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/

 

 

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be – (or is it?)

Robert Opie’s decision not to throw away a Munchie’s chocolate sweet wrapper in 1963 was the start of a collection which has now evolved into the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising. Containing over 12,000 exhibits, the collection offers a heart-warming nostalgic trip through everything from household products, games, toys, biscuits, soft and hard drinks – indeed, the consumer background which has surrounded most of us growing up in the British Isles.

The museum moved last year to new and larger premises in Lancaster Road in London’s Notting Hill area.  I was very keen to visit it during my stay in London at the end of last month on my return from India. Like faded photographs and Proustian madeleine tastes of bygone days, old package wrappings and advertisements have a magic power to evoke seemingly lost memories. Wandering through the museum’s cleverly designed ‘time tunnel’, jam-packed full of items dating back to the beginnings of product advertising in the nineteenth century, stimulated us to reminisce about many things we’d grown up with: game boxes, such as’ Take-your-pick’ based on an old TV quiz show (remember Michael Miles?), to those fabulous Huntley and Palmer breakfast biscuits to Jubbly fruit drinks to LP covers and so much more.

 

The tunnel is cleverly designed to cover various eras from early Victorian through wars up to the last decades of the previous century with panels describing the main events of each period. Packages and advertising are, indeed, a direct reflection of social changes such as increased spending power, women’s emancipation, wartime austerity and package holidays.

Some products have disappeared for ever (although there may be a return of those HP biscuits!) Others have continued through the decades and even retain something of their original ‘look’. There’s a fascinating part of the collection which shows how particular products have evolved their presentation through the ages: items such as Marmite, Bird’s custard or Kit-Kat, for example.

A  great point about the museum is that it’s possible to meet its brain-child Robert Opie who, through his fifty year old collecting passion, has become the world’s leading consumer historian with twenty books on the subject to his credit and so much valuable material to contribute to social historians in general. Robert is always willing to answer questions and talk to those visiting his fascinating museum.

There’s also a café and shop where one can buy reproductions of items on display.

There’s no need to have loads of money to start one’s own museum: old masters aren’t necessary for constituting a fascinating gallery.  Rather, think twice about throwing away that washing powder carton…Not only will you stop littering this precious planet but you may even start your own collection!

More information including opening times is available at the museum’s official web site at http://www.museumofbrands.com/visitus/

 

 

 

Flaming June

She lies there curled up asleep like a comfortable feline, radiant in the golden light of a late summer afternoon. Luscious drapery enfolds her perfect body, so delicate that the sinews of her curves can almost be touched. Behind her an incandescent Mediterranean Sea glistens under the torrid sun’s rays. To the right an oleander flower teases with both beauty and death for in its blossom is a deadly poison.

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A strange immortality indeed. But where are we? Not in a forgotten Hesperidean garden or by a secret cove on a distant Hellenic coast. Instead, we are at 12 Holland Park Road in Frederick, Lord Leighton’s house and studio and where ‘Flaming June’ was created.

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(The artist’s studio with ‘Flaming June’ on the right, as displayed during Princess Alexandra’s visit in 1895. All except one of the paintings have been collected together for the present exhibition)

As artists such as Van Gogh were ignored during their lifetime so for so long after his death in 1895 one of the Victorian era’s most notable painters was neglected – such is the price of fame during one’s lifetime.

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(Frederick, Lord Leighton)

Indeed, ‘Flaming June’ – for such is the title of this ravishing picture – was forgotten, even lost, for much of the last century. It was found by accident, boxed up in a fireplace, by some workmen renovating a house in 1962. Placed into auction it failed to achieve the reserve price of £100. A young Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the first to realise the immense charm and importance of Victorian painting after its disregard, spotted June but could not persuade his granma to lend him fifty quid to buy her. ‘I don’t want any Victorian junk in my house’, she retorted. Finally, someone from a poor Caribbean island bought it for the newly-founded national gallery. It was Louis Ferre who was enraptured by the picture and bought it for £2,000. It now rests as pride of place in Puerto Rico’s gallery at Ponce.

We were stop-over passengers in Puerto Rico in 2004 on our way to Antigua but unfortunately did not have time to go and see the picture. It was, therefore, a fantastic opportunity to pay our first-time respects to June at Leighton House where she will reside until April 2nd 2017.

‘Flaming June’, for which one of the most beautiful girl in Britain, Dorothy Dene, served as model, Leighton’s favourite (perhaps there was more to this professional relationship but, alas we’ll never know since the artist was quite reticent about his life and never kept a diary) is probably the artist’s masterpiece and was his last completed painting. Indeed, when the funeral procession of the only painter ever elected to the peerage  (ironically just one day before he died) passed in front of the Graphic’s office there, in its front window, was flaming June, her immortal image shining on the painter who had given her artistic breath.

Many years previously we had actually seen Flaming June in the flesh. In a highly memorable scenic re-evocation of social life in this gorgeous mansion and focussing particularly on the relationship between Frederick Leighton and Richard Burton the explorer, (played by my friend David Reid) a latter-day Dorothy Ede posed in precisely the same way with similar aureate drapery, auburn hair and semi-sleeping eyes. (To this day, David regards this as perhaps his most enjoyable acting experience).

As we stepped outside into the overcast Kensington streetscape I wondered how someone who had studied at Florence’s Accademia di Belle Arti (founded by Cosimo I de Medici in 1563 and frequented by such greats as Michelangelo and Bronzino) could have been so passed over just fifty years ago…

Anyone who cares about Victorian, indeed, great art, and finds themselves in London must make a beeline to Leighton House for, in addition to the artist’s wonderful apotheosis of Dorothy Dene, it has one of the most extraordinary rooms anywhere: the Arab Hall with its dazzling tiles. So, two journeys can be saved by going to 12 Holland Park Road now – one to Puerto Rico and the other to a palace in the Arabian Peninsula!

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(The Arab Hall at Leighton House)

Finally, there is an important connection between Frederick, Lord Leighton and Bagni di Lucca. Elisabeth Barrett Browning, whose holiday residence has been so meticulously restored in Bagni by Laura Poggi and her husband, had her tomb in Florence’s English cemetery designed by Leighton.

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(Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s tomb, designed by Lord Leighton, in Florence’s English cemetery)

 

A Museum All to Myself in Florence

As I write a very strong and icy wind is sweeping across Italy bringing ever more misery to the earthquaked cities, towns and villages of central Italy and our first snowflakes here. This morning I woke up to a house without electricity but, fortunately, still supplied with gas and a good stock of wood.

The Museo San Marco, which I visited on my recent trip to Florence, seems eons away, especially the divine tranquillity of its cloisters and the frescoes in the friars’ cells painted by Beato Angelico.

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January and February are particularly good months to visit Florence’s great cultural heritage. The tourist masses have not yet arrived and it’s often possible to have the place to oneself. At San Marco I was the only person there for most of the time – it was wonderful!

How did this monastery come to be created and who was Beato Angelico?

The foundation of the monastery by Silvestrine monks (a sub-order of the Benedictines) dates back to before 1300 and there are some frescoes below ground which still remain from this period.

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In 1418 the monks were told to leave because of irregularities in their order but it wasn’t until 1420 that, thanks to Cosimo de Medici, they were replaced by Dominican friars from Fiesole. The friars found a very dilapidated structure mainly consisting of wooden huts so in 1437 Cosimo commissioned the great architect Michelozzo to rebuild the monastery according to renaissance ideals. In 1443 San Marco was finally consecrated.

The structure is of great beauty and contains two large cloisters (St Anthony and St Dominic) with painted lunettes:

and two smaller ones.

In addition to the friars’ cells

San Marco also includes a chapter house, two refectories, dormitories, a library and a pilgrim’s guest house.

The library may be confidently said to have truly sparked off the great advancement of learning, particularly the rediscovery of classical texts, which underwrote the whole renaissance adventure and marked a break from the previous age of mediaeval scholasticism. Without this library we might well still be speculating on the number of angels on the top of a pin…..

Among the greats of this new learning curve were humanist Agnolo Poliziano (Politian) and Pico Della Mirandola who are both buried in the adjoining church. (Incidentally these writers together with Marsilio Ficino are part of the teaching of the School of Economic Science in London whose events and courses we have attended).

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(Tombs of Politian and Pico della Mirandola with statue of Savonarola in Florence’s San Marco church)

How perfect it must have been to have one’s mind opened by studying texts in this airy and light-filled library!

There is a good display showing how the illuminated manuscripts were produced. The parchment was made from animal skin which then had to be coated with gesso to produce a workable surface.

All the colours had to be ground from their sources. Blue was particularly prized.

Then, of course, there was all the binding to be done after the writing and illuminating:

What a difference from word-processing a document today and how much more beautiful the end product!.

The heart of the monastery are, however the rows of Dominican friars’ cells decorated by frescoes by Beato Angelico in the 1440’s. Beato Angelico was actually beatified, (by Pope John Paul II in 1982), but his transcendence as a painter earned him the title of ‘Beato’ soon after his death. Artistry and adoration are magnificently combined by Beato Angelico:

(The frescoes of episodes from Christ’s life don’t follow a chronological sequence down the cells but I have arranged them above as they succeeded one another)

For those with sight difficulties there was a tactile representation of one of the frescoes – the Annunciation:

Giovanni da Fiesole, to give him his original name, started off as a miniaturist very much in the late mediaeval tradition. Indeed, Beato Angelico illuminated one of the books in the library:

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Born in Vicchio in 1395 Giovanni’s aims were to combine mediaeval devotional painting in the post-byzantine idiom with the new rules of perspective, light and shade of renaissance art. In this he succeeded admirably. In one sense Beato Angelico might be regarded as a naïf painter but he certainly knew his contemporary artists well and was fully up-to.-date with what was happening creatively around him.

It’s no wonder that Beato Angelico is the patron saint of artists – his day is celebrated on February 18.

Two of the cells provided a retreat for Cosimo de Medici:

Another was home to the fundamentalist priest Savonarola who railed against the decadence and luxury of renaissance Florence and even persuaded Botticelli to burn some of his more sensual pictures.

Not surprisingly he eventually finished up at the stake in Piazza Signoria (his burning place is marked by a plaque today):

I think the portable chair Savonarola invented was the best thing about him: take a dowel out and the chair folds flat:

The museum has further works by Beato Angelico in the old pilgrims’ hostel.

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This includes the restored wonderful Pala Annalena which had arrived from the workshop just a few days previously :

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and also works by Fra’ Bartolomeo, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Alesso Baldovinetti, Jacopo Vignali, Bernardino Poccetti and Giovanni Antonio Sogliani:

I particularly like Ghirlandaio’s last supper with those lovely birds and that well-fed cat by the table. I feel that the cat is there to celebrate an animal whose intervention in capturing vermin from the granary stores safeguarded provisions for the Last Supper – or indeed any supper for that matter…I’m glad the birds flying above are safe from his claws!

PS In case you are confused by the difference between priest, monk and friar see http://aleteia.org/2015/12/07/what-is-the-difference-between-a-friar-a-monk-and-a-priest/

In short not all priests are monks or friars and not all monks or friars are priests.

Chinese Checkers

Recently I posted on Ai Weiwei’s exhibition in Florence (see https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/east-meets-west-or-does-it/). This reminded me of our visit to the Shanghai museum last November. After our visit to Tibet we had a little time left in Shanghai and decided to spend it in various ways.

First, we soared by a very fast lift (elevator) to the top of the Jinmao Tower. It’s truly spectacular architecture with wide views over the city:

Jinmao means ‘golden prosperity’ so it’s truly a monument to China’s present golden age, at least as far as industrial production is concerned. The tower, which in some respects echoes New York’s Chrysler building of 1931, dates from 1999, has eighty stories and is 1,380 feet tall. It’s not the tallest skyscraper in China, however. That record is held by the nearby Shanghai tower which surpassed it at 2,073 ft. in 2015 and is the world’s tallest building as far as usable floor space is concerned.

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(Jinmao tower on left, Shanghai tower in centre)

However the Jinmao tower was tall enough for us and it has an amazing hollow centre which contains one of the highest internal atriums in the world.

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Its’s incredible to think that twenty years ago all this area of Shanghai was largely occupied by marshland and paddy fields .

Second, we visited the old town which is a shopper’s paradise especially if you are buying tea. It’s also the best place to eat delicious Xiaolongbao (Shanghai dumplings).

We could escape from the urban bustle into the peaceful atmosphere of the Yuyu (happiness) gardens which are highly characteristic of this part of China with its pavilions and rocks. The gardens have a long history and were started in 1559 during the Ming dynasty by Pan Yunduan, the governor of Sichuan province, as a present to his aged father Pan En who had been governor of Shanghai. It was truly wonderful to find this haven in the heart of Shanghai’s megalopolis.

In the centre of the gardens we attended a fine open-air concert:

Third, we ventured on the extensive Shanghai metro system to reach the fabulous Shanghai museum, perhaps the finest repository of Chinese art in the world. The museum’s architecture is most original being based on the shape of an ancient bronze cooking pot called a ding. The building is round and set on a square base echoing the traditional Chinese idea of the world as having a round sky and a square earth.

Visiting everything in the museum, which was opened in 1993, seemed a daunting task at first. The exhibits on its five stories, however, were well labelled and beautifully displayed. The sections were classified according to themes and materials used: bronze,

(Noticed the Ding on which the museum is architecture is based in the last photo?)

sculpture,

ceramics,

jades,

paintings,

calligraphy,

seals, coins, furniture

and minorities

.I was particularly touched by the Marquis Yi’s ceremonial bells (bhianzong) given to King Li as a ‘thankyou’ present for some land given to him after a good fighting record. How do we know? Yi’s name and the Chinese for thankyou are inscribed on the bells. These carillon-like bells are still playable after over two thousand five hundred years! This is what they sound like:

Our visit to the Shanghai museum was a wonderful extra to our adventures in China and Tibet. In the evening we had a scrumptious last supper on Chinese soil at the chic Astor House Hotel once favoured by such celebrities as Einstein, Bertrand Russell and Chaplin:

Next morning we were off to the airport on the fastest train in the world: the Maglev (magnetic levitation) travelling at speeds above 400 kph.

Undoubtedly we shall return soon to this part of the world for there is so much more to see and explore and it’s all changing so fast just like our train journey to the airport.

Which reminds me: if you are craving for Xiaolongbao there are some delicious ones to be had in a Chinese eatery (Ni Hao) just round the corner from the Palazzo Blu in Pisa.

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Out with the Old and in with the New!

2016 has been described as a year of great losses in the field of exceptional persons who have left this earthly plane to reach immortality in whatever terms one defines that word.

Their names are imprinted in our ears and in our hearts: David Bowie, Prince and (for me especially) Leonard Cohen among so many others.

As a lover of classical music I would add the following to be especially remembered among, again, a very considerable list of departed, inspiring persons:

Pierre Boulez, composer and conductor (e.g. of Berg’s ’Lulu’s’ first complete performance).

Nicholas Harnoncourt, Early Music pioneer conductor

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, British composer (particularly for me. See my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/farewell-to-max/ )

Einojuhani Rautavaara, Finnish composer (remember his ‘Canticus Arcticus with those haunting polar bird sounds?).

Neville Marriner, British conductor and violinist. Remember the Academy of St Martin’s in the Fields?

Some may say that quite a few of these greats had a good innings (after all, even Beethoven didn’t survive to his sixtieth birthday and Schubert was just turned thirty-one when he left the world). However, they all represent a great loss to our lives, a taking away of unique richness and a reminder that we too are getting older…..

There are the personal losses too. For me there was a loved relative to which I felt very close. My uncle, who was professor of French literature and an admired poet, I remember particularly for the wonderful mountain walks he took me when I wasn’t yet a teenager and for his deep appreciation of art and architecture and the visits he would take me to art galleries and ancient buildings. His sense of humour was both whimsical and pointed and he had a deep faith which many of us would envy.

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Just one day after Christmas another deep loss: a friend with whom I had shared so many walks in this lovely part of Italy where I live. As I wrote to his widow, an equally keen walker: “Dear ***** we are so saddened by your news. We will always treasure the time we spent with **** and you: those wonderful walks on the hills and mountains surrounding us in Italy – the Pisan mountain, the hill of Vinci, that big trek around the Pania della Croce, just to mention a few. ****’s kindness and hospitality to us was so exceptional. We shall always remember him as one of the dearest persons we have ever met. We feel so privileged to have been able to share some of our most convivial moments with you and ****. We send you and your family our deepest most heartfelt condolences and our thoughts are near you in this saddest of losses.”

There are also losses of people who we never knew and who so unnecessarily lost their lives. I’m referring to victims of that cancerous social disease, terrorism – a madness that must be cured if humankind is to have any future, just as wars must be halted in favour of grinding one’s teeth and actually talking to each other.

There are finally losses of persons who are still alive but who, through an unexpected misunderstanding are no longer with us in heart and mind. Political views have much to do with this and, regrettably, a particular event in June this year in the UK has divided both friends and families. I understand from friends living in America that the same sort of thing has happened over there with regard to the presidential elections.

The simple fact is that life is just like a game of chance (or rather a game of chance is just like life). Nothing can be predicted. Nothing is certain (except death and taxes, of course). The one thing that is certain is that in the end we are all losers – the owner of life’s casinò (gambling house such as in Bagni di Lucca was famous for) ultimately gets to win.

What more appropriate note then to finish this year than photos of our recent visit to the old games of chance, destiny and fortune displayed in Bagni di Lucca’s Terme alla Villa’s magnificent Palazzo Buonvisi and have them described to us by the master croupier, Virgilio, who also reconstructed this marvellous collection:

I wish all my blog readers a very Happy New Year and may the game of life play gently with you and make you win at least occasionally!