Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa (Venice, Italy)

Courtyard o the palazzo

Courtyard o the palazzo

The  Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa, originally the ancient casa da stazio, an L-shaped building located at the intersection of the rios of San

Bronze bust of Antonio Grimani (Andrea Briosco)

Bronze bust of Antonio Grimani (Andrea Briosco)

Severo and Santa Maria Formosa, was the residence of the Venetian doge Antonio Grimani. It was substantially altered in 1532-1569 by his grandsons Vittore, procuratore generale of the city, and Giovanni Grimani, cardinal and Patriarch of Aquileia, giving it a classical stamp.

Giovanni allegedly collaborated with celebrated architects such as Jacopo Sansovino, Sebastiano Serlio and  Andrea Palladio.

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Two new wings, doDSC00364ubling the size of the building, were added.  A vast Roman-style inner courtyard, with loggias of marble colonnades (unusual in sixteenth-century Venice) and asymmetrical porticoes, was laden with artfully arranged sculptures, reliefs and inscriptions.The palace was completed in 1575 by Giovanni Rusconi while Alessandro Vittoria was responsible for the ornamentation of the doorway.

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The palace is composed of three parts with a small backyard. The façade, sporting

Bronze bust of Hadrian (Ludovico Lombardo)

Bronze bust of Hadrian (Ludovico Lombardo)

characteristically massive windows arches, is decorated with polychrome marble.

The most striking feature of the interior is the Sala di Psiche (c. 1540), with frescoes by Mannerist artists such as Francesco MenzocchiCamillo Mantovano and Francesco Salviati.

Other artists who worked to the palace’s decoration include Taddeo Zuccari and Giovanni da Udine.

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Bust of Antinoüs, favorite of Hadrian

Bust of Antinoüs, favorite of Hadrian

The palazzo once held the archaeological collections (one of the finest of the time), strikingly displayed on shelves, mantelpieces and plinths in settings of the high ceiling, specially designed Tribuna and the courtyard, amassed by Cardinal Domenico Grimani and Giovanni Grimani, and donated to the Republic.

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Palazzo Grimani, internationally important for its architectural originality, the quality of its decoration and the history of its development, was purchased by the State in 1981 and, in 2001, a decree of the Ministry of the Cultural Heritage gave responsibility for its management to the Superintendency of State Museums in Venice. On December 20, 2015, it was reopened as a museum.

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An especially valuable addition to its museum circuit, the palace displays a few HiDSC04670eronymus Bosch paintings from the Grimani collection: depicting the dream-like Visione dell’Aldilàl’Ascesa all’Empireo, and la Caduta dei dannati e l’Inferno; and the Triptych of Santa Liberata, and the Triptych of the eremiti (Sant’Antonio, San Girolamo and Sant’Egidio).

Sculpture gallery

The Sculpture Gallery with “The Rape of Ganymede (Reinhard Gomer)” hanging on the ceiling

The extraordinarily high quality decoration of the rooms iDSC04680ncludes outstanding stucco work and frescoes, reflecting the confidently unconventional taste of the Grimanis.

Palazzo Grimani, unique in Venetian history and architecture, is a fascinating treasure house of cultural, artistic and historical riches.

Statue of Laocoon and his sons

Statue of Laocoon and his sons

Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa: Ramo Grimani, 4858, 30122 Venice, Italy. Tel: +39 041 241 1507 and +39 041 5200345. E-mail: info@palazzogrimani.org and sspsae-ve.grimani@beniculturali.it. Website: www.palazzogrimani.org. Open 8:15 AM – 7:15 PM. Admission: € 4.00 + € 1,50 reservation fee.

Church of St. Zacharias (Venice, Italy)

Chiesa di San Zaccaria (1)

Church of St. Zechariah

The large 15th-century, formerly monastic (it was originally attached to a Benedictine monastery of nuns) Church of St. Zechariah (Chiesa di San Zaccaria) is located just off the waterfront, to the southeast of Piazza San Marco and St Mark’s Basilica.  The first church on the site was founded in the early 9th century by Doge Giustiniano Participazio  to house the body, under the second altar on the right, of St. Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist), the saint to which it is dedicated, a gift of the Byzantine Emperor Leo V the Armenian. The remains of 8 early doges as well as the artist Alessandro Vittoria (his tomb marked by a self-portrait bust) are also buried in the colonnaded Romanesque crypt of the church.

Nave

Nave

The original church, rebuilt in the 1170s (when the present campanile was built), was replaced by the present Late Gothic-style church designed by Antonio Gambello.  Built between 1458 and 1515, it was built beside (not over) the original church, the remains of which still stands. Seventy years later, the upper part of the façade, with its arched windows and its columns, and the upper parts of the interior were completed by Mauro Codussi in early Renaissance style. Thus, the façade is a harmonious Venetian mixture of late-Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Tomb of St. Zacharias

Tomb of St. Zacharias

The church’s apse, surrounded by an ambulatory lit by tall Gothic windows, is a typical feature of Northern European church architecture which is unique in Venice. The San Zaccaria Altarpiece, one of the most famous works by Giovanni Bellini (whisked away to Paris for 20 years when Napoleon plundered the city in 1797), as well as paintings by 17th and 18th century artists (at the  walls of the aisles and of the chapels).

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They include works by Andrea del CastagnoPalma VecchioTintorettoGiuseppe PortaPalma il GiovaneAntonio VassilacchiAnthony van DyckAndrea Celesti,Antonio ZanchiAntonio BalestraAngelo Trevisani and Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo. The organ of the church was built by Gaetano Callido in 1790.

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The Chapel of St Athanasius, which was most of the nave and right-hand aisle of the old church, was rebuilt for the nuns in the mid-15th century and then converted into a chapel around 1595. It contains a Domenico Tintoretto altarpiece depicting The Birth of John the Baptist or maybe The Birth of the Virgin. To the right of an altar designed by Vittoria is The Flight into Egypt by Domenico Tintoretto. Over the entrance door is the Crucifixion, claimed to be by Anthony van Dyke, very redolent of the Counter-Reformation in its minimalness and drama.

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Another door takes you through to the Cappella dell’Addolorata, with cases of relics, and then into the lovely Chapel of San Tarasio, the apse of the old church, built in 1440 by Gambello. It features some very impressive frescoes in the vaulting, painted in 1442 by Andrea del Castagno (in collaboration with a certain Francesco da Faenza).  Discovered in 1923 and cleaned in the 1950s, they are the artist’s earliest extant work and feature his only signature (Andreas de Florentia).

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There are also three well-preserved Late-Gothic gilded altarpieces by brothers-in-law Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna. The central three panels (dated 1385), on the main level of the high altarpiece (Saints Blaise and Martin, with The Virgin and Child in the center), are signed by Stefano di Sant’Agnese, taken from another work and inserted in 1839 in place of a reliquary. The two saints flanking them (Mark and Elizabeth) are by Giovanni and Antonio Vivarini. More saints, said to have also been added later, are found on the back. A recently discovered and restored predella, on the front of the altar, is ascribed to Paolo Veneziano.

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Church of San Zaccaria: Campo San Zaccaria 4693, 30122 Venice, Italy. Open Mondays – Saturays, 10 AM–12 PM and 4–6 PM, and Sundays, 4–6 PM. Tel: +39 041 522 1257

Piazzale Michelangelo (Florence, Italy)

Piazzale Michelangelo

Piazzale Michelangelo

This large, partly pedestrianized Florentine piazza, located across the Arno River from the center of Florence, was designed by Florentine architect Giuseppe Poggi,  known for his creation of boulevards around the center of Florence, part of the so-called Risanamento (“Rebirth”), a late nineteenth-century urban modernization project which also resulted in the creation of the Piazza della Repubblica.  Under the loggia, in the wall of the balcony, is an epigraph in capital letters referring to Poggi’s work, turned into his monument in 1911.

Bronze copy of Michelangelo's David (15)

Bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David (15)

The piazza was built in 1869 on a hill, 104 m. above sea level (and 60 m. above the level of the Arno River), just south of the historic center, during the redevelopment of Oltrarno, the left (South) bank of the Arno River, as part of major restructuring of the fourteenth-century city walls.  Dedicated to Michelangelo Buonarroti (the city’s most famous Renaissance sculptor), the square has bronze copies, set on a large pedestal, of some of his marble works found elsewhere in Florence – the famous David (seen in the Galleria dell’Accademia) and the Four Allegories (seen at the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo, it depicts day, night, dusk and dawn), brought up by nine pairs of oxen on June 25, 1873.

Two of the Four Allegories

Two of the Four Allegories

Poggi also designed the hillside building with loggia as a museum for Michelangelo’s works which, for some reason, was not realized as it was intended. Today, the building is now a restaurant. The loggia, designed by Poggi the in the Neo-Classical-style, dominates the whole sumptuous, typically 19th century terrace.

View of the city

View of the city

A popular spot, most of Piazzale Michelangelo is a parking lot filled with vendors and locals and tourists, dropped off by busses, who come here to enjoy and snap photos of the panoramic and unobstructed views of the Arno valley and the heart of Florence, from Forte Belvedere to Santa Croce, across the lungarni (riverside walks) and the bridges crossing the Arno, including the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, the Bargello and the octagonal bell tower of the Badia Fiorentina. Beyond the city are the hills of Settignano and Fiesole.

The Arno River

The Arno River

Despite the overly touristy commercialism and its being crowded all year round, the piazza is still well worth a visit thanks to the magnificent views over the most important landmarks of Florence, with the Tuscan hills providing a scenic backdrop. The square is filled with a large number of market stalls selling souvenirs and snacks.

L-R: Cheska, the author, Kyle, Grace and Jandy

L-R: Cheska, the author, Kyle, Grace and Jandy

Kyle and Cheska

Kyle and Cheska

How to Get There:  From the city center, Piazzale Michelangelo can be reached by taking either bus 12 or 13 or the red, two-level sightseeing tour bus. On foot, from the Porta San Niccolò (a fourteenth-century city gate near the Arno River), it can also be reached by walking up the stairs or going up the steep winding path from Piazza Giuseppe Poggi (also known as the “Poggi Ramps”), found at the base of the hill upon which Piazzale Michelangelo sits. By car, it can be accessed along the tree-lined, 8 km. long Viale Michelangelo.

Porcelain Museum (Florence, Italy)

Porcelain Museum

Porcelain Museum

First opened in October 1973, the Porcelain Museum (Museo delle Porcellane), a section of the Silver Museum, is an internationally acclaimed institution in the field of ceramics and among the hundred most visited art museums in the world. It is housed in the Villino del Cavaliere, built in the 17th century at the top of the hill that overlooks the Boboli Gardens which was chosen as a retreat for the Grand Duke.

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If you love porcelain, then you will be impressed by its extensive collection of mainly continental porcelain, encompassing almost every famous maker. The labels were predominantly in Italian.  As it is located on one of the highest points of the Boboli Gardens, you have a gorgeous panoramic view of the city of Florence from the terrace.

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The over 2,000-piece, homogeneous collection comprises mainly porcelain tableware, from many of the most notable European porcelain factories, belonging to the royal families that ruled Tuscany and have followed one another at Pitti Palace, starting from the period of the Medici family, to the Lorraines (including the Parma-Bourbon dynasty), to the Savoys up to the unification of Italy.  One of the most important historical collections of its kind in Europe, the oldest pieces are those that once belonged to Gian Gaston de Medici (the last Medici Grand Duke, 1671-1737) produced in the Manufactory of Meissen.

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Among the well represented manufacturers of origin on display are the Royal Factory of Naples (Capodimonte); the Tuscan Carlo Ginori from Sesto FiorentinoFrench manufacturers  Vincennes (founded in 1740 and transferred to Sèvres in 1756 under the direct ownership of King Louis XV) in ParisViennese porcelain, largely collected by Ferdinand III of Tuscany; the German porcelain factory of Meissen, near Dresden.

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Many items in the collection, divided into three sections by periods, nations (Austria, Germany and France) and manufacturers, were specially commissioned by the Grand Ducal court, clearly reflecting their tastes, with several outstanding examples of Italian porcelain objects produced in Doccia (near Florence, founded by the Ginori family in 1737) and at the Royal Manufactory of Naples.  These were especially used by the Grand ducal family for large services of daily use.  All are very detailed, elegant and fine works of arts.

Meissen (1800-1850)

Meissen (1800-1850)

Others were gifts to the Florentine rulers from other European sovereigns. They include fine table sets from Vienna and from the German Manufactory of Meisse.  There were also French several large porcelain dinner services from the Vincennes  (later renamed Sèvres) factory, brought to the Pitti Palace by the Savoy House from the Royal Palace of Parma.

1750 Porcelain (Sevres)

1750 Porcelain (Sevres)

Table services, for daily use, constantly supplied to the Grand Dukes of Lorraine, from Doccia Manifacture, include a flowered porcelain with bouquet or tulip motifs, taken from the so-called “famille rose” Chinese porcelain; and lovely coffee cups with view of Florentine piazzas, from the 1800’s, made using lithographs by the Frenchman Philippe Benoist as models.

Naples Royal Factory (1785)

Naples Royal Factory (1785)

Some typical examples of French porcelain, characterized by various pastel-colored shades, includes some flower vases with scenes taken from Francois Boucher as well as 4 oysters stands from Parma, singular and unique of their kind, made up of 18 shell-shaped bowls and belonging to Louise Elisabeth de Bourbon, the Grand Duchess of Parma, who was, in fact, the daughter of Louis XV, king of France. Sèvres table services for the light first course and dessert, in two central display cases, were gifts to Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi (Grand Duchess of Tuscany, 1809-1814) from her august brother Emperor Napoleon I.

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In the first room is a collection from the Real Fabbrica of Naples.  They include, of particular note, a series of small biscuit figurines depicting personages from Classical antiquity; reproductions from the excavations in Herculaneum; 18 figurines reproducing ‘garments’ from the Kingdom of Naples, two dejeuner services (one decorated with Egyptian motifs and the other with Etruscan motifs).

Biscuit figurines

Biscuit figurines

A rich assembly of Viennese porcelains, in the second room, were brought to Pitti Palace by two Lorraine grand dukes – Peter Leopold (who maintained a constant rapport with the Vienna) and Ferdinand III of Lorraine (an impassioned collector of porcelains and, particularly, of ‘solitaire’ services). Cups and trays, decorated with views of Vienna, and a coffee service, with a trompe l’oeil feigned wood decoration, stand out.

A series of small porcelain statues taken from the Commedia dell’Arte

A series of small porcelain statues taken from the Commedia dell’Arte

Porcelains from Meissen and from other German manufacturers are in the third room. In the display case, towards the window, are 2 turtle-shaped butter dishes, a teapot in the shape of a rooster and a broth cup with scene inspired by a play by Molière, probably belonging to the collection of Gian Gastone de Medici.

Sèvres porcelain of Elisa Baciocchi (1809–1810)

Sèvres porcelain of Elisa Baciocchi (1809–1810)

Early pieces, from the Meissen factory, such as a splendid vase, are decorated with Chinese motifs such as gilded grape leaves and vines in relief. The Harlequin, a series of small porcelain statues taken from the Commedia dell’Arte, representing people in costume (ladies, musicians, putti, gardeners, etc.), was a source of inspiration for the Capodimonte porcelain manufacture in Naples.

Turtle-shaped butter dishes

Turtle-shaped butter dishes

Porcelain Museum: Palazzo Pitti, Piazza de’ Pitti, Florence, Italy. Tel: +39 055 238 8709

Costume Gallery (Florence, Italy)

Costume Gallery

Costume Gallery

The Costume Gallery (Galleria del Costume), the only National Museum in Italy exclusively dedicated to the history of fashion, is housed in a small southern building wing of the Meridiana (Palazzina della Meridiana),  a suite of 14 rooms (completed in 1858) of the Pitti Palace.

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Founded in 1983 (one of the newer collections to the palazzo) by Kirsten Aschengreen Piacenti, it is home to more than 6,000 pieces, including clothing and fashion accessories from the eighteenth century to the present day.  They include a group of about 90 theatrical costumes belonging to the Sartoria Tirelli, gathered by Umberto Tirelli, founder of an important tailoring, and a collection of fashion jewelry of the twentieth century (dating from the 16th century until the present).

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The semi-permanent exhibition of the Lorraine/Savoy rooms display pieces from the museum collection of historical clothes and accessories, previously stored in the palace´s warehouses. They include court and gala gowns (including clothes from Sicilian aristocratic Donna Franca Florio, one of the most famous European personalities during the Belle Epoque), haute couture dresses; ready-to-wear clothes, custom-made Florentine and Neapolitan bridal gowns from the early 1900s; as well as Italian cinematic, theatrical and music divas costumes (including dresses of Eleonora Duse, one of the most famous Italian theater actresses), all organized in chronological and thematic paths.

Donna Franca Florio cape

Donna Franca Florio cape

The collections also feature whole clothes collections of celebrities, also of great historical and documentary value, creations of the most famous designers of the twentieth century – Lucile, Versace, Valentino, Loris Azzaro, Armani, Renato Balestra, Missoni, Roberto Cavalli, Ken Scott, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Gucci, and Prada.

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Some of the exhibits are unique to the Palazzo Pitti. Composed of clothes once belonging to members of the Medici family who ruled Florence during the Renaissance, they include the fine, recently restored 16th-century funeral clothes of Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, and Eleonora of Toledo and her son Don Garzia, both of whom died 15 years before from malaria, worn while they were being displayed in state (they were reclad in plainer attire before interment).

 

Cosimo I de' Medici funeral clothes

Cosimo I de’ Medici funeral clothes

Don Garzia funeral clothes

Don Garzia funeral clothes

The richly-decorated galleries of the museum, equipped with air-conditioned display stands, display dresses on mannequins with female body structure (constricting structures such as corsets often changed the body) typical of the period in which the dress was made. The dancing hall, among other rooms, is used for temporary exhibitions of great interest.

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For didactic purposes and in order to represent the evolution of fashion, the exhibits are updated regularly every two or three years with different selections of clothes, a decision that originates from the need of guaranteeing their preservation.  It also offers the opportunity of displaying the patrimony preserved in the depository, mostly from public and private donations. Visitors can browse the story of costume, from the Renaissance to present day, through an extensive set of dresses and accessories, combined with contextual images and description panels.

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The gallery’s heritage is enriched by an archive paper with drawings, sketches and patterns of important figures such as Thayaht, Cesare Guidi, Simonetta Colonna di Cesaro and Alberto Fabiani. The gallery also exhibits a collection of mid-20th century costume jewellery and accessories. The Meridiana building, close to the gallery, is also the seat of a fabric restoration laboratory which is essential for the maintenance of clothing and accessories.

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Costume Gallery: Palazzo Pitti, Piazza de’ Pitti, 50125 Florence, Italy. Tel: +39 055 238 8611. Amission: € 7.00. Open daily, 8:15 AM – 4:30 PM (November to February), 8:15 AM – 5:30 PM (March, winter time, October winter time), 8:15 AM – 6:30 PM (March, summer time, April, May, September, October, summer time), 8:15 AM – 6:50 PM (June to August). Closed on the first and last Monday of each month, May 1 and Christmas.

Palazzo Strozzi (Florence, Italy)

Palazzo Strozzi

Palazzo Strozzi

From Kandinsky to Pollock The Art of the Guggenheim Collections (3)Palazzo Strozzi, facing the historical Via de’ Tornabuoni, is one of the finest examples of Renaissance domestic and civil architecture.  It has, since World War II, been Florence’s largest temporary exhibition space and, today, the palace is used for the now-annual antique show (founded as the Biennale dell’Antiquariato in 1959), international expositions, fashion shows, and other cultural and artistic events such as “Cézanne in Florence, Two Collectors and the 1910 Exhibition of Impressionism.” During our visit, there ongoing exhibits were “Migrazioni” (Liu Xiadong, April 22-June 19, 2016) and “From Kandinsky to Pollock: The Art o the Guggenheim Collections” (March 19-July 24, 2016)

From Kandinsky to Pollock The Art of the Guggenheim Collections

From Kandinsky to Pollock The Art of the Guggenheim Collections

Designed by Benedetto da Maiano and begun in 1489  , the palace was built for Florentine banker, statesman and merchant Filippo Strozzi the Elder, a rival of the  Medici who had returned to the city in November 1466.  He desired the most magnificent palace to assert his affluent family’s continued prominence and, perhaps more important, a political statement of his own status.

Wooden model of the Palazzo Strozzi

Wooden model of the Palazzo Strozzi

To provide enough space for the construction of the largest palace that had ever been seen in Florence, a great number of other buildings were acquired during the 1470s and then demolished. A wood model of the design was provided by Giuliano da Sangallo. Italian architect Simone del Pollaiolo (il Cronaca), in charge of its construction until 1504, left the palace incomplete and the palace was only completed in 1538, long after Filippo Strozzi’s death in 1491.  That same year, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici confiscated it but it was returned to the Strozzi family thirty years later.

Cortile (Central Courtyard)

Cortile (Central Courtyard)

Cortile (Central Courtyard) (3)It remained the property and seat of the Strozzi family until 1937, after which time it was occupied by the Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni which made great changes to the building. Since 1999, it has been managed by the City of Florence. The Palazzo is now home to the Institute of Humanist Studies, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi (Palazzo Strozzi Foundation), the noted Gabinetto Vieusseux, with its library and reading room, and the Istituto Nazionale del Rinascimento (Renaissance Studies Institute), the last two occupying the building since 1940.

The dominating cornice

The dominating cornice

StairFrom Palazzo Medici, Filippo copied the cubic form, designing its three floors around a cortile  (central courtyard) surrounded by an arcade,  inspired by Michelozzo. Its rusticated stone was also inspired by the Palazzo Medici but with more harmonious proportions. However, this free-standing structure is surrounded on all four sides by streets unlike the Medici Palace which is sited on a corner lot and, thus, has only two sides. The ground plan of Palazzo Strozzi, rigorously symmetrical on its two axes, with clearly differentiated scales for its principal rooms, introduced a problem new in Renaissance architecture (given the newly felt desire for internal symmetry of planning symmetry) – how to integrate the cross-axis.

The paired mullioned windows

The paired mullioned windows

Migrazioni (Liu Xiadong) (3)The three sides overlooking the street each have three arched portals. The palazzo, with its dominating cornice (typical of the Florentine palaces of the time), has paired mullioned  windows (bifore) and wrought-iron lanterns, done by an iron-worker named Caparra, decorating the corners of the palace exterior. As they rise to the keystone, the radiating voussoirs of the arches increase in length, a detail that was much copied for arched windows set in rustication in the Renaissance revival.

Migrazioni (Liu Xiadong)

Migrazioni (Liu Xiadong)

Palazzo Strozzi: Piazza degli Strozzi, 50123 Florence, Italy. Tel: +39 055 264 5155. Open daily, 10 AM – 8 PM (Thursdays, 11 PM). E-mail: info@palazzostrozzi.org. Website: www.palazzostrozzi.org. Admission: €12.00.

Museum of Dante’s House (Florence, Italy)

Museum of Dante House

Museum of Dante House beside the Torre della Castagna

The Museum of Dante’s House was established in 1965 on the occasion of the seventh centenary of the birth of the Dante Alighieri, the greatest Italian poet and the father of the Italian language. The Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia), his masterpiece, has influenced the love poetry, theology and symbolism and was, for centuries, the basis of the idea of collective Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Paradise (Paradiso).

Libro del Chiodo (Book of sentences of families rebelling against Florence)

Libro del Chiodo (Book of sentences of families rebelling against Florence)

Dante was born, between May and June, 1265, in the shadow of the Badia Fiorentina in the neighborhood of Florence.   In 1868, after completion of several studies and researches of reports in many old documents, the house of the Alighieri family, near the Torre della Castagna, was identified. However, very little remains of the original building but it was rebuilt in 1911. Tucked into the labyrinth of medieval alleys that tangle between the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Piazza della Signora, it is a fine example of a private upper-class home from Dante’s era, but Dante never actually lived here though there is evidence his brother might have owned it.

Death mask of Dante

Death mask of Dante

A museum, designed and installed by the Unione Fiorentina, was opened to the public in May 1965. In 1990, the museum closed for restoration and, on June 1, 1994, was reopened to the public. From 2002 to 2005, the building was reinforced structurally and architectural barriers were removed resulting in the museum’s reopening on September 27, 2005. 

Plastic model representing the historic Battle of Campaldino

Plastic model representing the historic Battle of Campaldino

The modest exhibition path, arranged on three floors according to the three most important stages in his life, touches the issues in the life of Dante through the events of the Alighieri, the subsequent exile and the features of Florence in the XIV century. A portrait of the poet, of mysterious origin, is engraved on the floor of the square in front of the house.

Dante's dagger

Dante’s alleged dagger

The first floor displays a series of documents on some of the aspects of 14th century Florence and on the youth of Dante, on his christening in the Baptistery of San Giovanni (the “beautiful San Giovanni”), on his public life, on his election in the office of prior of the town and the realities experienced by the poet – his participation in political and military struggles, notably the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, the Battle of Campaldino and the division of Florence into “sestrieri.”

Reproductions of the weapons used at the time

Reproductions of the weapons used at the time

There’s a room dedicated to the art of doctors and apothecaries (Dante’s Florentine guild) as well as a reconstruction of a typical medieval master bedroom.  There’s also an audio-visual room dedicated to the Divine Comedy, a reconstruction of the streets of medieval Florence and an exhibition of traditional costumes of the fourteenth century.

Traditional costumes of the fourteenth century

Traditional costumes of the fourteenth century

The second floor exhibits documents relating to his painful exile of 1301, the year of his condemnation. After visiting several cities (Forli, Verona and Bologna), the poet decided to spend his last years at Ravenna where we would die (1321) in the home of Guido da Polenta.

Typical Medieval master bedroom

Typical Medieval master bedroom

The third floor offers a collection of documents concerning the iconography and fortune of Dante over the centuries.  There are also excellent reproductions of works of art, ranging from the 14th century to the present-day, painted by important artists  such as Giotto, Fra Angelico, Andrea del Castagno, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Luca Signorelli, Raphael and Michelangelo.

Dante's family tree

Dante’s family tree

The museum’s predominantly historical and educational exhibit introduced me to the figure of the “great poet”Dante and the medieval Florence in which he lived. The plastic model representing the historic Battle of Campaldino (attended by Dante) and the reproductions of the weapons used at the time were very interesting.

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Museum of Dante’s House: Via Santa Margherita 1, 50122 Florence, Italy. Tel: + 39 055 219 416. E-mail: info@museocasadidante.it. Open Tuesdays, 10 AM – 4 PM; Wednesdays and Fridays, 10 AM – 3 PM; Saturdays, 10 AM – 5 PM, holidays and Sundays,  10 AM -5 PM. Closed on Mondays and Thursdays. Admission: €4.00.

How to Get There: Take Via dei Calzaiuoli from Duomo to the river and turn left after the third street (Via Dante Alighieri).

Church of Santa Maria Maddalena (Rome, Italy)

Church of Santa Maria Magalena

Church of Santa Maria Magalena

Named after Saint Mary Magdalene, this Roman Catholic church is located on the one of the streets leading from the Piazza della Rotonda in the Campo Marzio area of historic Rome. Started in the 17th century, the current church was completed in 1699 after seventy years of work involving several architects including Carlo QuadriCarlo Fontana (who is thought to have designed the dome) and Giovanni Antonio de Rossi. It is uncertain who designed the curved main Rococo-style (unusual style in Roman church facades) facade, which was finished circa 1735.

Church of Santa Maria Magalena (1)

The elongated, octagonal Borrominesque nave flanked by two chapels

Built in the Baroque style, early guide books credit Giuseppe Sardi with its highly unusual façade decoration. It also displays motifs reminiscent of Borromini. Between 1732 and 1734, Portuguese Manuel Rodrigues dos Santos (historian Alessandra Marino believes that it is Dos Santos, rather than Giuseppe Sardi, that the design should be attributed), an architect of the order, directed the completion of works at the church.  The monastery, on the church’s left, was constructed circa 1678 by Paolo Amato (from Palermo) and completed in the early 1680s by C.F. Bizzacheri.

Church of Santa Maria Magalena (2)

The architecturally complex interior has an elongated, octagonal Borrominesque  nave flanked by two chapels. The main chapel, to the right, is dedicated to and holds the relics of Saint Camillus, its vault frescoed in 1744 by Sebastiano Conca. The church also has a Christ, Virgin, and St. Nicolas of Bari by Baciccia and a San Lorenzo Giustiniani with Infant Jesus by Luca Giordano. The elaborately painted, stuccoed Rococo sacristy is decorated with polychrome marble. Church of Santa Maria Magalena (3)

Church of Santa Maria Maddalena:  Via della Maddalena, Rome, Italy

Spanish Steps (Rome, Italy)

The monumental Spanish Steps

The monumental Spanish Steps

The monumental  Spanish Steps (ItalianScalinata di Trinità dei Monti), a stairway of 135 steps (the slightly elevated drainage system is often mistaken for the first step), climbs a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, was built from 1723–1725 with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi.

Piazza di Spagna

Piazza di Spagna

Designed by the little-known architect Francesco de Sanctis (though Alessandro Specchi was long thought to have produced the winning entry), following a competition in 1717, it links the Bourbon Spanish Embassy and the Trinità dei Monti church (under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France), both located above at the top, to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi below.

Trinità dei Monti Church

Trinità dei Monti Church

At the base of the stairway is the  Fontana della Barcaccia (“Fountain of the ugly Boat”), an Early Baroque sculptural fountain built, with travertine as its material, from 1627–29.  It is often credited to Pietro Bernini who, since 1623, was Pope Urban VIII’s architect for the Acqua Vergine, an aqueduct from 19 BC which is the source of the fountain’s water. His more famous son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was recently said to have collaborated on the decoration. According to a legend, the pope had the fountain installed after he had been impressed by a boat brought here by the 1598 flood of the Tiber River.

Fontana della Barcaccia

Fontana della Barcaccia

Fontana della Barcaccia (4)

The center baluster

Made into the shape of a half-sunken ship, with water overflowing from its sides into a small basin, it was built slightly below street level due to the low water pressure (hence no water spectacle) from the aqueduct which flows from seven points of fountain: – the center baluster; two inside the boat (from sun-shaped human faces) and four outside the boat. As a reminder of Pope Urban VIII’s ancestry, the fountain is decorated with the papal coat of arms of the Barberini family.

Fontana della Barcaccia (3)

Sun-shaped human faces

As one begins to climb the steps one can see, at the corner on the right, the house where English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821.  It is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English Romantic generation.

Keats-Shelley Memorial House (1)

The Spanish Steps was featured in a number of films, TV shows and music albums:

  • The 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, made the Spanish Steps famous to an American audience.
  • Halfway up the steps, on the right, was the apartment that was the setting for the 1961 film The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.
  • A house next to the Steps is also the setting or Bernardo Bertolucci‘s 1998 film Besieged.
  • The Steps were featured prominently in the film version of The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon in the title role.
  • The Spanish Steps are featured in a scene in the 2015 film The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  • The Steps are featured in numerous scenes in Alfred Bester‘s 1956 novel The Stars My Destination.
  • In an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond which aired on October 2, 2000, Ray, Debra, Frank, and Marie climb the Spanish Steps during a family vacation in Rome.
  • Refugee, a progressive rock group, recorded the song “Credo” in 1974.  It contains the lyrics “I believe in constant pauses / Like a Roman holiday / And I often stop for air / As I climb the Spanish stairs.”
  • When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a Bob Dylan song first recorded in 1971 by The Band and later appearing on the album Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II, mentions both the “Spanish Stairs” and the Colosseum.
  • In 1995, Norwegian singer/songwriter Morten Harket, from A-ha, released a song called “Spanish Steps” on his album Wild Seed.
  • “Walk Through the World,” a Marc Cohn song released in 1993 album The Rainy Season, includes the lyric “From the Spanish Steps to the Liberty Bell, I know the angels have seen us.”
  • The title song from Guy Clark‘s Dublin Blues album (1995) contains the lyric: “I loved you on the Spanish Steps / The day you said goodbye.”
  • The song “Spanish Steps of Rome,” a bonus track in the North American & Japanese versions of the Mindfields album released in 1999 by American rock band Toto, describes a femme fatale romance that takes place on and around the Spanish Steps.
  • In 2005, American rock band Of A Revolution released One Shot from their album Stories of a Stranger, which contains the lyrics “Rome is burning, you can taste the embers / I am walking hard on Spanish Steps.”
  • In 2007, John Tesh of Entertainment Tonight fame, recorded an instrumental tune called “Spanish Steps” on his A Passionate Life.

The Spanish Steps have been restored several times, most recently in 1995. 

L-R: Jandy and the author

L-R: Jandy and the author

Spanish Steps: Piazza di Spagna, RomeItaly

Trevi Fountain (Rome, Italy)

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain


The impressive Trevi Fountain (ItalianFontana di Trevi), designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci, is one of the most famous fountains in the world and arguably the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome. The fountain, located at the junction of three roads (tre vie), marks the terminal point of the “modern” Acqua Vergine, the revived Aqua Virgo, one of the aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome.

Bas-relief of the virgin pointing to the source of the spring

Bas-relief showing the virgin pointing to the source of the spring

Legend has it that in 19 BC, thirsty Roman soldiers, supposedly with the help of a young virgin girl, located Salone Springs, a source of pure water some 13 kms. (8.1 mi.) from the city (This scene is presented on the present fountain’s façade). The discovery of the source led Augustus Caesar to commission the construction, by Agrippa, his son-in-law, of the Aqua Virgo (Virgin Waters, in honor of the legendary young girl), a 22-km. (14-mi.) aqueduct leading into the city. The aqueduct served the hot Baths of Agrippa, and Rome, for over 400 years.

Bas-relief showing Agrippa, explaining his plan for the aqueduct to Augustus Caesar

Bas-relief showing Agrippa, explaining his plan for the aqueduct to Augustus Caesar

Work on the fountain began in 1732 and it was completed by Giuseppe Pannini in 1762, long after Salvi’s death in 1751, when Pietro Bracci‘s Oceanus (god of all water) was set in the central niche. Pannini substituted the present allegories for planned sculptures of Agrippa and “Trivia,” the Roman virgin. On May 22, 1762, it was officially opened and inaugurated by Pope Clement XIII. Today, it remains one of the most historical cultural landmarks in Rome.

Palazzo Polli and the Trevi Fountain

Palazzo Poli and the Trevi Fountain

The Palazzo Poli, the backdrop for the fountain, was given a new façade, with a giant order of Corinthian pilasters linking the two main stories. Taming of the waters is the theme of the gigantic scheme that tumbles forward, mixing water and rockwork, and filling the small square. A chariot in the shape of a shell, the central feature of the monument, is drawn by seahorses with as their guide.

Corinthian pilasters

Corinthian pilasters

Even the palace in the background blends perfectly with the composition and the game of space and mass gives an air of movement to the entire statue.

Oceanus riding a shell-shaped chariot

Oceanus riding a shell-shaped chariot

At the center, superimposed on the palazzo façade, is a robustly-modeled triumphal arch. For maximum light and shade, the enormous central niche (exedra) framing Oceanus (or Neptune), god of the sea, has free-standing columns. He rides a shell-shaped chariot that is pulled by two hippocamps (sea horses), one calm and obedient and the other one restive, and each guided by a Triton.

The calm and obedient hippocamp and his Triton

The calm and obedient hippocamp and his Triton

Sculpted by Pietro Bracci, the statues symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. Even with the maximum contrast in their mood and poses, both hippocamps and Tritons provide symmetrical balance.

The restive hippocamp and his Triton

The restive hippocamp and his Triton

In the niches flanking Oceanus are the statues of Abundance (spills water from her urn) and Salubrity (holds a cup from which a snake drinks).

Statue of Abundance

Statue of Abundance

Statue of Salubrity

Statue of Salubrity

Above, bas reliefs illustrate the Roman origin of the aqueducts. The bas-relief on the left shows Agrippa, the general who built the aqueduct that carries water to the fountain, explaining his plan for the aqueduct to his father-in-law Augustus Caesar. The one the right captures the moment the virgin points to the source of the spring. The allegorical statues on the top, in front of the attic, symbolize the Four Seasons. Crowning the top is the coat of arms of Pope Clement XII.

Bas-relief of the virgin pointing to the source of the spring

Bas-relief of the virgin pointing to the source of the spring

All around, natural and artificial forms merge together in a representation of rocks and petrified vegetation that run along the foundation of the palace and around the borders of a large semicircular basin that represents the sea.

Two of the Four Seasons

Two of the Four Seasons

Every day some eighty million liters of water flow over artificial rocks through the fountain. The water is reused to supply several other Roman fountains, including the Fountain of the Four Rivers, the Tortoise Fountain and the Fountain of the Old Boat in front of the Spanish Steps.

Coat-of-arms of Pope Clement XII

Coat-of-arms of Pope Clement XII

Here are some facts and trivia regarding the Trevi Fountain:

  • The largestBaroque fountain in the city, the fountain stands 26.3 m. (86 ft.) high, 49.15 m. (161.3 ft.) wide and occupies more than half the square.
  • Salvi, before he died in 1751 with his work half finished, made sure a stubborn barber’s unsightly sign would not spoil the ensemble, hiding it behind a sculpted vase, called by Romans theasso di coppe, the “Ace of Cups.”
  • The majority of the fountain was made fromTravertine stone, quarried near Tivoli, about 35 kms. (22 mi.) east of Rome.
  • In 1973, Italian National Postal Service dedicated a postage stamp to Trevi Fountain.
  • In 1998, the fountain was refurbished; the stonework was scrubbed, all cracks and other areas of deterioration were repaired by skilled artisans, and the fountain was equipped with recirculating pumps.
  • In January 2013, it was announced that Fendi, the Italian fashion company, would sponsor a 20-month, 2.2-million-euro restoration of the fountain, the most thorough restoration in the fountain’s history. Restoration work, including the installation of more than 100 LED lights to improve the nighttime illumination of the fountain, began in June 2014 and, on the evening of November 3, 2015, the fountain was reopened with an official ceremony.
  • There is a curious tradition regarding the Trevi Fountain. It is said that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the water, you will be sure to return to Rome. Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder (or your left hand over your right shoulder), with your back to the fountain. While you’re tossing the coin, you’re not allowed to look behind you but the fountain is so large it’s basically impossible to miss.
Trevi Fountain scene at La Dolce Vita

Trevi Fountain scene at La Dolce Vita

  • The fountain has appeared in several notable films, including Federico Fellini‘s renowned 1960 Italian film La Dolce Vita.  The scene, on a quiet night in an almost unreal Rome (actually shot over a week in winter), features an alluring Anita Ekberg jumping into the Trevi Fountain, with her clothes on, and invites Marcello Mastroianni to join her. The coin tossing tradition was also the theme of 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain and the Academy Award-winning song by that name which introduced the picture.
Three Coins in a Fountain

Trevi Fountain scene in the movie Three Coins in a Fountain

  • An estimated 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy.
  • It is illegal to steal coins from the Trevi Fountain. Still, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain.
Grace, Jandy, the author and Cheska at Trevi Fountain

Grace, Jandy, the author and Cheska at Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain: Piazza di Trevi, Trevi district, 00187 RomeItaly