Museo Bardini has re-opened in Florence

And I paid a visit.  It was not like the old days, where you could wander at will, which is very sad.  Now they have a “percorso” or path, which you have to follow and they have guards in every room watching you like a hawk.  It didn’t feel like they were watching out for Covid.  It felt like they thought I was going to damage or steal the art.  I didn’t care for it.  Plus, I was one of 3 visitors.  I mean, really?

Despite my complaints, the museum is still a wonderful place with a fascinating collection. It is one of my favorite museums in Florence.  Here are a few of my favorite things:






The unusual sculpture above, showing a woman breast feeding 2 children at once, is explained in the label above.





Here’s some info about the collector for whom the museum is named:




And here are some of his eclectic objets:


It’s official.  My new favorite art form is medieval sculpture.  I mean, look at the examples above and below.  Did you ever see a sweeter angel above?


And, above, check out the lion caryatid figure.  Notice that he has a poor ram pinned below his feet, for all eternity.  The poor ram.  I love the primitive charm of these sculptures!



When I backtracked to take a picture of this gorgeous Renaissance doorway was when I knew my visit yesterday was not going to be the carefree affair of the olden days.  A mean, older woman reprimanded me for taking a few steps back towards where I had come from (although how you would notice the far side of the doorway you are walking through is beyond me), cackling at me that you must follow the path forward (I saw no signs showing me the path ahead either).

But, forget about her…look at the sumptuous doorway.  Wow.  What it must have felt like to use such casings.




Going upstairs, like a good girl, I arrived in the room for which I had come.  I could spend hours in this gallery, if they would turn on all of the lights and get rid of the guards acting like I was going to damage the artworks.








Donatello’s Madonna and Child with the Apple







Donatello’s Madonna and Child, known as the Madonna and the Ropemakers:







And then there are the cassone, or the wooden chests (like a hope chest for an aristocratic Italian woman), that Bardini collected.  If they would turn on the lights in the gallery and let me get close to the works, I would be in heaven.  As it is, I’m halfway to heaven, just looking at the furniture and thinking about the girls/women whose lives they represent.










And then there are the cornice: the incredible frames that Bardini collected. Any American art museum would give eye teeth for one of these marvelous frames.





Moving into another gallery, I pass through another sumptuous doorway casing:



Beautiful painted crucifixes were also collected by Bardini.  Below them, more cassone.







I could spend a day in this museum just studying the ceilings:





Or the Sienese sculpture:




Below, you might think you are looking at a rug on a floor, but it is a ceiling:



Upon leaving my favorite galleries, I go down this stairway, lined with rugs hung on walls.  Very effective.


What a collection.  Despite the guards, I love this museum!

The Russian Orthodox Church in Florence

I have the good fortune to live 2 blocks from this gorgeous landmark.  It is almost never open for visits, but I got lucky and snagged a ticket for a rare tour recently.



Known as the Church of the Nativity of Christ and St. Nicholas the Wonderworker (Chiesa della Natività di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo e San Nicola Taumaturgo), The  Russian Orthodox church is located on via Leone X. Its style is a late 19th and early 20th century imitation of the earlier Naryshkin Baroque.

By the end of the 19th century, there was a small but elite Russian colony in Florence.  Their much desired permanent place of worship came to fruition between 1899 and 1903. It was the first Russian Orthodox church to be built in Italy and was designed by Russian architect Mikhail Preobrazhensky (1854–1930), who had trained at Moscow’s Academy of Arts, and was erected under the supervision of Italian architects Giuseppe Coccini (1840–1900) and Giovanni Paciarelli (1862–1929). The church is a fine combination of Russian and Italian artistry.



The church is topped with one large central onion-shaped dome and four smaller ones, all covered with bright turquoise, green and white scales of majolica (manufactured by the Cantagalli factory of Florence) and topped with gilt crosses and chains. Laid out in the form of a Greek cross, the church grounds are surrounded by an iron railing fence with three monumental gates decorated with the double-headed imperial eagle and Florentine lily forged by the Michelucci foundry of Pistoia.

The church itself, constructed in red brick and grey stone (pietra Serena) from quarries near Fiesole, is decorated with 52 semi-circular or ogival arches known as kokočniki (named after the traditional Russian female headdress) and featuring six winged cherubs, like those of the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in St. Petersburg.

Above the doorway, a canopy houses a Venetian-made mosaic icon of “Znamenie,” the mother of God, between stems of flowering lilies. On the north and south sides of the church, two other tabernacles house mosaics of the Peter and Paul.

The splendid wooden entrance door, which came from the private chapel at Villa Demidoff at San Donato, was inspired by Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise. Depicting 22 scenes from the Old Testament, it had won its creator Rinaldo Barbetti first prize in a national exhibition in Florence in 1861.




True impetus was given to the church-building project when Archipriest Vladimir Levitsky (1840–1923) arrived in Florence in 1878. Despite many setbacks regarding, for instance, the designation of the land where the church should be built, Levitsky persevered and, in 1890, travelled to St. Petersburg to present the procurator-general of the synod with drawings prepared by the chosen architect, Preobrazhensky. A decree authorizing the construction of the church was issued in May 1891, but it took another seven years before the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally gave its permission.































Typical of Orthodox churches in northern Russia at the time, the Florence church was built on two storeys: the lower church, designed to be warmer in winter, was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, in memory of the Demidoff chapel. The upper church, cooler in summer, was dedicated to the Nativity and features a magnificent marble iconostasis with icons of the patron saints of the imperial family gifted by the assassinated Tsar Nicholas II, a martyr of the Orthodox Church.






























































Here’s the article from Wikipedia:


Nicholas I of Russia’s daughter Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaïevna first had the idea of building a church for Florence’s Russian community in 1873, but it was only six years later that a large gift from prince Paul Pavlovitch Demidoff of San Donato allowed construction to commence. Pietro Berti was initially taken on to design it by archpriest Vladimir Levitsky, then curate of the Orthodox church at the Russian embassy. However, he later switched to the Russian academician Mikhail Preobrazhensky and the Florentine engineer Giuseppe Boccini.

Preobrajensky’s first designs of 1883-85 were too ambitious, so a temporary church was built on a site acquired by the embassy. This became the parish church in 1888. Levitsky eventually raised enough funds to build a permanent structure and in 1897 the Russian ambassador and foreign minister approved plans produced in 1890 by Preobrajensky.

The first stone was laid on 28 October 1899 at a ceremony attended by count Caracciolo di Sarno, prefect of Florence, general Antonio Baldissera, the Russian ambassador Aleksandr Nelidov and consul general Tchelebidaky.

The lower part of the church (dedicated to St Nicholas the Wonderworker) was consecrated on 21 October 1902 and the upper church (dedicated to the Nativity of Christ) was consecrated on 8 November 1903. However, the building as a whole was only fully completed the following year.

After the 1917 Revolution the church in Florence lost Russian state support and in 1921 it became independent from the church back in Russia despite attempts by Soviet diplomats to claim ownership of the building. From 1920 onwards it was under the jurisdiction of Eulogius and in February 1931 it joined the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe.

Constantine I of Greece died in exile in Palermo on 11 January 1923 and later that year he was buried in the church, followed in 1926 by his mother queen Olga Constantinovna of Russia and in 1932 by his widow Sophia of Prussia. All three sets of remains were moved to the Tatoi Palace in Greece in November 1936, a year after the restoration of the Greek monarchy.










To visit the church, it is necessary to make an appointment. For further information call +39 055 477986.

Re-opened Florence

Little by little, she is coming back to life.

The Uffizi is still closed to the public, but I was reassured that Cosimo I, il Pater Patriae, is still waiting for me, as is Lorenzo il Magnifico.  Very nice to know!







Together these Medici gentlemen guard the Uffizi, even during a pandemic.


The nearby Palazzo Vecchio, is partially open.  The museum and tours are not yet ready for visitors, but the elegant and lovely cortile is ready to be admired again.  And, I am a very willing supplicant.








































And a quick stop for a real cappuccino served in a real cup at the bar at Scudieri.  Life is good!



Sforzesco Castle, Milan

Wow. Just wow.  I don’t know why I never paid a visit to this astounding place before now!






































































And, last, but certainly not least, you don’t see a lot of elephants in Italian art, but here is a big exception to the rule.


The Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan

Yikes! Nothing like being met by an army! The outstanding collection of armor below is just one of the many parts of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum that will amaze you in Milan.



The Poldi Pezzoli Museum is housed in the original 19th-century mansion built by Milanese aristocrat, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli (1822-1879).  His parents and grandparents had already begun the family’s art collection and he built his palazzo in this tony section of Milan to house the collection it as he continued to enlarge it.  When he died, he left his collection and house to the Brera Academy. The Poldi Pezzoli Museum was opened to the public in 1881 on the occasion of the National Exposition in Milan and has since become an archetype for other famous collectors.

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The Poldi Pezzoli is one of the most important and famous house-museums in the world. Located near the landmark Teatro La Scala and the world-renowned fashion district, this house-museum is beloved by the Milanese and international public.

The Poldi Pezzoli is a member of the Circuit of Historic House Museums of Milan, a city network established in 2008 with the aim of promoting the Milanese cultural and artistic heritage.

During World War II, the museum was severely damaged and many paintings were completely destroyed. The palazzo itself was rebuilt and in 1951 it was reopened to the public.

Not all of the house was restored as it appeared during Poldi Pezzoli’s life, but it was instead fitted out as a museum. The grand entryway, with its fountain filled with koi and its spiral staircase are original, as are at least 2 of the piano nobile galleries.  You’ll recognize them right away in the pictures below.

The outstanding collection includes objects from the medieval period to the 19th century, with the famous armor, Old Master paintings, sculptures, carpets, lace and embroidery, jewels, porcelain, glass, furniture, sundials and clocks: over 5000 extraordinary pieces.

Let’s begin at the entry way.  What a greeting!




Below: the view of the fountain from atop the staircase:



I was a bit obsessed by the fountain; can you tell?



Allora, moving on:







Angels in the architecture:



Dragons on the pottery:







I love the way they display the ceramics: why not affix objets to the ceiling?  It is a wasted flat space otherwise.  Genius.





Moving on to the important objets: Piero del Pollaiuolo magnificent Portrait of a Young Lady.









Botticelli’s The Dead Christ Mourned:























Ah, the glass.  It gets me every time:

















The panel below made me laugh.  I love how the sculptor included the slippers at the side of the bed! In this dastardly scene of homicide, don’t forget the slippers!





























Since 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, the world is paying homage to the great artist with myriad exhibitions.  The Poldi Pezzoli joins them with a major painting, on loan from the Russian Hermitage Museum, just for the occasion. Leonardo painted this work during his time living in Milan.











Casa Martelli, Florence, part 1

Last month, I finally visited the Palazzo Martelli, which I’ve walked by for several years, always hoping to enter. It’s only open a few days of the week and only by guided tour, but it is so worth the visit!  I highly recommend!

For centuries–right up to the 1980s– the the Palazzo Martelli was the residence of one of Florence’s oldest noble families. A visit to this jewel of a museum takes the visitor into a suite of opulent period interiors, including the ground-floor stanze paese (landscape rooms), whose walls and ceilings are painted with trompe-l’œil scenes; an elegant grand staircase leading to the piano nobile; the spaces of the main floor, which include a chapel, a ballroom, fascinating picture galleries, and a great hall and other richly-decorated rooms.

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Palazzo Martelli underwent a series of renovations in the early 18th century, under the care of Niccolò Martelli and his son Giuseppe Maria, who was the archbishop of Florence. Although there had been Martelli family homes on this site from at least the 13th century, it was only in 1738 that the family’s residence was transformed into the palazzo we see today.  It was designed by architect Bernardino Ciurini, and decorated by the painters Vincenzo Meucci, Bernardo Minozzi and Niccolò Contestabile, and the stuccatore (stucco artisan) Giovan Martino Portogalli.  The exterior, as shown above, presents a sober, austere image to the outside world, with only the balcony to soften the hard edges. This hard exterior is the way Florentines presented themselves to the outer world. But, oh, what lies inside is quite the opposite!

Today, Casa Martelli houses the last Florentine example, in public hands, of a well-known art collection formed largely during the 17th and 18th centuries. A visit proceeds through the rooms of the ground floor and the piano nobile, updated according to the tastes of the period, where visitors can enjoy the picture gallery—rich with masterpieces such as Piero di Cosimo’s Adorazione del Bambino, two wedding panels (pannelli nuziali) by Beccafumi, and magnificent paintings by Luca Giordano and Salvator Rosa—as well as the antique furniture, tapestries, and various decorations and objects dispersed throughout the home.

Casa Martelli remained in the Martelli family’s possession until the death of Francesca Martelli in 1986. For a brief period, the residence passed into the hands of the Florentine Curia, to whom Francesca had bequeathed the palazzo in her will, before eventually becoming property of the Italian State.

Two of the most outstanding art works that the Martelli family possessed have now been removed from the palazzo and are in the Bargello and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Both are attributed to Donatello. The monumental coat-of-arms that Donatello created for Roberto Martelli is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello collection.  Today a copy hangs in the place of honor. You see it below, on the far wall with a red background.

Likewise, a statue of David also attributed to Donatello (see below) once stood in this hall; today the statue is in Washington, D.C.

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Currently the museum is only open to visits a couple of days of the week, and then only with a guided tour.  If you get the chance, you should definitely visit the casa, or palazzo.  It is wonderful.

But, if you can’t wait or can’t get to Florence, you can fortunately take a virtual tour of the museum here:

Even accounting for the loss and dispersal of items, the collection remains impressive, including works by Piero di Cosimo, Francesco Francia, Francesco Morandini, Salvator Rosa, Giordano, Beccafumi, Sustermans, Michael Sweerts, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Orazio Borgianni, Francesco Curradi, and collections of small bronzes, including some by Soldani Benzi. The works are displayed in the crowded arrangement typical of the period.

When you visit the casa today, you enter through large wooden doors and an iron gate, both dating to 1799.  Inside the building, at the far end of a short interior courtyard, is a mural painting with an illusory effect, done in 1802 by Gaspero Bargioni.

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One enters a door to the grand staircase from this cortile:






The original ironwood of this staircase is fabulous!



Where you see the neoclassical sculpture of Psyche, imagine a statue of David by Donatello standing there.  That’s the work of art the Martelli family displayed in this place of honor.  The Donatello statue is today in Washington, D.C.

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Below is the copy of the Donatello coat of arts made for the Martelli family.  The original is in the Bargello.







Entering the first gallery off the entrance, you begin to enjoy the art collections for which the Martelli family was renowned, including the many outstanding ceiling frescoes they commissioned over the centuries for this opulent family home.



















In the painting below, we catch a glimpse of members of the Martelli family in the 17th century. A servant offers them a tray bearing cups of the hot chocolate which were a la mode at the time. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall!


Many of the doors throughout these galleries are embellished with these gilt decorations, every door with a different combination of items:








The artist signed his name on the ceiling mural, as you can see below:



I was interested in these little pops of passamaneria (trimmings) found covering the nailheads that these paintings are hung on.  I’m a huge fan of all things passamaneria, and I’ve never seen anything like these before.  I love it when I experience something completely new!



















Now we enter the 2nd gallery, with its own wonderful ceiling mural.  I was enchanted by these 2 little boys in the mural.  They are busily talking pageboys,  holding the lady’s train.  What were they discussing, I need to know!











The door knobs in some of these galleries were fabulous! Butterflies!




The inlaid commesso fiorentino furniture was outstanding as well:




Next we enter the 3rd gallery, with a ceiling fresco treating the subject of Donatello as sculptor to the Martelli family.  The connection was real and it is very entertaining to see its history play out on the ceiling!



That’s Donatello in the yellow smock:


Oops, another shot of my latest obsession.





Below: my other obsession.













Also notable in this room are the very old and very elegant draperies, also with very elegant trim or passamaneria.




And, of course, this family would own some fine Manifattura Richard Ginori ceramics:


The next gallery, with another fine frescoed ceiling:


In this room, I love the way the 2 drapery rods meet in the middle in a laurel wreath.  The message is clear, the Martelli family was crowned with laurel:














That, of course, is Dante in the red, accompanied by Petrarch and Boccacio. Naturally they are crowned with laurel wreaths and the putto is sailing in with an extra, just in case:




In the next room, a private chapel was built for the last Martelli owner of the home.  It is really quite something in terms of casework.





I don’t remember ever seeing a painting of a swaddled Christchild before.  Another something new.




I’ve still got more to show you, but this post is already too long.  I’ll finish it tomorrow…stay tuned!

The church and convent della Calza, with a Last Supper by Franciabigio

Just inside the ancient gate of Porta Romano, lies a simple church and attached convent (in Italy, convent can mean monastery or convent or both) dating to the 13th century. An almost unknown (relatively speaking, at least, to the hordes of tourists who descend on Florence every year) masterpiece of  Renaissance paintings is housed here: a beautiful cenacolo, or a painting of The Last Supper. Florence is so fortunately rich in these frescoed depictions of that fateful dinner.

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The church dedicated to San Giovanni Battista, in Piazza della Calza, was founded as a hospital in 1362.  There were once many oratories, hospitals and shelters for pilgrims and travelers along the present via Senese and via Romana. These were major roads leading to Florence.

At the end of the 14th century, the convent was established by the Gerosolimitan nuns. They commissioned Franciabigio to paint The Last Supper in 1514 in their refectory. Unfortunately, the sisters soon had to leave the hospital, during the 1529 siege of Florence.

The nuns were replaced in 1531 by Jesuati friars (not Jesuits) who changed the dedication of the church from Hospital of Saint John the Baptist  to San Giusto. They  used the hospital as a charity for children, an ecclesiastic boarding-house, and eventually as a seminary. The church and the convent became known by the name “della calza” (sock) which was a name derived from the long white hoods that the monks wore over their left shoulders. The hood was shaped like a sock and the name stuck.

The picture below is not authentically one of the della calza habits, but it shows the shape of the hood and how it was worn.

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From this nickname of “the sock” came the name of the church, the convent, and even the square.

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The true hidden gem kept inside is the Cenacolo by Franciabigio, still preserved in the ancient refectory.


Mother Superior Antonia de’ Medici entrusted Francesco di Cristofano, called Franciabigio (1482-1525), to portray a specific scene, during the Last Supper, just after Christ says: “Truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

Franciabigio thus knowing, deep sadness in the countenance of Christ. Judas, the only figure on the outer side of the table, reacts strongly to the words of Jesus: his sudden movement causes his wooden stool to tip over. All around the table, the expressions of the Apostles register various states of confusion.





One can notice each reaction and recognize each Apostle because the artist added their names, painted along the strip which runs above their heads. The painter added here the date A(nno) S(alutis) MDXIIII (A.D. 1514) and his signature, through a twisted shortened monogram (FRAC).


On the painted floor, you can even distinguish the name of the Mother Superior Antonia (SVORA AN), marked on the lower left side, under the table, between the second and third Apostle.

Franciabigio carefully fashioned magnificient details; along the fine linen tablecloth you see ceramic jugs, breadrolls, glasses with red wine, and sliced watermelon. Some of the jugs feature the typical Medici coat-of-arms (the one with the red spheres) referring to Mother Superior Antonia and the Red Cross of the Order of Knights of Malta to whom the nuns originally belonged.

Giorgio Vasari describes (Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects) how Franciabigio “was very keen on studies of perspective” and human anatomy. We see that throughout and especially in the accurate position of the wooden shutters painted along the wall.






A fascinating contrast is given by the dark green wall and the light of the crystal clear sky in the background, where the painter depicted the old Florentine town walls (the destroyed gate of San Pier Gattolino).

For the Jubilee in 2000, the fresco was restored.

Just a quick word about the Church of San Giovanni Battista della Calza:

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My quick walk through the church introduced me to this arresting sculpture near the entrance to the small church.

I was alone in the church and had free rein to poke around.  In a small room off the church itself I noticed an amazing della Robbia fountain.  You never know what treasures you will happen upon in this fascinating city.

And, finally, I can’t leave this post without mentioning that, depict the austerity of this church, some major paintings were once a part of the church.  They are now in the Uffizi:

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