ITALY: Palaces, gar­dens & art made new

Palaces, gar­dens and art made new in Tus­cany

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Jane For­tune

am of­ten asked what are the new must-see spots in Florence, but I am a firm be­liever that once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ences should be en­joyed again and again. Liv­ing in Florence part-time for nearly three decades has taught me that each day brings its own unique dis­cov­er­ies. Some­times I like to go back to ‘old favourites’ and re­dis­cover again and again their count­less gifts. The city’s trea­sures seem to grow more valu­able as time goes by - the en­rich­ment is never-end­ing! So here is my to-do list for Time­less Travel afi­ciona­dos who are look­ing for­ward to a time­less trip through Tus­cany.

A hid­den oa­sis

Be­hind an unas­sum­ing fa­cade, in the heart of Florence, lies a pri­vately-owned, twenty-five acre ‘se­cret gar­den’, il Giardino Tor­ri­giani, which was renowned as a botan­i­cal gar­den in the 16th cen­tury. Mar­quis Piero Tor­ri­giani in­her­ited it in the 1800s, trans­form­ing this haven into an English­style 'park', which com­bines nat­u­ral el­e­ments with ar­ti­fi­cially-made land­scap­ing dot­ted with ar­chi­tec­tural and artis­tic sym­bols of an es­o­teric na­ture. At the en­trance of the gar­den, is the statue of Osiris, hold­ing a tablet de­scrib­ing visi­tors’ rules of be­hav­iour. Well known for its wealth of trees and plant species from all over the world, it also has old and new green­houses and a cov­ered lemon house, filled with abun­dant lemon trees (where pri­vate lunches are served).

Walk­ing through the gar­den’s hills and open mead­ows, there in­cludes a gym­na­sium, an aviary and a lovely old bridge. Classes in the art of gar­den­ing and paint­ing are also held here - on the very spot where Pier An­to­nio Micheli, who worked on the gar­den, and other ded­i­cated nat­u­ral­ists founded the Ital­ian Botan­i­cal So­ci­ety in 1716.

Songs for the spirit

The tenth-cen­tury Bene­dic­tine Abbey, La Ba­dia, lo­cated in Florence’s cen­tre, was founded by Willa, Count­ess of Tus­cany in com­mem­o­ra­tion of her hus­band, Hu­bert. It was one of the chief build­ings in me­dieval Florence. Sun­day mass and daily ves­pers are held at 6:30 am and sung a cap­pella, in four-part har­mony by eight monks and 14 nuns, who make up the Fra­ter­nità di Gerusalemme, which now owns the church. It is a spir­i­tual oa­sis mirac­u­lously re­moved from the out­side bus­tle. Re­nais­sance painter, Filip­pino Lippi’s work Ap­pari­tion

of the Vir­gin to Saint Barnard (1486) is dis­played in this church. This is also where, in 1373, Ital­ian nov­el­writer Gio­vanni Boc­cac­cio de­liv­ered his fa­mous lec­tures on Dante’s Di­vine Com­edy. It is also said to be where Dante first saw his beloved muse Beatrice, as Dante sup­pos­edly grew up across the street in the build­ing now known as 'Casa di Dante'. In 1910, it be­came a mu­seum, but in re­al­ity, it is un­likely to have been his real home.

Re­gard­less of one’s reli­gious de­nom­i­na­tion, at­tend­ing ves­pers, or Mass at La Ba­dia, is one of the most beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ences one can have in Florence.

Mak­ing art ‘new’

The Opi­fi­cio delle pietre dure was es­tab­lished in 1588 by Duke Fer­di­nando de’ Medici as a court lab­o­ra­tory, which spe­cial­ized in the art of semi­precious stones and in­lays, and was orig­i­nally lo­cated at the Uf­fizi. It re­mained ac­tive for three cen­turies, and to­day some of its great­est hand­crafted art is dis­played in a small mu­seum, lo­cated at Via Al­fani 78. The sec­ond branch of the in­sti­tute was founded in 1932 as a restora­tion lab­o­ra­tory. It was the first mod­ern restora­tion lab in Italy, which be­gan by restor­ing paint­ings by Tus­cany’s Old Masters. When Florence’s Arno River flooded in 1966, many pre­cious works of art were dam­aged. More space was needed not only be­cause of the num­ber of works, but also be­cause of the sheer size of the dam­aged pieces, like the im­mense Cru­ci­fix by Cimabue from the Basil­ica of Santa Croce. Th­ese new lab­o­ra­to­ries were built in the Fortezza da Basso. Can­vases, panel paint­ings and fres­cos are re­stored here, while hand-crafted work­man­ship us­ing metal, ce­ramic, mo­saics and bronze are ‘doc­tored’ in via Al­fani.

Toast­ing Tus­can tra­di­tions

Castello di Ama in Lec­chi in Chi­anti is a still-se­cret spot where vine­yard own­ers cre­ate ex­tra­or­di­nary wine and have com­mis­sioned site-spe­cific art that has graced their es­tate for two decades, with works by artists such as Louise Bour­geois, Chen Zhen, Anish Kapoor and Michelan­gelo Pis­to­letto, to name a few. A trip to Bargino, about 20 min­utes out­side of Florence, is also an in­ter­est­ing winein­spired trip to en­joy the tra­di­tions of the Anti­nori, a Floren­tine wine fam­ily par ex­cel­lence.

In busi­ness since 1385, and known for their fab­u­lous su­per-Tus­can wines, the Anti­noris have fi­nally opened to the pub­lic af­ter 600 years in the busi­ness, thanks to their newly-in­au­gu­rated sta­teof-the-arts fa­cil­ity called ‘March­esi Anti­nori Chi­anti Clas­sico’. It spot­lights the wine-mak­ing process, a cen­turies-old art col­lec­tion and has all the mak­ings

of a dy­nasty-in­spired lo­ca­tion. It is set among olive groves, vine­yards and oak trees and land­scaped to re­flect Tus­can tra­di­tions. The un­der­ground cel­lar fa­cil­ity is con­cealed in a hill and only Rin­uc­cio 1180 - their ter­raced restau­rant over­look­ing the vine­yards - can be seen from the road.

A mu­seum over­looked

L’Ac­cademia delle Arti del Disegno (The Academy for Fine Arts and Draw­ing) was founded in 1563 by Cosimo I de’ Medici, thanks to prod­ding by painter and ar­chi­tect Gior­gio Vasari, who was also Italy’s first art his­to­rian. It was the ear­li­est academy of draw­ing es­tab­lished in Europe. No­table artists from all over the world have been elected to honorary mem­ber­ship at the Ac­cademia, be­gin­ning with lu­mi­nar­ies such as Michelan­gelo, Cellini and Bronzino. In 1615 Artemisia Gen­tileschi was the first wo­man to be elected. Art lovers will marvel at two stun­ning but over­looked mas­ter­pieces on dis­play there: Madonna En­throned

with Saints (1395-1400) was au­thored by Floren­tine Gothic painter Mat­teo di Nardo and the Taber­na­cle

of the Boldone (1524-1525) by Floren­tine man­ner­ist, Ja­copo Pon­tormo.

Rhap­sody in blue

The Museo Bar­dini was orig­i­nally the church and con­vent of San Gre­go­rio della Pace. In 1880 Stefano Bar­dini, a painter, re­storer, art dealer and an­ti­quar­ian bought the prop­erty and ren­o­vated the struc­ture to house his art col­lec­tion. All of its doors, windows and wooden ceil­ings came from de­stroyed churches and vil­las. Upon his death in 1922, Bar­dini be­queathed his palazzo and art works to the City of Florence. His eclec­tic col­lec­tion con­sists of sculp­tures, paint­ings, fur­ni­ture, ce­ramic pieces, ta­pes­tries and var­i­ous frag­ments that he had sal­vaged when the old cen­tre of Florence was de­mol­ished. This gem of a mu­seum with vivid blue walls first opened in 1925. It has re­cently been re­opened af­ter two decades of ren­o­va­tion in the style that com­mem­o­rates its orig­i­nal owner’s taste and unique flair.

Where artists to­day keep Florence cre­ative

Il Palmerino, a 15th-cen­tury villa in the hills of Fiesole, was home to Bri­tish nov­el­ist Vernon Lee (Vi­o­let Paget) from 1889 to 1935. For 46 years, she 'held court' for a vast net­work of An­gloAmer­i­can and Floren­tine writ­ers, artists, sci­en­tists, politi­cians and in­tel­lec­tu­als, who were at­tracted to her crit­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tions on Ital­ian art. She wrote over 40 books and was one of the most fa­mous mod­ern ex­po­nents of su­per­nat­u­ral fic­tion. A wo­man be­fore her time, she was an ad­vo­cate of fem­i­nism and so­cial re­form.

To­day, the villa has been given to a cul­tural as­so­ci­a­tion, Il Palmerino, which was founded by its cur­rent owner, Fed­er­ica Par­retti, grand­daugh­ter of Bri­tish writer and artist, Carola Costa An­geli. The or­gan­i­sa­tion spon­sors sem­i­nars and re­search pro­grammes, which fo­cus on artists, par­tic­u­larly women artists. Since 2008, this UNESCO World her­itage site has a project that en­cour­ages artists from around the world to meet and share cul­tural prospects and ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing artist sem­i­nars and in­di­vid­ual study and re­search in art, lit­er­a­ture and science. The villa has spa­ces ded­i­cated to the re­treat for arts and stud­ies and has a li­brary which will hope­fully one day host the en­tire col­lec­tion of Vernon Lee’s works. Above, left: The Frame Room at Museo Bar­dini Above, top: Il Palmerino by artist Lola Costa Above: Il Palmerino - The last Floren­tine home Right, top: The cov­ered court­yard of the Villa La Pe­traia Right: The fan­tas­tic view of Florence from the Gondi Palace’s ter­race

Mona Lisa and the King

Just next-door to Palazzo Vec­chio stands the 15th­cen­tury Gondi Palace, de­signed by Gi­u­liano di San Gallo for banker, Gi­u­liano Gondi. Once ri­vals of the Medi­cis, de­scen­dants of the Gondi fam­ily still own the palace, whose mag­nif­i­cent views from their grand ter­race takes one’s breath away. The Palazzo Vec­chio is prac­ti­cally at arm’s length. Their home is a trea­sure trove of works of art, in­clud­ing a stun­ning life-size por­trait by 18th-cen­tury court artist Vi­olante Siries Cer­roti. The south side of the palazzo once hosted the home of Leonardo Da Vinci. He is said to have painted the Mona Lisa in that very space! The cen­tral court­yard has a por­tico with Corinthian col­umns on four sides and in the mid­dle you’ll see a 17th-cen­tury foun­tain whose wa­ter is piped in from the Boboli Gar­dens (Florence’s Nep­tune Foun­tain gets wa­ter from the ex­act same source).

For those up for a coun­try-side trek, Villa La Pe­traia is a Medici villa whose im­pres­sive in­door court­yard alone is worth the trip. Two cy­cles of fres­cos au­thored in the Medici pe­riod grace this space over­look­ing the Ital­ianate gar­dens. King Vit­to­rio Emanuele trans­formed the court­yard into a cov­ered dance floor dur­ing the 1860s when Florence was the cap­i­tal of Italy. Rather than liv­ing in the Palazzo Pitti as was the royal cus­tom, the king opted to re­side in Villa La Pe­traia with his mis­tress Rosa Ver­cel­lana.

Above, top left: Fortezza da Basso Restora­tion Lab, Opi­fi­cio delle pietre dure Above, top right: A Tus­can land­scape in semi-pre­cious stone by B. Poc­cetti, Opi­fi­cio delle pietre dure Above: Vase with Flow­ers, Opi­fi­cio delle pietre dure from the 1600s...

Above: Tor­ri­giani Gar­dens, Florence Right, top: The en­trance to La Ba­dia, the Bene­dic­tine Abbey in the cen­tre of Florence Right: Clois­ter of the Or­anges, Ba­dia Fiorentina (All im­ages cour­tesy AWA)

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