Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Donatello exhibition in Florence

This year's block-buster exhibition in Florence is dedicated to Donatello and goes under the not unjustifiably immodest name of "Donatello, the Renaissance." As for some of the previous exhibitions at the Palazzo Strozzi, the Donatello show is partially housed also at the Bargello (separate ticket required). Opening hours are 10 am to 8 pm every day except Thursday when the doors remain open until 11 pm. Donatello, the Renaissance stays in Florence until 31 July 2022, after which it will travel, with variations on the loans and probably the catalogue, to the Staatliche Museen in Berlin and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Tickets are linked to an entry time slot and can be booked on-line at https://palazzostrozzi.vivaticket.it/.

Donatello Exhibition in Florence 2022

Donatello Exhibition in Florence 2022

I strongly recommend this exhibition to any one interested in Renaissance art - indeed, to almost any art lover. The aim of the exhibition is to reconstruct the artistic development of Donatello throughout his long life (1386 to 1466) and to confirm him as one of the most important and influential masters of the Italian Renaissance by exhibiting his work next to workd by other Italian Renaissance masters such as Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Raphael and Michelangelo. A remarkable number of Donatello's works, normally never loaned, have made their way to the Palazzo Strozzi for this exhibition, making it far more ambitious than the two exhibitions organised in 1985 and 1986 commemorating the 600th anniversary of Donatello's birth. Not much is missing and two pieces that are mssing can be seen nearby - the Magdalene of the Duomo Museum and the Giuditta of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Donatello Exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence

Donatello Exhibition in Florence 2022

It's a great exhibition - don't miss it if at all possible!


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Tuesday, 10 May 2022

When do the poppies appear in Tuscany?

Wild flowers in Tuscany.


This is the time of year when many readers ask me, "When do the poppies appear in Tuscany?" Of course, the exact time varies a bit from year to year, but right now, the end of April and beginning of May, is the time to see poppies and many, many other species of wild flowers in Tuscany. This is basically because April is one of the two rainy months in Tuscany (the other being October) and as long as the temperature and rainfall are more or less average, flowers will spring up everywhere - ploughed fields, olive groves, vineyards, roadside.

The picture below shows a bunch of wild flowers that I picked yesterday during the course of a 20 minute walk through my olive grove here in central Chianti. Those are just a few of the more spectacular blooms that had sprung up since the thunderstorm the day before, irises and poppies among them.

wild flowers of Tuscany
Tuscan wild flowers

Poppies of the Val d'Orcia

When visitors to Tuscany ask about poppies in bloom, they're usually referring to the red poppies that blanket the Val d'Orcia at this time of year. This display is most spectacular on the ploughed hills of the heavily alkaline Crete Senesi in the Val d'Orcia before the crops are planted, and is the object of many a photographic excursion to that area of Tuscany during the last days or April and early May. Cultivation of agricultural land is often detrimental to wild plant species but not so the Tuscan poppy which, indeed, is also known as the "corn poppy" because it thrives on land subject to the annual rhythm of grain cultivation. This species is also famous under the name "Flanders poppy", the emblem of the fallen soldiers of World War I. Papaver rhoeas, the variety of papavero (poppy) that has become known as the Tuscan poppy, probably originated in Egypt, where the cyclic agricultural practices regulated by the annual flood of the Nile began favouring this spectacular plant. By growing on disturbed soil and seeding itself profusely during its growing season, the poppy has found a perfect harmony with the agricultural practices for the past 3,000 years or so and remains of poppies have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

Poppies in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany
Poppies blooming in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany

Orchids in Tuscany

Not everyone realises that there are more than 40 species of orchid native to Tuscany. Ophrys speculum is one of the most common and easiest to recognise of the Tuscan orchids, but the diligent flower enthusiast will soon discover several other common species that are currently in flower. Many of these are found in or near bogs high in the Apuan Alps, but others are common throughout Tuscany, especially in the hilly vineyards and fields of Chianti. The flowers of members of the genus Ophrys are famous for their resemblance to female insects, to the extent that male insects, bees in particular, attempt to copulate with them, hence pollinating the flowers. Although many authorities list between 50 and 150 species of Ophrys in Europe, molecular genetic analysis suggests that there might be as few as 10 species, with the other apparent species being variants arising from hybridisation. Nevertheless, whether they are different species or not, this genus alone provides a huge variety of floral pleasures for country walkers in Tuscany.

A Tuscan orchid, Ophrys speculum
A Tuscan orchid, Ophrys speculum

More about the orchids of Tuscany.

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Sunday, 8 May 2022

Anglo-American Florence since the mid 19th Century

Not everyone realises just how small Florence was in the mid-19th Century compared with today. The city walls were still intact. The latter weren't demolished until between 1865 and 1871 when Florence was provisional capital of Italy. I recently came across a provincial map dating from 1841. To the NE, Florence more or less ended just behind the railway station!

Florence in 1841
Florence in 1841

During the second half of the 19th century, a third of the population of Florence was made up of foreigners, the majority of them from England and America - the Anglo-American Florentines - along with numerous Germans, French and Russians. The English foreign colony between 1850 and 1930 included the poet Walter Savage Landor, Robert and Elizabeth Browning with their literary salon in Casa Guidi on Via Maggio, George Nassau, the third Earl Cowper, the countess of Orford, Lady Sybil Cutting (the mother of Iris Origo) at Villa Medici, Longworth Powers, Janet Ross, Norman Douglas, Vernon Lee, Bernard Berenson at Villa I Tatti and many, many others. The last direct connections to the last of the Anglo-American Florentines was probably Sir Harold Acton (1904 - 1994) whose father moved into Villa La Pietra in 1903, or perhaps Harry Brewster who passed away in 1999.

Aside from those who made Florence their home, there was a constant stream of illustrious visitors who came to stay for months at a time. In 1869, Henry James made his first visit to the city that became one of his favorites and one of the settings for his wonderful novel, The Portrait of a Lady.

Since that time, the city has spread out across the flood plain of the Arno, virtually swallowing up Prato and, no doubt soon, Pistoia to the NE, and with hardly a patch of green separating its outskirts from Signa and Lastra d Signa.

Florence in 2022
Florence in 2022

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Saturday, 7 May 2022

Palazzo Chigi Zondadari in Sienna opens to the public

Everyone visiting the main piazza of Sienna, especially during the Palio, will have seen, although perhaps not particularly noticed, the Palazzo Chigi Zondadari which is located on the higher side of the Piazza del Campo and provides the perfect view of the Palio. However, very few know that the interior of this palazzo is spectacularly decorated and furnished.

From 8 May 2022, the Palazzo Chigi Zondadari in Sienna opens to the public on a permanent basis.

Palazzo Chigi Zondadari in Siena

Palazzo Chigi Zondadari

The Palazzo was built for Cardinal Antonfelice Zondadari (1655 - 1737) and his brother Bonaventura (1652 - 1719), first Marquis Chigi Zondadari and founder of this aristocratic dynasty. The palazzo has been the Siennese residence of the family since 1724 and was the last palazzo to be constructed in the Piazza del Campo.

The Palazzo Chigi Zondadari is a typical baroque-neoclassical structure designed by Antonio Valeri (1648 - 1736), the last pupil of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was brought in from Rome to modernise and expand the pre-existing mediaeval buildings that were were purchased by the Chigi at end of the 17 C.

The palazzo is a linear structure, with five rows of windows, an internal courtyard and a splendid main staircase. The main floor is the most interesting. The halls and galleries have frescoed ceilings, house a collection works of art, archaeological finds, paintings and sculptures, among them a fine bust of Pope Alexander VII by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and three rooms have their walls decorated in spectacular Venetian "corami" from the 1780s.

Salotto Rosso of the Palazzo Chigi Zondadari

Salotto Rosso of the Palazzo Chigi Zondadari

Among the renowned artists who worked on the palace were Placido Costanzi, a pupil of Francesco Trevisani, one of the most important artists who was a followers of Carlo Maratta and of Benedetto Luti. Cardinal Antonfelice Zondadari entrusted the execution of some frescoes depecting episodes from the life of Pope Alexander VII and Cardinal Zondadari to Placido Costanzi. Another painter who worked on the noble floor was Marco Benefial, a pupil of the Carraccesco Bonaventura Lamberti. Francesco Nenci who completed the decoration of the rooms during the 19 C.

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Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Events and festivals in Tuscany during 2022

The new year has begun and now is the moment to think about events and festivals in Tuscany during 2022. If you're planning a trip to Tuscany, do look at our lists of folkloric festivals, jousts, archery and crossbow contests and numerous other events that take place in Tuscany during the course of the year. These range from the massive float parades of the Carnevale in Viareggio through the great mediaeval costume festivals to simple village food feste.

Events and festivals in Tuscany
Huge processional float at Viareggio Carnevale

The festivals of Tuscany have become more and more polished and exciting in their presentation and yet remain genuine folk festivals dependent entirely on the enthusiasm of the local organisers, in many cases these being competing local contrade, rioni etc. These latter are clubs and societies based on the various residential quarters of villages, towns and cities, the most famous being the contrade of Sienna which enter their horses (and riders) in the famous Siena palio twice every year.

The competitions are almost always costume events with processions, and very often dinners and food stands play an important role. Look through our lists for local events taking place near where you will be staying, and in addition try to attend at least one major event during your stay.

The main Tuscan festivals.

A comprehensive list of local events and festivals in Tuscany.



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