GIOVANNI DA VERRAZANO: A FLORENTINE IN NEW YORK!

I would like to go back to the Age of Exploration, and thus to another important Florentine navigator that deserves a great tribute: Giovanni da Verrazano, who lived between 1485 and 1528, and who has become famous for discovering the New York Bay and the Eastern Coast of the United States of America.

There is no much information about the life (and death) of this navigator, but we know for sure where he was born: in the castle that bears the name of his family, deep in the Chianti hills near Greve, in 1485. Like other Italian explorers of that Age of Discovery, from the Genoese Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus) to the Venetian Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) and the Florentine Amerigo Vespucci, Verrazano was also forced to leave his land to pursue his dreams of adventure in “foreign land”, that means, to accomplish his feats at the service of other European countries: in his case the France of King Francis I.

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JULY 26: ST.ANNE FEAST DAY

Today, July 26, is St. Anne Feast Day. Saint Anne was the mother of Mary, and grandmother of Jesus; but she is also one of the patron saints of Florence, along with the main one, St. John the Baptist, and the others, St. Reparata and St. Zanobi. The devotion to Saint Anne in Florence dates back to a specific episode of the 14th century, that occurred in a decade that will prove to be quite tormented  for this city, and that has the church of Orsanmichele as the protagonist.

But: who is St. Anne firs of all? Despite her important relationship with Mary and Jesus, and the strong worship in Christian religion, the information we have about her and her life don’t come from the official Gospels, but through the so called “apocryphal Gospels”; the Church, however, has welcomed her worship. The story of Anne and her spouse Joachim is often narrated in famous fresco cycles representing the Stories of the Virgin Mary, that we can also find here in Florence: Anne and Joachim are a happy and very devoted couple, but without children due to the sterility of Joachim. This “dishonor” causes the High Priest to forbid him to make sacrifices in the Temple,  expelling him badly. Humiliated, Joachim takes refuge in the desert, for a period of retreat, when an angel appears to Anne announcing her future pregnancy. The same angel appears in Joachim’s dream, to deliver the same message. Joachim then returns to the city, where the famous “Meeting at the Golden Gate” takes place: one of the most represented kisses in art, starting with Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua!

In Tuscany, a typical representation of Saint Anne becomes the so called “Sant’Anna Metterza”, where “metterza” stands for “mi è terza”, an ancient Tuscan expression that means that she is “put in the third position”. The image, in fact, portrays three generations together: St. Anne behind her daughter Mary, that holds  her baby son Jesus on her knees. Two illustrious names famous for representing this particular iconography? Masaccio, whose altarpiece is now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and Leonardo da Vinci, whose artwork is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

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JUNE 24: ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PATRON FEAST

On June 24, Florence celebrates one of its most important holidays: its patron saint day, St. John the Baptist. It is on this date, in fact, that the Church celebrates the Nativity of this saint considered the Forerunner of Christ, and the one that introduced baptism in the water as a form of purification.
Many events take place in the city during this day. But: why is St. John the Baptist so important for Florence?

The city’s worship of this saint is clearly visible in many artworks, where the classical iconography depicted him either as a child, the so called “Giovannino” (“Little John”), together with the Virgin Mary and the Child, or as an adult, clothed with camel’s hair, to remember his life as an ascetic in the desert. In Florence, the main monument dedicated to him is, indeed, the Baptistery of St. John, located in the square with the same name, in front of the Cathedral; this has become therefore the center of the festivities dedicated to him.

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The “wine windows”

Walking through the streets of Florence, both in the crowded ones around the main monuments, as well as in the quieter ones, if you look around with curiosity, you can see many things, small and large, that the various attractions and the above mentioned monuments sometimes shade: tabernacles; decorated traffic signs; pictures of historical celebrities.. underwater; “Dante’s plaques” with Divine Comedy excerpts; more marble plaques on the walls of palaces, commemorating important personalities who had lived there; and much more. But if we look not so high, more or less at our height, we can often notice some strange, small windows on the walls of palaces: these are the so called “buchette” (small holes), or “finestrini” (small windows) – they have many names – for wine. Between the historic center, and the streets that were outside the last 1333 city walls, we can count more than hundred wine windows!
But: what are they? And what is their function? Better: what was  their function? Simple: to sell wine!

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The Bartolini Salimbeni: speaking of “you snooze you lose”!

Let’s talk about another important family of Florence, this time with the Bartolini Salimbeni .. that were actually native of Siena, and exactly at the time when these two cities were bitter enemies: during the fights between Guelphs and Ghibellines, in the 13th century. Their last name was then just Salimbeni, and its members were, in fact, Ghibellines: thanks to their merchants’ money, they were able to help the Senese Ghibelline troops against the Guelph troops of Florence in the Battle of Montaperti (1260). After its great defeat, Florence will become Ghibelline for about six years: the Guelph power will be restored only six years later, after the defeat of Manfred of Sicily in the Battle of Benevento (1266). But this is another story!

Let’s go back to our family, that very soon moved right to Florence, to follow the paths of commerce and mercantile activity. It was Bartolino Salimbeni that wanted to move, and so the last name was first changed to Bartolini, so to hide their true identity of Ghibellines in enemy territory, but it was later integrated with the original name, that became so Bartolini Salimbeni.

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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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