Friday, 11 December 2015

UFFIZI Christmas tour - From Annunciation to Nativity

This tour is intended to show some samples of the Christmas story in art.
The Christmas story in art is a rich epic with different moods and tones that speak to different emotional needs. The adoration of the Magi offers artists a spectacle of rich clothes, long cavalcades, rare gifts. The adoration of the shepherds is humbler and more spiritual. But the most introspective and mysterious moment in the story is the annunciation – the appearance of the archangel Gabriel to Mary to tell her she will give birth to the son of God.
Traditionally the angel is posed at a respectful distance from Mary, separated by an architectural detail such as a column . The two may even be placed in separate wings of a polyptych or on opposite sides of a physical arch.
Another nearly universal tradition starting in the medieval period is keeping the dramatis personae to just the two figures of Mary and Gabriel. The rare exceptions to this rule include images in which secondary angels attend, saints or donors contemplate the event.

The Nativity story needs no introduction. It is a widely favored subject for the decoration of churches and for private commissions. The Nativity is typically shown as taking place in a manger, a cave for the shelter and feeding of livestock – and the grotto in Bethlehem is exactly that.
Scenes of the Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds are often the simplest and most deeply spiritual, but many of the artists grasped the opportunities they offered to demonstrate their skills in depicting animals and texture. The surrounding details are often as interesting, if not more so, as the central scene. Occasionally these details include the portrait of a wealthy patron or the saint to whom a church is dedicated. Often, beautifully painted landscapes surround the Annunciations to Shepherds and Magi. The Magi are usually represented as Kings, which allows the artist to go to town on rich texture, elaborate gifts and even exotic animals and birds.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Heading to Siena - San Gemignano

We had a stroll in San Gimignano, a small walled medieval town in the province of Siena and situated in the breathtaking Valdelsa. San Gimignano is famous for its medieval architecture, unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its tower houses, which, with its hilltop setting and encircling walls form an unforgettable skyline. Piazza della Cisterna and Torre del diavolo (Devil's Tower) are displayed to the left.  The Cisterna is the stone well arising in the middle of an axe-shaped square covered with herringbone-pattern bricks. Behind the well stands the tall Devil's tower crenellated with overhanging corbels. It derives its name from a tale according to which the "signore" dwelling in the tower returning from a trip found the tower taller than it was when he had left. This increased height was attributed to the intervention of the devil himself.  In a different version of the legend the lord of the tower makes a deal with the devil but later he refuses to accomplish the agreement. Then the devil takes revenge by leaving his mark on one side of the tower.
At the top of the square stands the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta. The church is most famous for its largely intact scheme of fresco decoration, the greater part of which dates from the 14th century, and represents the work of painters of the Sienese school, influenced by the Byzantine traditions of Duccio and the Early Renaissance developments of Giotto. The frescoes comprise a Poor man's Bible of Old Testamentcycle, New Testamentcycle, and Last Judgment, as well as an Annunciation, a Saint Sebastian and the stories of a local saint, St Fina, as well as several smaller works.
Fina is the saint of the gillyflowers. Her name may have been Iosefina, shortened to Fina. She was born in 1238 to Cambio Ciardi, a declined nobleman who may have owned a superb stone tower. 

In 1248 Fina’s life was changed by a serious illness, which began, progressively, to paralyse her body. Her deep faith relieved her pain. She refused a bed and chose instead to lie on a wooden pallet. According to her legend, during her long sickness her body became attached to the wood of the table, and worms and rats fed on her rotting flesh. During her illness, she lost her father and later her mother died after a fall. In spite of her misfortune and poverty she thanked God and expressed a desire that her soul might separate from the body in order to meet Jesus Christ.
Fina's immense devotion was an example to all the citizens of San Gimignano, who frequently visited her. Visitors were surprised to receive words of encouragement from a desperately ill young girl who was resigned to the will of God. On March 4, 1253, after five years of sickness and pain, while her nurses Beldia and Bonaventura were waiting for her to pass away, Saint Gregory the Great appeared in Fina’s room and predicted that she would die on the 12th of March. Fina died on the predicted date. She was only 15 years old.
By the side of the Collegiata stands the Palazzo Comunale or Palazzo del Podestà surmounted by a very large tower called Torre Grossa or "la Rognosa" (the mangy one) because it was used as prison in the past. The Palazzo that dates from the late 13th century, and was built on the ruins of an existing building, contains important fresco decoration by Memmo di Filippuccio, Lippo Memmi and others and hosts a gallery with works of the Florentine and Sienese school. On the ground floor is a courtyard, which was built in 1323 and is decorated with the coats of arm of those who have held public office in the municipality. The upper stories of the palazzo house the Sala del Consiglio, and the civic museum and gallery. The "Sala del Consiglio" is a large reception hall which was used as the council chamber. It is commonly known as the "Sala di Dante" and is named for the noted poet Dante Alighieri who visited San Gimignano in 1300 as an ambassador of the Florentine Republic. 
San Giovanni gate
The old church of Saint Francis
The room is decorated with a Maestà by Lippo Memmi.  The fresco shows  Mary seated on a throne surrounded by adoring saints and angels (including patron Nello de Mino Tolomei). The gallery itself is on the second floor and contains works by Coppo di Marcovaldo, Lippo Memmi, Benozzo Gozzoli, Filippino Lippi, Azzo di Masetto and others. The first room is called The Trinity, due to a painting on this topic by Pier Francesco Fiorentino. Other rooms contain a Maestà from the late thirteenth century, altar decorations by Memmo di Filippuccio, several Gothic altarpieces (including one showing scenes from the life of Saint Gimignano), a Madonna with Saints Gregory and Benedict by Pinturicchio, and two medieval painted crosses of the Florentine schoolThe Podestà apartments (Camera del Podestà) are frescoed with matrimonial scenes of a couple taking a bath and going to bed. (An unusual work by Memmo di Filippuccio dated to the early 14th century.)

Saint Agostino Church

The Salucci towers, called the twin towers

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Beauty standards through time (Uffizi Gallery)

Life in the Middle Ages was markedly different from the flourishing societies hundreds of years before. Disease, the dominance of Catholicism, and shorter lifespans all contributed to the beauty ideal of the young, naturally beautiful and rosy-cheeked virgin. Where women of today idolize celebrities in magazines, during the Medieval period it was the Virgin Mary who reigned supreme and was memorialized in paintings and sculpture.

Though vanity was frowned upon by the Church, many women used cosmetics and fragrances to disguise odors (as baths were only available to the very wealthy at the time), emphasize their healthy glow, and disguise complexion issues brought upon by poor diet, poor health, or the marks disease. Very white skin was the main ideal, which women would achieve with a flour-based paste or lead makeup. While white skin connoted lily-white purity, it also helped disguise a lot of skin imperfections (while unknowingly causing many of them).
The eyes would be left bare as “unnatural” makeup would be indulging in vanity — though evidence suggests that eyeliners were sneakily deployed to define the eye areas just a bit! Women also purchased powders made from ground herbs to tint their cheeks and lips with a deeper flush.
In terms of general beauty characteristics, again we hearken back to the ideal youthful beauty. A very high hairline and a slender, hairless body were considered attractive, as were thin limbs, high breasts, and smooth skin.

Following in the wake of the Middle Ages came the Renaissance era, or the “rebirth” of the region. This began in Florence, Italy and quickly spread to the rest of Europe.

During the Renaissance, art and beauty flourished once more, and it was not only considered in vogue but a necessity for women to look their best. The prolific art of the era, such as those drawn by the Renaissance masters portrays the beauty ideal of the time: a full, rounded figure, delicate features, smooth and pale skin, light-colored hair, a very high forehead, and flushed cheeks. Such features were associated with wealth and nobility, which equated to beauty.
While some women were depicted in a strict, uptight manner, others were drawn fully nude in a suggestive manner. This is likely due to the first type of paintings being commissioned for women in the upper tiers of society. These portraits were meant for the patron family and represented the upper class. The other type, on the other hand, representing a female ideal. The female body is typically in full display with long locks of hair.

Like during any other age, with a female ideal came the pressure for women to fit this ideal image. Since having a high forehead was considered beautiful, women whose foreheads were not high would resort to plucking their hairline to give the appearance of a higher forehead. Women also plucked their eyebrows and used lead pencils to darken their eyebrows.
Like in any other period in time, smooth skin was highly valued because it represented youthfulness and health. Women would use cold creams to moisturize their skin. These creams were scented oils made from olives. Unfortunately, there were also some harmful forms of skin moisturizers that contained mercury and sulfur, which were meant to be applied to the face.

Art smiles and bites

Gnash your teeth! This tour is intended to show how teeth rarely are depicted in art (at least some samples!)

The birth of Venus by Botticelli, detail (Uffizi)

The young Michelangelo sculpting by Emilio Zocchi (Galleria Palatina)

The tooth puller by Caravaggio (Galleria Palatina)

The witchcraft by Dosso Dossi (Uffizi)

Medusa by Caravaggio (Uffizi)

The adoration of the three kings by Hugo Van der Goes, detail (Uffizi)
Saint Matthew by Bronzino (Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicita Church)
The descent into limbo by Andrea da Firenze, detail (Spanish Chapel, Santa Maria Novella)

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Introducing myself

I am a fully qualified Florence Tour Guide. Come with me and explore the best Florence has to offer. From world class museums and galleries to famous sites such as Santa Maria del Fiore, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella and the Palazzo Vecchio, I will ensure you get the most out of your visit.
I can show you Florence’s hidden treasures such as narrow medieval street, hidden gardens, unique shops and the quirky details that make a tour memorable as you discover Florence’s past, present and future.
Please note, I am not a Tour Operator or Travel Agent, so I am not permitted to book accommodation etc. for you, although I can recommend places to stay.
All my tours are fully customised to your interests and flexible on the day to take account of any special events taking place or the weather. With your own private guide you will have the time to fully experience Florence, stopping to take the perfect photo or popping into one of the shops, cafes or pubs we pass.