Cor Cordium

As Luca and Rebecca of Bagni di Lucca’s ‘Shelley House’ bookshop have pointed out, there are, in fact, two Shelley festivals. The first is the one they themselves organize and which spreads itself out to Viareggio, off whose coastline the great romantic poet was drowned, to Bagni di Lucca where Mary received the first published copy of ‘Frankenstein’, to Milan, where Shelley wrote a vivid letter about the city’s cathedral, and to Rome, where the poet’s remains lie buried next to Keats in the protestant cemetery and where recently Rebecca was uniquely invited to recite her marvellous monologue on Shelley’s death. (For an introduction to it see https://www.facebook.com/luca.p.guidi/videos/10213584220545702/?pnref=story )

There is also a second Shelley festival. (I should, of course, say that wherever people meet to discuss and read Shelley’s poetry then surely that is a festival in itself. I’m reminded of Jeremy Corbyn’s quotes from ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ in his much applauded appearance as Islington’s MP in the borough’s Union chapel.) The second festival takes place in Bournemouth and details about it can be found at https://shelleyfrankfest.org/ .

But why Bournemouth? When Percy Bysshe Shelley and his sister Elizabeth published (anonymously) ‘Original poetry by Victor and Cazire’ in 1810 Bournemouth had just begun to exist as a health-giving seaside spa inspired and planned by Lewis Dymoke Grosvenor Tregonwell, a captain in the Dorset Yeomanry. The arrival of the railways to Bournemouth greatly expanded the town and established it as one of England’s premier south coast resorts.

It was the health-giving sea air and the beautiful pine trees (somewhat reminiscent of a northern version of Viareggio I thought) that prompted Percy Bysshe Shelley’s last surviving son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, to buy Boscombe manor in 1849 with the intention of making it a retirement home for his ailing mother Mary Shelley, widow of the great poet and author of several novels and poems of which ‘Frankenstein’ is by far the best known today.

Sir Percy restructured the place and added a theatre in which he wrote and performed in his own, often farcical plays (e.g., ‘The comedy of Terrors’). Unfortunately, Mary Shelley never came to live at Boscombe and in 1851 died in her home at 24 Chester square, Belgravia (today, incidentally, quite near to the Italian Institute which represents the country which was so close to her heart).

Sir Percy, however, did manage to transport the mortal remains of his mother, together with those of his mother’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ who died shortly after she gave birth to Mary Shelley, and William Godwin, husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, to St Peter’s church yard in the centre of Bournemouth. Previously their remains had lain in old Saint Pancras churchyard which Sir Percy regarded as an unhygienic and undignified place.

Actually Saint Pancras churchyard remains for me one of London’s most romantic corners. It was the secret meeting place of young lovers Percy and Mary and where they decided to elope abroad, an elopement which eventually brought them to Bagni di Lucca and the Villa Chiappa. It remains the final resting place of such greats as J. C. Bach, son of his more famous father J. S, Bach and a fine composer in his own right. It is also where Sir John Soane rests in a tomb which was the inspiration for the characteristic London phone box. (To find out other famous burials in Saint Pancras old church yard see https://www.findagrave.com/php/famous.php?page=cem&FScemeteryid=658411 )

(Sir John Soane’s Tomb in Saint Pancras Old Churchyard)

The Shelley’s family tomb at Saint Peter’s is a fairly sombre dark stone slab placed a little way up the church yard. To read its inscriptions with the names of the Shelleys buried within is, however, a truly amazing experience. It was difficult not to be moved by the place where Mary Shelley her mother, her father, her son and her beloved husband’s heart all found their final rest upon this planet. We were visibly moved and when we touched the grave we felt the pulse of a strangely warm energy vibrating in our bodies. It was a sort of cosmic communication. There was even a sky lark singing:

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar and soaring ever singest.

The scene surrounding the grave has, of course, changed over the years, sometimes for the better and too often for the worse,

St Peter is one of Britain’s most glorious neo-gothic churches designed by that master architect G. E. Street. It has a magnificent interior and is headed by a tower and steeple which is Bournemouth’s highlight.

Less admirable is the name given to the nearby pub entitled ‘The Mary Shelley’. I don’t think somehow that Mary would have liked to have a pub named after her – a library would surely have pleased her more, Furthermore, thanks to German intervention in the last war, the old houses surrounding the churchyard were bombed and the department store facing the churchyard is quite out of scale.

However, all this is forgotten in the tranquil peace of the churchyard where the members of one of Great Britain and Ireland’s most remarkable family have found their eternal rest.

Outside on the church yard wall is this blue plaque.

As guests of a charming and highly cultivated lady, whose bench and plaque in memory of two persons so dear to her (and us) lie just after the entrance to the road leading to her own Italian retreat between Gombereto and Longoio, we were privileged to dine in her Voysey-inspired house before being taken to another important Shelley memorial and one which is to be found in one of England’s most glorious parish churches – indeed one of the glories of English Romanesque and gothic architecture, Christchurch priory – said to be one of the most closely guarded secrets of great ecclesiastical architecture. Indeed, I’d never even heard of it!

Here are some pictures of the wonderful priory.

I realised how much I miss fan and lierne vaulting on such an immaculate scale in Italy, no matter how many beauties this country can offer….

Inside there is this moving neoclassical monument to Shelley and his wife, Mary:

Commissioned by the poet’s son and sculpted by Henry Weekes, the monument is almost like an Italian Pietà with the poet transformed into a Christ-like figure and his wife Mary into a grieving Madonna. It’s as if the sea was Percy Bysshe Shelley’s crucifixion with Mary anguished like the Saviour’s mother. Why is the monument here? It’s because the vicar of Saint Peter’s refused to have it in his church and so it was accepted instead by Christchurch priory. I think the reason for St Peter’s refusal may largely have been due to the quasi-religious allusions in the monument – an irony when one considers that Shelley was already an avowed atheist at Oxford where he was sent down for writing a pamphlet on ‘the necessity of Atheism.’

I do believe however that reading through the great poet’s work there shines a light of immense grandeur, a sense of something greater than anything the material world can offer. Shelley was principally against organised religion which he saw, like Marx, as the oppressive opium of the people (which it certainly must have been in those repressive times) but I am sure Shelley believed in a supreme deity or God, call him/her what you will. After all, in his ‘Essay on Christianity’ Shelley writes:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Blessed are those who have preserved internal sanctity of soul; who are conscious of no secret deceit; who are the same in act as they are in desire; who conceal no thought, no tendencies of thought, from their own conscience; who are faithful and sincere witnesses, before the tribunal of their own judgments, of all that passes within their mind. Such as these shall see God.

We thank our dear friend who bears the same name as Shelley’s wife and his wife’s mother, indeed the mother of God himself, who enabled us to enter yet another portal into the transcendent universe of one the world’s most creative love-partnerships.

 

 

 

 

The Sartorio’s Aristocratic Triestine Villa

I first thought in my ignorance that (hinting at its name) the Museo Sartorio dealt with fashion or even needlework. I need not have worried. The Sartorio, which is just a short distance uphill from the Revoltella museum (see my previous blog) is another fine nineteenth century Triestine aristocratic villa.

The Sartorio family originated from Sanremo but moved to Trieste in 1775 where Pietro Sartorio bought the beautiful villa from the Faraon family, originally from Alexandra Egypt. Like too many noble families, the family was extinguished when the last heir Baroness Anna Segrè Sartorio died issueless and left the villa and its furniture to the comune of Trieste with the wish that it be opened to the public.

Sartorio’s villa is also important politically in that it became the headquarters of the Allied government after World War Two. It’s not often realised that it was only in 1975 that Trieste fully became part of the Italian Republic with the signing of a treaty with Tito. In the last days of the war atrocities were committed when both Italian and Yugoslav partisans fought it out for possession of the city. The Allies smartly stepped in to stop the bloodshed and declared Trieste a free city dividing it into territory A and territory B.

In my philatelic collection I have Italian stamps stamped with the initials AMG-FTT standing for Allied Military Government – Free Territory of Trieste. It was only in 1954 that a peace deal was finally agreed with the former Yugoslavia to allow territory A to return to Italian government, where it formed part of the new region of Friuli Venezia Giulia and for territory B to be returned to Yugoslavia. I must have received these stamps from an ex-military commander of Trieste who became almoner of London’s Italian Hospital (alas now no longer in existence). He regularly spent half his year living in his flat overlooking a Kensington square and the other half in Trieste, which he swore was incredibly beautiful (I now believe him) and had the best quality of life on the Italian peninsula. According to a recent survey it still does…

We do not need to be reminded too much of the horrible Balkan wars of the1990’s that split Yugoslavia up into the countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. Now Trieste’s immediate neighbour is Slovenia, part of the Schengen group. These are countries in the European continent that have agreed to ‘the abolition of their internal borders with other member nations and outside, for the free and unrestricted movement of people, goods, services, and capital, in harmony with common rules for controlling external borders and fighting criminality by strengthening common judicial system and police cooperation.’

It’s interesting to note that three non-EU countries – Switzerland, Iceland and Norway – are part of Schengen and that five EU countries – Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the UK and Eire are not.

After 2019, under the present administration, the UK will be the only country in Europe not just not to be part of the EU but also not to be part of Schengen. What this will do for the economy and international relations of a country which has always lauded itself for having the mother of all parliaments (although the Icelandic Althing is actually the world’s oldest parliament) and a refuge for persecuted people God only knows!

To return to the Sartorio museum. The villa has fine rooms on its piano nobile  including some decorated in a ‘baronial gothick style.’

There is an exquisite collection of mediaeval and renaissance paintings from the Istrian peninsula (where Trieste is situated) which show how important the influence of the Venetian school (especially Bellini) was to them.

The majolica and jewellery collections are also worth a look.

The Villa has a glyptotheque (plaster cast room) in which both the famous and the infamous are lodged in safety from their detractors and admirers alike.

There is a marvellous collection of Tiepolo drawings used as models for the painter’s grander frescoed ceilings.

Museo Sartorio is yet another aristocratic villa in Trieste fully worthy of a visit and its gardens make a welcome stop on one’s walk-about in this fascinating city.

The villa’s web site is at http://museosartoriotrieste.it/

Luxury Living in Trieste

Trieste has thirty two museums listed. Clearly it would be impossible to visit them all in a couple of days and some of the museums are of truly specialist interest. It’s best to pick a couple which appeal to you and just spend your time in those.

Trieste’s museums can be put into the following categories. I’ve listed the more important ones under each one:

Art museums:

Museo Revoltella

History and art museum

Museum of oriental art

Theatrical museum

 

History museums:

Castle museum

Fatherland museum

Risorgimento museum

Archaeological museum

Postal museum

 

Science museums:

Natural history museum

Aquarium

Maritime museum

Botanical gardens and museum

 

Literary museums:

James Joyce museum

Italo Svevo museum

Petrarch and Piccolomini museum

 

Historical residences:

Sartorio museum

Morpurgo museum

 

Other museums:

Railway museum

Jewish museum

The James Joyce museum also has material related to Sir Richard Burton (see http://www.burtoniana.org/trieste/index.htm). There is, therefore, an important double connection between Bagni di Lucca and Trieste!

First, is the painter Rietti, friend of Triestine Italo Svevo and Bagni di Lucca’s frequent visitor Giacomo Puccini. (See my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/giacomo-puccini-and-italo-svevo-only-connect/  for more on this fascinating connection).

Second, is the fact that the Victorian explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton was British consul in Trieste between 1872 and 1890 and that Colonel Henry Stisted (founder of Bagni di Lucca’s ex-Anglican Church and buried in Bagni’s protestant cemetery) was the father-in-law of Burton’s sister, Maria Katherine Eliza Burton. Richard Burton visited Bagni di Lucca as a young lad during his family’s peregrinations. (To read more about this connection see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/tag/richard-francis-burton/ )

Anyway, with this amazing plethora of connections we clearly had to focus on just a few things and happily found that ignorance was our best arm. I only found out how many museums Trieste had afterwards but, luckily, chance and friendly locals directed us to some of the best ones while we stayed there.

The museums we prefer are those which form part of historical residences and, therefore, have a double allure in presenting not only a collection of fine items but also giving us an indication of how people lived in former times. That’s why London’s Wallace collection, Soane and Wellington museums – to name just a few – are so appealing.

The first Triestine museum we visited was the Revoltella which combines the luscious nineteenth residence of Baron Pasquale Revoltella (who left all his property and collections to Trieste upon his death in 1869) with two other houses adapted to form an art museum by the pioneering modern architect Carlo Scarpa.

Baron Revoltella was a shrewd entrepreneur who struck it lucky when he became vice-president of the Suez Canal Company whose project  revolutionised world trade. Now, trade routes from the East to Europe could pass much more quickly via the Mediterranean and include Trieste (which still remains Italy’s major port) instead of rounding the Cape. There are several documents in the museum relating to Revoltella’s role in constructing the Suez Canal.

The Revoltella museum has truly something to please all tastes. You can enjoy insights into the interiors and furnishings of a rich nineteenth century Triestine town house:

You can delight in paintings from an earlier era:

or more modern times:

or enjoy one of Trieste’s finest town views.

 

The Revoltella museum is a surely a must on any visit to exquisite Trieste.

 

PS There’s more information at the museum’s web site at http://www.museorevoltella.it/

 

 

My Flower is at Borgo a Mozzano

Borgo a Mozzano is well-known for its azalea festival which I have described in various posts:

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/another-fabulous-borgo-azalea-festival/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/astounding-azaleas-are-arriving/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/blooming-azaleas/

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/legging-it-in-leghorn/

It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise when no azalea festival was announced for this April. I needn’t have worried for this May week-end Borgo has put on a truly dazzling day of flowers which in some respects is even better than the azalea displays.

There are contributions from every borgo or village in the comune of Borgo, streets events and art displays. Car-parking is, as usual easy in the Penny Market supermarket park and the catering includes everything from lampredotto to zucchero filato.

With these climatically somewhat unpredictable days there was a sharp tempestuous shower in the afternoon but, at least the flowers on show appreciated it! Judge for yourselves.

The old town turned itself into a flower garden, thanks to arrangements arranged by local florists, associations and schools. I especially liked the Vespa display with 1969 original trappings including flower-title 45 rpm records and a dansette gramophone.

Even door handles were decorated.

There were many handicraft stalls.

Even restaurants offered flower-themed menus. I think anyone who has stayed in Italy will have tasted how delicious courgette flowers and even dandelions are when fried in batter.

Simonetta Cassai hosted an exhibition of paintings which highlighted what progress her students had made in the art course held there.

I loved these boxed 3-D pictures which a local teacher also uses for elementary school activities.

The Municipal Library held a photographic exhibition.

Activities starting from Borgo included a trek up to Monte Bargiglio which I have described at

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/the-eye-of-lucca/

The Monte Agliale Astronomical Observatory will also be open during the evenings of the festival, welcoming visitors to discover the wonders of the sky if the clouds we’ve been recently having permit,

There are also treks along the Gothic Line which I have described at:

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/catching-the-train-at-borgo-a-mozzano/

For more information on the festival look at the web site at

http://www.giardinoazalea.it

It’s an event that you cannot afford to miss if you are in the Lucchesia and entry is free too!

Little Churches with Great Interiors

Italy not only possesses some of the world’s most resplendent ecclesiastical buildings (like the cathedrals of Pisa, Florence, Milan and – my favourite – Siena. Italy also has hundreds of little churches (chiesine or chiesette – as they are called). These little churches may date back to Romanesque times and, therefore, could be at least a thousand years old. Most are built on a very simple plan: rectangular with usually a semi-circular apse. Here are just three examples near us in the Serchio valley.

San Martino a Greppo near Valdottavo

Santa Lucia near Gallicano

San Romano near Poggio

If you want to explore further there’s a fine facebook page on Romanesque churches in Tuscany and beyond at

https://www.facebook.com/PieviRomanicheDellaToscanaEOltre/

This facebook page doesn’t just concentrate in the little chiesine, which were either built for parishioners to avoid longer journeys to the main parish church (pieve) or which were, in many cases, superseded by larger churches. The page also includes the more imposing examples from this wonderful architectural era, including monastic buildings.

The interiors of the ‘chiesine’ are usually very simple and bare. Our own little chiesina at Longoio had its once-a-year great day when Mass was celebrated there last Saturday. This is a tradition which always takes place in May, the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary by the Roman Catholic Church. Other little chiesine in our area will also have their annual Mass celebrated during this month. It’s a great occasion to be actually able to enter and visit the interior of these otherwise sadly locked-up churches.

Here is our chiesina of la Vergine dei Dolori, which I have often described in other posts, decorated with flowers last Saturday.

In another area of Italy (the north-east to be more precise, which we recently visited) there’s another very unassuming church which we thought would be locked as usual.

Imagine our surprise when we found it specially opened for the afternoon.

We decided to stop and take a peep.

What we saw in the interior took our breath away!

These most wonderful frescoes were only recently rediscovered as a result of an earthquake which shook off the eighteenth-century plaster covering them. It’s proof that even the destructive powers of earthquakes can reveal unexpected blessings.

The frescoes date all the way from Longobard times to early renaissance. I shall not attempt to say anything about them but just illustrate their beauty starting with the thousand-year-old depiction of the Last Supper.

These other frescoes clearly date from a later time (fifteenth century).

As the proof of the pudding is in its eating so the proof of so many unassuming chiesine is in their interior. The only sadness is that so many of them are usually locked up for, clearly security reasons.

We just happened to be lucky as we were at the right place and at the right time.

Our dear little Cinquina was there to wait for us and hopefully carry us all the way back home. Sadly, she didn’t make it (For the reason why see https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/about-guardian-angels/ ). Fortunately, we did, and that’s the important thing.

PS Why didn’t we tell you exactly where you could find the wonderful chiesina we were privileged to visit? It’s because we want you to discover your own chiesina when you’re in Italy and make it your own special space …. just like we did with our splendid example.

Where Venice’s last Doge died, where Napoleon stayed and where Sting played

The Veneto region of Italy is famous for its beautiful Palladian villas which did so much to influence the typical eighteenth century English country house. We have visited a handful of these villas on previous trips to this region and knew what splendours to expect. However, we were quite unprepared for the glories of the Villa Manin which is near Passariano on a secondary route from Udine to Trieste.

The villa owes its sixteenth century origin to a Friulian Antonio Manin who, having lost territories in Dalmatia as the Venetian republic’s power diminished, decided to concentrate on land and expanding his agricultural domains.

In succeeding centuries the villa was added to with barcòn (Venetian for service wings), a classical portico and, most astonishingly, a monumental exedra consisting of two semi-circular arms, almost horse-shoe shaped, which embrace the front area of the villa.

The Villa Manin has been the scene of the most disparate events. In 1796 Napoleon stayed with his first wife, Josephine Beauharnais, whose amorous entreaties in such gorgeous surroundings he could not possibly have refused. (Or did he?)

Here too Napoleon signed the treaty of Campoformido (or Campoformio) which brought the Serenissima republic of Venice to a tragic end after almost a thousand years of independence. Indeed, the last Doge died here in this bed:

In subsequent years the villa went through highs and lows until, in the second half of the last century, it had fallen into a sorry state of decay and was sold by the last of its noble owners to the region of Venice in 1962 for the equivalent of £ 70,000, on condition that it be restored to its original glory.

After years of restoration the villa has reached something of its former splendour despite the fact that most of the original furnishings have gone.

The exterior is dazzling and owes its present appearance largely due to the architect Domenico Rossi who brought in some French influence in the neo-classical design. Next time we’re in the area we must visit Udine where the cathedral’s façade is also by Rossi.

The interior has some very fine features. The chapel is in a typically ornate baroque style and houses the ancestors of the Manin family.

The villa’s ‘garage’ houses some fine examples of old carriages and landaus.

The Villa’s park, designed by Ziborghi in an English landscape style influenced surely in part by Capability Brown, is huge and one could spend a whole day just walking around it.

This sweet little sign says ‘please don’t tread on the grass here, the narcissi are just about to be born’.

The villa’s piano Nobile has rooms painted by Dorigny, Amigoni and Oretti with some youthful contributions by Tiepolo before he became the greatest of eighteenth century decorative artists.

Today the villa has new life as a centre of restoration of works of art particularly those damaged by the terrible Friuli earthquake of 1976 in which almost a thousand people died. It also holds art exhibitions ranging from Sebastiano Ricci to Kandinsky, The one we saw during our visit had as its theme World War one which in 1917 raged only a few miles away from this seemingly idyllic arcadia.

The Villa is also a sort of Italian ‘Woburn Abbey’ with pop concerts given by such groups as Kiss, Iron Maiden, Radiohead and Sting. Pity the Stones didn’t choose this place instead of Lucca -there would have been much more room and I might have even been able to get a ticket!

There’s also a very atmospheric bar and restaurant, an adventure trail for children in the park and very helpful staff.

Indeed, I was not only impressed by the prodigious villa itself but also by the almost National Trustian way it was managed. I do hope that more of Italy’s magnificent country houses will emulate Villa Manin in bringing new energy into properties which could so easily have crumbled into dust.

Star Wars in North-East Italy

Of all Italian fortified towns Palmanova is, literally the country’s star attraction. Not only is it one of the world’s most perfect examples of a city’s defence system, it is actually built as a nine-pointed star as this aerial plan reveals.

Lucca has some fine walls but they were built to enclose an already existing city. In the case of Palmanova, however, which is in the north-east Italian region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, the city was built as a new fortified location at the end of the sixteenth century on plans by the great architect Scamozzi who was inspired by neo-humanist ideas of the ideal city and sketches by Leonardo da Vinci himself. The actual construction was supervised by Giulio Savorgnan who also built the walls still standing in Nicosia in Cyprus. (Anyone who has read Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ will know of the battles that island had to withstand against the Turk).

Palmanova itself was not only another defensive post against the Turk but also against the Hapsburgs who had captured the Venetian outpost of Gradisca some years earlier. ‘La Serenissima’, Venetian republic had to safeguard its unsafe eastern frontier against two enemies and Palmanova was never actually attacked by either Ottomans or Austrians. Indeed, the city was like a renaissance equivalent of the H-bomb: it served as a deterrent and was only captured through internal treachery by Napoleon’s troops in 1798 –an action which led to the infamous treaty of Campoformio and the death of one of the world’s most illustrious republics – something which still grieves every true Venetian to this day.

Palmanova is built on mathematical principles and, in particular, on the number three. There are three concentric walls and within these walls there are three radial streets. There are three entrance gates:  (Porta Udine, Porta Cividale, and Porta Aquileia).

Each of the three roads leads to a central monumental six-sided square which has to be one of Italy’s most spectacular piazzas ever. Just to stand in the centre of this stupefying square was one of the greatest sensations I’ve ever had in any of Italy’s extraordinary cities.

Each of the three outer walls contains nine bulwarks and various state-of-the art fortifications which are ample proof of the increasing efficacy of fire-power throughout the seventeenth century. For example, there are ravelins – triangular free standing platforms – standing against the walls, a system of ditches and hidden forts and, above all, a high-standing steep-sided brick and earth rampart which actually hides the city from public view. Indeed, even the main square’s cathedral campanile is specially shortened so that it doesn’t stand out to view by any potential enemy. If you don’t look out for the signs leading into Palmanova chances are you’re likely to miss it!

I’d pored over maps of Palmanova years before I actually reached it last month during our peregrinations in Friuli and was quite stunned by this mixture of a starred fortified town combined with the ideals of a symmetrical renaissance Albertian city.

The cathedral is the most notable building in the main hexagonal ‘square’. Designed by Scamozzi it contains the body of Santa Giustinia, a beautiful maiden who is the town’s patron saint.

It seems so ironical that this astounding city of Palmanova was built in the spirit of military enterprise. How could such a beautiful place be combined with all the engines of war in those ages? One has just to look at the present examples of nuclear missile bunkers and radar installations to realise that Palmanova, despite all its beauty, is on the same trail that has led to the terrible lottery of defensive mechanisms that the world now has. But, at least Palmanova is lovely whereas a nuclear bunker is not!

As we exited the triple arches of the porta Aquileja I could not help being reminded of those lines recited by the Moor of Venice:

O farewell,
Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th’ ear-piercing fife;
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
And O you mortal engines, whose rude throats
Th’ immortal Jove’s dread clamors counterfeit,
Farewell!

Florence’s Cloister of Vows


Three sides of the Piazza della Santissima Annnunziata in Florence are arcaded. The original Brunelleschi scheme for the Ospedale degli Innocenti (described in my previous post) was continued on the opposite side by Sangallo the elder and completed in front of the façade of Florence’s holiest shrine, the basilica della Santissima Annnunziata, by Caccini at the end of the sixteenth century.

It’s what’s directly behind this façade that is the subject of an ongoing restoration of the frescoes that line the chiostro dei voti  –  the cloister of votive offerings given by the faithful for thanks to the Divine for graces, blessings and miracles received. This cloister, designed by Michelozzo and begun in 1497, was so long in a state of increasingly gloomy dilapidation that it was hardly looked at by visitors before they plunged into the ornate glories of the basilica itself with the shrine to the miraculous image of the Annunciation of the Virgin.

Yet it’s this cloister – an atrium really – that represents the greatest examples of late renaissance and mannerist fresco painting in Florence.

Here is a scheme of the paintings and their artists going from left to right in this cloister. On our recent visit I took pictures after or during the on-going restoration of this magnificent cycle of frescoes which should soon rank again as one of the glories of Firenze, restored as far as possible to their pristine condition.

No. Image before restoration

(Click on icon to see image)

Image after or during restoration

(Click on image to see larger view)

Painter Theme Subject Year
01                Cosimo Rosselli Life of Filippo Benizi Vocation of St Flippo’s life 1476
02     Andrea del Sarto Life of Filippo Benizi St Flippo heals a leper 1509-1510
03   Andrea del Sarto Life of Filippo Benizi Punishment of the blasphemers 1510
04     Andrea del Sarto Life of Filippo Benizi Liberation of a person from the devil 1509-1510
05     Andrea del Sarto Life of Filippo Benizi Death of Saint Filippi Benizi and resurrection of a child 1510
06     Andrea del Sarto Life of Filippo Benizi Devotion of Florentines to San Filippo’s relics 1510
07     Andrea del Sarto Life of Virgin Mary Birth of the Virgin 1513-1514
08     Alesso Baldovinetti Life of Virgin Mary Worship of the shepherds 1463
09   Andrea del Sarto Life of Virgin Mary Journey of the Magi 1511
10     Franciabigio Life of Virgin Mary The Virgin’s Wedding 1513
11     Pontormo Life of Virgin Mary The visitation 1514-1516
12     Rosso Fiorentino Life of Virgin Mary Assumption of the Virgin 1517

 

An Innocent Place in Florence

The piazza della Santissima Annunziata in Florence is not only the city’s most beautiful square. It’s also its most humane. The Spedale degli Innocenti, with its superb Brunelleschi designed loggia, is not only the city’s first truly renaissance building, with its pioneer use of pietra serena stone, classically proportioned arches with between them, those delightful Della Robbia terracottas of babes in swaddling clothes and its characteristic stucco facade. It’s also Europe’s first children welfare institute. Founded by Florence’s silk guild in 1400 the Innocenti’s aim, which continues today with its nurseries, family consultation clinics, child adoption and protection agencies, is to carry out Jesus’ aim to ‘suffer little children to come unto me.’

The Innocenti is what is known in italian as ‘brofotrofio’ which means a place which cares for children whose parents may be still alive and known but whose circumstances do not permit them to look after their offspring properly. This is to be distinguished from an ‘orfanotrofio’, or orphanage, where children may have lost one or both parents.

Attittudes and solutions have, of course, changed over the ages. Finding suitable adoptive families is one answer today for children who have difficulties with their biological parents. Today the situation is even more difficult, as a recent news item revealed when a girl from a strict Islamic family in Florence refused to wear the veil and be forced into a loveless arranged marriage. In other words, she wanted to live the life of just  another normal italian girl in the country where she was born and educated in.

The Innocenti museum, which is not even a year old, is a wonderful example of how a museum can be recreated so that it truly reaches everyone in both mind and heart. It’s a model of how a museum can be truly made live. There is access for all and the modernism of a spectacular lift and staircase merge well with the old:

There are three sections to the museum. The first is historical and, with the help of interactive displays including archive photographs and recordings, traces the changing attitude towards what in England used to be called foundlings and which prompted Thomas Coram to found the UK equivalent of Florence’s innocenti and, again with generous munificence this time from people like Handel and Hogarth, helped improve life for children without proper families.

The drawers with the names of individual foundlings and the objects left with them, such as a coin split into two (so that if ever the day came when the child could find his/her family the other half kept by the family might prove that the child was indeed theirs) and the little biographies taken from the old records are truly touching testimonies of hard times.

In the case of Florence the benefactors included such artists as Ghirlandaio and Botticelli who donated some wonderful works to the foundation. These gorgeous paintings form part of the artistic itinerary of the museum and are one of Florence’s finest and most uncrowded picture galleries. Not surprisingly, the main subjects are the Virgin and Child, the Nativity and references to the massacre of the innocents

The third itinerary is the architectural one. With such placidly exquisite cloisters as the two for boys and girls there can be few more wonderful examples of the trancendental change renaissance architecture wrought upon Italian, indeed European, cities.

To crown the museum there’s what must be the most spectacularly placed bar in the city, equalling and perhaps surpassing the cafe at the top of London’s National Portrait gallery for its views:

While we visited this lovely place there were dads and mums taking their toddlers to the various departments the institute still manages today after almost seven hundred years continuous service to children and the community.

In the evening we were even treated to a fine concert of voci bianche (childrens voices) of the maggio Musicale fiorentino. The programme included everything from renaissance songs of springtime to Benjamin Britten. If anyone thinks there is nothing to beat an anglican children’s church choir they should have been at our concert.

It was so wonderful to feel the fluidity of Florentine history through the Renaissance as expressed through its humanity in treating innocent children, in creating new space through its architecture and in envisaging a museum, not yet a year old,  that truly gives honour to the city of the lily. Indeed, the Innocenti is a place for all ages in every sense of the word.

Reap While You May

Recent deliberations at Bagni di Lucca’s town council have enabled long cherished ambitions to be finally achieved. If you buy it in Bagni (in other words if you kick the bucket) you can now have your place of honour at the English cemetery, which hasn’t received an inhumation since the early fifties.

There are three conditions before you join the internees:

  1. Only ashes placed in urns are acceptable. So you must agree to cremation.
  2. You can be of any religion you like whether it be catholic, Zoroastrian, Seventh-day Adventist, Mormon, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist, animist, atheist, or even C of E. It doesn’t matter. Your ashes will still be welcomed.
  3. The time of inhumation will be initially of 30 years renewable by your descendants

This is a great moment for all those who had aspirations to remain in Bagni di Lucca even after the grim reaper.

I’m already a member of the cremation society which has its headquarters at Livorno. I’ve now arranged everything for myself in terms of my posthumous existence except I still have to decide the moment of my departure. I wish the deities would inform me of that in time.

Anyway, you can read all about this exciting news at http://iltirreno.gelocal.it/lucca/cronaca/2017/04/22/news/nuove-tumulazioni-nel-cimitero-inglese-1.15234968

This is the article from that paper in Italian:

LUCCA. Approvato in consiglio comunale a Bagni di Lucca il nuovo regolamento di polizia mortuaria, adeguato alla nuova normativa. Con l’eccezione della parte esterna delle tombe, che ciascuno potrà affidare a chi vuole, ci sarà un bando per appaltare il servizio di sepoltura a una unica ditta, per evitare problemi, ricorrenti, con tante ditte diverse. Un aspetto criticato dal consigliere Marco Pelagalli, secondo il quale sarebbe stato meglio evitara una sorta di “monopolio” e lasciar lavorare ditte vicine e scelte dai committenti. Il vincitore del bando dovrà assicurare tutte le garanzie legali e sanitarie del servizio, in modo da evitare le tante contestazioni del passato. L’altra novità introdotta dal nuovo regolamento riguarda la durata delle concessioni che si adegua a quella prevista dalla normativa, passando da 50 a 30 anni. «È necessario avere un interlocutore certo — ha dichiarato il sindaco Massimo Betti — che si assuma la responsabilità dei lavori svolti e, non come accaduto purtroppo in passato, trovarsi ad affrontare situazioni di emergenza legate a sepolture non fatte a regola d’arte. Da parte nostra cercheremo di garantire un costo limitato al massimo, in modo che non vi siano aggravi economici o, comunque, siano molto limitati, per i cittadini. Abbiamo, inoltre, voluto che fosse chiaro che la parte monumentale o comunque decorativa della sepoltura fosse slegata dalla tumulazione e fosse affidabile a discrezione della famiglia della persona defunta».
Il nuovo testo prevede tra l’altro che i richiedenti possano utilizzare il cimitero inglese per l’apposizione delle urne cinerarie. «La novità più importante — ha aggiunto il sindaco Massimo Betti — è la riapertura delle tumulazioni del Cimitero Inglese, che saranno possibili solo relativamente alle urne cinerarie contenenti le ceneri del defunto. L’approvazione di questo documento è il primo passo, al quale farà seguito la redazione di un regolamento specifico che concorderemo con la Fondazione De Montaigne e con l’Istituto Storico Lucchese. L’altro aspetto rilevante di questa novità è che le tumulazioni saranno aconfessionali, possibili, cioè, a persone appartenenti a ogni credo religioso o atee». Il cimitero inglese è stato tra l’altro oggetto 
di una ulteriore valorizzazione grazie al fatto di essere stato inserito tra i luoghi da visitare selezionati dal Fai. Nel complesso sono in corso lavori per restaurare altre tombe. Il regolamento è stato approvato dalla maggioranza, mentre le minoranze hanno votato contro. (e.a.)

 

22 aprile 2017

 

Don’t leave it too late – that’s my only advice. There could well be waiting list for such a beautiful place to pass your eternity in….

One last wish. I hope you’ll come to visit me there. I may not have much to say to you when I’m there but the views are splendid and I’m sure you could at least have a glass of fine vino over my mortal remains.

PS I forecast all this in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/urn-burial-in-bagni-di-lucca/