Thursday, January 28, 2016

And then there was Florence...

After spending a week touring Venice, Angie and Hugh decided it might be nice to spend a little time on some solid dry land… so they hopped on the train and headed to Florence. (And trains in Europe are, shall we say, wonderful... The Rail Europe website is easy to use and the seats are both assigned and comfortable!) Two hours later they stepped off the high speed train and were 15 minutes from their hotel, which sat in the city center, across the street from the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers which is more commonly known as Il Duomo.

For anyone in the art or antiques industry, Florence is one of the most important, if not the most important city in the world from a historic perspective… Founded in 80 BC by the Roman general Sulla as a settlement for his retiring Legionaries, by the middle ages it had become so important a trade and banking center that was later characterized as the “Athens of the Medieval Ages”. It is that positioning in banking and trade that led to the city’s importance in the world of culture… Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, and the powerful Medici family funded much of its early growth.

As you can imagine, after 750 years of cultivating beauty, Florence has become a mecca for those who love art, architecture and furnishings. Hugh and Angie took in all of them… Starting out they visited the Accademia Gallery, home of possibly the most famous statue in the world… Michelangelo’s David. In addition to the towering David, the Accademia also has a number of other Michelangelo sculptures including the unfinished Prisoners and the similarly unfinished St. Matthew, and a spectacular plaster from Giambologna, the Rape of the Sabine Women. It also has a number of Renaissance paintings from the likes of Botticelli, Uccello and del Sarto.

Next they headed to the Uffizi, a museum that’s been taking in visitors since the 16th century. Originally built for Cosimo I da’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, to simultaneously house official government offices as well as art, today all of its 64,000 square ft. are dedicated to art. As you can imagine, the Uffizi houses its own pantheon of masterpieces, from Botticelli’s unmatched “Birth of Venus” to Verrocchio’s “The Baptism of Christ” to Rembrandt’s “Self-portrait as a young man”.

Because of its massive collection, the Uffizi has from time to time had to move pieces to other museums. One of the museums that has been the beneficiary of such transfers is the Bargello, which, at one time meant “police chief”, then later “jail”. Although the Bargello has been a museum for a little over 150 years, during its previous 600 years it has many functions. First it was the office for the chair of Florence’s city council, then it housed the council itself and later it was transitioned into a jail! The Bargello’s collection includes a spectrum of priceless sculptures, including Donatello’s David, Michelangelo’s Bacchus, and Bernini’s Bust of Costanza Bonarelli.

Walking back to the hotel each night Hugh and Angie would get to walk by one of the most beautiful specters in all of Florence, the bronze Gates of Paradise doors of the Baptistery, by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The Baptistery, which faces the Duomo, is one of the oldest buildings in the city, having been constructed during the 11th and 12th centuries. The doors consist of 28 quatrefoil panels depicting the life of John the Baptist as well as the virtues of virtues of hope, faith, charity, humility, fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence took a full six years to manufacture.

Finally there is the Orsanmichele or "Kitchen Garden of St. Michael", which is a church that was originally a grain market built in the 14th century. Today this magnificent church has an exterior that is simply extraordinary. The façade features 14 architecturally designed niches, each featuring statuary which tells a different story. Each was commissioned by a different trade in the city, where each trade tried to outdo the next. The result is a biblical tapestry of saints, the Madonna and Christ, each a testament to the beauty and elegance that so characterized Florence in the 14th century. The interior offers even more for our inner antiques dealer, a beautiful gothic church adorned with of spectacular statuary, paintings and furniture.

Eventually it was time to head back to Venice to take a plane back home. The train ride itself was a joy, relaxing in the comfort of the train as it passed through the golden fields of Tuscany’s rolling hills, with the horizon dotted with countless little towns and villages in the distance. Soon enough our world travelers are back in Atlanta and ready to jump back into the middle of the antiques business... now where did we put that scepter?

Corridor in the Uffizi

Detail of a marble ossuary featuring the "Labors of Hercules" 

The "Doni Tondo" or Holy Family, Michelangelo's only known panel painting 

The unparalleled "Birth of Venus" by Botticelli

Palazzo Vecchio - top gallery & tower

Detail of a table in the Uffizi

"Triumphal Entry of Henry IV into Paris" by Rubens

Self portrait by Rubens

Self portrait by Rembrandt

"Baptism of Christ" by Verrocchio with the angel on the left by  his student, Da Vinci - the beauty of which is "said" to have caused Verrocchio to vow to never again pick up a brush because the student had already surpassed the master.

Ponte Vecchio

Il Duomo

Plaster copy of Giambologna's "The Rape of the Sabines"

Michelangelo's "David" in the Galleria dell'Accademia 

Gallery of Plaster Copies - Galleria dell'Accademia

Interior of Basilica di San Lorenzo

Exterior of Basilica di San Lorenzo

The Duomo from Angie & Hugh's Hotel

Baptistery of St. John

A chandelier in the Pitti Palace

Pitti Palace

Pitti Palace

Detail of doors at Pitti Palace

Pitti Courtyard with statue of Hercules

Florence has lots of trouble for those with little self control...

Original Baptistery doors by Ghberti, at the Duomo Museum

Detail of Original Baptistery doors

Original facade statuary from the exterior of the Duomo.  These originals were brought inside to protect them from the elements and have been replaced with replicas.  

Construction tools

Chorus by Donatello in the Duomo Museum

A silver and gilt altar depicting the life of Saint John the Baptist.

A church model

The famous dome of the Duomo

Interior of the Baptistery 

Lion in the Bargello Museum

A 17th Century table in the Bargello

Ceramic Gallery, Bargello

Donatello's "David" in the Bargello

Basilica of Santa Croce

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Sight to Behold - The Beauty of Venice

Italy… there are millions of things that one could say about how wonderful Italy is in the winter. One of the best things is… it’s cold! At least in the north it is, and of course that’s where Venice is. One of the challenges with Venice is that it’s so beautiful and so popular that for much of the year it almost feels like Time’s Square on New Year’s because it’s so crowded. Not so much in the winter however. In the winter Venice is nothing short of spectacular.

And that’s where Angie and Hugh went this past December. Staying at the Antiche Figure Hotel, a 16th century beauty located across the Grand Canal from the train station, they spent a week seeing pretty much everything one could imagine.

One of the great things about Venice in the winter is that it’s pretty easy to walk down the sidewalks, something that can be a bit of a challenge in the summer when there are so many people. On the other hand, floating down the sidewalks in the winter isn’t unheard of that’s when the city is traditionally most affected by extraordinary tides that can result in high tides 6 ft. above normal… (They are called the Acqua Alta) Which can be a problem for a city built at sea level… In such instances one would walk on the passarelle, the elevated walkways that are set up around the city… or bring galoshes. Luckily our intrepid adventurers didn’t have to worry about flooding this year.

Of course the trip begins with the Doge’s Palace and works around the city from there. Venice seems to have something to see around every corner and across every bridge. There is St. Mark’s Square where the winter chill can be warmed by the liquid gold of Café Florian’s hot chocolate, the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari church with Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child altarpiece, and the Gallerie dell'Accademia with masterpieces from the likes of Titian, Canaletto and da Vinci. The Accademia was particularly fascinating because it’s just recently come out of renovation and as a result the colors were extraordinarily vibrant and the walls and the ceilings seemed like they’d just been presented for the first time.

Angie and Hugh particularly enjoyed the Ca' Rezzonico, not far from the Accademia. This canal facing beauty is dedicated to 18th century Venice and features wonderful pieces of art as well as spectacular frescos, but its real treasure is its collection of period piece furniture. They also visited the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca' d'Oro, better known as Ca’ d’Oro, which means Golden House. The collection, much of which was accumulated in the 19th century by banking baron Giorgio Franchetti, is one of the most eclectic in Venice, consisting of paintings, sculptures, reliefs, fragments and a number of spectacular frescos.

But Venice is not all about public museums or cathedrals. One of the fascinating things about Venice is that there is no shortage of houses that have been turned into museums. For people in the antique business like Hugh and Angie, that is a little like being kids in a candy store. Although antique prices are typically too high to be able to ship and sell at a profit, from a research perspective it’s a goldmine. From lighting and mirrors and furniture to sunbursts and fragments and statuary, Venice gives one a wonderful opportunity to see pieces in their original settings, with original paints and often still being used for their original purposes.

Then of course there are the canals… While walking the narrow crooked streets of Venice is part of the city’s charm, the canals are Venice. Although from seeing Casino Royale, From Russia With Love or The Italian Job one might imagine that everyone in the city gets around by speedboat, the reality is that the primary vehicles in Venice are the water taxis and the romantic gondolas. Running throughout the year – except when strikes strike – they are a wonderful way of getting around. But of course, did we mention that it’s cold in December? When not walking about Angie and Hugh opted for the water taxis, which are like New York City’s tourist busses, you get on and off at different locations around the city as it fits your itinerary. Sure, it’s cold on the taxis too… but they get you to your destination much faster than the gondolas or walking!

Finally, given that the city is basically a collection of buildings separated by canals that one has to cross every so often, there are the bridges. Angie and Hugh may not have crossed every one, but they crossed quite a few, including the Ponte degli Scalzi, the Ponte dell'Accademia and of course the Bridge of Sighs. Sadly however, as it was under construction, they were unable to cross what is perhaps the city’s most beautiful bridge, the Rialto.

So, now that we’ve explored Venice, the second part of the trip, Florence, will be coming up soon.  Below are some of our duo's pictures from Venice.

Lion fresco from Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari 

Altar in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari 

A floor to ceiling door panel in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

A ceiling panel in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco featuring paintings by Tintoretto, who was commissioned to do most of the paintings in the building.

A chandelier in the Ca' Rezzonico.

Another chandelier in the Ca' Rezzonico.

A chair in the Ca' Rezzonico.

A marble floor in the Ca' Rezzonico.

Venetian ribbon back chairs.

A mirror in the Ca' Rezzonico.

A chest in the Ca' Rezzonico.

Another mirror in the Ca' Rezzonico.

A Vaporetto stop - where one picks up the water taxi. 

The Grande Canal.

The Rialto Bridge, which was under construction and covered with a faux facade.

A statue standing on the inlaid tile floor in the Ca’ d’Oro, which is more often than not under water this time of year.

The facade of the Gallerie dell'Accademia.

Giant works in the Gallerie dell'Accademia painted by Titian.

Madonna and Child - Giovanni Bellini in the Accademia.

The bell tower of St. Mark's Basilica towers above St. Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace. 

A cabinet in the Doge's Palace.

Fragments from the exterior of the Doge's Palace.

Directions anyone?  Giant globe and map in the Doge's Palace.

Although these walls in the Doge's Palace may look like they feature frescos, in reality these are giant paintings which were painted specifically for these walls.

Jail cells connected to the Doge's Palace which can only be reached by crossing the appropriately named Bridge of Sighs.

The Lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice, on the facade of the Doge's Palace.

Interior of St. Mark's Basilica. 

St. Mark's Basilica.

A mosaic on the exterior of St. Mark's Basilica. 

Off duty Gondolas moored near St. Mark's Square.

Venice at sunset from the Ponte degli Scalzi, literally, "bridge of the barefoot [monks]".