Sunday 30 March 2014

Famous Leonardo da Vinci copy is on display in Florence until 29 June, 2014

The Tavola Doria, a famous Leonardo da Vinci copy, is on display in Florence until 29 June, 2014. The Tavola Doria is a copy, created between 1503 and 1505 by an unidentified artist, of the central part of Leonardo's lost mural painting, The Battle of Anghiari. Leonardo began the work on the original fresco in roughly 1503, on a wall of the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. However, as with many of his works, Leonardo never got around to finishing it. In 1563, the redecoration of the Salone was handed over to Giorgio Vasari and Leonardo's work was lost. (Some say it might still be preserved under Vasari's fresco, either painted over or on a wall behind the present wall.)

Tavola Doria copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Battle of Anghiari
The Tavola Doria, a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Battle of Anghiari
The Tavola Doria was originally a part of the collection of the Doria d’Angria family of Naples who sold it in 1939. Although legally under the control of the Reale Soprintendenza alle Gallerie di Napoli, it left Naples in 1940 by clandestine means. In 2012, it was found in a bank vault in Switzerland, having been been sold in 1993 to the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum. The painting was donated to Italy under the condition that it be exhibited alternately for two years in Italy and for four years in Japan, during the next 25 years. The painting has been attributed by some connoisseurs to Leonardo himself, and currently some finger prints on the painting are being analysed in an attempt to match them with prints on other Leonardo paintings.

From July 2014 it will be in Japan, but if you're visiting Florence before that date, you can see this compelling work in the Sala delle Carte Geografiche (Hall of Maps) of the Uffizi Gallery, together with two other copies of Leonardo’s works, Leda and the Swan and Madonna with Saint Anne, painted by unknown 16 C artists.

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Saturday 22 March 2014

Etruscan exhibition in Cortona, March through July 2014

A not to be missed Etruscan exhibition in Cortona has just opened!

Etruscan Enchantment. From the secrets of Holkham Hall to the wonders of the British Museum.

Palazzo Casali, Cortona. 22 March through 31 July 2014.
Etruscan exhibition in Cortona, March through July 2014
Etruscan terracotta head from the Etruscan exhibition in Cortona, March through July 2014
Cortona was one of the cities making up the Etruscan Dodecapoli league and parts of the Etruscan walls and gateways, as well as several Etruscan tombs are still to be seen there. In 1727, inspired by the publication of Dempster's De Etruria Regali, the Etruscan Academy was founded in Cortona by three brothers, Marcello, Filippo and Ridolfino Venuti. With the foundation of a museum that houses splendid Etruscan artifacts, the Etruscan Academy of Cortona became the first institution in Europe that specialised in the rediscovery and study of the Etruscans. In 2005, the museum was doubled in size to become the Museum of the Etruscan Academy and of the City of Cortona (MAEC).

During the second quarter of 2014, there is an excellent exhibition devoted to the Etruscans taking place at MAEC in Cortona. This exhibition, Etruscan Enchantment. From the secrets of Holkham Hall to the wonders of the British Museum, was inspired by recent archival finds related to the Grand Tour of Thomas William Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (1754 – 1842). During the first years of the 18 C., Coke, known as Coke of Norfolk or Coke of Holkham and who later became an immensely popular MP and an agricultural reformer, was sent on the Grand Tour by his father and his great-aunt. The latter offered him £500 to not go to university, which she regarded as a den of vice, and he used the money to finance his tour.

Bronze masterpiece of Etruscan art at the Cortona Etruscan exhibition
Bronze masterpiece of Etruscan art at the Cortona exhibition

Coke was entranced by the Etruscan artifacts that he saw in Italy, both in public displays and private collections. Upon his return to England, he organised and paid for the publication, in 1726, of the manuscript De Etruria Regali by Thomas Dempster (1579 – 1625). A century earlier, Dempster had been the first to assemble a history of the Etruscan people, creating the first “handbook of Etruscology” and summarising everything that was known about Etruscan civilisation up to that time. Dempster was a Cambridge-educated and very quarrelsome Scotch aristocrat. Recommended by Pope Paul V, who had previously incarcerated him as a spy (which he probably was), Dempster eventually found refuge and patronage under Grand Duke Cosimo II. The latter made him a professor in Pisa and commissioned his work on the Etruscans. After three years of intense research, Dempster presented Cosimo with his magnum opus, the manuscript of De Etruria Regali Libri Septem, "Seven Books about Royal Etruria", written in Latin. It was considered a brilliant work by all who saw it.

Etruscan bronze portrait bust at the Cortona exhibition
Etruscan bronze portrait bust
After publication, the manuscript remained at Coke's Holkham Hall and recently the preparatory drawings and copper plates used for the printing of the De Etruria were found in the archives there. These illustrations formed the inspiration for the present exhibition which shows many of the drawings and paintings from Holkham Hall plus over fifty works from the British Museum, never lent before, and many more from Etruscan museum galleries all around Italy.

Etruscan ceramic from the Cortona exhibition
Etruscan ceramic from the Cortona exhibition

The exhibition recreates the atmosphere of excitement that followed the publication of De Etruria, and documents the role of the Grand Tour to Italy in the 18 C and 19 C, and the fascination with the Etruscans and the Etruscan style in Britain during that period. It presents to the public for the first time ever some iconic masterpieces of that ancient people - such as the Aule Metele and the Graziani Putto - alongside the original drawings for De Etruria as well as the Etruscan masterpieces gathered together by the British Museum during the course of three centuries. Many of these Etruscan artifacts are wonderful works of art in their own right, and displayed together form a show that should not be missed.

Exhibition website.

The Etruscans – who were they and where did they come from?

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Saturday 8 March 2014

American girl in Italy - an iconic photo shot in Florence, Italy

How did this great photograph come about and who are the people in it?

An American girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin
"An American girl in Italy" taken by Ruth Orkin
What do we know about this famous photograph? Well, it was taken by 29-year-old Ruth Orkin in Florence on 12 August, 1951, in the Piazza della Repubblica, in front of Caffè Gilli. The girl attracting all the attention was the then 23-year-old model Ninalee Craig (called Jinx Allen by Orkin). The photograph was conceived inadvertently when Orkin noticed the men ogling the beautiful, six-foot Allen as she walked down the street. Orkin asked Allen to walk down the street again for a second shot. The only staged aspect was that she asked the man on the scooter to tell everyone else not to look at the camera. Ruth Orkin passed away in 1985 after a successful career as a free-lance photographer and, with her husband, film editor and director. Ninalee Craig was still full of fun when she was interviewed in 2011 at the age of 85. She still owned the bright orange shawl that featured in the photograph and described her stay in Florence as having a wonderful time - including being justly admired for her beauty.

And what about the good-looking guy on the Lambretta scooter? That was none other than Carlo Marchi, one of the offspring of the Italian chemicals magnate, Ferruccio Marchi. After a scandalous and short-lived marriage to a French woman, he was sent by his father to America in 1956 for a "change of scenery". After a playboyish start, he studied business at Columbia and was soon part of the jet set, with numerous friends in Hollywood, including Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck at the start of their careers. His second marriage, to Gioia Falck of the Milanese steel dynasty, lasted more than fifty years and produced three sons. His sister married into the Frescobaldi family. He died in Florence in 2012, aged 82.

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