By the way, some of the pictures below may duplicate each other. Sometimes writing a blog is a super pain in the next, especially when you have lots of images to use and when the software misbehaves. I do the best that I can. I prefer to be over inclusive rather than miss one image.
The riches of Florence continue to amaze me. Every week brings a new discovery. Some things are hidden, others are hiding in plain sight.
The Teatro della Pergola is one of the obvious places one intrinsically knows will be a delight. One only needs the time to explore.
For me, that time arrived in mid November. I was fortunate to have a guided tour of the theater with one of the key people in the organization, Claudia. It was easy to set up as 1, 2, 3. You email Claudia at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check this website: https://www.destinationflorence.com/it/dettagli/5522-pergola-gran-tour. Soon you will be time traveling in a beautiful space ship: a 17th century Baroque theater in the heart of Florence. The street is Via della Pergola, a 5 minute walk from the Duomo.
For those who can’t get to Florence to view this fantastic place, thank your lucky stars that we are living in the 21st century! You can take a virtual tour of the theater on Google’s Art and Culture platform.
The Teatro della Pergola in Florence was the first theater in Italy, and the third overall after the Opéra in Paris and the National Theater in London, to be virtually hosted on the Google Cultural platform,making the vast European artistic heritage virtually accessible for aall the world to enjoy.
So, first things first:
Where did the name of the theater come from? Pergola means trellis, or a structure on which climbing or trailing plants can grow. The front of the theater is covered with ivy, which trails down over the small projecting metal and glass canopy over the entrance and lends a pastoral feel to the theater. Claudia told me that when the original building was constructed here, there was already a small vineyard planted, which undoubtedly had some sort of pergola. The name stuck.
A self-formed group of Florentines, calling themselves the Accademia degli Immobili, were dedicated to the cultivation of the arts in their city. While there was already a theater in Florence (the Teatro del Cocomero, later replaced and renamed by the still extant Teatro Niccolini), it was too small for the Accademia’s needs.
They commissioned Ferdinando Tacca (son of Pietro Tacca, who designed the two fountains in Piazza SS. Annunziata), to build them a theater. It was probably inspired by the courtyards of Renaissance palaces. One possible model is the Cortile Ammannati at Palazzo Pitti. The functionality of these courtyards was in part that they allowed spectators (noble and aristocratic of course) to view all kinds of shows in the square or rectangular spaces within the palazzi. They could watch games, mock battles and all manner of entertainment, without mixing with the entertainers, one imagines.
The theater commission proved to be notable opportunity for the architect, Tacca. What he designed for the Accademicians was no less than the first “Italian theater,” whose design, with its incredible acoustics, served as the basis for later theaters built throughout Europe and the world.
Tacca took the basic horseshoe design which the Greeks and Romans had already established as the ideal shape for watching theatrical performances. He constructed the floor of the theater in a spoon shape, with rises at the back of the orchestra and the stage.
One of the most notable aspects of Tacca’s design were the boxes that surround the outline of the theater on 3 levels, with a gallery on the 4th level. This was the birth of this particular feature of classic Italian theater design. For the first time, small separate spaces allowed each noble family to admire the show, and to be admired by the fellow theater-goers, from a privileged position.
The boxes are worthy of their own post. Claudia told me that all manner of things happened in these separate spaces, whose doors could be locked from the inside and whose heavy draperies at the front of the box could be drawn closed. Florentines were proverbially argumentative and territorial, and it was hoped that by assigning a box to each family, the continual feuds could be managed. Unfortunately, along with the food, wine, sexual exploits that took place in the boxes, we know that even murders were perpetrated.
The coats-of-arms of the various noble families announced the ownership of each box. When the theater was renovated in subsequent centuries, the shields were taken down; the extant ones hang in the lobby of the theater.
There are 25 boxes on each level and, currently, there are only two restricted boxes: the number 1 of the first level, which remained reserved for the last heirs of the founding members of the Accademia, and the box on the opposite side. This box is the 25th on the first level, and is reserved for the theater director. You can see it in the photo below: It is the first box on the first level, just to the right of the stage. It has pink marble facing it, unlike the other boxes which have white stucco facing.
The photo below was taken from the stage. You can see the Royal Box in the center taking up the 2nd and 3rd level spaces in the center. The size of this theater is small and intimate. I can see how it would be ideal for theatrical or musical performances and I am eager to experience them soon.
Together with the large stage, and the boxes and gallery, another distinctive feature of the Pergola are the incredible acoustics. Tacca created a perfect space for hosting theater and music; the voices of the great actors are enhanced, thanks to the horseshoe outline.
One thing Claudia explained to me is that the only things made from metal allowed in the theater design are the necessary brackets for holding electrical stuff, such as the house lights and the stage lights. Everything else is stone or wood, because metal changes the sound waves in the theater.
The theater was completed in 1661. The inaugural production was the comic opera Il podestà di Colognole by Giovanni Andrea Moniglia.
Once upon a time:
The stage set was hidden from view at the beginning of performances with a large painted curtain depicting Florence and the Arno. The curtain that covers the stage today is itself quite grand.
Why a windmill?
The Accademia degli Immobili, or the founders of the theater, took for themselves the rather incongruous (to me) Dutch windmill as their theater symbol. I could not understand this choice until Claudia explained that Florence’s riches were at the time based upon the trade with the north and, I suppose, especially the Netherlands. The windmill is used throughout the theater in subtle design features. It even appears on the knobs on the box door handles:
Initially reserved for the court and aristocracy, the theater was reopened from 1718 to the paying public. The operatic works of the great composers, such as Antonio Vivaldi, were staged.
Below are photos of the to-scale model of the theater as it would have originally appeared. You can see the coats-of-arms over each first level box. Claudia told me that the benches with backs and cushions were reserved for women, and the benches without backs were for me.
The neoclassical lobby was a later addition. It provides a grand welcome to all visitors.
The building of La Pergola was remodeled several times. It was enriched with new decorative schemes and enlarged with all of the crafts and skills of the stage art.
In 1801 the Saloncino, a large room with stuccos dedicated to music and dance, was opened on the first floor by architect Luca Ristorini (completely restored in 2000; it is the second hall of the theater). Ristorini had also, in 1789, had renovated the great hall, changing the box design to create a very large royal box at the far end of the theater, directly opposite the stage.
The period between 1823 and 1855 were great years for the Pergola, for it was managed by the impresario Alessandro Lanari. Under his direction, Florence became one of the most important stages of Italian classic opera. The most important composers, beginning with Bellini, made important appearances on Via della Pergola and Florentines first hear the music of Giuseppe Verdi when he made his renowned Macbeth debut in 1847. The museum under the main hall has a wooden chair built especially for Verdi to sit upon while directing rehearsals. He was having problems with his legs and the chair made life better for him.
In 1826, Gasparo Martellini painted the historical curtain depicting the coronation of Petrarca in Campidoglio which is still used at galas. The machinist, Cesare Canovetti, designed and constructed an ingenious wooden machine for lifting the stalls which forms the basis for the museum under the hall. It was used when the hall was converted into a ballroom, to make the floor a single plane with the stage. The architect, Baccani, modernized the theater, designing the the “Atrium of the Columns.” And, very notably, a young stage apprentice, Antonio Meucci, experimented with a voice communication system between the attic where the curtains and sets were managed from above and the the stage. Meucci’s invention was the ancestor of the telephone, which Meucci perfected, when he emigrated to the United States. According to Claudia, Meucci sold the design of his invention to Alexander Graham Bell who went on to produce the first telephone.
In the 19th century:
The theater’s illumination was upgraded to gas lights, and Florence enjoys the rank of capital of Italy. The theater board sells a share of the Academy to the King Vittorio Emanuele II. Later financial problems encountered by the theater were partially solved by the intervention of the Commune.
Electric lighting was incorporated in 1898. The theater underwent drastic changes along with the lighting: plays were substituted for the opera (which moved to the larger Florentine theaters, the Politeama and Pagliano).
In December 1906, Eleonora Duse arrives at the Pergola with the legendary Rosmersholm by Ibsen. This play was directed by Edward Gordon Craig and a dressing room was designed for the grand dame. This Primo Camerino, is still in use, conveniently located right next to the stage.
In 1925, the Pergola became a national monument. During WWII, the theater was managed by Aladino Tofanelli. Ownership was ceded to the state in 1942 and it soon became a part of the newly created Ente Teatrale Italiano.
When Tofanelli died, the young, brilliant and innovative Alfonso Spadoni, arrived and revitalized the Pergola, primarily with great dramas. The Pergola is seamlessly woven into the urban fabric of Florence, providing a setting for important cultural events.
Another brilliant young man, Marco Giorgetti, is at the helm now. Since 1999 Giorgetti has been hard at work, reestablishing the ties between the theater and the city.
Today the Pergola is much more than a theater. At the epicenter of the Teatro della Toscana Foundation and a theater of national importance, the Pergola is a living cultural center, using its history and prestige. It maintains very active programming. The brightest stars in the theater firmament shine at the Pergola.
Walking in the corridors of the theater is like reading a book sprinkled with immortal names. All the objects tell a story, the individual fibers of fabric or wood particles bear witness to memorable events.
Below: the neoclassical painting on the ceiling of the grand hall.
Spend a little time in Florence, Italy, and you will soon discover that the work of fine arts restoration is very much alive and well in this magnificent city. It just makes sense.
What you may not realize, is that one of the famous artistic workshops of the Italian Renaissance, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, established in 1588 at the behest of Ferdinando I de’ Medici, is still functioning today. Ferdinando sponsored the formation of this workshop to provide the elaborate, inlaid precious and semi-precious stoneworks that he so admired. And you can visit the premises.
And, what is this art of inlay? If you’ve been to Florence, chances are good that you’ve visited the Chapel of Medici Princes in San Lorenzo. That magnificent, opulent chapel is an example of the art of stone inlay at its most excessive.
The overall decoration of the Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of Princes) in the Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze takes the art form to a whole new level. The technique, which originated from Byzantine inlay work, was perfected by the Opificio masters under the Medici patronage and the artworks they produced became known as opera di commessi medicei (commesso is the old name of the technique, akin to the ancient craft of inlay) and later as commesso in pietre dure (semi-precious stones inlay).
The artisans performed the exceptionally skilled and delicate task of inlaying thin veneers of semi-precious stones, especially selected for their color, opacity, brilliance and grain, to create elaborate decorative and pictorial effects. Items of extraordinary refinement were created in this way, from furnishings to all manner of artworks. Today, artisans trained at the Opificio assist many of the world’s museums in their restoration programs.
I recently was introduced to a fantastic workshop in Florence, the Lastrucci. It was there that my interest in this typically Florentine art form originated.
The Opificio workshops were originally located in the Casino Mediceo, then in the Uffizi and were finally moved to their present location in Via Alfani in 1796, or you know, slightly after the formation of the United States of America. At the end of the 19th century, the institute’s activities moved away from the production of works of art and towards the art of restoration. At first specialising in hardstone carving, in which the workshops were and are a world authority, and then later expanding into other related fields (stone and marble sculptures, bronzes, ceramics).
The Opificio delle pietre dure, which literally means “Workshop of semi-precious stones,” is a public institute of the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage based in Florence. It is a global leader in the field of art restoration and provides teaching as one of two Italian state conservation schools (the other being the Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro). The institute maintains also a specialist library and archive of conservation, as well as a very fine, small museum displaying historic examples of pietre dure inlaid art and artifacts. A scientific laboratory conducts research and diagnostics and provides a preventive conservation service.
The frescoed halls within the museum are lovely in their own right:
But one comes here, after all, to see the stone work:
The museum displays extraordinary examples of pietre dure works, including cabinets, table tops and plates, showing an immense repertoire of decoration, usually either flowers, fruits and animals, but also sometimes other picturesque scenes, including a famous view of the Piazza della Signoria.
There is also a large baroque fireplace entirely covered in malachite, a dazzling and brilliant green stone as well as copies of painting executed in inlaid stone. Some of the exhibition space is dedicated to particular types of stone, such as the paesina, extracted near Florence, the grain and color of which can be used to create vivid landscapes.
There are vases and furnishings decorated with Art Nouveau designs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including a tabletop with a harp and garland by Emilio Zocchi (1849) and another decorated with flowers and birds by Niccolò Betti (1855).
While one is not able to visit the restoration workshops, a visit to the small museum is a must for understanding the fine art of semi precious stone inlay, which is itself a very Florentine tradition.
Here are some examples of pietre dure that caught my eye in the museum.
Climbing to the museum’s 2nd floor, you know you are in a place that values stone when you see the back of each step: each step got its own stone type. Extraordinary.
An exhibition of the technical processes of pietre dure works through history is found on the upper floor.
For me, the upper floor was the most interesting. While I admire the workmanship and skill that goes into these incredible inlaid pieces, usually the artwork itself doesn’t move me. But the upper floor has amazing didactic information, original casework furniture specifically designed for the artisans, and tools. There is also a very informative film that tells the story very well.
Below, a few of the dental type tools used in the craft. Dazzling.
The Brenta is an Italian river that runs from Trentino to the Adriatic Sea just south of the Venetian lagoon in the Veneto region.
During the Roman era, it was called Medoacus and near Padua it divided in two branches, Medoacus Maior and Medoacus Minor. The river changed its course in the early Middle Ages, and its former bed through Padua was by then occupied by the Bacchiglione.
The 108 mile long stretch was first channelled by the Venetian Republic in the 16th century, when a canal was built from the village of Stra to the Adriatic Sea, bypassing the Venetian lagoon.
The Brenta canal made use of the system of rivers and canals that had connected the Venetian cities with each other and with the Venice lagoon since ancient times. The goods directed from the hinterland to the Serenissima Republic of Venice passed on these river routes: building materials such as wood, marble, stones from the Vicentine Hills and trachyte from the Euganean Hills as well as grains and other agricultural products. The transport took place with barges called bùrci pulled along the horse banks.
In construction the canal, the Republic of Venice imposed hydraulic changes (which several times required the engineering advise of Leonardo Da Vinci) which diverted the main river course further south, moving it away from the Venetian lagoon and leading it to flow directly into the Adriatic Sea. These hydraulic works are represented by the cuts of the Brenta Nuova and the Brenta Nuovissima, and consist of sluices and mobile bridges that have made the river navigable.
A branch of the Brenta, named Naviglio del Brenta, was left to connect directly Venice and Padova (which was a kind of second capital of the Venice Republic). The Brenta canal runs through Stra, Fiesso d’Artico, Dolo, Mira, Oriago and Malcontenta to Fusina, which is part of the comune of Venice.
With this new stretch of the Brenta connecting Venice with Padua, it came to be called the Riviera del Brenta by the 16th century. Wealthy Venetian families began to build elaborate river houses which they called villa (“villa” in the language of the time meant “country”). This was a perfect situation for these patrician families because there new homes could be easily reached from Venice with their gondolas. In fact, it has been said that with all the new building along the Canal, it was almost as if the Brenta canal was an extension of Venice’s Grand Canal.
It also became the custom of aristocratic Venetian families to spend summer holidays in their new country houses. These homes could be reached by richly decorated, luxurious wooden burchielli, or ships.
These vessels had elegant cabins, with three or four balconies. The interiors were finely decorated and adorned with mirrors, paintings and precious carvings. On the way to the lagoon they were propelled by wind or oars, while on the route from Fusina to Padua along the Brenta Riviera, they could be pulled by horses.
Cargo was carried on traditional barges known as burci.
After 1797 , with the fall of the Venetian Republic and the consequent decline of the Venetian patriciate, the burchielli fell into disuse.
Among the first villas to be built, and one of the most important, is Casa Foscari designed by Andrea Palladio at Malcontenta (located shortly after the gates of the Moransani). The illustrious Foscari family was established by the 15th century, when a Foscari was a popular doge in the Venetian Republic for 34 years.
Another Palladian villa, which was built for Senator Leonardo Mocenigo around 1560-61, was destroyed. But its very existence, along with Casa Foscari, shows how quickly patrician settlements multiplied on the shores of the Brenta Canal. In the Mocenigo Villa, the architect created a rather original design with respect to the typical pattern of Venetian villas, which he later published in the second of his Four Books of Architecture. Sadly, that villa fell into disrepair by the late 18th century and was demolished.
After the Foscari and Mocenigo ville, most new homes along the canal were not as important architecturally. They were mostly homes of modest size. But the trend for vacationing along the canal, and the taste for villa life, was well established. Homes known as barchesse contained large rooms and were almost always ornamented with decorative frescoes. Extant examples include buildings of the Villa Valmarana, the Villa Contarini Venier in Mira (currently the seat of the Regional Institute for Venetian Villas), and the Villa Foscarini Rossi in Stra.
Thus, the villeggiatura (life of the villas) understood in its original meaning, the Riviera del Brenta has become other than a residential and productive facility, a touristic infrastructure of great importance that ideally links the Euganean Hills to the Laguna, the thermal baths of Abano to the beaches of the Lido, and again, Padua toVenice.
Florence is home to several historical perfumeries that make essences out of top quality, completely natural ingredients.
The best-known of these is undoubtedly Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (via della Scala, 16). Its extensive products includes perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, historical pharmaceutical preparations, home fragrances, and syrups, including in its renowned Alkermes, found in many traditional Tuscan sweets. Open on Sundays, a visit will dazzle you with the wonderful scents you breathe when you step over its threshold and the endless charm of its interiors and variety of all natural products.
Since the 1980s, Lorenzo Villoresi (via de Bardi,14), has been designing custom fragrances for the home and perfumes designed to fit the personality of the person wearing it, like a tailor-made garment.
The Antica Officina del Farmacista Dottor Vranjes (via della Spada 9/R) has a great variety of home fragrances, all-natural and based on spices, flower and fruit. In addition to home fragrances, it has perfumes and body care products based on pure vitamins and minerals to treat yourself in spa style at home.
Antica Profumeria Inglese (via de’ Ginori 2/R) has been setting itself apart since 1843 for the quality and refinement of its products. It was here that Henry Roberts invented a something that made its way around the world: talcum powder.
Sileno Cheloni’s olfactory creativity spawned a new line of limited edition fragrances, called Teatro Fragranze Uniche (via Maragliano, 56), founded on the inspiration and dedication of three women with the support of profumiers.
Farmacia Santa Annunziata. In 1561, the chemist Domenico di Vincenzo di Domenico Brunetti was the 1st manager of the Santissima Annunziata Pharmacy. Since that time the Farmacia has always maintained a special tradition in preparing prescriptions and products for the beauty of the skin. Using ancient processes completely handmade, with pestle and mortar, to special quality controlled preparations made with modern and safe machinery, special attention is paid both with traditional and new raw products. Our ancient tradition has been mantained and the standards of our products have become better and safer.
Acqua dell’ Elba
Olfattorio Bar a Parfums The experience continues outside the boutique with the olfactory glasses designed by Giovanni Gaidano.
Padova or Padua is a big subject! I’ve recently posted 2 times about it, here, here, here and here. And, still, I am far from done!
This post includes a list of the major features that grace this lovely, historic town. But first, a sweet little video about the town itself:
Undoubtedly the most notable things about Padova is the Giotto masterpiece of fresco painting in the The Scrovegni Chapel (Cappella degli Scrovegni). This incredible cycle of frescoes was completed in 1305 by Giotto.
It was commissioned by Enrico degli Scrovegni, a wealthy banker, as a private chapel once attached to his family’s palazzo. It is also called the “Arena Chapel” because it stands on the site of a Roman-era arena.
The fresco cycle details the life of the Virgin Mary and has been acknowledged by many to be one of the most important fresco cycles in the world for its role in the development of European painting. It is a miracle that the chapel survived through the centuries and especially the bombardment of the city at the end of WWII. But for a few hundred yards, the chapel could have been destroyed like its neighbor, the Church of the Eremitani. The Palazzo della Ragione, with its great hall on the upper floor, is reputed to have the largest roof unsupported by columns in Europe; the hall is nearly rectangular, its length 267.39 ft, its breadth 88.58 ft, and its height 78.74 ft; the walls are covered with allegorical frescoes. The building stands upon arches, and the upper story is surrounded by an open loggia, not unlike that which surrounds the basilica of Vicenza.
The Palazzo was begun in 1172 and finished in 1219. In 1306, Fra Giovanni, an Augustinian friar, covered the whole with one roof. Originally there were three roofs, spanning the three chambers into which the hall was at first divided; the internal partition walls remained till the fire of 1420, when the Venetian architects who undertook the restoration removed them, throwing all three spaces into one and forming the present great hall, the Salone. The new space was refrescoed by Nicolo’ Miretto and Stefano da Ferrara, working from 1425 to 1440. Beneath the great hall, there is a centuries-old market.
In the Piazza dei Signori is the loggia called the Gran Guardia, (1493–1526), and close by is the Palazzo del Capitaniato, the residence of the Venetian governors, with its great door, the work of Giovanni Maria Falconetto, the Veronese architect-sculptor who introduced Renaissance architecture to Padua and who completed the door in 1532.
Falconetto was also the architect of Alvise Cornaro’s garden loggia, (Loggia Cornaro), the first fully Renaissance building in Padua.
Nearby stands the il duomo, remodeled in 1552 after a design of Michelangelo. It contains works by Nicolò Semitecolo, Francesco Bassano and Giorgio Schiavone.
The nearby Baptistry, consecrated in 1281, houses the most important frescoes cycle by Giusto de’ Menabuoi.
The Basilica of St. Giustina, faces the great piazza of Prato della Valle.
The Teatro Verdi is host to performances of operas, musicals, plays, ballets, and concerts.
The most celebrated of the Paduan churches is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova. The bones of the saint rest in a chapel richly ornamented with carved marble, the work of various artists, among them Sansovino and Falconetto.
The basilica was begun around the year 1230 and completed in the following century. Tradition says that the building was designed by Nicola Pisano. It is covered by seven cupolas, two of them pyramidal.
Donatello’s equestrian statue of the Venetian general Gattamelata (Erasmo da Narni) can be found on the piazza in front of the Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova. It was cast in 1453, and was the first full-size equestrian bronze cast since antiquity. It was inspired by the Marcus Aurelius equestrian sculpture at the Capitoline Hill in Rome.
Not far from the Gattamelata are the St. George Oratory (13th century), with frescoes by Altichiero, and the Scuola di S. Antonio (16th century), with frescoes by Tiziano (Titian).
One of the best known symbols of Padua is the Prato della Valle, a large elliptical square, one of the biggest in Europe. In the center is a wide garden surrounded by a moat, which is lined by 78 statues portraying illustrious citizens. It was created by Andrea Memmo in the late 18th century.
Memmo once resided in the monumental 15th-century Palazzo Angeli, which now houses the Museum of Precinema.
The Abbey of Santa Giustina and adjacent Basilica. In the 5th century, this became one of the most important monasteries in the area, until it was suppressed by Napoleon in 1810. In 1919 it was reopened.
The tombs of several saints are housed in the interior, including those of Justine, St. Prosdocimus, St. Maximus, St. Urius, St. Felicita, St. Julianus, as well as relics of the Apostle St. Matthias and the Evangelist St. Luke.
The abbey is also home to some important art, including the Martyrdom of St. Justine by Paolo Veronese. The complex was founded in the 5th century on the tomb of the namesake saint, Justine of Padua.
The Church of the Eremitani is an Augustinian church of the 13th century, containing the tombs of Jacopo (1324) and Ubertinello (1345) da Carrara, lords of Padua, and the chapel of SS James and Christopher, formerly illustrated by Mantegna’s frescoes. The frescoes were all but destroyed bombs dropped by the Allies in WWII, because it was next to the Nazi headquarters.
The old monastery of the church now houses the Musei Civici di Padova (town archeological and art museum).
Santa Sofia is probably Padova’s most ancient church. The crypt was begun in the late 10th century by Venetian craftsmen. It has a basilica plan with Romanesque-Gothic interior and Byzantine elements. The apse was built in the 12th century. The edifice appears to be tilting slightly due to the soft terrain.
Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico)
The church of San Gaetano (1574–1586) was designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, on an unusual octagonal plan. The interior, decorated with polychrome marbles, houses a Madonna and Child by Andrea Briosco, in Nanto stone.
The 16th-century Baroque Padua Synagogue
At the center of the historical city, the buildings of Palazzo del Bò, the center of the University.
The City Hall, called Palazzo Moroni, the wall of which is covered by the names of the Paduan dead in the different wars of Italy and which is attached to the Palazzo della Ragione
The Caffé Pedrocchi, built in 1831 by architect Giuseppe Jappelli in neoclassical style with Egyptian influence. This café has been open for almost two centuries. It hosts the Risorgimento museum, and the near building of the Pedrocchino (“little Pedrocchi”) in neogothic style.
There is also the Castello. Its main tower was transformed between 1767 and 1777 into an astronomical observatory known as Specola. However the other buildings were used as prisons during the 19th and 20th centuries. They are now being restored.
The Ponte San Lorenzo, a Roman bridge largely underground, along with the ancient Ponte Molino, Ponte Altinate, Ponte Corvo and Ponte S. Matteo.
There are many noble ville near Padova. These include:
Villa Molin, in the Mandria fraction, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1597.
Villa Mandriola (17th century), at Albignasego
Villa Pacchierotti-Trieste (17th century), at Limena
Villa Cittadella-Vigodarzere (19th century), at Saonara
Villa Selvatico da Porto (15th–18th century), at Vigonza
Villa Loredan, at Sant’Urbano
Villa Contarini, at Piazzola sul Brenta, built in 1546 by Palladio and enlarged in the following centuries, is the most important
Padua has long been acclaimed for its university, founded in 1222. Under the rule of Venice the university was governed by a board of three patricians, called the Riformatori dello Studio di Padova. The list of notable professors and alumni is long, containing, among others, the names of Bembo, Sperone Speroni, the anatomist Vesalius, Copernicus, Fallopius, Fabrizio d’Acquapendente, Galileo Galilei, William Harvey, Pietro Pomponazzi, Reginald, later Cardinal Pole, Scaliger, Tasso and Jan Zamoyski.
It is also where, in 1678, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman in the world to graduate from university.
The university hosts the oldest anatomy theatre, built in 1594.
The university also hosts the oldest botanical garden (1545) in the world. The botanical garden Orto Botanico di Padova was founded as the garden of curative herbs attached to the University’s faculty of medicine. It still contains an important collection of rare plants.
The place of Padua in the history of art is nearly as important as its place in the history of learning. The presence of the university attracted many distinguished artists, such as Giotto, Fra Filippo Lippi and Donatello; and for native art there was the school of Francesco Squarcione, whence issued Mantegna.
Padua is also the birthplace of the celebrated architect Andrea Palladio, whose 16th-century villas (country-houses) in the area of Padua, Venice, Vicenza and Treviso are among the most notable of Italy and they were often copied during the 18th and 19th centuries; and of Giovanni Battista Belzoni, adventurer, engineer and egyptologist.
The sculptor Antonio Canova produced his first work in Padua, one of which is among the statues of Prato della Valle (presently a copy is displayed in the open air, while the original is in the Musei Civici).
The Antonianum is settled among Prato della Valle, the Basilica of Saint Anthony and the Botanic Garden. It was built in 1897 by the Jesuit fathers and kept alive until 2002. During WWII, under the leadership of P. Messori Roncaglia SJ, it became the center of the resistance movement against the Nazis. Indeed, it briefly survived P. Messori’s death and was sold by the Jesuits in 2004.
Paolo De Poli, painter and enamellist, author of decorative panels and design objects, 15 times invited to the Venice Biennale was born in Padua. The electronic musician Tying Tiffany was also born in Padua.
Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506) was an outstanding Italian Renaissance painter and engraver. He was also a student of Roman archeology, and the son-in-law of Jacopo Bellini.
Mantegna is best known for the Camera degli Sposi (“Room of the Bride and Groom”), or Camera Picta (“Painted Room”) (1474), in the Palazzo Ducale of Mantua. His other principal works include the Ovetari Chapel frescoes (1448–55) in the Eremitani Church in Padua and the Triumph of Caesar (begun c. 1486), the pinnacle of his late style. All of these works are discussed below or in later posts.
Born in Isola di Carturo, a part of the Venetian Republic and very close to Padua, Mantegna’s extraordinary native abilities were recognized early. He was the second son of a woodworker, but his artistic future was set in motion when he was legally adopted by Paduan artist, Francesco Squarcione, by the time he was 10 years old.
Squarcione was a teacher of painting and a collector of antiquities in Padua; the cream of young local talent were drawn to his studio. Some of Squarcione’s protégés, including Mantegna and another painter, Marco Zoppo, later had cause to regret being a part of the master’s studio.
Squarcione, whose original profession was tailoring, appears to have had a remarkable enthusiasm for ancient art, and a faculty for acting. Like his famous compatriot Petrarch, Squarcione was an ancient Rome enthusiast: he traveled in Italy, and perhaps also in Greece, collecting antique statues, reliefs, vases, etc., making drawings from them himself, then making available his collection for others to study. All the while, he continued undertaking works on commission, to which his pupils, no less than himself, contributed.
As many as 137 students passed through Squarcione’s school, which had been established around 1440 and which became famous all over Italy. Padua attracted artists not only from the Veneto but also from Tuscany, including such notables as Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi and Donatello.
Mantegna was said to be the favorite pupil of Squarcione, who taught him Latin and instructed him to study fragments of Roman sculpture. The master also preferred the used of a kind of forced pictorial perspective in his works, recollection of which may account for some of Mantegna’s later innovations.
In 1448, at age 17, Mantegna disassociated himself from Squarcione’s guardianship to establish his own workshop in Padua, later claiming that Squarcione had profited considerably from his services without giving due recompense.
Mantegna did not have to wait long for validation of his independence. The same year he was awarded a very important commission to create an altarpiece for the church of Santa Sofia in Padua.
Unfortunately, the altarpiece is now lost, but we know it demonstrated his precocity, for it was unusual for so young an artist to receive such a notable commission. Mantegna himself proudly called attention to his youthful ability in the painting’s inscription: “Andrea Mantegna from Padua, aged 17, painted this with his own hand, 1448.”
The same year, he was commissioned, together with Nicolò Pizzolo, to work with a large group of painters entrusted with the decoration of the Ovetari Chapel in the transept of another church in Padua, Sant’Agostino degli Eremitani (church of the Hermits of St. Augustine). Mantegna’s works in this church constitute his earliest surviving paintings.
The facade of the Eremitani church, the Cappella Ovetari is in the right arm of the church’s transept.
Antonio Ovetari was a Padua notary who, at his death, left a large sum for the decoration of the family funerary chapel in the Eremitani church. The initial contracts for a series of frescoes were drawn up by the heirs of the notary in 1448. Works were commissioned from Giovanni d’Alemagna, Antonio Vivarini, Niccolò Pizzolo, and Mantegna. There is some indication that Mantegna (young as he was–17) may have been the originator of both the overall formal composition. The stories portrayed were inspired by The Golden Legend by Jacopo da Varazze.
According to the original agreement, the first two artists were to paint the arch with histories of the Passion of Christ (never executed), the cross vault and the right wall (Histories of St. Chrisopther) while the two Paduans would paint the rest, including the left wall (Histories of St. James, son of Zebedee) and the altar wall, with its windows, was to depict the Assumption of the Virgin.
Above, plan of the Eremitani Church in Padua.
The Cappella Ovetari fresco cycle:
Left (north) wall of Cappella Ovetari, Life of St. James
Mantegna probably painted the left wall with the scenes from the life of St James, which have been almost totally lost. Here is a list of the scenes depicted:
Vocation of the Saints James and John
St. James Preaching
St. James Baptizes Hermogenes
Judgement of St. James
Miracle of St. James
Martyrdom of St. James
Fortunately, great restoration work continues in Italy and can be found here:
These pictures can only give us a sense of how the wall once looked.
Above, overview of scenes from the Life of St James (scenes 1-6)
Scenes from the Life of St James (scenes 1-2)
Scenes from the Life of St James (scene 3)
Scenes from the Life of St James (scene 4)
Scenes from the Life of St James (scene 5)
Scenes from the Life of St James (scene 6)
2. Left (south) wall of Cappella Ovetari, Life of St. Christopher. The two scenes at the bottom (scenes 5 and 6) are by Mantegna.
Here is a list of the scenes depicted:
St. Christopher Leaving the King by Ansuino da Forlì (attributed)
St. Christopher and the King of the Devils by Ansuino da Forlì (attributed)
St. Christopher Ferrying the Child by Bono da Ferrara (signed)
St. Christopher Preaching by Ansuino da Forlì (signed)
Martyrdom of St. Christopher by Andrea Mantegna
Transportation of St. Christopher Beheaded Body by Andrea Mantegna.
Scenes from the Life of St Christopher (scenes 1-2)
Scenes from the Life of St Christopher (scene 3)
Scenes from the Life of St Christopher (scene 4)
Scenes from the Life of St Christopher (scene 5)
Scenes from the Life of St Christopher (scene 6)
3. The altar wall is for the most part the work by Mantegna: Assumption of the Virgin
4. The apse was divided into sections: Mantegna painted the saints Peter, Paul and Christopher within a stone frame decorated with festoons of fruit. These figures show similarities with the frescoes by Andrea del Castagno in the Venetian church of San Zaccaria (1442), both in the format and their sculptural firmness. Also similar is the cloud on which the figures are standing.
The remaining spaces were painted with images of the Eternal Father Blessing and the Doctors of the Church by Niccolò Pizzolo. The Doctors were depicted as majestic figures, and the saints were shown as Humanist scholars at work in their studios.
The arch was painted with two large heads, usually identified as self-portraits by Mantegna and Pizzolo.
5. The vault was decorated with Four Evangelists by Antonio Vivarini between festoons by Giovanni d’Alemagna.
6. A terra-cotta altarpiece completes the decoration of the chapel. It is covered with bronze by Pizzolo, and is extremely damaged. It shows a Sacra Conversazione in bas-relief.
Next, the history of the way the contract was executed by the painters.
Already in 1449, there were personal problems between Mantegna and Pizzolo, the latter accusing the former of continuous interference in the execution of the chapel’s altarpiece. This led to a redistribution of the works among the artists; perhaps due to this Mantegna halted his work and visited Ferrara.
In 1450, Giovanni d’Alemagna, who had executed only the decorative festoons of the vault, died; the following year Vivarini left the work after completing the depictions of the four Evangelists in the vault. Those 2 artists were replaced by Bono da Ferrara and Ansuino da Forlì, whose style was influenced by that of Piero della Francesca.
Mantegna began to work from the apse vault, where he placed images of three saints. Pizzolo painted images of the Doctors of the Church.
Next, Mantegna likely moved to the lunette on the left wall, with the Vocation of Saint James and St. John, and the Preaching of St. James, completed within 1450, and then moved to the middle sector.
At the end of 1451 work was suspended due to lack of funds. They were restarted in November 1453 and completed in 1457. This second phase saw Mantegna alone at work, as Pizzolo had also died in 1453. Mantegna completed the Stories of St. James, frescoed the central wall with the Assumption of the Virgin and then completed the lower sector of the Stories of St. Cristopher begun by Bono da Ferrara and Ansuino da Forlì. Here Mantegna painted two unified scenes dealing with the subject of the Martyrdom of St. Christopher.
In 1457. Imperatrice Ovetari sued Mantegna, accusing him of having painted, in the Assumption, only eight apostles instead of twelve. Two painters from Milan, Pietro da Milano and Giovanni Storlato, were called in to solve the matter. They justified Mantegna’s choice due to the lack of space.
Fortunately, sometime around 1880, two of the scenes, the Assumption and the Martyrdom of St. Christopher, were detached from the church walls to protect them from dampness. They were stored in a separate location and thus not destroyed during WWII.
During the war, those two frescoes were saved from the air bombardment that destroyed of all the rest of the cycle on 11 March 1944. Luckily, black-and-white photographs of the frescoes taken before the bombing allow us to visually reconstruct the cycle. First, let us look at images of the church taken after the bombings.
The 20th century bombing:
The restoration of the chapel’s frescoes:
The fresco cycle of the Ovetari chapel was, like almost all of the church’s interior, destroyed by an Allied bombing in March of 1944: today, only two scenes and a fragments survive. Painstaking work by talented art restorers have produced an almost unbelievable job of reconstituting the fragments into a whole, unveiled in 2006. The restorers had black-and-white photographs to guide their work.
Below are the photos I took on my recent visit to Padua.
The “Emporio Duilio 48,” was founded in Florence (in the current Coin department store building, in Via de ‘Calzaiuoli) in 1902. The sales formula was, everything was under the price of 48 cents.
It is a fascinating story about early 20th-century Florence, with the tragedy of WWII a part of it.
The creator of the formula “all at 48 cents” was Joseph (Giuseppe) Siebzehner who was born in Vienna in 1863 and died in the Milan-Auschwitz route in the train departed on 29 January 1944 from platform 21). He was a Jewish merchant of a large Polish family, originally from Kańczuga (south-eastern Poland), married to Amalia Koretz (born in Plzeň on 15 March 1871 and dead in Auschwitz), daughter of Ferdinando.
The Siebzehner, already active in trade in Vienna at the end of 1800, took over the commercial activity called Grande Emporio Duilio and founded in Florence in 1888 by the Papalini brothers, who in turn had taken over the renowned Bazar Bonajuti, founded in 1834 by the architect (son of merchant) Telemaco Bonajuti.
The expansion of the Florentine headquarters in 1907 gave rise to the new name Emporio Duilio 48. This was soon joined by the two more stores in Montecatini and Viareggio; the latter was initially located in a bench where today stands the renowned shoe store Gabrielli, next to Magazzini 48.
It seems that after 1911 there were also 2 stores in Bologna, named simply: Emporio Duilio.
It’s clear that Giuseppe Siebzehner was a cutting-edge merchant, ahead of his time in Italy.
In fact, from the family archive (owned today by Count Federico di Valvasone and the last descendant, Riccardo Francalancia Vivanti Siebzehner), it emerges that Giuseppe already had two exclusive contracts at the end of the 19th century.
One with a comasco producer of festoons, lights of paper and decorations for the holidays.
The other, even more important, was with the great Bolognese blacksmith, Giordani, who built prams, tricycles, and especially bicycles for which he became a famous producer after WWI.
Even more avant-garde, Joseph was the first to produce a product catalog with mail order, a forerunner of today’s online shopping phenomenon.
The activity later passed into the hands of Giuseppe’s sons: Giorgio Vivanti Siebzehner (born in Florence, 1895 and died in Florence, 1952), lawyer and author of the Dictionary of the Divine Comedy and his brother Federico (born in Florence, 1900 and died in Florence in 1978), an electronic engineer who was among the first in Italy to conduct extensive experiments on ceramic resistance at the Italian Ceramics Society – Verbano. He, was awarded the honor of Knight to Merit of the Italian Republic in 1956.
Over time, the Francalancia Vivanti Siebzehner heirs of Valvasone and Bemporad took over the property until the commercial activity was sold to Coin Department store in 1988. The Viareggino building was instead ceded to the Fontana family in the 1990s. They later opened the Liberty Store, one of the most famous record and video games stores in the city.
In all the time I’ve spent in Florence over the years, I have never, ever set foot in the Galileo Museum. So, today I finally went. Science in general is not my cup of tea, but this museum is much more than a science museum.
Love the “g” made out of stars!
For starters, here’s the view from the museum. Hello up there, San Miniato!
Not bad, right?! I know.
You also can enjoy the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio from the museum:
So, here’s how my visit went today.
For starters, I learned right off the bat that the basis for this incredible collection of scientific instruments and realia is courtesy of the Medici family. No surprise there, I suppose; I had just never thought about it. In the case of this scientific collection, it is one of the later Medici (not the Renaissance era family) who put these amazing things together and bequeathed them to Firenze. Here is Grand Duke Peter Leopold’s very interesting “chemistry cabinet.” I’ve seen a lot of bunsen burners in my school days, but I’ve never seen a cabinet made of the finest woods and high quality finishing. It is quite something.
Neither of the pictures below do the cabinet justice. There were just too many attractions in this room for me to focus on the cabinet itself.
Here’s some interesting information about the collection and Grand Duke.
Now, what I hadn’t known before today is that many scientific discoveries were performed for the European elite at their evening parties. Read the English text in the following slide, which discusses how these soirees would feature chemistry tricks, etc.
I think the following panel tells the story most succinctly: electricity took the place of the quadrille. Who needs to dance when you can be amazed when things light up and other “magical” effects.
The 18th century was truly an age of discovery, as the following quote lays out:
And, of course, if you are going to present scientific parlor tricks to the upper crust, you have to have some impressive and attractive equipment. To wit: this label in English:
Indeed, and here is a sampling of some of them. They are presented in a very effective exhibition manner in this very handsome museum.
Check out this portrait of an Italian scientist named Giovanni Battista Amici. What I immediately noticed was his unusual hairdo. I wonder if he or his portraitist considered maybe combing his hair?
Giovanni Battista Amici (1786-1863) was an Italian astronomer, microscopist, and botanist. He was the director of the observatory at Florence, where he also lectured at the museum of natural history. Amici died in Florence in 1863.
Amici is best known for the improvements he effected in the mirrors of reflecting telescopes and especially in the construction of the microscope. He was also a diligent and skillful observer, and busied himself not only with astronomical subjects, such as the double stars, the satellites of Jupiter and the measurement of the polar and equatorial diameters of the sun, but also with biological studies of the circulation of the sap in plants, the fructification of plants, infusoria etc. He was the first to observe the pollen tube. He invented the dipleidoscope and also the direct vision prism and the “Amici crater” on the Moon is named in his honor.
Back to the exquisite instruments. These glass objects were mind-blowing in that they are hundreds of years old and fragile and some of these delicate vials and decanters are really large.
As the museum exhibition makes clear, there was a boon for the manufacturers of these delicate and finely calibrated pieces of equipment. The high echelon of society that enjoyed watching evening entertainments composed of science demonstrations often wanted to have some of their own objects. Hence: a boom in the manufacturing.
Here’s how you weighed yourself if you were uppercrust:
And then there was the advancements in clock-making.
Another genre of objets produced to amaze high society were paintings contrived so that you see one picture (a gentleman) when you look at it straight on, and you see a second picture (the gentleman’s wife?) when you look at the mirror attached to the top of the painting. I’m an art historian and I’ve never seen anything like this. Italy has a way of amazing me, almost daily.
And then there are the armillary spheres and globes! The next set of pix are all of one spectacular Florentine 16th-century armillary sphere:
And then there are the globes, both terrestrial and celestial:
And the maps! The elaborate 15th-century map below shows the known world. Asia is a land mass to the west of Europe here. The New World had not yet been imagined.
And did you know, because I didn’t until today, that the Medici had plans to get involved in the great age of discovery:
And then there are the atlases:
And who might this be?
Amerigo Vespucci, don’t you know. He was a Florentine of course. I’ve seen his tomb in the Chiesa Di San Salvatore di Ognissanti. (FYI: Sandro Botticelli is buried there too.)
More instruments, beautifully displayed:
The cabinet pieces:
I’ve saved my favorite objets for last: the thinest, most beautiful glass vessels:
See those tall, thin extensions of certain glass pieces above? Those are glass and a part of the object. It is absolutely stunning. And they are old! How did they survive?
And finally, the important man for whom this collection is named:
One of the many treats of that worthwhile climb is the opportunity to see the Vasari frescoes of the Last Judgement, that adorns the interior of Brunelleschi’s magnificently engineered dome. This post is dedicated to the Vasari paintings.
You must be logged in to post a comment.