Thursday, 27 November 2014

Modigliani exhibition at the Palazzo Blu in Pisa October 2014 - February 2015

Among the artists whose works exert a strong attraction on me, Amedeo Modigliani ranks high among those still designated "modern" (even though he died in 1920). I came across him through a quite amazing coincidence. For my fourteenth birthday, my father gave me a Baule mask that he had brought back from the Ivory Coast. I was enchanted by it and went straight out to show it to one of my male friends who liked "curios". On the way to his place, I passed a bookshop displaying in its window a new book on the art of Modigliani, who was totally unknown to me. The resemblance between the picture on the cover and my mask was astonishing. I was instantly captivated (and my father was easily persuaded to buy me the book as well). Later I learnt that Modigliani was well-known for making sketches of the elongated faces of Baule masks, often heart-shaped and narrowing to a point at the chin beneath a small mouth placed unnaturally low on the face, and adapting this style to his paintings and sculptures.

African mask adapted by Modigliani
Baule African mask
Jeanne Hébuterne by Modigliani
Jeanne Hébuterne by Modigliani

This month (November, 2014), I had the chance to see up close a wonderful range of Modigliani's paintings. For the past few years, the Palazzo Blu in Pisa has mounted some extremely good modern art exhibitions - Chagall, Mirò, Picasso, Kandinsky, Warhol - and this year (extending into 2015), they are showing works by Modigliani and some of his contemporaries, mainly from the collection of the Pompidou Centre in Paris: Modigliani in Palazzo Blu 3 October 2014 - 15 February 2015: "Amedeo Modigliani et ses amis".

Amedeo Modigliani was born into the large Jewish community of Livorno in 1884. His family had been rich and successful but were hit hard by a collapse in metal ore prices during 1883-1884, coinciding exactly with the birth of Amedeo. His youth was plagued by illness, including the onset, at age 16, of the tuberculosis that eventually killed him. Modigliani studied at Guglielmo Micheli's Art School in Livorno from 1898 to 1900, then in Florence and later in Venice. Micheli was one of the Macchiaioli and although Modigliani did not take up their style, he was influenced by their palette. In 1906, he moved to Paris. This move was crucial to his artistic development but unfortunately allowed him to give free rein to his self-destructive tendencies. He started smoking hashish in Venice and continued in Paris where he added excess alcohol, including absinthe, to his "repertoire", none of which helped with his tuberculosis.

Jeanne Hébuterne
Jeanne Hébuterne
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani near the end of his life

Modigliani had endless love affairs and liaisons but in 1917 he met the beautiful Jeanne Hébuterne who became his mistress and muse. Their relationship was amazingly fruitful in terms of art but truly tragic in human terms. He painted endless portraits of her - or rather, inspired by her, since they bore little or no resemblance to Jeanne, other than being female and beautiful. She bore him a daughter and was pregnant with their second child when, distraught, she killed herself on the day of his death from tuberculosis, 24 January, 1920.

Modigliani was a key contact between the School of Paris and the Futurist artists based in Italy, and his fame has far eclipsed both the Futurists and the Macchiaioli who are hardly known outside of Italy today. His highly recognisable style and the prodigious number of variations that he painted provided opportunities for art forgers that they were quick to seize. Even his sculptures were copied and passed off as originals. Three of them are concurrently on display (as fakes, I hasten to add!) at the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo in Pisa.

Modigliani nude


Palazzo Blu Pisa

Shore excursions from Livorno.

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Saturday, 22 November 2014

Getting married in Tuscany: great wedding venues in Tuscany

If you're planning on getting married in Tuscany, a wonderful wedding venue will be at or near the top of the list of "musts" to make the your wedding a super-special occasion. There's an enormous range of great wedding venues in Tuscany at your disposal so I want to mention some wedding locations of which I have personal experience.

Getting married in Tuscany
Wedding dinner at Villa Felceto

For a do-it-yourself wedding in Tuscany, I can strongly recommend Villa Felceto, located on the Podere Felceto olive farm near Panzano in Chianti, halfway between Florence and Sienna. The villa, in ancient times a monastery, and the nearby dependencies provide accommodation for 20 people while the nearby agriturismi plus hotel and apartment accommodation in Panzano offer a good range of additional places to stay for your guests. The villa and its grounds provide beautiful settings for your wedding ceremony and wedding dinner. And very importantly, the owners, Roberto and Jussara, who speak excellent English, can and will provide lots of assistance with your arrangements, especially catering, so that you can organise everything without the assistance of a wedding planner.

More about Villa Felceto wedding venue in Tuscany.


Do it yourself wedding location in Tuscany
Wedding feast at La Ghiandaia in Tuscany

Another great do-it-yourself wedding venue in Tuscany is Agriturismo La Ghiandaia which is located near the tiny village of Lucolena in central Chianti, 30 km from Florence. The agriturismo is an ideal location for a wedding of up to 30 - 35 guests all of whom will be able to stay on site. For your wedding buffet you can take advantage of the beautiful veranda with its panoramic view, ideal for dancing, or a splendid converted wine cellar for inside dining in case of rain.

Silvia, the gracious owner of La Ghiandaia, is ready and able to organise everything for your wedding. She is experienced in organising complete, customised weddings at her house, including accommodation, finding a church or town hall, reserving a suitable restaurant if required, organising the buffet and party at her house with musicians and waiters, flower decorations, rental vans and wedding car and in general everything that is necessary to make your wedding day happy and memorable for you and your wedding party.

Review on Trip Advisor: "A perfect Wedding" at La Ghiandaia in Tuscany.

More about La Ghiandaia wedding location in Tuscany.

great wedding venues in Tuscany
Wedding reception at Villa Gamberaia


If you prefer to celebrate your wedding at one of the most famous villas in Tuscany, then Villa Gamberaia is the place for you. This magnificent villa is located in Settignano just a few km from central Florence, and its formal Tuscan garden is probably the most famous in Tuscany, if not all of Italy. The views from the garden are spectacular. Villa Gamberaia is not only its garden: within the villa there are magnificent salons and an interior colonnaded courtyard which may be rented for weddings. There is sufficient accommodation in the villa dependencies for your wedding party, and of course a huge range of accommodation around Settignano and Fiesole, and in Florence for your guests.

More about Villa Gamberaia.

More about accommodation at Villa Gamberaia.


Wedding in Tuscany - Villa Vitigliano
Villa Vitigliano dining al fresco

Last but not least, the height of luxury and sophistication in Tuscany is to be found at Vitigliano , a recently restored rural "borgo" located between Panzano and Greve in Chianti, 45 minutes south of Florence. I have already praised this uniquely beautiful Tuscan boutique hotel, and I want to add that Vitigliano is surely the most luxurious wedding venue in all of Tuscany, with its own Turkish bath, whirlpool and professional kitchens. The Bridal Suite in the Tower offers an unforgettable ambiance for your wedding night, and the other luxury suites are ready for the bridal couple and their families. Accommodation for the wedding guests is readily available within a ten minute drive. Vitigliano has its own ancient chapel for a traditional wedding ceremony.

More about Vitigliano wedding venue.

wedding photographer in Tuscany
Sandro Fabbrini, wedding photographer in Tuscany
Last but not least, I can recommend a great wedding photographer in Tuscany, namely Sandro Fabbrini, famous for his beautiful and unique wedding shots.

More about Sandro Fabbrini, Tuscan wedding photographer.

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Monday, 17 November 2014

Swallows, swifts and house martins in Tuscany

In Tuscany, one of the most pleasing events of Spring is the return of the birds we call swallows, swifts and house martins. In Tuscany, we call them rondini, balestrucci and rondoni. But what is the difference between them? How can they be distinguished, especially while they are in flight?

house martin nest in Tuscany
House martin nest with two chicks

They are different species, despite the fact that when they are in flight it's not that easy to distinguish between them purely on the basis of appearance, due to the speed at which they fly. The swallow and the house martin belong to the Order Passeriformes (related to sparrows and a huge number of other perching bird species) while the swift belongs to the Order Apodiformes (related to humming birds). The similarity in appearance between these species of quite diverse Orders is remarkable example of convergent evolution. They are all adapted to extremely rapid flight and consumption of insects on the wing. Swallows and swifts are usually seen high in the sky although both swifts and house martins are the birds you see flying with great rapidity around the eaves of houses and through arches.

The swallow (rondine)


swallow rondine
Swallow in flight

Swallow (or barn swallow) Hirundo rustica (in Italian rondine pl. rondini - emphasis on the antepenultimate syllable) – very defined forked tail and red on the head. European swallows spend the winter in Africa south of the Sahara, in Arabia and in India. Prior to migration, as autumn approaches, large numbers of swallows characteristically perch close together on telephone wires and then within a day or two are all gone. Migrating swallows cover 200 miles a day, flying mainly during daylight and at low altitude, at speeds of 17-22 miles per hour. The maximum flight speed is 35 mph.

The common swift (rondone)


Swift rondone
Swift in flight

Swift Apus apus (in Italian rondone, pl. rondoni, emphasis on the penultimate syllable - both the bird and the name often confused with rondini, swallows, above) – dark brown all over although against the sky they look black, the wings being long and scythe-like. Except when nesting inside old buildings, swifts spend their lives in the air, living on the insects caught in flight. They drink, feed, and often mate and sleep on the wing. No other bird spends as much of its life in flight, and consequently they have very short legs, used mostly for clinging to vertical surfaces. Swifts have a huge northern hemisphere breeding range and migrate to Africa during the winter. They have been tracked migrating from Sweden to the Congo. When they return to Tuscany, they often come back to the same nest year after year. These are the birds you see, in dark silhouette, high in the Tuscan sky during summer, and flying at tremendous speed around buildings and into crevices, making their characteristic piercing call.

The house martin (balestruccio)


House martin balestruccio
House martin in flight

House martin Delichon urbicum (in Italian balestruccio pl. balestrucci) – a blue head and upper parts, white rump and prominent, pure white underparts, and is the smallest of the three species. House martins build their mud nests at the junction of a vertical surface and an overhang. These mud nests are easy to find in groups inside archways and under eaves in any village in Tuscany. Like the swifts, the house martin migrates across the Sahara desert to the insect rich areas of central Africa during the European winter.

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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Visit the archaeological site under the Duomo of Florence

Since October this year (2014), it has been possible to visit the archaeological site under the Duomo of Florence and the new display there.The excavations under the Duomo allow visitors to grasp, in a very immediate way, the fascinating history of the Duomo area and, indeed, of all of Florence, from Roman times until the 14 C. Beneath the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), the levels of stratification correspond to four consecutive periods in the history of Florence, namely the Roman period (1 to 4 C), lasting until the construction of the first church on the site in early Christian era (4 to 7 C), the early mediaeval period (8 to 10 C) and the Romanesque period (11 to 14C ).

All the coins that were found in the Roman soil belong to the period from the reign of emperor Gordianus III (238 to 244) to the reign of emperor Honorius (395 – 423). The evidence suggests that the first Basilica was built at the end of the fourth century or during the first decades of the following century, after the victory of the Roman army over Radagaisus.

This Basilica of Santa Reparata was possibly the first construction of a complex including the Bishop’s palace, the Baptistry of San Giovanni (Florence Baptistry), a hospital, a parsonage, a graveyard and two other churches. (Yes, the Baptistry of Florence is of extremely ancient origin and much of the present structure long pre-dates the Duomo).

Santa Reparata, the Baptistry and associated buildings in early Florence
Santa Reparata, the Baptistry and associated buildings in early Florence
Santa Reparata was one of the major early Christian complexes in the region of Tuscia, its importance being indicated by its position directly in front of the baptistry, 8 m closer than the present Duomo. It was rebuilt in Carolingian times, in the 8 to 9 C, after being severely damaged in the wars between the Goths and Byzantium. The new basilica was built partially on top of the antique paleo-Christian church, with some of the same walls, but located further away from the Baptistry (the orange floor plan in the illustration above). Santa Reparata was well lit and similar in appearance to S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, with elegant arcades and marble columns. The basilica was also used as a meeting hall by the Parliament of the Republic of Florence before the construction of Palazzo Vecchio. On 4 June, 1055, Pope Victor II opened the first council of Florence in Santa Reparata. The council included of 120 bishops together with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III. The widening of the crypt, the addition of two apses and the construction of an arcade might have been carried out in preparation for this event.
Map showing the floor plans and relative positions of the three churches of the Duomo area in Florence
Map showing the floor plans and relative positions of the three successive churches of the Duomo area.

But, as Giovanni Villani says in his 14 C Nuova Cronica, Santa Reparata at a certain point began to seem too rough and too small for the newly ambitious of Florence of the 13 C, so much so that in 1293 it was decided to reconstruct the building. On the 8 September, 1296 the cornerstone was laid to the new cathedral. This new Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is normally called), was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio. By 1375, the old church Santa Reparata had been pulled down and the new Cathedral finished in 1436 with final completion of the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi (the yellow floor plan above), the construction of this vast project having lasted 140 years, the collective efforts of several generations, interrupted by the Black Death.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo di Firenze)
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo di Firenze)
The excavations are entered down a staircase situated in the nave of the cathedral.

A single 10 Euro ticket allows you access to all parts of the Duomo, including the crypt.

Crypt of Santa Reparata Hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 10am-5pm
Thursday: May and October 10am-4pm, July through September 10am-5pm, January through April and November and December 10am-4.30pm
Saturday: 10am-4.45pm

Closed: Sunday, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Epiphany, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday, Feast of St. John (24 June), Feast of the Assumption (15 August), Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (8 September), All Saints’ Day (1 November).

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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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