The Italian Gardens, Kensington Gardens

You might know that almost the first place I would go once I got to London would be the “Italian Gardens!”  Ma, certo! Like a bee to honey.

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This lovely, smallish ornamental water garden was created in the 1860s and is to be found on the north side of park, near Lancaster Gate. It is believed the garden was a gift from Prince Albert  (he died 1861) to his beloved wife, Queen Victoria. Regardless of the why, they are now recognized as a site of particular importance and are listed Grade II by Historic England.

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Portraits of Victoria and Albert flank the 2 sides of the balustrades overlooking the lake.

 

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BTW, about once every six months while I am living in Italy I will see something in some work of art that causes me to say: “that’s a new one–I’ve never seen that before.”  I love it when that happens.

But, today, at the Italian Gardens, I had one of those moments, caused by the bas-relief below:

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I’ve seen a lot of weird images captured in marble sculpture, especially in the form of putti of various stripes, but I have never seen a rifle in a Neo-classical sculpture before today!  A detail of it is below:

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The Italian Gardens are found within the grounds of Kensington Gardens; you can locate them at the top of the Serpentine River in the map below:

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The Italian Gardens are an elaborate mix of four main basins. They feature central rosettes carved in Carrara marble, the Portland stone and white marble Tazza Fountain, and a collection of stone statues and urns. It’s fun to see if you can spot the five main urn designs – a swan’s breast, woman’s head, ram’s head, dolphin and oval.

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Strengthening the supposition that this decorative complex was commissioned by Prince Albert is the fact that the layout of the Italian Gardens is very similar to that of Osborne House on The Isle of Wight, where the royal family spent holidays.  Prince Albert was a keen gardener and took charge of the gardens at Osborne House, where he introduced an Italian garden with large raised terraces, fountains, urns and geometric flower beds.

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It’s thought that in 1860 he brought the idea to Kensington Gardens. The design by James Pennethorne includes many features of the Osborne garden.

The initials of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert can be found on one of the walls of the Pump House, at the north of the gardens.

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fullsizeoutput_13fe You can see the V & A monogram in this photo.

 

This building once contained a steam engine which operated the fountains – the pillar on the roof is a cleverly-disguised chimney. A stoker kept the engine running on Saturday nights to pump water into the Round Pond, so on Sundays there was enough water pressure to run the fountains.

In 2011, the gardens were restored to their original splendour. The project involved:

  • Restoring the original stonework. This included carving eight life-sized swan heads and necks as replacement handles on some of the urns.
  • Restoring the Tazza Fountain. Fine stone carving was carried out on-site. The central rosettes also needed careful cleaning and some sections were replaced with newly-carved marble.
  • A new planting scheme to recapture the Victorian vision and help maintain water quality. Native water lilies, yellow flag iris, flowering rush and purple loosestrife are rooted in cages just below the water. New walkways help ducks get in and out of the water.
  • A new cleaner water system and water quality improvements. 13 tons of silt were removed from the fountain basins during the restoration. The fountains are now fed with fresh water from a borehole. The water is aerated and its temperature raised as it leaps in the air, before flowing out into the Long Water.  Happily, this improves the ecology of the lake.

The restoration was funded by The Tiffany and Co. Foundation as part of a project to restore ornamental and drinking fountains across the eight Royal Parks, and known as Tiffany – Across the Water.

Also, just for fun, the Italian Gardens have provided a star location in several films.

The Wallace Collection, London. Wow! …and Manolo Blanik too.

 

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If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I rarely post images of the decorative arts.  I am typically not a fan of fussy porcelains or fine cabinetry.  I just don’t seem to have the gene that lets me appreciate that stuff.

But, today in London, I visited the Wallace Collection and it knocked my socks off.  I mean, this place is crazy!  The former mansion of the Wallace family was gifted to the country of Britain in the last years of the 19th century, and is still set up in a similar manner to the way in which the family lived.

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As you might know, I’ve been to a few museums and house museums in my day, but this place is more opulent than any other.

All I can say is WOW!  And then show you some (a lot, probably too many) pictures of this amazing place.

Oh, and p.s….Manolo Blanik shoes were also on display.  I’ve never owned a pair and never will.  But, to see the shoes interspersed with the collections added an element I’d not thought of before.  My guide at the Wallace Collection told me that Blanik was an Anglophile and was particularly interested in the Wallace Collection.  This is a new point of approach for me, and I could dig it!

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Let’s go!

The first thing I heard in the excellent tour I joined, is that when this Japanese chest (and its matching partner) arrived in Europe, it absolutely blew the minds of connoisseurs.  They were obsessed with the black lacquer and wanted to emulate it.  They couldn’t, it turned out, because the plant that produces the lacquer did’t grow in the west.

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Here’s my guide, standing in front of the Japanese chest.

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That didn’t daunt them.  The king of France set up a artisanal workshop, patronizing the best of the artistic producers known to France, and they experimented and experimented, trying to produce–if not lacquer itself–at least something that looked very close to it.

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Above, King Louis XV, the king who developed the French fine arts.

This is the time period in which France is lifted by the decorative arts.  France would no longer import fine luxury goods–they would produce them.  It started then and is still going strong today.

The wardrobe below was produced in this workshop.

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Before having a gander at the million photos I took today, introduce yourself to the Wallace Collection here with the director:

 

 

Now, please join me as I wander through the collection:

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Can you say “opulence?”

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Also, the Wallace Collection has a lovely restaurant!

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And then, on to the armor!

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And to a Gothic crown.  Because, why not?

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Check out the line of matching armor head pieces and shields.

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Below: a portrait of Madame de Pompadour, commissioned by herself.  My guide told the fascinating story of this woman and her involvement with the French king, and discussed the fascinating iconography of this portrait.  Please note her tiny shoe peeking out from under her “Pompadour pink” gown, for which she set the fashion of the day.  This is the type of detail by which Blanik was inspired.  Looking at his shoes today, I could see it.

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And, then there is this Jean-Honoré Fragonard masterwork: The Swing (1767).

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Galleria Vittorio Emauele, Milano

When I was in Milano at Christmas, I saw this beautiful galleria decked to the 9s.  It was a bit less hectic today, and, even without the Christmas finery, this early shopping mall is still a sight to behold.  I enjoyed it from inside and underneath the glass ceiling, but then I went hunting for a way to get outside and on top of the galleria.  Do you think I found a way?

 

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If you said “no,” then you don’t know me very well!  I have the will and I find the way!

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So, here it is from the outside, above the rooftop.

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The Moulin Rouge, Paris

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I’ve never been to a performance at the Moulin Rouge, and it is unlikely I ever will go.  Nevertheless, on my recent trip to gay Paree, I took a guided tour through the area of Montmartre and this is where we started.

It threw me right back to late 19th century French painting, especially with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  How I do love his posters of this genre!  Before I add some of them, please enjoy these candid shots taken on a cold December morning in 2018.

 

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And now, the real thing(s):

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The history of the American consulate in Florence and #Insieme200

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The American Consulate in Florence is part of the United States Mission to Italy and is located at Lungarno Vespucci 38, in the former Palazzo Calcagnini (built 1876-77). This palazzo was purchased in 1949 by the American government, to serve as the site of the Consulate General.

Long before the United States acquired the palazzo however, its presence was already in Tuscany.  The first American consulate to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was established in Livorno (then known in English as Leghorn), with consular agent Phillip Felicchi being appointed on 29 May 1794.

For some reason, Tuscany would not recognize any consulates posted in Florence, so the first U.S. Consular Agent to serve Florence was Vice Consular Agent James Ombrosi, who was under mandate from the U.S. Consulate at Leghorn (Livorno). Ombrosi was accredited on May 15, 1819.

In the years after the U.S. Civil War and the transition of the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from Florence to Rome, the U.S. Consul General was James Lorimer Graham. Graham was a New York banker and art collector; he and his wife Josephine lived in a building that is now known the Palazzo dei Congressi.

In the early 1870s, Florence was suffering the grave economic consequences of the sudden transfer of the capital, a move that left the city deeply in debt and had bankrupted many investors when boom turned to bust in “Firenze Capitale.”

Resulting higher taxes and slower growth led to widespread poverty. Mrs. Graham was a committed philanthropist back in New York, and so responded to this situation in a way familiar to her. She rallied members of the “American Colony” and started selling mistletoe baskets and Christmas trees to raise funds for the poor.

Then there was the more fraught holiday season of December of 1944. Though Florence had been liberated by the Allied Forces in August of that year, there was little rejoicing along the Gothic Line—the German defensive line that stretched from Carrara to Pesaro—as fighting raged and civilian and combatant casualties mounted.

In the early morning hours of a bitterly cold December 26, Axis forces launched a counter-offensive in the Garfagnana region of Lucca province, focused on and around the town of Barga.

The first target was the hilltop village of Sommocolonia, garrisoned by several hundred African-American “Buffalo Soldiers” and a handful of local partigiani.

During the fighting, German forces drove the Allied troops back. To avoid a complete rout, Army Lieutenant John R. Fox remained in his position in the Sommocolonia bell tower, calling in artillery strikes on the town and finally on his own position in order to slow the Axis advance. For Fox’s bravery and self-sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the U.S.’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.

Today the American International League of Florence (AILO), organizes annual events to collect thousands of euro each year that are then donated to local charitable organizations.

Incidentally, the United States also has 5 other representations in Italy: American Consulate in Palermo; American Consulate in Naples; American Consulate in Milan;
American Consulate in Genoa; and the American Embassy in Rome.

The American Consulate in Florence represents one of 402 foreign consular and diplomatic representations from around the world in Italy.

 

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2019 marks 200 years of American presence in Florence

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Do you have personal experiences or stories that were passed on to you about historic events that occurred in Tuscany, Emilia Romagna or the Republic of San Marino? Were you a Mud Angel? Did you have relatives who worked with the American Red Cross during World War I or witnessed the 5th Army’s fight along the Gothic Line in World War II? Are you doing something now that is strengthening the U.S.-Italy partnership? If so, the U.S. Consulate General in Florence would love to hear from you!

The Florence American consulate is collecting stories in anticipation of the bicentennial of its diplomatic presence in Florence in 2019.

Throughout that year, we hope to see a series of events across Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and the Republic of San Marino exploring all facets of our past, present, and future together.

These commemorative events and related information will be highlighted on the Consulate’s social media platforms with the #Insieme200 (#Together200) hashtag.

Our 200 years here are built on a foundation of millions of personal and organizational ties, so we need your help to properly celebrate our bicentennial!

If your organization has an idea for a 200th anniversary commemorative event—large or small—or wants to get involved with the events being organized by the Consulate, please let us know:CGFIProtocol@state.gov.

To receive updates on the Consulate’s 200th anniversary and more, join the Consulate’s community by liking its Facebook page @USCGFlorence or following on Twitter!

Have you ever considered the invention of the train and how it revolutionized the world?

I never have.  But, consider this:

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On a hot August day in 1837, Queen Marie-Amélie—wife of the French King Louis-Philippe—two of her daughters, assorted ministers, and other dignitaries gathered at the newly built embarcadère de Tivoli, at the northern limits of Paris….[They boarded a train and] the train pulled away from the platform and out of Paris, soon speeding through the countryside on the 13 mile, 26 minute journey to Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

It was the maiden voyage of France’s first passenger railway line, the most visible sign that the Industrial Revolution had come to Paris. Those on board were fascinated by the experience.

Each of the travelers in the car in which we were sitting expressed his impressions in his own way.

One was surprised that, despite such speed, it was as easy to breathe as if we were walking slowly on the ground; another was in ecstasy at the idea that he sensed no movement and felt as though he were sitting in his bedroom; yet another noted that it was impossible to have the time to distinguish, from three feet, on the sand, an insect of the size of a bee, or to recognize the face of a friend; and finally another noted with glee the surprised attitude of the country people upon the passing of this column of smoke and this long succession of cars without horses, sliding along with a slight buzz, and disappearing in the distance almost immediately.

Others, more grave, declared that the good that would come of this invention was incalculable.

The first major intercity lines, from Paris to the city of Rouen, in Normandy, and to Orléans, south of Paris, were inaugurated on two successive days in May of1842.

 

 

Kirkland, Stephane. Paris Reborn, St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.

The waterlilies of Claude Monet

Yesterday I saw the new film, The Waterlilies of Monet, at the Odeon theater in Florence.  I didn’t know much about the film, just that it featured Monet and his waterlily paintings.  That was enough to get me there.  I’m happy I saw it.

The film is a bit strange, part mystical, part historical.  I don’t think it will have wide appeal, but it appealed to me.  Here’s info from the press release, in first Italian and then a rough translation. And the film’s trailer.

Milano – Per soli tre giorni, il 26, 27 e 28 novembre, in esclusiva nei cinema LE NINFEE DI MONET. UN INCANTESIMO DI ACQUA E DI LUCE. Un percorso, narrato da Elisa Lasowski de Il trono di spade, che ci porta alla scoperta del più grande progetto pittorico di Claude Monet: le Grandes Décorations, le ninfee.

For just three days, on November 26th, 27th and 28th, exclusively at MONET’s WATERLILIES cinemas. A SPELL OF WATER AND LIGHT. A journey, narrated by Elisa Lasowski of The Game of Thrones, leads us on a discovery of Claude Monet’s greatest pictorial project: the Grandes Décorations, the water lilies.


Il film, prodotto da Ballandi Arts e Nexo Digital, condurrà il pubblico a Parigi, tra il Musée Marmottan, il Musée de l’Orangerie e il Musée D’Orsay, a Giverny con la Fondation Monet, la casa e il giardino dell’artista, e tra i magnifici panorami di Étretat. A guidare gli spettatori alla scoperta dei luoghi, delle opere e delle vicende del maestro, ci sarà Elisa Lasowski, attrice ne Il Trono di Spade, mentre la consulenza scientifica sarà affidata allo storico e scrittore Ross King, autore del best seller Il mistero delle ninfee. Monet e la rivoluzione della pittura moderna, edito in Italia da Rizzoli.


The film, produced by Ballandi Arts and Nexo Digital, takes the public from  Paris, between the Musée Marmottan, the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Musée D’Orsay, to Giverny with the Fondation Monet, the artist’s house and garden, and shows the magnificent views of Étretat. Guiding the audience’s discovery of the places, works and events of the master, is Elisa Lasowski, actress in The Game of Thrones, while the scientific advice will be entrusted to the historian and writer Ross King, author of the best seller The mystery of water lilies; Monet and the revolution of modern painting, published in Italy by Rizzoli.

Il grande progetto di Monet
Seguendo il percorso della Senna, il film prende le mosse da Le Havre, dove Monet trascorre il primo periodo della sua vita artistica, e risale il fiume verso gli altri paesi dove ha dimorato: Poissy, Argenteuil, Vétheuil, e infine Giverny. Qui, a 70 anni di età e ormai quasi cieco a causa della cataratta, mentre piovono le bombe della Prima Guerra Mondiale, Monet concepisce il progetto di dipinti di enormi dimensioni, nei quali lo spettatore possa immergersi completamente. Il soggetto, le sue amate nymphéas. Dopo dieci anni, nel Musée de l’Orangerie di Parigi, la sua speranza trova finalmente il giusto compimento, nelle magnifiche sale ovali da lui stesso disegnate. Nel maggio del 1927, l’amico George Clemenceau inaugura finalmente il museo dedicato alla Grand Décoration.

The great project by Monet
Following the route of the Seine, the film starts from Le Havre, where Monet spends the first period of his artistic life, and goes up the river to the other areas where he lived: Poissy, Argenteuil, Vétheuil, and finally Giverny. Here, at 70 years of age and now almost blind because of the cataract, while the bombs of the First World War are raining down, Monet conceives the project of paintings of enormous dimensions, in which the viewer can immerse himself completely. The subject, his beloved waterlilies. After ten years, in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, his paintings find superb fulfillment, in the magnificent oval rooms he himself designed. In May 1927, his friend George Clemenceau finally inaugurated the museum dedicated to Grand Décoration.