Sacred Art In Tuscany 2011 a Review by Debra Gaadt
What a wonderful opportunity it was to be asked to join a group of like-minded, keen icon lovers on a trip to Florence, Pisa and Siena this spring.
One does not associate April with Clear blue skies and temperatures around the 28ºC mark, but that is what greeted our group of 15, led by Peter Murphy and his wife Sue (collectively now know at Team Pazzi) as we started our week long adventure on April 7th .
If you have never been to Florence, and this was my first visit, I would suggest it becomes a must. I was told so much about the architecture, art, food, and people, and all of it lived up to my expectation and indeed that of my fellow pilgrims.
There are those whom would say you cannot possibly ‘do Florence’ in a week and of course you would be right, but one has to start somewhere. A flexible agenda was laid out before us and all of the planning was done so very well by Peter.
The first place that we visited was the Museum of San Marco, covering most of the Dominican convent founded in 1436. Walking through the cloistered part of the building was so peaceful and the beautiful fresco of Christ on the Cross adored by St Dominic was the first of many frescos to come. For me the most emotional experiences here were the fresco of the last supper in the old refractory and the newly restored magnificent Linaiuoli Tabernacle. This was a particular favourite of mine, as I had used a study of the Angel playing the violin on one of the courses that I had attended with Peter.
Then in the afternoon of the same day the ‘must do’ visit to the Uffizi Gallery. An outstanding building in its own right, filled to the brim with some of the most wonderful art in the world, and a room full of Icons from across Italy. Mercifully Peter had pre booked the tickets so we did not have to join the mile long queues. This left us much more time to enjoy the splendour of the gallery and some fantastic altarpieces, including the Simone Martini & Baldovinetti Annunciations, a number of nursing Madonna’s (this list could be endless) and of course the glorious Botticelli room.
One of the days planned was a train journey to Pisa of course to visit not only the Campo Santo, Baptistery and Tower an architectural delight, but also a special visit to an out of the way place the museum of San Matteo. As it was so out of the way and some renovations were taking place, we had the place almost to ourselves. A wonderful example of Simone Martini was the main piece being restored, but we could all still see it, though from a distance and through glass, but here was also a room full of Christ Crucified. The dozen or so crucifixes, some against the wall, others standing free and most life size, really gave you a powerful sense of Christ on the cross and were very moving, another emotion that will stay with me. The resplendent weather blessed us as we walked from one place to another taking in all of the sights and overall ambience of the town, even if I did manage to embarrass myself by tripping on the cobbles and falling in the middle of the road!
Churches and Cathedrals figured heavily on our agenda and one of the finest was Santa Maria Novella (at one point I did make a verbal error and called it Santa Maria Vanilla – I was then reminded that I should have more than delicious ice cream on my mind, but there was a parlour very close by that sold exceedingly good fare).
Here the highlights to name a few were the Strozzi Altarpeice, the wonderful Spanish Chapel and the Masaccio Holy Trinity fresco.
A very small chapel, but very well worth a visit, was the Chapel of the Magi in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Stunningly painted by Benozzo Gozzoli, the only downside was that we were limited to fifteen minutes and all of us would have loved to stay longer, there was so much in such a small place.
Also, an awesome sight was to behold when we visited the Cathedral Baptistery, seeing the magnificent Italo Byzantine Mosaics, even though they were very high up and difficult to photograph. Seeing so many bible stories depicted, I especially liked the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and the Noah’s ark section.
We next visited the Basilica of Santa Croce, a Franciscan rather than Dominican church. Here the many frescos by Giotto were admired, along with the stunningly beautiful early Saint Francis panel. This magnificent Church houses the tombs of many famous Florentines including Michelangelo and Galileo and the beautiful Cimabue Crucifix, sadly damaged in the 1966 floods. The Bardi Chapel was a wonderful example of Giotto’s fresco technique, where one could see the passion and dynamism associated with his work of the time. The Death and Ascension of Saint Francis encapsulates all of his great qualities, particularly his subtle use of colour. Pictures of his work cannot do it any justice, as when you see it close at hand it comes to life. Of course the trip here couldn’t end without a visit via the peaceful cloisters and The Pazzi Chapel, known as a masterpiece of Early Renaissance Architecture. A beautiful place (and if you know the story of the origin of the Pazzi family name and its meaning that’s why the group became affectionately known as Peter’s Team Pazzi)
Still immersed in the most delightful weather possible we travelled to the centre of Tuscany to the marvellous medieval town of Siena. A lively majestic town and architecturally appears to be sharp contrast to Florence. We wound our way from the bus stop to the ‘Piazza del Campo’. It is at this point that I am stuck for superlatives as this fine medieval square is ’just something’. Not only is it associated with the fine museums, galleries and restaurants, but of course the horse race, ‘Palio di Siena’, that takes place around the square. Here in Siena we compared Duccio and his pupil Simone Martini, in particular the two ‘Maesta’. It was fascinating to see the difference in the gilding work, Duccio more sgraffito and Martini very elaborate almost like pargetting on his fresco.
Our trip to Florence, Pisa and Siena was over far too quickly, even though we fitted so much in. I haven’t even mentioned Michelangelo’s David, the Ponte Vecchio, Santo Spirito, the food, the leather markets, our visit to Tassinari the punch maker and Zecchi’s the pigment shop, the street performers and the perfumery. The art that we saw shall be with me forever and it has definitely left me wanting more. The artists that I had admired mostly in books before came to life for me and given the environment that they were seen in only added to the splendour.
After a very well planned seven days the adventure was over, it is at this point I should like to thanks everyone in ‘team Pazzi’ for a wonderful time with special thanks for all of your hard work Peter (our favourite Pazzo) and to Sue for their help and guidance, professionalism and altruism that made the stay in Italy so special.