we are just standing around.

waiting at duomo

But we all agree standing and waiting for just a little while is worth it considering what marvels of art and culture we are waiting to see.

Athens on the Arno

Florence is often referred to as “Athens on the Arno” because of the many talented artists and civic leaders, like the Medici, who created and supported the arts during the Renaissance, a situation similar to that enjoyed in Athens during the Periclean Age of the mid-5th century BC. So we began our stay in Florence with a visit to the primo piasan of marbled classicism, Michelangelo’s “David.” This David, a study of human perfection with its idealized proportions and attention to anatomical deals, eyes the enemy Goliath with furrowed brow, his sling over one shoulder and rock in hand, anticipating the battle to come. This is unlike Bernini’s David in the Borghese Gallery who is in the act of slinging the rock, and different also from the Donatello and Verrocchio Davids we will see in a few days who have already slain Goliath whose head lies at their feet.

While in the Academia we saw a group of nuns admiring Michelangelo’s David:

Also of interest in the hall with the David are Michelangelo’s “Prisoners,” a series of “incomplete” blocks of marble whose figures appear to be struggling to escape. Michelangelo once said that the figure he is going to sculpt is already in the block of marble; his job is to free it from the block. The “Prisoners” in the Academia illustrate varies stages of this imaginative process. This concept of the power of the artist to create, like a god, and the neo-Platonic notion of freeing the spirit from the gross matter of earth are key principles of renaissance humanism.

In the afternoon we visited the church of Santa Croce which is a monument to ideas of the Renaissance mingled with the medieval. Outside the church is a large statue of Dante, author of the very medieval Divine Comedy, standing at one corner of the piazza where the violent game of calcio was played between st croce outsidecompeting sections of the city. Competition to reward excellence was a key element of the renaissance spirit, in politics, in art, and in sport. Inside the church Dante is memorialized with a great monument as a son of Florence, but he is not buried there, having been exiled from Florence to Ravenna for political reasons. After his death, and for centuries since then, Florence has requested from Ravenna that Dante’s remains be returned to Florence, but Ravenna has refused. Such is the competition between the Italian city-states, even after the unification the country in the 19th century.

Santa Croce is a Franciscan church and for more of its medieval flavor there are the frescoes of the life of St. Francis behind the altar by the late medieval artist Giotto, much like those he created for the basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. But for more of the Renaissance spirit one must look no further than the monumental tombs of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo, all monuments themselves to the Renaissance. As Milton says of Shakespeare

Inside Santa Croce

Inside Santa Croce

in a Second Folio sonnet, these geniuses have with their accomplishments “built thy self a live-long Monument.”

Added to these Renaissance elements is the splendid wooden crucifix by Donatello, which Brunelleschi disparaged by telling Donatello he had “put a peasant on the cross,” because the facial expression of his Christ was so like the suffering of a real man, rather than the that of an ideal and perfect savior. Brunelleschi himself contributes to Santa Croce with his classically inspired and very geometrically realized Pazzi Chapel adjacent to the church.

After Visiting the Pazzi Chapel

After Visiting the Pazzi Chapel

Before leaving Santa Croce Farina found a monument with her name on it, And we discovered that Kaylee had three arms.

feeling the stone


Next Stop Assisi and Florence

We said ciao to Roma on Wednesday for our transfer by coachcolisuem to florence to Florence via Assisi. In Assisi we climbed up to the basilica of St Francis which was begun in 1328, two years after the death of Francis, the son of a wealthy Assisi merchant who gave up his earthly goods to preach a simple life of brotherly love and respect for nature. The goal of his ministry, was to save the church from its worldliness. It is actually two churches in one. We entered the lower basilica where we entered the crypt where Francis is buried. The church itself is Romanesque in style with solid walls seven feet, large columns to support its roof, several chapels, and murals depicting scenes from the life of the saint. A fine crucifixion in the north transept is by Giotto.

Upstairs in the Gothic church there is more light and a higher roof, and walls covered by one of Giotto’s master works – a series of scenes from the life of Saint Frances that envelops three walls of the church. This church and it’s frescoes was damaged on the earthquake of 1997, but repairs were quick and successful even to the paintings which are in fine shape now.

assisi group2

Page Ernest and Minerva Temple

Page Ernest and Minerva Temple

Our next stop was further up the steep slope of the village to the central piazza and a Roman Temple of Minerva In the background here.Then to the Church of Saint Clair who was an early follower of Francis, and like him the child of a rich father whom she left to join Francis and his ministry to the poor and the lost. Clair was inspired when Francis appeared to her in a vision from afar, an event which ultimately gave us our word “clairvoyant,” and has more recently made Clair Italy’s patron saint of television.

Some needed a little help on the way back down as we looked for food, and then topped our meals off with some smoothies in the colors of the Italian flag, before boarding  our coach for an hour and a half ride to Florence.

Kaylee Murtle catches a ride down

Kaylee Murtle catches a ride down

girls smoothies





We checked into the Hotel Nuova Italia and then took a walk to the Duomo (Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori). We will visit girls baptistery doorsthis later along with its fantastic dome designed and engineered by Brunelleschi. Across from the Duomo is the Baptistery with its famous door panels created by Ghiberti, “The Gates of Paradise” as Michelangelo dubbed them.  Here are Michelle, Farina, and Page with the doors of the Baptistery behind them.

Burial of The Dead

We started early this day for a bus ride outside the walls of Rome to visit the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus. Romans tended to cremate their dead, and in fact they outlawed burial within the walls of Rome. Believing in bodily resurrection, the early Christians wished to bury their dead, so they had to find places outside of Rome for their cemeteries (the word itself is from the Greek meaning “sleeping place”). The result was the catacombs, like the one we visit today, St. Callixtus, which covers over 90 surface acres and has 4 subterranean levels with 5 miles of galleries of tombs cut out of the walls like Pullman berths on a train to the promised land with the remains of half a million people.

Considering that metaphor, this might be an apt time to mention some curious aspects of transportation in Rome. Look at it this way: if the early Christians had to get outside the walls of Rome on a bus to bury their dead, more than a few would die of old age on their way to the funeral. We caught our bus near the Church of John Lateran just two blocks from out hotel. Once aboard it was a full ten minutes before the driver could manage a right turn. First, Rome’s streets have become one gigantic parking lot. To whom these cars belong, and when they are ever driven, and how they can extricate themselves to be driven parked as they are bumper to bumper are questions that will puzzle future generations, who, we are sure, will be born in parked cars.

And then there are the rules of the road of which there are none. Stop and yield signs are unsupported opinions, driving lanes do not exist, directional markings on the pavement are ignored suggestion, pedestrian crosswalks a crap shoot (much like the one on Selwyn Ave. at Queens), and the cacaphony of angry horns are, according to one resident of Rome, simply music. Woe to him who tries to stare down a Vespa weaving in and out of traffic when you are in the crosshairs of its rider. And so it went: our bus trapped in a gas-infused, carbon-belching lava flow of vehicles with no promised land in sight until we reached the Appian Way and found our callixtus2

We had a nice tour of the catacomb which at one time was the resting place of several martyrs and popes until their remains were removed to churches in Rome. Many of the tombs and crypts still contain their original occupants. Saint Cecelia’s tomb is here, richly decorated with frescoes still in fairly good condition, as are a number of the crypts with scenes from the Bible and with symbolic icons like the “good shepherd” (a figure carrying a sheep behind his head across his shoulders) and the fish (ICTHUS, an acrostic for Jesus Christ Son of God and Savior).

appian way
st callxtus sheepWe left the Catacomb of St Callixtus with a better understanding of the conditions in which the early Christian lived in imperial Rome. We took a brief walk to stand on the Appian Way leading to Rome (as all roads do), and as we left the grounds we spied a flock of sheep munching grass. One escaped through the fence, and miraculously a good shepherd appeared to call him back. We applauded his good work and then hoped some for ourselves as we walked to the bus stop (“stop” being the operatve word here).

A Few More Churches

Today we began the week by giving the Rome bus system a try. We had to wait for our bus #87 to make its way though what we later recognized as a daily traffic jam on Rome’s streets during rush hour which for the Italians seems to start around 9:00 (their Mediterranean work day begins rather late) and lasts all day. Once on our bus we sped rather easily down to the Coliseum and around Piazza Venezia, up Vittoria Emannuel IV, to our stop near the Pantheon.

Our walk around the area took us first to the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, one of the few Gothic churches in Rome, built over (sopra) a Roman temple of Minerva. Here we were

Bernini's Elephant at Sopra Minerva

Bernini’s Elephant at Sopra Minerva

greeted outside by Bernini’s charming sculpture of an elephant with an Egyptian obelisk on its back. Inside we found an early Michelangelo sculpture of a muscular “Risen Christ” and the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena who raised a ruckus with a couple of Popes back in the 14th century during the Great Schism. Her headless body is entombed here; we’ll see the rest her when we visit Siena on Saturday.

We popped into St. Ignatius of Loyola around the corner to see two intriguing illusory ceilings by the baroque painter Fra Andrea Pozzo. The first depicts Jesuit missionary work on four continents and the Apotheosis of S. Ignatius, with the saint appearing to disappear high into the sky due to the artist’s use of foreshortened figures and painted architectural elements that make it seem that the walls of the church have opened up to the heavens beyond. The other ceiling, further on in the church, was done to solve a problem. The Jesuits wanted to construct a dome, but the nuns in a neighboring convent objected because it would obstruct the view of their garden. So Pozzo painted, on a flat ceiling, a trompe-l’oeil of a non-existent dome’s interior surface. So the Jesuits got their “dome,” and the nuns got their view.

Just down the street from Pozzo’s visual trickery is a wonder that is the real thing — the Pantheon, a temple dedicated to all the Roman gods. It was built during the reign of Emperor Agrippa, and was simply too fine a building to be torn down and have a church built over it. Instead, it was converted INTO a church, which is the reason it has survived to this day as an architectural example for later architects. Michelangelo’s design for St. Peter’s Dome, Brunelleschi’s Florence Cathedral dome, and even the U.S. Capital dome all owe their existence to the Pantheon‘s engineering outside pantheon

Inside we saw Raphael’s tomb, the niches where the Roman gods once tood and then were replaced by biblical fgures and then Italian dignitaries.  We could see the coffers in the dome’s girls pantheon domeinterior that helped lghten the load of the dome n the supportng pillars, and the oculus, the opening n the center, that lets lght and rain into building. Around the corner from the Pantheon we slipped into the church of San Luigi del Francesi to see three Caravaggio paintings on the subject of St. Matthew, chief among them the rightly famous “The Calling of Saint Matthew.”

The Fountain of the Four Rivers

The Fountain of the Four Rivers

Then we walked to the Piazza Nuvona, in Roman times a Circus or oval track used for chariot races, athletic events, and the occasional martyrdom. Today it is a display ground for Bernini’s fountains, all three of them, but especialy the Fountan of the Four Rivers, from the continents of Asia (the Ganges), Africa (the Nile), the Americas (the Plate), and Europe (the Danube)..

From the Piazza we walked to the Campo dei Fiori to pay homage to Giordano Bruno and his statue that marks the place where he was burned at the stake for heresy when he championed Copernicus’s theory about the earth revolving around the sun. The daily market was in full swing selling everything from blood oranges and pistachios to t-shirts and tennis shoes. We broke for lunch and everyone explorded Rome on thei own for the rest of the day and worked on the scavenger hunt.

Sunday May 11 Bernini Day

This was a Bernini Day. We began in the sprawling Borghese Gardens at the gallery/palace with the powerful Borghese family’s magnificent collection of paintings and sculptures, primarily from the late renaissance and baroque periods. The featured artists are Caravaggio and Bernini, the first for his dramatic baroque paintings and the latter for his dynamic sculptures. We saw many of the works we studied in the JBIP prep course, including Bernini’s David with its coiled tension and determined facial expression (it is Bernini’s own face!) capturing the moment the rock is hurled at Goliath; his delicate and airy marble depiction of Apollo and Daphne, full of movement, at the moment of the fleeing Daphne’s transformation into a tree; and the more violent realism of his Rape of Proserpine which startles the visitors on their way out. One of Bernini’s earliest works is also on display in his Aeneas carrying his father while escaping the fall of Troy with his son who carries the eternal flame. It is a visual study in marble of youth, middle age and old age that captures in one work the legendary history of Rome’s origin.

The Caravaggio room has a fine collection of the wild and troubled master of chiaroscuro who once killed his opponent in a tennis match. Here is his Bacchus as a young boy (a self portrait), a controversial Madonna, and his David and Goliath (with his own face providing Goliath’s).

No cameras are allowed, so we can’t prove we saw all this. You’ll just have to look them up on Google Images. But here is the group outside the Gallery before heading off to lunch and an afternoon of more Bernini.

       At the Borghese Gallery

At the Borghese Gallery

After lunch we met at the Triton Fountain (by Bernini, of course) in the Piazza Barberini, just below the Hotel Bernini, before visitng the Capucchine Monestary’s crypt with all those bones reconfigured into works of art, and a macabre reminder that “What you are now/We once were./ What we are now/You will be.”  Again, no cameras allowed, so read Hawthorne’s Marble Faun; you’ll find a good description of the place there.  No bones about it!

Bernini's Triton Fountain

Bernini’s Triton Fountain

 After the Capucchine bone fest, we walked up to the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria to see Bernini’s Baroque masterpiece – “The “Ecstasy of St. Teresa.”  St. Teresa’s ecstatic vision of divine love is depicted in very physical terms, in a very dramatic, even theatrical, setting, with flanking galleries of men watching the “performance” of Love striking the heart of the saint with an arrow as Cupid would in a more erotic context. st theresa