history


15
May 18

Walking around in Firenze

In between the museums, we saw some of the sites around the town itself. Here are a few of the views we saw today.

This is Florence’s Cathedral, the Duomo. Construction started at the end of the 13th century under the architect Arnolfo di Cambio. His work can be seen all around Rome, the Vatican and here in Tuscany. The dome, which is an impressive feature unto itself, was almost-but-not-quite an afterthought. It was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and added in the 15th century. Brunelleschi, a founding father of the Renaissance and one of the first modern engineers. There’s an interesting book about his role there. (He also held one of the first modern patents for … a river transport boat.)

Sorta makes you wonder how primitive engineers built things.

Here’s a slightly closer look at one of the corners. The exterior is a mixture of pink, white and green marble.

The front of the church wasn’t finished until relatively recently — the 19th century, between 1871 and 1887 — hence the Gothic Revival look. Emilio De Fabris, an architect, designed it after the original 13th century plans were deemed to be outdated. They held a competition

It was, Leon Battista Alberti wrote, “a structure so immense, so steeply rising toward the sky, that it covers all tuscans with its shadow.”

I will quote Alberti any chance I get.

Outside the front door there are statues of Cambio and Brunelleschi, the two architects that designed the place.

One last look, because the sky was pretty:

This is the Palazzo Vecchio’s Arnolfo Tower. The Palazzo was where David was originally displayed. The clock has one hand, typical of the time, but the oldest mechanical timepiece in town still works. The building briefly housed the Italian parliament once upon a time, but is today the Firenze town hall. Cambio, the architect, was also involved in this project, which started in the 13th century. Ruins of a previous tower were used as a part of what we see today, so it is even older than that.

This is an early 2nd century marble sculpture. It’s under a roof, but outdoors. It has been in Firenze since 1787, after being on display for a few hundred years in Rome.

That statue of the Sabine woman is really in the background of a picture of this sculpture:

That’s Heracles battling the centaur, Nessus. Heracles’ ribs and the veins in Nessus’ legs are a real treat of the 16th century workmanship. This is all carved from one block of stone. Here’s the view from the other side. In the myth, the centaur’s blood ultimately also kills Hercules. So this is all a very bittersweet open air display, really:

Heracles is a bit different than Hercules. The latter being the Roman version of the Greek story. There are differences.

There’s art everywhere here, by the way, even in the most prosaic of utilitarian features. Need to tie up your horse?

Finally, a random street scene.

And now, after a full day and three posts, it is time for bed. We have an awfully early morning tomorrow.


15
May 18

Accademia Gallery in Florence

Maybe no one really knows Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni anymore. It’s been so long, his works and his fame have outlasted the man and his contemporaries and maybe the not-quite hagiography has outpaced the historiography. (They called him the divine one, after all.) Painting, sculpture, architecture, his are among the most famous and enduring the works in the world. He was, perhaps the greatest living artist of his time, and carries a legacy that surpasses so many that have come after. He’s the archetype Renaissance Man.

But he was a solitary man, an uncouth man. He lived simply, slept in his clothes and apparently didn’t like people. Two biographies were published while Michelangelo was still alive, one by an apprentice and another by a man named Paolo Giovio. Giovio said Michelangelo’s “nature was so rough and uncouth that his domestic habits were incredibly squalid, and deprived posterity of any pupils who might have followed him.”

So then you stand before him and wonder. And this is as close as we can get. We can read the biographies and see his works and learn this and that, but then we see something that’s almost the real man. This bust was made by Daniele di Volterra, and it was made from Michelangelo’s death mask. There are three Volterra originals, and this one just came back on display from a restoration a few months ago.

He sits at the door before the Hall of Prisoners, named after the four large sculptures begun by Michelangelo for a project for the tomb of Pope Julius II della Rovere which was to have more than 40 statues. Money woes killed most of the project, and after the pope died the project changed altogether, but these were meant to be part of something that depicted the Old and New Testaments, and the Prisoners were to be an allegory of the Soul imprisoned in the Flesh, slave to human weaknesses.

After the artist died, these four Prisoners were found in his studio and his nephew donated them to the Medici family, and over the years they’ve come to us. Read a bit more about each of them.

Hey! Look! It’s David …

The artists gather:

And do their studies:

The right hand is interesting. It’s larger than it should be. The question is open as to whether that was a perspective decision or a metaphor for the action to be, or the action that was done, when David slung the stone.

Now, for his Prisoners, Michelangelo is said to have spent months in quarries looking for the right stones. There’s the famous line about him not carving a figure, but releasing what was inside. If that was the process, you can imagine this man shuffling around, studying the topography, peering into it, through it, for characters. He spent months doing that for the Prisoners.

The marble that held David, this hunk of stone that had perhaps the world’s most famous and important sculpture inside, was an abandoned chunk in a Florence courtyard. Michelangelo got permission from the Opera del Duomo to work it in 1501.

David was originally placed in the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza Signoria, where it stayed and endured and was threatened and damaged and admired for a good long while.

In 1873 the statue was moved here, to the Tribune of the Galleria. A marble copy was installed back in the Palazzo in 1908. There’s also a prominent copper copy on display elsewhere in Florence. The city has long enjoyed the statue as both a mascot — tiny Florence fending off bigger foes — and, of course, a prominent tourist attraction.

Of course, the problem with David is his ankles:

These are plaster models on display. The models were part of the process of building a 19th century marble monument to Julie Clary Bonaparte. She was the queen consort of Naples and, later, Spain. (Her brother-in-law was Napoleon.)

Very neo-classical, no?

It’s funny how, today, even the practice works art works of art. It must have had some meaning beyond it’s original intention in the 1840s, since it was preserved and has survived. This one is “the genius of death crying over the urn,” and is a plaster study for a monument to Louis de Cambray-Digny, an architect and politician. It was created by Lorenzo Bartolini, who is famous for his giant Napoleon bust and a sculpture of Machiavelli.

A 24-year-old Cesare Mussini painted this oil on canvas. It is of Leonardo da Vinci dying. It basically won him a scholarship, and Mussini, a German-Italian, would become a professor, stay a painter and worked a lot in Florence and Russia.

The Tree of Life was a 14th century panel put in a Florence convent. It was inspired by Giovanni di Fidanza, Saint Bonaventure’s poem by the same name.

In the poem, the Tree of Life yields 12 harvests a year, providing man with gifts from God. Jesus is crucified on a tree of 12 branches, symbolizing those gifts. Moses, Saint Francis, Saint Clare and Saint John the Evangelist are on the panel. The medallions on the branches represent images of Jesus’ life. Stories from Genesis make an appearance in Pacino di Buonaguido’s painting. It’s believed to be a di Buonaguido. Not much is known about the man, and there’s only surviving work that he signed. But scholars rescued him from obscurity, starting in the 1930s or so, and have assigned about 50 other pieces to him, including this one. He is now considered the inventor of miniaturism. And this particular panel falls into the category of Florentine gothic.

The gothic style started in Northern France in the 12th century, an outgrowth of Romanesque art and a compliment of Gothic architecture. It spread to all of Western Europe, and much of the southern and central parts of the continent. But it didn’t see much success in Italy. They already had their style, much of which we’ve seen today. It was neat, today, to see where the two styles bumped into one all come together, and where the one style yielded to what it could not surpass.


15
May 18

We’re in Tuscany — at the Galleria Degli Uffizi

And today that means Florence, Firenzie. We started at the Galleria Degli Uffizi. It was a walking tour. We met our guide, who told us some jokes and trivia about the Medici as we waited to get into the museum. The Uffizi is in a 16th century palace turned administrative center (Uffizi means “offices”) turned museum, and one of the most popular and important in Italy.

The last of the ruling Medici family gave the art to the city, and the Uffizi became one of the first modern museums. It officially opened in 1765, making it one of the early modern museums in the world. Think of that. This has been a museum longer than the U.S. has been a country. It’s always nice to get a dose of perspective and history. And this place has plenty of both. There are 101 rooms here, and even still parts of the collection have to displayed in other venues for space.

The guided tour took hours off of wait, so for that alone it was worth it, but we saw some incredible works. These were just a few of the things we saw:

This thing is only 2,050 years old or so. (Scholars compare the statue to impressions on coins to date this to around 30 B.C.) You can see the changes around the eyes and mouth, and cleaning has removed some of the facial details. That’s a reworked statue of a young Prima Porta Augustus. That’s the head, but the experts would tell you the body is certainly a few decades younger than the head. Such is this museum that this all barely gets a mention, but he seems to be telling us to slow down, take a moment. This is fitting.

I like reliefs. And these pillars tell the story of military victories.

This statue of the god, Apollo, is one of at least four or five in the museum. This particular one is a second century piece, later restored by Giovan Battista Pieratti in the first half of the 17th century. Pieratti was both a sculptor and an architect. But a person that had one of those roles often had both.

And this dog was also a second century work. Something a little more lasting than Instagram, perhaps:

The signage, I believe, says the myth here is that this was the sarcophagus used for Hippolytus of Rome, a very important theologian of the ancient Christian Church:

So important was he that there are many legends surrounding him — and how often do you say that about a writer and religious scholar? Maybe his biggest influence has to do with time. He wrote the story of the world, spanning from creation (about 5500 B.C., based on the Septuagint) to the year 234. Pretty much all of the chronographical works that came after leaned on his work. He had a falling out with powerful Roman leaders and died in exile in Sardinia. And somehow this sarcophagus got attached to his story. But that the sign says it is a myth …

Here’s some of the detail on the side:

The boar is very important locally, but you could just study the faces for a good long while, couldn’t you?

This is Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels by Duccio di Buoninsegna. It is the largest known painted panel from the 13th century. We learned all about the painting process during our visit. Seems you just didn’t go down to the store and pick up the new pigments. They were resourceful, the old painters, and getting ready to paint sounds as time-consuming as the art itself:

Giotto di Bondone created this from 1306 to 1310. The Madonna with child and angels motif is a common one, but this one was influential. How Bondone handled the space influenced artists for the next hundred years. See the angels holding flowers in the bottom foreground?

That’s apparently the oldest still life.

This took 10 years of a master’s effort. And such an artist was Cimabue that he was willing to break from his Byzantine tapestry style and adapt to the work of younger painters. It’s all about the proportions:

Apparently the scrolls have to do with Christ’s incarnation and the virgin, Mary.

Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Mone Cassai was one of the first Renaissance painters and this 1425 work of Jesus, Mary and Mary’s mother, Anne, is thought to be one of his works.

This is really cool. The Battle of San Romano, by Paolo Uccello, is one of the paintings that changed everything:

It is one of three paintings commissioned to depict the Florentines’ military victory over the nearby Sienese near Pisa in 1432. (Both sides claim the win.) The war itself marginalized the political heft of the Tuscany region, and reshaped Italian politics for generations. And look at how the sizes of the bodies change in that painting above. That’s perspective, and this is one of the first mathematical demonstrations of that in art.

No one knows what this Sandro Botticelli painting is supposed to mean, but it isn’t for lack of trying:

The painting, which has themes of love, peace and prosperity has at least 138 plant species meticulously included in it. It is one of his most discussed, and most controversial, works.

The sign on this one says “two angels move the canopy curtains back to allow the faithful to see the Virgin and the Christ Child while another two angels show Jesus the nails and the crown of thorns of His Passion.”

This is definitely how I’m going to redecorate our house next time:

Just look at that ceiling:

I am standing next to greatness. This is the only panel that Michelangelo painted. The Doni Tondo features the Holy Family has a Hellenistic feel to it, doesn’t it?

That’s St. John the Baptist looking on from behind the wall, the males in the background are painted to look like statues. The painting was created in 1507 and the Medici family bought it before the century was out. The frame itself is a work of art, and it is thought that that was designed by Michelangelo, too.

By Zeus’ head! That’s Zeus’ head!

This is thought to be a 2nd century piece and was restored by Innocenzo Spinazzi in the 18th century. Spinazzi was originally hired by Grand Duke Leopold (you might remember his later name, Emperor Leopold II) to work on restoring classic works. Overtime he became a professor and the best sculptor in Florence.

Here’s a 2nd century rendition of the mighty Hercules:

And even as a 2nd century piece, this is a copy. The original was a 4th century B.C. thought to be from a sculptor named Lysippos. Behind his back Hercules is holding the fabled apples from the Garden of Hesperides. Lysippos was one of the three great sculptors of the Classical Greek era, and helped bring about the Hellenistic period. He was also Alexander the Great’s personal sculptor. In fact, just a few years ago a bronze bust believed to be Alexander was discovered/recovered from thieves. It is believed to be a Lysippos original, which is … what’s the term for “beyond exceedingly rare”? It would be the first.

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, you may know him as simply Raphael, painted Madonna of the Goldfinch. It was painted as a wedding gift for a prominent merchant in 1505. If you look closely you can see damage to some of the wood:

There was a landslide in 1547 and the art was destroyed. But then it was rebuilt by Raphael’s friend, Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, a prominent painters of altarpieces, frescoes, and portraits. The Medicis got it in the 17th century, and it has been on display for most of the time sense. It was most recently restored in 2010.

Styles of art have to intersect somewhere. This altarpiece, a 1500 example of Il Garofalo’s work, is one such work. It has to do with the soft lines and the bright colors:

It’s titled Madonna and Child Enthroned with St. Martin and St. Rosalia.

This is The Virgin in Adoration of the Child:

It’s a 16th century oil on canvas work from Antonio Allegri, or Correggio. The frame is a 17th century piece.

And this is Madonna of the Long Neck, for obvious reasons:

It is oil on wood, and was left incomplete, the 1540 painting was taken by the French after Napoleon came through in 1799. it was returned in 1815 and has been at the Uffizi since just after World War II. It was restored in the 1990s.

I got jostled about for this one. While we have seen so many magnificent works from globally renowned masters, everyone knows this name, so there was a crowd, a jostling crowd. But when you’re standing a foot away from a Leonardo da Vinci …

The Baptism of Christ is dated from 1470 to 1475. And if the dates are right and the scholars are right, da Vinci did his work on this in his late teens and early 20s. Researchers believe parts of the landscape, the representation of Jesus and the angel in profile are da Vinci’s work. Andrea del Verrocchio was his mentor, and this is maybe his technically his work. But the student oftentimes surpasses the teacher.


3
May 18

Now here’s something of a different time

I had lunch with this guy today. It was, as you might imagine, very cool.

Dean Martin died when I was a freshman in college. And I wasn’t yet hip to who or what could bring about a lasting cool. I suppose he was always the guy that played drunk, or did the occasional telethon. He was one of the old guys that ran around with Sinatra and was old. I’m sure I knew he had done movies, but I didn’t know much about the Rat Pack and I certainly didn’t know much of his music. It was too far removed for me to be anything but too far removed myself, I suppose. (“Little Ole Wine Drinker Me” was a Charlie Walker song that Martin covered. It stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks. It peaked at fifth on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart and was also a hit in Australia that year.)

I really discovered him after college. His music. His cool. His sound. Dean Martin had the best sound of the Rat Pack.

And, man, he was funny. Just look who is on the stage with him here:

There’s a great Christmas-themed Pillsbury Flour spot and a too-artsy for 1975 America Revlon promo in the middle of the video, too.

And even when he was playing a song for laughs he could sing and sing:

I love that song.

One of our hallways at work has a lot of historic photos from the program. This lady is a part of one of the pictures:

She’s a copy editor in the 1940s at the IDS. But she’s given up her seat in the slot for Ernie Pyle, who has returned to Indiana to visit family and friends. And when he was home he was never far from campus, so here he’s back and reading the paper. The front page story that he’s reading is about the Romanian armistice, so she is looking over his shoulder as he reads a late-August, early-September paper from 1944.

I wonder what she was thinking about, sitting there, posing with the great Ernie Pyle in her seat. He’s a legend now, and he was well-venerated then. I wonder where those lamps got off too.

I looked her up. She might have become a school teacher. The woman I found online passed away just a few years ago. But I’m not 100 percent convinced I have the right person.

Tonight I’m hanging out with Allie, The Black Cat:

No better way to wind down an evening.


9
Apr 18

Stuff from after the conference

We were in Nashville over a long weekend at a research conference. It was nice to see friends and do smart-people things. And we stayed with friends who happen to live by the conference location. So we’re going to need them to move around and follow this event around the region. They should do this to the detriment of their own social lives and careers so that they could have the pleasure of hosting us for three or four days each year, and enjoy barbecue and the like, and our delightful company.

So we’ll start sending them some brochures.

Anyway, some extra things I saw over the weekend.

Look! Up in the right corner!

That doesn’t look like a familiar Sears font. A commenter on Flickr notes:

Sears Department Store was located at the southeast corner of Church St and 8th Ave North (the building is still standing) … Remember that agriculture was, for a couple of centuries, The primary source of revenue in and around Nashville. Sears, like Montgomery Wards and others, sold farm supplies and equipment.

Just south on 8th, right behind the main store, was the farm and auto supply store … The “Ghost Sign” you photographed is located across 8th Ave North from where the farm and auto store once was and this sign once had an arrow that pointed across the street. Sears moved to their new brick bldg on Lafayette (Now the Nashville Rescue Mission) in the late 60’s. I suspect this sign was repainted in the 60s just prior to Sears moving, hence it has survived (sans arrow).

That comment is eight years old and, today, it is just a parking lot:

But you can see a picture here, it was a grand old 1930s art deco building. Sears, this Nashville history site tells me, stayed in the building until 1956. A Ben Franklin went in, and then a jewelry store. Eventually it became a building for state offices. That site, in 2014, said the building was still there, but its fate was nigh. And the Google Street view, from 2017, tells the tale:

They paved downtown shopping and put up a parking lot. But The Tennessean put together a photo gallery.

Hey, look, this is where my folks got married!

Union Station in Nashville, Tennessee.

Farmland when we got back on the road:

And I don’t know what these are for …

Some agricultural concern, no doubt.