Florence
April 2015
More photos here
 

Wednesday 22nd April
No big-draw exhibitions this time, just some churches that need a bit more writing up, a one-year free pass to Santa Croce to make use of - my having got it by helping crowdfund the work on the exterior of the Pazzi Chapel - and a plan to add the churches up in Fiesole to The Churches of Florence. So, almost a holiday compared to other years' box-ticking rushes. (Like my fuller itineraries are a real hardship! I know.) Oh and a newly-recommended gelateria (Perche No!) to try.

The adventure this trip is trying out London City airport, as flights from there go to Florence Peretola airport, from where you catch a bus, rather than the current bus/train mallarky from Pisa.  The drawback being that I was travelling through London during the latter part of the rush hour. And drawback it was, as my Northern Line train was full, was delayed by an obstructed door at Borough, then was taken out of service at Kennington so we had to all get off,  then put back in service so we got back on, then taken out again... So it took me an hour just to get to London Bridge where the whole journey was supposed to take 45 minutes.

London City Airport is slap bang amongst the dog's breakfast of the shiny new and the crappy old that is London Docklands, so the last part of the trip on the DLR is not without interest, cranes and Boris's waste-of-money cable cars. The airport is small and not busy, and my lateness meant I didn't have to dwell long in the minimal lounge. My worry was that the plane might be distressingly small too, maybe with propellers, but it had reassuring bigness, if only four-seat width. And jet engines, which g-forced us from the very beginning of take off, presumably because of the shorter runway demanding more acceleration. Rather than the usual bread product we got served cold pasta, with minuscule bread discs and an even smaller cube of lemon cake.

At Florence airport you exit into the a arrivals lounge and turn right to follow the signs to the far-off bus stop for the trip into town. But first you turn left to buy your return ticket for €10 from the bookshop. Of course. A one way trip is
€6 and can be bought on the bus. They run every half hour at .00 and .30 and take about 25 minutes to get to S.M. Novella train station, which can seem longer if the woman sitting next to you is speaking and laughing very loudly on her mobile the whole time. But it's less annoying if she's speaking Italian, I found, but probably no wittier. 

After checking in at the Cerretani, unpacking and logging onto the wifi and stuff, I went out for an evening stroll and an early pizza. Making for the other side of the Duomo in search of books and chocolate I found a building which I'd included on Churches of Florence as having once been a church with its big outer doors open and a less imposing inner door temptingly labelled Spingere now visible, which I pushed open to find myself in a dark vestibule leading into a lighter church-shaped library full of impressive shelves and piles of books and boxes of various shapes and bindings. There was also a woman at a terminal who said buonasera
and answered my questions about if and when her handsome library was ever a church. It had been, about 500 years ago, so I think I'd better be removing it from my site. A result, if a somewhat negative one. Similarly checking out if San Carlo (opposite Orsanmichele) still had its strip of scaffolding as if to catch falling bits I discovered a church now totally invisible behind scaffolding and sheeting. A bit more wandering found me at the Grotta di Leo where I chose the acclimatising familiar cipolla pizza and birra medea. Ditto the cinnamon and mango gelato in Piazza Santa Maria Novella afterwards. Oh, and having kept you wondering long enough I can reveal that the chosen chocolate bars were arancia and cannella and pera, mandorla and miele.

Thursday 23rd April
To San Marco, the church and the museum, which I didn't think I'd done justice to on my last visit or yet on the website. The church was as ordinary as I remembered. The Museo, which charges a very reasonable €4, is the true treat of course. The first door on the right as you enter the cloister, which was full of hundreds of yacking teenagers, is a feast of Fra Angelico panels from demolished churches and such. About a 100 of said teenagers swarmed in before I'd had my fill, so I left intending to return later. The cloister has quite vivid frescoes in the lunettes by Fra Angelico (the small ones over the doors) and by an artist called Sogliani later (the rest). Carrying on anti clockwise takes you to a large refectory with unspecial work along the right hand wall, a quite impressive fresco by our friend Sogliani on the end wall, and more by him up the left. Opposite is a small room more worthy of attention with some sweet Fra Bartolomeo panels and his spooky dark profile of Savonola. Next around the cloister is a square room with a big and lovely Crucifixion fresco by Fra Angelico, but looking much more worked than his usual. Then comes upstairs, which when I got beyond the crowds
blocking the way photographing the lovely Annunciation, into corridors rammed full of teenagers...well retreat seemed the best idea. The corridor beyond the library entrance leading to the Medici cells is all closed off for restoration too. The bookshop has the Ghirlandaio Last Supper, which commercial usage doesn't help in its appreciation. But here I found a copy of Francesco Albertini's Memorial of Many Statues and Paintings in the Illustrious City of Florence, which has been in my Amazon basket for ages but which I'd never seen. It turned out to be a truly tempting thing so I bought it, probably for more than I'd have paid on Amazon, but I figure the San Marco bookshop is more deserving. (But when I later looked it up I found it was nearly twice as much on Amazon!)

I went into SS Annunziata as I was passing. It now has scaffolding all up the centre of the entrance atrium and around the Baldovinetti fresco there, which is getting restored. A service was taking place in front of the tabernacle housing the famed miracle-working Annunciation, as there always seems to be. Some book shopping and wandering around the Sant'Ambrogio market before I took me to Ruth's Kosher Vegetarian restaurant, which is handily right next to the big synagogue, so there are always at least two soldiers with machine guns outside the door making sure no-one disturbs your falafel noshing.  The can of LemonSoda and the wifi added to my enjoyment not a little.

Heading for a gelato after I was surprised to find 
Santi Simone e Guida open, which I'd never found it before. It's boxy, aisleless and grey with a flat green and gilt wooden ceiling. There are five shallow altars down each side with some ordinary late 16th/early 17th Century panels, but one deep niche is oddly frescoed with a landscape and one has an impressively monumental 14th century panel of St Peter Enthroned. The niche presumably once held a statue or a crucifix for which the background was painted. A new iconostasis and other standing images speak of the church's  current use by a Ukranian Greek Catholic congregation. My gelato flavours, from Gelateria de Neri, were almond and rice pudding.

During my late afternoon snooze it rained mightily. Or did I dream it? No it's raining still, judging by the pattering noise in my lightwell. Still mizzly for my evening stroll. To the railway station to get some bus tickets, I got them from the chemist kiosk, of course. A pizza Scugnizza (fresh tomato and mozzarella) in the Leo, but then a large party of school children turned up, to fill the second room of the restaurant and continue the recurring theme of my day. Their happy shouting voices did not encourage lingering and it was a bit too nippy for a gelato. So an early return to the hotel for redbush tea and some chocolate.


Friday 24th April
To San Marco again, but this time to catch the number 7 bus up to Fiesole, which leaves from the stop up the road around to the right of the church. This time I'm doing the churches properly for a Fiesole page on Churches of Florence. To sum up...the Duomo is bare and dark with some nice fresco work here and there, and a highlight Bicci di Lorenzo high altarpiece that you can't really get near enough to appreciate. Some good chapels up the stairs on the raised presbytery to the right, though (see right). Santa Maria Primerana is cute on the outside and a bare dark box inside, but with an impressive and brighter frescoed apse. San Francesco is well worth the trek up the hill - it is small but has four fine altarpieces in the body of the church, and one far off over the altar in the inaccessible choir. I particularly liked an Annunciation by Raffaellino del Garbo. Some noise out the back became a lot of noise as a school party trooped through the church, accompanied by some desultory shushing from their teachers. There are a selection of sweet cloisters out the back and a Diocesan Museum, which has a Chinese and Egyptian bias, it seems. Luckily my duty visit here was not possible as the man told me the museum was closing because of a service in the church upstairs. Judging by the well-dressed crowd I'd say it was a wedding, or maybe a funeral, as I've noticed previously that Italians don't tend to dress dark for funerals. A park opposite the church makes for a less steep walk back into Fiesole, passing a huge cemetery, with a very long raised  loggia and lots of those monument stones with old black and white photos of glamourous young people and new colour photos of old people taken in care homes.

As it was still only 11.30 I decided to do the Bandini Museum. (You have to buy a ticket for everything, including the archaeological site and museum.) Closed last time (it only opens Fri/Sat/Sun) it has two upstairs rooms of medieval stuff, by the likes of the Daddis, Gaddi, Lorenzo Monaco and even (studio of) Rogier van der Weyden. Downstairs is a room of renaissance and a room of della Robbia. The upstairs is the draw - a variety of impressive and interesting stuff, and it's exciting to get up close and admire the texture and stamping. Downstairs is a yawn. (I'm not sure that the place visit really justifies the €12 ticket purchase.)

I lunched early at the cafe by the entrance to the Archaeological Zone. A fine view across the valley accompanied my spinach and ricotta ravioli in a tomato sauce.  I decided the bracing and sunny walk down to San Franceso to catch the bus back from there. We'd done this last time but had had a fumy roadside walk. This time I noticed that there's a more direct and narrow way, the old way, which was steeper but prettier and very quiet.

My evening stroll was down into the Oltrano. On the way I had a look in the newish big Feltrinelli bookshop in Piazza della Repubblica and was tempted by two newish big books about Florence, one on the piazzas and one of 19th Century paintings called Firenze sparita nei 120 dipinti di Fabio Borbottoni. I thought I'd go see what the recent making of the piazza in front of the Carmine church car-free looked like, and whilst any open space will always be more attractive than a car park, the piazza hasn't been totally cleared, there's still about a quarter (furthest from the church) full of cars. Gnocchi al pesto and an insalata mista filled my evening belly, along with a coconut and strawberry gelato.

Saturday 25th April
It's the weekend right? So I'm not going to encounter any noisy school parties today? Also two out of three weather forecasts this morning say that Sunday to Tuesday is going to be three days of coldness and thunderstorms.

Having identified a possible bus I decided to trek to San Salvi on foot, it being a sunny morning. It's a fair trot but a pleasant one on a slow Saturday morning when only the dog walkers and beggars seemed to be up, even though it was well past 9.00. Of course the church was closed and the door to the Cennacolo around the corner had a torno subito sign up. But it spoke the truth and I was soon in. The corridor here has the biggest and best stuff . The refectory has the big draw in Andrea del Sarto's Cennacolo, but contains mostly copies and other minor Andrea-connected stuff otherwise. It does have a couple of nice little Pontormo panels, and a very worn Annunciation by the man himself supposedly from
Orsanmichele. The kitchen and washroom are a mixed bag but there is an Annunciation by Sogliani who you might remember from San Marco on Thursday and an odd Communion of the Magdalena by Antonio del somebody and a Madonna Addolorata by Suor Plautilla Nelli, who's a fashionable name in feminist rediscovery circles at the moment. Highlights of the washroom is a Madonna Enthroned with Saints by the other discovery of this trip Raffaellino del Garbo, who it seems was one of Andrea's teachers. I noticed as I left two more by Suor Plautilla ('the first woman artist in Florence') as you enter, lunettes from her convent of Santa Caterina in Carfaggio depicting St Catherine Receiving the Stigmata and Saint Domenic Receives the Rosary from the Virgin.  I understand and share the feminist fascination with lost women artists, but I wish Suor Plautilla was a better artist to justify the attention. Andrea's is one of the must-see Cennacoli of Florence, made all the more attractive by the fact that you'll almost certainly have it all to yourself alone. There is a tabernacle at the South end of the via San Salvi and the brown panel says that the fresco is by Lorenzo di Bicci or his son Bicci, or both, and that the original is now in the church of San Salvi. (Hah!) It also tells us that its sinopia is 'grand, courtly and majestic' which is unusually poetic for such panels.

I walked back taking a long loop down over the Arno and along the south side. There was a big event involving many long tables and much singing of patriotic-sounding songs to mark Liberation Day, under the Porta San Niccolo. There was also a stall selling communist party and lefty-issue badges and fridge magnets, most of which I understood, but some of which I didn't, or they featured photos of people that I didn't know. But thinking about it made me wonder if the whole concept of communist fridge magnets isn't a bit of a contradiction. As I was walking behind the church of  San Niccolo its bells began to ring out making me excited that they were announcing a service and I might see inside, but after dashing around the front I found the doors as firmly closed as ever. But on my way to lunch I passed San Giorgio alla Costa and its door was open, with blokes smoking outside, as a Romanian Orthodox service was in progress. I discretely grabbed a couple of photos. Lunch was cream cheese and cucumber bagels in Mama's Bakery, plus a takeaway cinnamon bun. In the queue to order I got talking with a chap about healthy eating, as you do, and it turned out he knew Tooting, had lived in Wimbledon and visited London often and so a discussion of London property prices was inevitable, I suppose. But he also told me how he used to go to poetry readings in a big hall by Waterloo Bridge ('many years ago') for which he paid £1 and remembered walking back over the bridge.

An evening shop for soap and books. I've taken to buying Nesti Dante soaps from a shop in the shadow of the Duomo that reflect my tastes in gelato. So this time it was a bar of old fave fig and almond milk along with one called St Barth's coconut and frangipan  and one called tahitian lime and mosambi peel. To La Lampara for a margherita pizza with onion. I splashed some of the unlabelled olive oil left on my table on it too, only to discover it was chilli oil. I've had curries that made my nose run before but this was the first time that a pizza had achived this. To the gelateria in Pizza SM Novella most swiftly after, as the best thing for a hot mouth is the cooling effect of chilled dairy product - a vanilla and dark chocolate coppa in this case.

Sunday 26th April
Today my plan was to see if flipping San Niccolo was open for a service, and when it wasn't sigh and walk up to San Miniato. As this was a plan
doomed to failure from the off I decided instead to walk up to Bellosguardo, a walk I'd done previously, but not all the way due to map-lack and mizzle last time. On my way I had a look in Ognissanti to see if Botticelli's Saint Augustine fresco was still just a photo. It is.

The walk up after crossing the river and passing the city gate is steep but quiet and
pretty. And I even saw a cat, briefly, before it disappeared into the undergrowth. (I'm sitting in an overgrown little park half way up typing this into my tablet under pine trees amongst much twittering and a little dogwalking.) Bellosguardo itself is disappointing, although it must be nice living in one of the big villas up here, as Galileo, the Brownings, Henry James, Constance Fenimore Woolson and Edward VII's mistress all did. Now it's all spiky security gates, no entry signs and no views at all for us poor people. The way down took me past Villa la Columbaia where Florence Nightingale was born. Back down and in through the Porta Romana I headed for lunch but was waylaid by San Piero Gattolino being open. A (Romanian/Greco-Catholic) service was on and the place was very incensefull, but I took a couple of quiet photos. San Felice had a service going on too, so I loitered at the back and took some candle-filled photos there too. Santo Spirito next, but to have a quiet look at the church's many marvellous altarpieces this time. Lunch was the same as yesterday, but with cream cheese with chives - never let it be said that I don't know how to mix it up!

I woke from my afternoon snooze to a thunderstorm so I read until it passed and so went out for my evening stroll around 5.00. A much more churchy time was had than I'd planned. San Gaetano had its doors open and someone was playing nice organ music so I went in. The church now has framed guides to the art in each chapel, which helps identify Matteo Rosselli as being responsible for the better works here. As I was leaving some nuns were heading towards the altar for an evening service. They were all young and dressed in immaculate black and had that crispness that I associate with fake nuns in films. As I left one of them was outside on her mobile outside. Into Santa Trinita  next - what a very wide church it is - and aside from the usual highlights was stricken by a Neri di Bicci, another of the more-noticed names on this trip. I also noticed a leaflet pinned up telling of a terracotta relief of the Virgin and Child by Donatello. It turns out that this relief was attached to the belltower and removed and replaced by a copy in 2004. It was very weather beaten so needed much restoration. This work was begun nine years later! It was on display over last winter at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. On my way to the Ponte Vecchio I passed a building covered in large white and red spoons. No, I did, honestly.

Monday 27th April
It had rained more in the night and was looking threatening as I headed for Piazza San Marco and waited a while for the Fiesole bus, entertained only by the handsome loggia high up in the side of the San Marco complex and a poster advertising self-service dog washing.

I got off the bus at San Domenico this time. It's small and tall and is famous for being where Fra Angelico started out. It's aisleless with with three pietra serena-arched deep chapels down each side. Those on left are connected and the first one contains the highlight Fra Angelico altarpiece, which was painted for the high altar, and which if it looks odd and too tall is because it had been painted as a gold-ground triptych but was altered in 1501 when it was enlarged at the top and the architecture and landscape added by Lorenzo di Credi. The ceiling's trompe l'oeil frescoing is somewhat out of keeping. There is a painting too (my daily dose) by Sogliani,
an Epiphany, in the chapel next to the Fra Angelico. Next door is an attractive little cemetery with some odd and interesting stones and buildings.

Up the road opposite is the Badia Fiesolana. Its facade is covered in scaffolding with its image on the covering sheeting. Access is via the glass door of the European University Institute to the right. You get into the church via the choir through a cloister and the sacristy. The interior is very high and impressively bare and so probably pretty true to Brunelleschi's intentions. Four tall and deep chapels either side have matching plain altars but a variety of contents. One is totally frescoed, the left-hand ones have small windows but it was too dark to make out much of anything. The baroque frescoed chapel I mentioned has a bigger window. The raised transept has big dark grey altars at each end with a Crucifixion and a Flagellation. In a small chapel off the left arm is a surprise gem (not mentioned in the guide books)  - a large bright frescoed Annunciation by the recurring star of the trip, Raffaellino del Garbo! (Later research reveals that this fresco isn't mentioned anywhere and that his other fresco is widely described as his only one.) The choir is deep and unsurprisingly bare and empty.

Outside the church is a pavement from which some spectacular views can be had (see right) and opposite is the villa where the Pazzi conspiracy was hatched, but it had started to mizzle and so I headed back to San Domenico. There I had the choice of waiting for a bus or taking one of the recommend walks back to Florence from my Blue Guide. An hour long walk with rain threatening seemed somewhat unwise, so I went for that option. And the route was indeed most
attractive, with some good views, many handsome houses and one nervous cat. The walk later took me past the church of the Seven Saints, a handsome 19th Century pile, and past the English Cemetery traffic island. Finding myself near Ruth's veggie kosher place again I went for more falafel. And on my way back to the hotel for tea I purchased me a slice of pear and chocolate tart.

No rain this afternoon until I went out at 5.00 and it just got heavier. A bit of book shopping and then some early pasta. And them Florentine architects knew their stuff - their overhangs kept me pretty dry for most of my dash for food and back.

Tuesday 28th April
Expecting rain I'd planned a Pitti visit today, but blue skies encouraged a cenacolo wander. To Perugino's first, as it being open today had encouraged the idea. It was painted over another Last Supper by Neri di Bicci (which must have become unfashionable) and was earlier thought to be by Raphael. So it's good. The other stuff is mixed: the Lorenzo di Credi panels, from the convent of San Gaggio, we like, and the Antonio Rimpatta altarpiece bits I admired last trip still have some simple charm, even if the figures all look to be very closely related. The other Perugino, a panel of The Crucifixion, is away being restored. A bit of a blow for a gallery which claims to be devoted to him and his influence, describing its task as 'underscoring above all his role as a lofty divulgator of a common language, a veritable cultural koinè...' Then to the cenacolo of Sant'Apollonia, the one by Andrea del Castagno, with the faces painted so as to look almost like caricatures, and featuring those very jazzy marble panels. A good place for admiring sinopie too and there are a couple of Neri di Bicci panels, including the big one where the Baby has his arm indecorously bent and thrust down the virgin's front. Then on to San Giovannino dei Cavalieri, a fave and home to a lovable Neri di Bicci (man of the day?) Coronation of the Virgin I'd suddenly read lots about in an article online last night whilst searching for Raffaelino del Garbo. I don't mean to brag but I am pleased that I managed to find my way to all these three places this morning from memory and without using a map.

Making for lunch in the mizzle I passed Orsanmichele and so had a look inside. It was pretty full but I can report that their previous no foto rule is now no flash, so I got some nice pics. And Santa Felicita was still open when I passed so I looked in there too. The Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabee Brothers, by Antonio Ciseri, the best of the bad bunch of 19th Century panels here, is now in restauro for the Pope's visit, and in fact is to be glimpsed on its side with some minimal scaffolding in front of it in the left hand half of the closed-off transept. The patch of rough wall behind where it hung has a very small fresco fragment high up in its arch showing the very top of the cross from a Crucifixion. There's also a poster up saying that the (reputedly special) sacristy and chapter house are now open on Saturdays from 3.30 to 5.30.

Lunch was my last cream cheese and cucumber bagel from Mama's, but no cinnamon bun, as they are just a weekend thing, evidently. So I made do with a slice of carrot cake, which turned out to be more than a little cinnamon-flavoured itself.

Wednesday 29th April
No WiFi in the hotel this morning but blue skies and sunshine for my home-going day. But I fool the gods by having a good few hours
to take advantage of this dry brightness before I need to catch my bus.

So, San Lorenzo, which doesn't open until 10.00, so I'm sitting typing this on my new little tablet in the flower-filled and sweet-smelling cloister. I'm the first in but we can't go into the transept until a service in the right arm finishes. When it does I head for Brunelleschi and Donatello's Old Sacristy. I notice the highlight Lippi is away being restored and there's a photo instead. And in a chapel opposite, the one with the smiley Madonna statue, is a Raffaellino del Garbo. I think it's his very Vivarini reds I'm liking because the Saints Lawrence, Stephen and Leonard in this one look like identical triplets. And it's an attrib. The Nativity opposite is by him too, according to the map board by the entrance but not the label in the chapel. The work that's been done on Donatello's Resurrection pulpit can still be examined up steps for a euro, and the Passion pulpit is still all boarded around. The Lippi loss does rather knock the painting appeal of the place, but architecturally it's still a pleasure, despite the damn scaffolding around the pulpits. There's a tedious 18th Century dominance to the aisle altarpieces, but there's a Sogliani to end my week as it should - The Crucifixion of Sant'Acazio and his Companions. And you can't ignore Rosso Fiorentino's Marriage of the Virgin with its admirable colours and its unique curly-haired young Joseph showing us a shapely knee.

Some traditional last minute shopping for paper products and a visit to San Remegio. Then just left time for a final gelato - mandarin and spicy Mexican chocolate - and then the picking up of the suitcase, the final answering of nature's call and the catching of the airport bus (volainbus), which confusingly heads into the bus station after picking up at the advertised stop by the railway station. And a geezer even got on to check tickets! Flying from a small airport to another small airport makes for shorter corridors, queues and journeys, I can tell you. Coming home to worse weather is always satisfying, but the contrast between the t-shirt weather in Florence and the central-heating-back-on weather at home was rather too stark!

Spooky end note Adding details and observations to The Churches of Florence the day after I get home I read there that Raffaellino del Garbo is buried in Santi Simone e Guida, the church that I found unprecedentedly open and visited on my first day.

 























 














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