Wednesday 12th September
The Hotel Albani seems fine
- near the station but pretty quiet. The room is an OK size and woody, the
bathroom marbly, and the wi-fi is free and needs no log in. And when I get
back from my evening stroll and meal I have a pair of slippers by my bed
and a jelly sweet with a little card telling me what tomorrow's weather's
going to be. The stroll was all good too, apart from visiting a bookshop
and finding that Fifty Shade of Bloody Grey is the bestseller here
in Italian too. (Cinquanta Sfumature di Nero, seeing as you asked,
but the first few reviews on Italian Amazon are heartwarmingly headed
"Monotono", "Inutile" and "Vaniglia????") I got as far as
the Ponte Vecchio, where a political march which my Italian wasn't up to
identifying was passing the North end, and so I looped down through the
Oltrarno and back up to the good old Grotta di Leo where I had a
mozzarella and fresh tomato pizza with a side salad and a beer. It was only 6
o'clock but I'd had no lunch, apart from a cloudsoft in-flight BA
baguettette with mozzarella and pesto, and so I scoffed mightily. A
coconut and cinnamon gelato did the business too, from the gelateria in
Piazza Santa Maria Novella, and I also bought myself a small fig panforte, just in
Thursday 13th September
My morning's key words were cenacolo and grisaille. I set out in the vague vicinity of my hotel to confirm churches marked on my (very old) map, and to visit refectories. First up was the Cenacolo di Fuligno, where you sign in and make a donation. The Cenacolo (Last Supper) is visible through the open doors. It's by Perugino, but was previously thought to be by Raphael (hence the bust of him on display here) and there's still some argument over whether it might have had more than its share of studio input. There are 33 cenacoli in the refectories of central Florence, and this is one of the best. There are other works on display too, one by Perugino, some very nice bits of an altarpiece by Lorenzo di Credi, and my fave here - 6 bits by Antonio Rimpatta. I know, me neither, but his faces are winningly serene but still very human.
Further along the road I found San Giuliano open. It's lit by just three windows high up in the façade, which shine through an odd filet of a room between the facade and the inner facade, so the aisleless space, with three arched recesses on each side, is dimly lit. There are three nuns' grills high up on the left side, where the convent was, I presume, and an organ gallery on that side of the apse. The interior is very undecorated, apart from a grisaille panel in the flat ceiling and portraits of Christ and some saints in the spandrels of the dome over the apse. Two elderly black-clad nuns sitting in pews and the the sounds of catering coming from a door on the left suggest a still-functioning convent.
On to cenacolo number two - Sant'Appolonia, where you just have to sign in. But don't imagine that the entrance to the refectory is the door to the right of the church (see left) When you come out of this door, having been exasperatedly directed, you turn left up to the main road and then left again to the far corner of the complex. This one's by Andrea del Castagno, it was the first, and it's the one with the jazzy faux-marble panels and the very sculptural figures. It was only discovered in 1808, as the convent was that of a closed order. There are also three damaged frescoes of the Crucifixion, Deposition and Resurrection above the Last Supper and their sinopie (underdrawings) have been installed on the facing wall. Below these are some unfascinating decorative panels from the the tragically lost fresco cycle painted for the church of Sant'Egidio as well as a sinopia of a nude woman with perspective lines.
Last up was the Cloister of the Scalzi. No church building survives, but there's a small cloister decorated all around with grisaille frescoes of the life of St John the B by Andrea del Sarto. They are monochrome, of course, and also very pale, but with some dark details and patches, especially in the corners, suggesting that they were not always so.
Having exhausted the local
cenacoli I map-consulted to try and tick off and photograph some
nearby obscure churches. San Domenico al Maglio turned out to be in a
zona militare and so only visitable with the risk of being shot. And
then I found another one not even on my map - the Chiesa Valdese, which
was originally built as an Anglican church. After tracking down a couple
more I found myself in the Piazza de Liberta, which follows the seemingly
universal rule of town planning, that if you have a spectacular triumphal
arch (with a city gate too, in this case) then you have make it the centre
of a noisy and fume-clogged traffic roundabout.
In Vienna we got so fed up
with squeezing the wall-mounted liquid-soap bottles that took a grip of
iron to dispense a dribble that we found a Body Shop and I discovered
their coconut soap, and that when buying soap it's best to go for your
favourite ice cream flavours. So, as my room here in Florence has no soap,
only shower gel, I went in search of soap here, and found a shop selling
local produce. I chose two bars: one fig and almond milk and the other olive oil and
tangerine, as they sounded like yummy gelato favours. And got back to the
hotel to find soap now in the bathroom. Coconut flavour. I also asked this
evening if the painfully week wifi signal in my room was ever so, and was
it stronger down in the lounge. The woman in reception said that if I did
come and use the wifi downstairs it would then be stronger when I went
back to my room. Oh yeah, pull the other one.
|Friday 14th September|
But before crossing the Arno I found Santa Lucia sul Prato open. It's aisleless, compact and squarish inside, pale with some quite chunky pietra serena detailing. Three arches on each side contain a pair of recesses with a chapel at the apse end. The pair nearest the door each contain a damaged fresco fragment, one a fine and unusually relaxed annunciation and the other the bottom half of an even more damaged scene of The Resurrection, maybe, looking much later. The two middle recesses contain a very modern fresco and a square painting by an unidentifiable artist of The Adoration, after Ghirlandaio's original in Santa Trinita. The square apse has long carved panels on the sides and a painting of the crucifixion on the wall behind, but with the actual crucifix carved. Flanking this are saints with children - Santa Lucia and Sant'Ippolitto Galanti, looking 18th Century and pretty grubby. There's an organ gallery (and organ) on the inner facade and a murky circular ceiling painting. Patterned stained glass windows over each side arch help the light and calm and Brunalleschian cube effect.
Over the river I wandered
and ticked off some churches and convents. One was now Romanelli, a studio
selling serious statuary: life-size equestrian statues, full size lions
and panels bigger than my house. And a very clued up young woman who
answered all my questions about how the place had been converted from the
church with admirable knowledge. One of the churches on my list, San
Francesco di Paola, was on the way up to Bellosguardo, a residential area
in the hills above Florence where 19th Century worthies rented villas. I
didn't get all the way up as it started to rain in a concerted and
annoying way. I had no map, and I'd found the last church. But next time
I'll persevere to find, for example, the Villa Brichieri-Colombi, which
Constance Fennimore Woolson sublet to Henry James, and where he wrote
The Aspern Papers. And the Villa Mercedes, which he used as the model
for Gilbert Osmand's villa in The Portrait of a Lady.
This evening I noticed that
the fridge does make a fair amount of noise, and goes chonk quite loudly
when it starts, so it probably was what woke me up last night, intruding
on a dream maybe, to explain why it seemed more worrisome then. And loud
and mysterious. So no trace of any real psychosis there. At all. Also the
morning noises seem to be the lift, which is just outside my door.
Earplugs tonight, methinks.
|Saturday 15th September|
It's a big church, with no aisles but three deep chapels each side and a full-width choir with a hanging crucifix over the high altar. There's an organ behind the altar, on a balcony, all in eau de nil and gilding. Either side of the organ is trompe l'oeil architecture rising to clouds and a scene of...something cloud-based, going on in the dome above. The chapels on the left are pretty plain, but the ones on the right are all not. Three stained glass clerestory windows, one over each chapel, and another one over the door don't let in much light. The art is solidly OK, with no big names, especially as the Taddeo Gaddi triptych in the central chapel on the right, mentioned in my guidebook and on the board in the church, is no longer there. And the rectangular painting that is there looks to have been fitted in by chipping bits out of the existing stone frame. But one chapel does contain that rare thing - a 20th Century fresco, done in 1933-4.
A few more finds, then me and some pigeons and one sparrow ate a somewhat dry mozzarella, tomato and rocket panino in Piazza Santa Croce, followed by a chocolate with orange and fior di latte coppa.
Out to find and photograph a few more churches this evening, little did I realise how gobsmacked I was going to be before the evening was out. First shock was that the music shop just off Piazza della Republicca is totally gone. And I bought two CDs there only four months ago, at the beginning of my current Early Music thing. It's now a shop selling those coffee machines using disposable pods. Wandering nearby looking for a couple of churches I was amazed at how there are still streets I've never been down, even in the historic centre. I found Santa Margherita de' Cerchi (aka Dante's Church) open and was amazed at what a messy and grubby little box it is. It may have been the location of Dante's marriage to Gemma Donati in 1295 you see and so, of course, visitors leave letters to Beatrice, who he didn't marry, to ask her to fix their love lives. Which explains the cardboard box full of scraps of paper. There are a couple of paintings on the walls showing Dante meeting women outside the church and lots of bright and garish unframed paintings propped on chairs of religious subjects, and the life of Pinocchio. It's a dark church lit by a small window up high behind the altar and with weird and intrusive new age music playing. The reported fine altarpiece of The Madonna and Four Saints by Neri di Bicci I didn't notice. Then a huge party swarmed in and I swarmed out.
Then I found San Filippo Neri, the church in the San Firenze complex, open. It's big, tall and baroque but with no aisles, just three huge altars down each side, each with big altarpieces by 18th Century painters you won't have heard of. It's all dark pietra serena with a flat and typically excessive gilded coffered ceiling. There are two confessionals between the altars on the left, and two more at the back. There's only one on the right as where another should be (between the second and third altars) is the entrance to a chapel. This is wider than it is deep, with a carved altarpiece, some more dark art, and two more confessionals. (Making seven in all. I know that the other half of the building is the courthouse, but still.) In this chapel you'll also find a chair, a small table and the death mask of Filippo Neri himself, all in an ornate glass case with his bust on top.
Ready for more amazement?
In a swank sweet shop in the centre I spotted some temptingly
varied-flavoured panforte. The shop did little (CD-shaped) samplers with
four wrapped bits, each a different flavour, so I went in and...€19.50!
|Sunday 16th September|
|Monday 17th September|
The Buonomini, in something of a contrast, is a confraternity that was set up to help rich merchants who had fallen on hard times. San Martino, their oratory nearby, is small but full of ten fine frescoes in the lunettes, depicting the work of the fraternity, by the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio. There are also two Madonnas, one Byzantine and the other by the unfortunately named, but undoubtedly talented, Nicolo Soggi. There's also a reliquary bust of St Antoninus attributed to Verrocchio. Requests for help were posted in the slot marked per le istanze in the church's façade. The confraternity still meet every Friday afternoon to deliberate the distributing of funds, and all donations to help the destitute rich are gratefully received.
I'm not sure how I've
managed to have never been inside Orsanmichele before, but there you go.
It's surprisingly (indeed Tardisly) big inside - seemingly two churches
divided by a pair of huge pillars. It was originally built as a market,
which might explain this odd way of dealing with its squareness. The right
side faces an ornate gothic tabernacle by Orcagna, the artist's only
important sculptural work. It's a magnificent creation of carved stone and
inset glass, with a similarly luminescent (and well-lit) altarpiece by
Bernardo Daddi at its centre. The left half concentrates on a plainer low
altar with a carved group of the Madonna and Child with St Anne by
Francesco da Sangallo. Lots of fresco work and fragments, mostly of Saints
and worthies on columns and in the quadrants of the six domes. Upstairs is
another big hall with the restored marble and bronze originals of the
famous statues from the niches around the outside, where copies stand
today. And there's yet another gothic hall, with a wooden roof, above
that's largely empty but with some good views across Florence's rooftops.
These upper halls are opened by volunteers every Monday 10-5. Did I know
this and plan my visit for today? Of course! Confirming some last few
churches' existence took me walking over into the Oltrarno, and so near
Mama's Bakery I had to have a couple more of their superb seedy bagels,
with cream cheese and cucumber, and try a Nutella and coconut muffin, of
Tuesday 18th September
San Salvi being a bit of a walk (or a bus ride) out means it's not very visited. There were four people there when I arrived, but when they left I had the whole place to myself for almost half an hour. Apart from the refectory where the cenacolo is, there's a long corridor and two other rooms full of altarpieces and fresco panels from other, usually demolished, churches, either by Andrea del Sarto, or his contemporaries. There is some genuinely worth-seeing stuff here, often by artists you've scarcely heard of, and all hung so the you can get up close and appreciate. And then there's the Last Supper itself, which is one of the best and said to have been Andrea's last major work. The faces, hands and feet are all equally, and extremely, expressive, the colours vivid and the paint looking fresh and unworn. I got given a leaflet about the cenacolo but there are no cards or books on sale about all the other works. The actual church of San Salvi closes, I found out at 12.15, at 12.00.
I tried a more direct, and less riverside, route back, which brought me out by the side of Sant'Ambrogio. It also took me past a basic but popular-looking takeaway that 'specialised' in curries, burgers, kebabs and falafel. So another falafel in pitta eaten walking through a major city this year, to add to Venice, Paris, Boston and New York. (In London I'm mostly sitting down, and in Gabby's.) And my gelato flavours a little later were ricotta with figs and yoghurt with uve fragola. I should explain that the latter was yoghurt-flavoured gelato, not frozen yoghurt, and that the uve fragola is a fruit I've only found in Italy, shaped like a grape but exploding in your mouth with the flavour of strawberries.
In the evening I mostly
looked in bookshops and sat in Piazza SS Annunciata. But as San Michele by
the Duomo was open I popped in to look at the Pontormo Madonna and
Child with Saints. It's still oddly dark for a Pontormo and still not
well lit, and on this subject I got chatting with a fellow artfan neck-craner,
and about how cheerful they all look. He was able to clear up a puzzle
too: why the board that tells you about the painting, in Italian, says
Pontormo & Rosso in big letters at the top. He said there was a major
exhibition with that name a while back and the board was made to tie in,
Wednesday 19th September
Venice // Florence // London // Berlin // Trips