Reflecting on Cimabue and the Mud Angels of 1966 Florence

He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
St. Francis of Assisi

Cimabue's damaged Crucifix
Cimabue’s damaged Crucifix

The flood of 1966 in Florence devastated millions of art masterpieces and rare books. The Franciscan Basilica of Santa Croce was one of many buildings left in terrible conditions. Swirling river bottom mud settled inside the church, causing heavy damage to valuable works of art. It took a long time and a lot of effort to remove all of the debris. Because of its geographical location, Florence often flooded, always leaving behind a muddy mess.

Volunteers from around the globe came to clean the city of refuse, mud, and oil. They removed works of art, books and other valuables from flooded rooms. Conservators worked tirelessly to restore these pieces to as close to their original condition as possible. These volunteers became known as Angeli del fango–angels of the mud.

On my first visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce, I passed Cimabue’s Crucifix, painted in 1272. It was heart wrenching to see the degree of water damage that had altered the painting. 60% of its paint was missing. Housed in the refectory of the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce, the flood waters had risen to twenty feet, taking most of the paint off of the over 700-year-old Christ figure.

The wooden crucifix absorbed so much water that it expanded by three inches and doubled its weight. It took years for the cross to shrink back down to its original size. I could see spots with sections missing. The wood had cracked, it grew mold, and paint began to flake off even after it was removed from the refectory. Later on, the cracks were filled in with prepared Poplar from the Casentino Forest, where Cimabue obtained the original Poplar. Little restoration which can be seen with the eye has been applied to the Crucifix, and it still bears the effects of  water damage.

 

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Cimabue’s Crucifix before the flood (photo credit Wikipedia)

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Santa Croce after the flood above, and an exasperated volunteer with Cimabue’s Crucifix (photo credit Wikipedia)

 

 

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Mud Angels at work (photo credit Wikipedia)

 

“What we were doing was dictated by the desire to give back the traces of the history of the past to future generations, so that it could be used for the spiritual growth of people who perhaps had yet to be born….it was the international community that worked to try to save Florence, this unique patrimony that belonged to the whole world.”

Mario Primicerio, Speciale Alluvione

 

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Majestic Basilica of Santa Croce -photo credit Wikipedia

 

As I continued my walk through the church, I felt a deep respect and appreciation for the many old works of art. They were all beautiful and rich with color, painted by famous art masters of the late medieval and early renaissance. I was touched by how an international community of caring people pitched in together to help in a time of crisis, to save a heritage that is precious to everyone. It can be said that Cimabue’s Crucifix is a part of us all.

 

Love Renaissance Art, Markets, Food and Fashion? Florence Has It All

People often ask me what my favorite Italian city is. Although I love them all for their unique aspects, I have to say that Florence is the one that completely captures my heart and soul. 

Florence, Firenze!
Florence, Firenze!

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Florence has its own vocabulary for the eye. It is a city that the Italians call an insieme, an all-of-it-together kind of place. It is the birthplace of the Renaissance and has the best Renaissance art in Europe. Florence is unbeatable for some of the very finest food, fashion, and street markets. Not to mention unrivaled gelato and superlative people watching.

The Mercato Centrale
The Mercato Centrale 

Shopping is a full-time occupation in Florence. Inside the Mercato Centrale (Central Market) you will find everything imaginable. The huge iron and glass covered building is full of enticing food, colorful produce, generous free samples, pasta-making, eateries, meat counters, and gigantic stacks of pulled pork sold in a bun for a pittance. Rub elbows with the locals and visit this elegant Florentine market. Hours are Mon-Sat 7:00-14:00, closed Sun year around.

San Lorenzo Market
San Lorenzo Market

Surrounding the Church of San Lorenzo is Florence’s spacious open-air market. Leather is a popular item, from clothing to purses to boots. Here the prices are soft, so you can use your bargaining skills. Located between the Duomo and train station, the hours are daily from 9:00 to 19:00.

Pantomime Looking Human Statues
Pantomime-Looking Human Statues

There are plenty of these pantomimists around. Actually, they are quite impressive with their ability to stand absolutely still for hours. Kids especially love these guys, and flock around them along with the birds. Occasionally the statue will acknowledge its admirers with a glance and a nod, but don’t count on it.

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Medieval Wall

On the other side of the Arno River and up to the Michelangelo Park  viewpoint, the hilly landscape reveals a long portion of the old medieval wall that encompassed the city at one time. Invaders from all directions found it pretty difficult to scale those walls and penetrate into the city. Florence remained fairly well protected throughout its earlier history. The walk up to Michelangelo Park Viewpoint  is well worth it, and also provides vast views of Florence, giving opportunities for great photo taking. Nighttime is spellbinding.

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San Miniato Church

Behind Michelangelo Park Viewpoint is this classic 12th century Florentine Romanesque church, stately in its green and white marble facade. One of the oldest churches in town, highlights within the church are the glazed terra-cotta panels on the ceiling by Luca delle Robbia, an exquisite Renaissance chapel, and radiantly preserved frescoes in the upstairs sacristy, showing scenes from the life of St. Benedict (painted 1350 by a follower of Giotto.) I loved these paintings, and spent a lot of time in this room. Behind the building outside is the oldest graveyard I have ever seen. It’s full of life-size statues dancing, crying, sporting wings, little children laughing, and so on. I found it very interesting to walk through, but I don’t recommend a night-time stroll.

Florence is very multi-layered, and although I have seen a lot I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are magnificent churches, museums and other historical venues that are Florence’s landmarks and not to be missed. Florence beacons me to return time and again, with each visit an entirely new adventure.

“And it was this…..that beckons us back: not any particular building or painting or statue or piazza or bridge; not even the whole unrivaled array of works of art. It is the city itself–the city understood as a self; as a whole, a miraculously developed design.”

R.W.B. Lewis “The City of Florence.”

 

Positano’s L’arte della Ceramica ~ An Art Lovers Dream

Lisa stands in front of her shop at L'arte della ceramica in Positano
Lisa stands in front of her shop at L’arte della Ceramica in Positano

While just recently in Positano on the Amalfi Coast, I completely fell in love with the art of ceramica that I noticed displayed so decoratively all about the village. Plates and bowls painted with pastel houses, vibrant lemons, soft village scenes and active sea life reflected the warm feeling of being in a Mediterranean environment. I wanted to bring them home with me and decorate my entire house. I resolved to begin the process by finding four dinner plates that were special to me.

I met Lisa Cinque toward the upper part of the village of Positano. Her little shop, L’arte della Ceramica, looked out toward the sparkling blue Mediterranean. Attractive from the outside, I decided to see what she had for sale. After scoping out several ceramic shops prior, Lisa’s shop stood out to me as a bit different. Her art was unique. Not only did she have the typical designs of classic Amalfi Coast ceramics, but there were original contemporary pieces with limited compositions as well.

L'Arte Della Ceramica
Photo courtesy of L’arte della Ceramica

Lisa welcomed me immediately with a big smile and soft manners. Her artwork is her pride and joy, and she spoke fondly of each piece. As she took me around, I learned that she fashions and paints each one. These were all her creations. Her deep love for art was evident in the different styles and variety of colors. She uses materials that are unusual and different, such as engobe (white or colored slip), glass and mother of pearl.

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Photo courtesy of L’arte della Ceramica
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Photo courtesy of L’arte della Ceramica
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Photo courtesy of L’arte della Ceramica

Lisa graduated with a degree in Applied Arts at the Art Institute of Sorrento. She went on to further her training in art and is recognized by the European Union at the Centro Studi Arti Vietri (Center for Art Studies in Vietri) as well as studying with master potter Alfonso Cassetta and Erika Rossi. From them she learned “the techniques of shaping and decorating as well as deepening my knowledge of the historical and cultural implications of the antique tradition of ceramics.”

Positano is the perfect place to find inspiration. There is beauty from every angle. IMG_3816

Lisa is a true artist and shares her heart freely. “I am continuing my creative journey in my pottery workshop, a place where I find the perfect concentration to give life to my works. Works that draw their greatest inspiration from the essential elements of life: fire, earth air and water.”

An artist in her own right, Lisa is a seeker of mood and emotion from the past as well as the present and future. Not one to follow the crowd, she has created and fashioned her own world of artistic designs that fascinate. Each one is original and unique.

IMG_3980 I did find my four plates in Lisa’s shop and I now have them hanging on my dining room wall. They are a joy to me and each time I stand back to look at them, i’m reminded of Lisa and her beautiful shop, of the Amalfi Coast and enduring Mediterranean environment. It’s my own little bit of paradise.  

My 4 lovely plates created and hand painted by Lisa
My plates are the subject of conversation with dinner guests.
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Positano water’s edge….endearing beauty

Please do visit Lisa in her shop if you find yourself in Positano. You can find her at L’arte della Ceramica, 147 Cristoforo Colombo, which is the main street in Positano, just 100 meters from the main square.

Pizza, Napoli Style

Naples Side Street- Searching for Good Pizza
Pizza and Naples are synonymous! 

We had just spent the day exploring the National Archeological Museum of Naples. A  big task. I loved taking in all the fragments of art and history, from ancient Pompeii to the early Romans. Although it consumed a lot of energy, it left me in a state of bliss.

Afterwards, winding our way down the Via Tribunali, a major byway through Naples, we found ourselves overcome by a colossal hunger for pizza. And of course, we all know that Naples turns out the very best.

Pizzeria-hole in the wall with people waiting...good sign!
Pizzeria hole in the wall with people waiting…good sign!

We passed several before we found this one, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. Founded in 1870, this pizzeria has been established here since 1930. There are only two true Neapolitan pizzas~ Marinara and Margherita.

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Crew of the L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, keepers of “the sacred temple of pizza.”

So many can’t be that wrong! However, as I worked my way through the crowd, I found that I needed to take a number and wait. I didn’t hesitate, especially after spying Julia Roberts on a poster from her movie “Eat, Pray, Love” on the front door. Her pizza scene was filmed right here in this tiny little unobtrusive pizzeria. Julia Roberts and this many people certainly can’t be wrong. I took up my posts outside and waited patiently for 30 minutes (yes, I timed it. I was starving!).

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Julia Roberts inhaling pizza in “Eat, Pray, Love.”
We sat with locals
Lunching with locals is always the best! They know where to find great bargain food.

Inside were six tables built to seat four people each. We enjoyed great conversation with a young couple from Naples next to us. She spoke less english and was a bit quiet, but she had a warm and engaging smile.

Great Smiles!
Love Those Grins!

My husband Carl had a lively conversation with this young man. He is an attorney in Naples, and his English was excellent.

Happy Tummies, Great Company!
Happy Tummies, Great Company!

We did as the locals do and ordered what they did~Margherita with extra cheese. I was not disappointed. It was the best pizza ever. Since then I have been looking for the same pizza, only to come up disillusioned. Well, no better excuse to go back to Naples and gratify my cravings at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele!

Pizza Michele sign
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
Via Cesare Sersale,
Naples, Italy