IMPRUNETA’S PEPOSO (PEPPERED TUSCAN STEW)

Tuscany is a land famous not only for its thousands of years of history, and for the quantity and quality of the artworks that are here preserved, but also for its landscape that has been captured in many famous movies (Under the Tuscan Sun, Life is beautiful, Stealing Beauty, A Room with a View – just to mention some), and that has attracted a considerable number of tourists. There is however another essential element that will give you a complete knowledge of this territory, allowing you to fully enjoy it: its food and wine tradition.  Since the origins of civilization of this area with the Etruscans, people have started to cultivate and produce some of the products that are still at the base of the Tuscan cuisine: wine (red wine mainly), olive oil, cheese, cereals and legumes.
We will talk more about some of the typical Tuscan dishes, and of its wines as well; and we want to start here with a second course meat dish: the so called “Impruneta’s Peposo”. We have to say that many typical Tuscan dishes are based on meat, and on an abundant variety of cold cuts.
Just outside Florence, to the south (in the direction of Siena), we meet its neighboring town Impruneta. Its history is strongly connected to its bigger and more powerful neighbor, and their relationship is based on the dish we want to talk about. Since ancient times (possibly since the 11th century), furnaces in Impruneta have produced a specific type of terracotta called “cotto” (”baked”). This material is mainly used to produce tiles, flowerpots, pitchers and bricks. Its property is to be very resistant to weather conditions , and it was for this reason that the great Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi, at the beginning of the 15th century, chose it to produce the roof tiles covering his masterpiece: the dome of the Florence cathedral. And so Brunelleschi became the most important customer of the furnaces in Impruneta, that were now producing roof tiles for the dome (1420-1436): it contains more than four millions of them!
According to the legend, it was thanks to this masterpiece of architecture that peposo was born: when Brunelleschi went to Impruneta to do business and purchase the cotto, he discovered a dish that the furnace workers were cooking using the heat of the kilns. It was a type of veal stew that was baked for several hours, placed on a tile in the same furnace where bricks were baked. The meat was covered with an abundant amount of pepper, to which the dish owes its name (“peposo” = “peppered”). Pepper was mainly used to cover the strong taste of meat, in a time when this was rarely eaten “fresh”, especially by the humble people. This meat, baked for hours, was really tender, and it melted in the mouth; when Brunelleschi tasted it, he was so enthusiastic, that he considered it for his worker’s meal. It was perfect to fill their stomachs, not only of wine (working at those heights, under the summer sun was obviously not easy), but also of meat, so that even if they drank a lot, they could not get drunk and lose balance! They could not afford to have accidents in the construction site, because in case of deaths, work had to be suspended to attend the funeral! Brunelleschi was an innovator for his time in taking care of the safety of his workers, even if it was for his own interests. So, even if peposo, due to its spicy taste, made people drink, these had to eat a lot of bread as well, and bread absorbed the alcohol. This is why the architect had a great amount of peposo sent daily form the furnaces along with the tiles.
This nice and fun story about the origins of this tasty dish has been unfortunately discredited from modern studies, proving that it would not be possible to bake tiles and meat together in the same oven; moreover, pepper was a very expensive ingredient at that time, that only rich people could afford: it is therefore quite surreal, that it could be among the main ingredients of a dish meant for workers.. (PETRONI P., Il Libro della vera cucina fiorentina. Giunti Editore; Milano:2009)

And for those who want to try to cook it, here is the recipe*:

Ingredients for 6 servings:

  • 1 kg beef muscle (with little fat, and with callosities)
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 2 glasses of Chianti wine
  • 1 spoon of tomato concentrate (optional)
  • Salt and black pepper

Chop the beef into stew chunks, but not too small ones, because the long cooking will make them shrink.
Put them in a pot with high edges, or in a baking tray, along with the garlic cloves peeled and left whole, the wine, the salt, the tomato concentrate melted in hot water (if you like it), and 2 generous spoons of excellent ground black pepper (some use whole peppercorns to make the dish more delicate).
Add boiling water or broth, in order to cover the meat, and place it in a slow oven (140 ° C).
Let it bake for 3 hours ca, stirring occasionally; add more hot water or broth if necessary.
In the end the  peposo should be “well-shrunken”, creamy, and soft; taste it sprinkled with more freshly ground pepper and, if desired, served on slices of toasted homemade bread.

ENJOY YOUR MEAL!

*(PETRONI P. Il libro della vera cucina fiorentina. Giunti Editore: Milano, 2009)

 

A SICILIAN IN FLORENCE: ANTONELLO AT THE UFFIZI

Uffizi are not just Florentine painters: the vast collections that have reached us through different channels, in particular thanks to the Medici and the Lorraine families, include many “foreign” artists, and we are lucky to be able to admire them in this museum. For example: thanks to Vittoria della Rovere, who became wife of the Medici Grand Duke Ferdinando II in the 17th century, bringing a rich inheritance of artworks from Urbino to Florence, we have the Venus of Urbino by Titian, and The Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca; thanks to Ferdinando III of Lorraine, who fell in love in Siena with the Annunciation by Simone Martini, we can now admire this masterpiece in the first rooms dedicated to the 14th century; thanks to the Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici, who visited churches to find paintings to buy for his collection, we have many artworks in the Pitti Palace; or the paintings by Caravaggio, arrived here as a gift from the artist’s mentor, Cardinal Del Monte, to Ferdinando I Medici.

Here I would like to talk in particular about a purchase arranged by the Italian State, and about an artist, that, coming from the south, was able to introduce pictorial innovations coming from the north, specifically from Bruges in the Flanders, and masterfully combine them with those more typical of the Italian tradition. I am talking about Antonello da Messina, great interpreter of the Italian Renaissance, that lived between 1430 and 1479 ca: only few details about his life have reached us, starting with his uncertain date of birth.
The painting, displayed in room no. 20 along with artists like Mantegna and Bellini, is, in fact, a triptych, that a couple of years ago was at the center of a “reunification” process arranged, among others, by the Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi: the triptych parts actually belonging to the Uffizi (and therefore to Mibact, the Italian “Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism”) are two, while the third one belongs to Lombardy Region. Thanks to an agreement signed by both parties, the Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus and Angels by the Lombard painter Vincenzo Foppa has flown to Castello Sforzesco in Milan; in exchange, the missing Saint Benedict by Antonello has come here (right side). And it will stay here for 15 years. The other two parts, the Virgin Mary with Child and Angels, and the Saint John the Evangelist, were the result of a purchase made by the Italian State in the 90s, to fulfill a wish: that expressed by Ugo Bardini, son and heir of the Tuscan antique dealer Stefano Bardini (1836-1922) who died in 1965, appointing the Italian State as his sole heir.

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THE RETURN OF THE “ADORATION OF THE MAGI” BY LEONARDO DA VINCI

After five years of restoration at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (literally “Workshop of semi-precious stones”, created by the Medici in Florence at the end of the 16th century), one of the most important artworks by Leonardo da Vinci in Florence, the Adoration of the Magi, is finally back on display.

In 1480 the Canons Regular of St. Augustine of the church of San Donato in Scopeto, located near Porta Romana (the church was destroyed during the 1530 siege of Florence), commissioned the painting to Leonardo; the work, however, was never completed, because two years later Leonardo left Florence for Milan. In 1496 the Canons commissioned then the Adorazione to another artist: Filippino Lippi. While Leonardo’s painting was left at the drawing stage, Filippino completed his work: his Adoration of the Magi is now also in the Uffizi Gallery.

In the Adoration of the Magi  by Leonardo the focal point of the scene, in the foreground, are the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus and the three Magi (also: the three Kings, or the three Wise Men), who are at her feet; two of them are at the vertices of the triangle that includes all the protagonists of the scene. All the other figures that are present in the scene, arrived to participate in the birth of Baby Jesus, are instead arranged in a semicircle, behind and around the Virgin Mary. These figures are particularly interesting, thanks to the sense of movement that Leonardo lends to their bodies, and to the expressions of their faces full of pathos.

The background is divided into two parts by two trees: the one on the left is a palm tree (symbol of Christ Resurrection, and also of martyrdom), while the one on the right has been identified by many as a laurel oak (symbol of glory, victory and eternal life).

On the left side of the background Leonardo represented the ruins of a building, while on the right side a battle between horses and knights.

Thanks to the restoration, it was possible to highlight a detail related to the ruined building: it is not abandoned, rather there are some men that are rebuilding  and restoring it, keeping its original aspect, like the structure of its arches; so we can see men at work, and even a man supervising the “construction site”  from his position near the tree! It is believed that Leonardo used the Church of San Miniato al Monte as model for this building, and this allows us to suppose that the palace under reconstruction is a temple.

The scenes of the temple on the left, and of the battle of knights and horses on the right, have both an explanation in the Book of Isaiah, that alternates moments of peace (the temple) with moments of wars (the battle). The man standing in the left foreground is probably Isaiah himself.

Concerning the scene of the battle between horses and knights, the remind to The Battle of Anghiari , that Leonardo painted in the Salone dei Cinquecento (“Hall of the Five Hundred”) in Palazzo Vecchio, is instinctive. This work no longer exists due to a risky technique experimented by Leonardo: the encaustic painting. This made the colors of the fresco melt down, so that nothing has survived, except for Leonardo’s original studies and copies of his drawings. These cartoons allow us to see a considerable similarity between the intertwining of human bodies and animals in The Battle of Anghiari, and that represented here in the Adoration of the Magi.

There is still much to be said and to be analyzed about this artwork, and there are other drawings and artworks that, through comparisons with the Adoration of the Magi,  could help us shed light on many details in it: this is what we would like to do with you, if you want to join us to see and enjoy, after all this time, this masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci.

The painting is temporarily on display in the rooms of the first floor of the Uffizi Gallery, where an exhibition dedicated to it is held. This exhibition will last until September 24, 2017; later all paintings by Leonardo will be transferred on the second floor, in a room dedicated to him.

A TRIBUTE TO PALMYRA. LOST ARCHEOLOGICAL TREASURES

Temple of Jerusalem: first time destroyed in 587 BC by Nebuchadnezzar , king of Babylon. Later rebuilt and destroyed once again during the Roman siege led by the emperor Titus in 70 AD.  Demolished a third time by the emperor Hadrian in 135 AD, when this destroyed Judea and exterminated the Jews.

Serapeum of Alexandria: temple dedicated to the deity Serapis, built in the 3rd century BC. Respected for its importance, and preserved by some of the Roman emperors (Hadrian rebuilt it after its destruction during wars). It was later destroyed again around 391 AD by Christian Patriarch Theophilos (according to one of the possible versions of the events).

Pantheon, Rome: Pope Boniface IV turns it into a Christian church in 609 AD; this saved it from destruction, but not from being raided of its bronze and of its external decorations  (bronze was melted and reused in the 17th century by Pope Urban VIII Barberini to produce cannons to defend Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, and for San Peter’s Baldachin by the artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini; in the same way the pope reused the stones of the Colosseum to build the Barberini Palace).

Parthenon, Athens: 1687, during the war between Christians and Turks, the Venetian troops of Francesco Morosini blew up the Parthenon to show the Turks (who had been in control of the city for two centuries) that Venice was stronger; so they destroyed the city’s most precious symbol.

Palmyra: 2015. During the civil war in Syria, ISIS destroys the historical monuments of the archeological site of Palmyra, to eliminate every single trace of paganism, beheading also the guardian and head of antiquities of the site.

These are just a few of the upsetting examples of human action. As humans, we consider ourselves the most excellent and perfect among animals; we are the only ones to own the power of speech; we are the most intelligent creatures. Well, history shows rather the opposite.. after millenniums we prove to have learned absolutely nothing, and we keep on committing the same fanatical acts. We can be Christians, Jewish, Buddhists, Islamic, or atheists, but we are all ignorant fanatics the moment we destroy a symbol of the past. Since ancient times, blind ignorance and rage have been leading man to attempt to cancel other communities with other religions, not only by exterminating their inhabitants, but also by destroying all the buildings related to their worship. And we say “attempt” because reality is, there is no way to make man change his worship, not even by destroying his city (it rather seems that this way leads to the opposite result).

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