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.

 

Sky High Orvieto

 

Medieval Hilltown of Orvieto
Medieval Hilltown of Orvieto

Orvieto is a pleasure garden for those with an eye for architectural beauty. From the Gothic facade of the Cathedral to the intoxicating views from the ancient walls surrounding the hilltop town, a linger here is good for the soul.

Orvietto Cathedral - 14th century Roman Catholic Basilica

Orvieto Cathedral – 14th century Roman Catholic Basilica

Sunlight illuminates the three-gabled golden facade of the Orvieto Cathedral, adding dimension to the large bas-reliefs and statues with the symbols (Lion, Angel, Ox, Eagle) of the four Evangelists stationed across the front. Built around 1325 by Tuscan architect Lorenzo Maitani, it is considered one to the great masterpieces of the middle ages.

Florentine architect Arnolfo di Cambio designed this cathedral, which was begun in 1290.  It took nearly three centuries to finish the construction. Orvieto’s pride and joy is beautifully well-preserved.

Coronation of the Virgin mosaic at the top peak
Coronation of the Virgin mosaic at the top peak

Inside the Cathedral

There is an old medieval wall that surrounds Orvieto. Located on a flat butte which is made up of volcanic tuffa stone, the town has been in existence since the Etruscans. In fact, Orvieto has a maze of underground rooms and tunnels that the ancient Etruscans carved out of the tufa rock. Tours are available through Select Italy and well worth the time.

Cobbled streets winding up and down between tall brick buildings and occasional palatial villas add an appeal all its own. Bargains were to be found at a busy clothing and produce market held on the piazza.

 

Nooks and Crannies in Orvieto
Nooks and Crannies hung with laundry

Brick walls were refreshingly cool to touch in the heat of the afternoon. Potted plants like this Camila are commonly spotted around the town. It was very quiet away from the piazza.

Little Palms and Flag Bearing Buildings
 Palms, Wrought Iron Gates, Old brick Walls, and Flag Bearing Buildings

Medieval city walls of Orvieto

The views surrounding Orvieto are some of the most picturesque I have ever seen. I followed the old medieval wall all around the town and taken photos from every side.

Orvieto Countryside
Orvieto Countryside-A bit of a hazy day

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This pathway led outside the walls and down through some of the countryside. Lush variegated greenery rose up around me as I walked through the welcomed shade. A soft breeze swayed the trees gently bringing with it a warm earthy fragrance.

Pathway Outside the Walls
Pathway Outside the Walls
Back in the town of Orvieto, I found this doorway and fell in love with it.
Back inside the town of Orvieto, I found this doorway and fell in love with it. I just needed a little cat curled up by that flower pot and a yellow lab waiting  inside the door for his daily walk!

Orvieto can’t be beat for a lovely walk through medieval architecture, artisan shops and family-run restaurants. To see the sites of Orvieto in a day, Select Italy offers a full day tour of the Cathedral, the underground Orvieto, a historical stroll through the town and a visit to a local winery.