Santa Croce in pink

The fem­i­nine essence of Florence’s pan­theon

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

One of my pas­sions is to dis­cover the ‘hidden half ’ of well-known cul­tural trea­sures. I of­ten look for the ‘fem­i­nine side’ of Italy’s mon­u­ments, churches and mu­se­ums, by scout­ing out art by women in their col­lec­tions. From this point of view, Florence’s Church of Santa Croce holds many un­ex­pected surprises. Not only can one find art by women in its com­plex, it also hosts myr­iad ex­am­ples of his­tor­i­cal women - from all walks of life - whose lives have been hon­oured by mon­u­men­tal sculp­tures. Princesses, mys­tics, phi­lan­thropists, artists - I want to share ‘Santa Croce in Pink’ with you - by fo­cus­ing pri­mar­ily on one es­sen­tial artist whose sculp­ture graces the out­door log­gia: Feli­cie de Fau­veau.

De Fau­veau (1801–1886), one of the first fe­male sculp­tors to make a living from her art, was the first woman to ex­hibit at the Paris Salon, in 1827, at the age of 26. A Tus­can-born sculp­tor, she was em­braced by the in­ter­na­tional in­tel­lec­tual com­mu­nity and re­ceived many com­mis­sions, in­clud­ing from Prince Ana­to­lio Demid­off and Czar Ni­cholas I. She spent her child­hood in Florence and moved to Paris, France in 1826, at the height of the Restora­tion pe­riod when the Bour­bons were again in power. It is there she learned first paint­ing, and later, sculp­ture. It is said that after a sin­gle dis­cus­sion with a crafts­man who made re­li­gious stat­ues, she stated “I too am a sculp­tor”. It is not known if she re­ceived any for­mal train­ing in this medium. In France, de Fau­veau be­came a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist, an ar­dent, and pas­sion­ate, le­git­imist, who be­lieved in the rights of dy­nas­tic suc­ces­sion of the elder de­scen­dants of the Bour­bon monar­chy. Through fam­ily con­nec­tions, she be­came a favourite in the court of Charles X, and of Maria-Caro­line de Bour­bon-Si­cile, Duchesse de Berry, who was mar­ried to Charles X’s son. Charles X was forced to ab­di­cate in 1830, and Louis Philippe I, Duke of Or­leans, be­came the French monarch by de­cree of the par­lia­ment over Charles’s des­ig­nated suc­ces­sor. A roy­al­ist in­sur­rec­tion move­ment to re­gain the crown for the Bour­bon monar­chy en­sued. De Fau­veau joined the move­ment, the Vendee Re­bel­lion, where she dis­guised her­self in a soldier’s uni­form and rode across the coun­try­side, at night, to rally sup­port for the up­ris­ing. She was cap­tured and im­pris­oned for six months in Angers, France, and con­tin­ued to be per­se­cuted there for her par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Vendee Re­bel­lion, so she joined her mother in Florence, in 1833, in a self-im­posed ex­ile. In Florence, the Neo-gothic style and the Dan­tesque re­vival were in vogue and the Grand Duchy was under Leopoldo II’s rule. Her friends in­cluded sculp­tor, Lorenzo Bar­tolini, El­iz­a­beth Bar­rett Brown­ing, An­to­nio Marini and Caro­line Bon­a­parte. She was inspired by tra­di­tional medieval art and by sculp­tor, and gold­smith, Ben­venuto Cellini. Her home and stu­dio on Via degli Ser­ragli, in Florence, in the ex-con­vent of Santa Elis­a­betta delle Con­verite, be­came an artis­tic mecca for for­eign trav­ellers dur­ing their Grand Tour. Be­fit­tingly, the stu­dio to­day hosts a school for ar­ti­sans and the ap­plied arts.

In 2013, the restora­tion and main­te­nance of two fu­neral marble mon­u­ments by de Fau­veau were spon­sored by the Ad­vanc­ing Women Artists Foun­da­tion (AWA) – one in Santa Maria del Carmine of her mother, Anne de la Pierre, and one in Santa Croce. Her sculp­tures, born from the hand of a revo­lu­tion­ary woman, when high so­ci­ety women could only prac­tice art as an am­a­teur pur­suit, and not as an eco­nomic en­ter­prise as she did, have strug­gled to stand the test of time. Her most im­por­tant Floren­tine commission de­fied so­cial con­ven­tion by cre­at­ing an exquisitely carved mon­u­ment, ded­i­cated to 17-year-old West In­dian, Louise de Favreau, and is found in Santa Croce.

Orig­i­nally in­tended for Santa Croce’s Medici Chapel, the mon­u­ment (1854) was in­stead placed in Santa Croce’s sub­ter­ranean ex-or­a­tory della Com­pag­nia della Mad­dalena. On Novem­ber 4, 1966, the fury of the Arno River sub­merged the Santa Croce dis­trict under 22 feet of oil, mud and wa­ter, leav­ing it, and Florence, in a cat­a­strophic state. De Fau­veau’s most rec­og­nized mas­ter­piece just one of the thou­sands of works of art gravely dam­aged by 600,000 tons of floating de­bris.

The mon­u­ment’s home for the last fifty years has been the up­per log­gia of the church’s first clois­ter. Over the decades, even though it was re­stored in 1990, its daily ex­po­sure to the out­door el­e­ments has caused ir­reg­u­lar dis­coloura­tions on parts of its sur­face. Dur­ing AWA’s main­te­nance project in 2012, first, the grime was re­moved from the mon­u­ments sur­face and from within the marble’s pores. Next, a wax pol­ish was used to re­duce the marble’s lack of mois­ture, which is an ev­er­last­ing side ef­fect of its im­mer­sion in the rav­aging flood wa­ters.

Re­stor­ers found that de Fau­veau’s sculp­tural meth­ods dif­fered from those of her con­tem­po­raries, who copied Donatello. She used flat and toothed chis­els to cre­ate lin­ear move­ment and prob­a­bly learned her carv­ing tech­niques by work­ing on medal­lions. The mon­u­ment, inspired by a poem the de­ceased girl wrote, has many in­tri­cately carved Chris­tian mo­tifs and el­e­ments of re­al­ism, which give this mov­ing sculp­ture dec­o­ra­tive qual­i­ties. Her

‘metal-work­ing’ tech­niques can be found in the elab­o­rate bas-re­lief of Florence in the back­ground at the bot­tom of the mon­u­ment. It’s a one-of-a-kind view of the city where the artist spent over fifty years in vol­un­tary ex­ile!

How did Santa Croce be­come ‘Pink’?

This brief over­view of Feli­cie de Fau­veau’s unique story was first pub­lished in a book called Croce in Pink: Un­told Sto­ries of Women and their

Mon­u­ments. In Oc­to­ber 2012, I was pre­sent­ing the restora­tion of de Fau­veau’s mon­u­ment to the press and the pub­lic, in Santa Croce’s stun­ning Sala del Ce­na­colo with Tad­deo Gaddi’s Last Sup­per fresco as the back­drop.

One of the con­fer­ence’s speak­ers was Dr. Giuseppe de Micheli, di­rec­tor of the Santa Croce Cathe­dral Works Com­plex. Vis­i­bly moved by the kneel­ing nun-pa­troness who had spon­sored Gaddi’s work (de­picted in his paint­ing of Tree

of Life, just above his Last Sup­per), Dr. Micheli ex­tended a spe­cial in­vi­ta­tion to my foun­da­tion, Ad­vanc­ing Women Artists (AWA), invit­ing us to com­bine our ef­forts with theirs by cre­at­ing a guide­book and tour, fo­cus­ing on the ‘fem­i­nine essence in Santa Croce’, so that Florence and the world, could learn more about an­other group of ‘in­vis­i­ble’ women, whose lives and works are pro­foundly con­nected with the Basil­ica and cul­tural and spir­i­tual legacy it rep­re­sents.

For me, this pub­li­ca­tion is very spe­cial, for my very favourite church in the world is Santa Croce! It is a mag­i­cal, mys­ti­cal, place and to be con­nected with a project here, is very pre­cious to me. From the get-go, the project was af­fec­tion­ately called

Santa Croce in Pink, which be­came the ti­tle of the book and our jour­ney.

The book spot­lights 15 pro­tag­o­nists and their com­pelling sto­ries, be­gin­ning with the thirteenth century and its hum­ble spir­i­tual com­mit­ments, through cel­e­bra­tion of the city’s ‘Grand Tour’ and end­ing with the po­lit­i­cal in­trigue of Italy’s uni­fi­ca­tion.

As I end this ar­ti­cle on the fem­i­nine essence of Santa Croce, I’d like to in­clude a poem writ­ten by one of our pro­tag­o­nists, For­tu­nata Sul­gher Fan­tas­tici, which so aptly char­ac­ter­izes these 15 women.

 Since the cra­dle, it’s true I have loved the Muses And they be­stowed tal­ent upon me So I, on the wings of the mo­ment Could soar, bold as ever Mak­ing my own will From oth­ers’ de­sires 

Above and inset: Mon­u­ment to Louise de Favreau by De Fau­veau

Right: Por­trait of Féli­cie de Fau­veau by Ary Sch­ef­fer

Above: The beau­ti­ful clois­ter of Santa Croce with de Fau­veau’s mon­u­ment on the left

Inset: Cover of the AWA Foun­da­tion’s book on Sante Croce. See www. ad­vanc­ing­wom­e­nartists. org for more in­for­ma­tion

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