Tag Archives: Renaissance

F- Florence…A-Z Challenge 2020.

Welcome back to my series on Places I’ve Been for the 2020 Blogging A to Z April Challenge. Today, we’ll be heading over to the magnificent city Florence – birthplace of the Renaissance.

Writing about any city is intimidating, especially when you’re writing to the scope of this challenge which is all about short snappy posts and moving onto the next one. It’s meant to be more that those flashes of passing scenery you see through the windows of a passing train, than a much more considered absorption of each monumental treasure along with that quixotic sounds and aromas unique to that place.

Of course, when it comes to summing up Florence’s grandeur and inimitable history, it’s an impossible task.

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How serene…An early morning perspective of Florence.

 

“Stand on a bridge over the Arno river several times in a day and the light, mood and view changes every time. Firenze is magnetic, romantic and busy. Its urban fabric has hardly changed since the Renaissance, its narrow streets evoke a thousand tales, and its food and wine are so wonderful the tag ‘Fiorentina’ has become an international label of quality assurance.”

– Lonely Planet

So, I’m doing what I can. Almost 30 years down the track, I’m trying to remember my Florence. The Florence I experienced in August 1992 as a 22 year old backpacker who was simply visiting for a weekend. It’s not much to go on but armed with a handful of photographs I will press on.

Rowena Santa Croce

Perched on the stairs outside Santa Croce. 

The very first thing I remember about Florence was the heat. I felt like I was inside an oven, when for an Australian quite accustomed to the heat, says a lot. I also remember seeing luscious gelato stores. Gelato in an entirely different league from the pre-packaged stuff you could buy from the local pizza place. The colours were so bright and the gelato so luscious, that even after all this time I’m still salivating and staring through the crowds with puppy dog eyes. Drats! The life of a backpacker living on the smell of an oil rag is pure torture, especially being immersed in such temptation.

My view of Florence is from the street. It’s hot. Crowded. I want gelato, but initially go without (although, of course, you know I later succumbed.) The other thing is that as a young, single woman, I was also an unwitting target for Italian men who clearly saw the pursuit of female tourists as a national sport. However, it made such a difference to have my own personal tour guide. If I can offer one piece of travel advice, it’s “go local”.

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My gut feel is that I didn’t rush to the Duomo, even though that’s where my heart flutters whenever I see an aerial perspective of Florence and the Duomo hovers overhead like a proud mama bear. Located in Piazza del Duomo, Florence Cathedral was formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction began in 1296 in the Gothic style to a design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was structurally completed by 1436, with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The magnificent dome, which dominates the exterior, was added in the 15th century on a design of Filippo Brunelleschi. If you’d like to read more about the architectural aspects of the Duomo: Click Here. This is also a good Link.

Birth of Venus

What always comes to mind when I reminisce about my trip to Florence, is seeing Bottacelli’s Birth of Venus for the very first time in person and it was electric, and even exceeded the gelato. I actually bought my very own print of the Birth of Venus, which says quite a lot on my backpacker budget.
Michelangelos-David

Michelangelo – The Statue of David

Michelangelo’s Statue of David housed at Florence’s Accademia Gallery is well-recognised as one of the greatest artistic masterpieces of all time and well described in the words of Giorgio Vasari:

“When all was finished, it cannot be denied that this work has carried off the palm from all other statues, modern or ancient, Greek or Latin; no other artwork is equal to it in any respect, with such just proportion, beauty and excellence did Michelagnolo finish it”.

Giorgio Vasari

I feel very privileged to have seen this statue in person and from right up close. How amazing. Of course, it’s not the same as meeting Michelangelo himself or seeing the artistic genius at work, but it is enough to walk amongst his shadows here in Florence and traverse the streets he trod hoping that one day I would find my own angel sealed inside my very own metaphorical slab of marble. After all, I was still so young with all the world at my feet and my dreams, weren’t perceived as dreams but imminent destinations and my ticket was there ready in my pocket. Many times, I’ve wanted to jump into my time machine and be that person again. My faith might have been blind but it was real.

Michelangelo’s Tomb

Memory tells me very poignantly, that I also visited Michelangelo’s tomb. Even 30 years later, I still remember standing by his tomb as clear as day and having my photo taken by my local tour guide. That’s monumental. Over the years, I’d forgotten the name of the place or that Michelangelo wasn’t the only incredible mind buried here. Michelangelo is buried in Santa Croce, as are RossiniMachiavelli, and the Pisan-born Galileo Galilei, who was tried by the Inquisition and was not allowed a Christian burial until 1737, 95 years after his death. There is also a memorial to Dante, but his sarcophagus is empty (he is actually buried in Ravenna as he was exiled from Florence). However, I’ve just scanned in my photos and when you read the inscription, you’ll see it’s actually Dante’s tomb! So, my memory isn’t so good after all.

By the way, if you’ve like to read the gripping story of Michelangelo’s Tomb, click here.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Veccio

“Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte Vecchio, that bridge which is covered with the shops of jewelers and goldsmiths, is a most enchanting feature in the scene. The space of one house, in the center, being left open, the view beyond, is shown as in a frame; and that precious glimpse of sky, and water, and rich buildings, shining so quietly among the huddled roofs and gables on the bridge, is exquisite”.

– Charles Dickens

As our tour continues, it’s still stinking hot and full of bodies. I also remember walking across Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River. It was in these shops and markets that all reservations about spending money blew up in smoke and I blame my maths. Back in 1992, we still had the lire and I’ve forgotten what the formula was but I certainly mucked it up and goodness knows how much the leather wallet purse I bought actually cost. In the long run, it didn’t really matter. It was pickpocketing in Thailand on my way home.

These memories comes in no particular order, or perhaps they do. I’m not sure. I’m just finding my way back along the corridoors of memory the best way I can and perhaps I should Google a map of Florence and put things in their rightful place and in a neat little sequence. However, that isn’t me and doesn’t evoke that same sense of travelling by feel and intuition (along with the assistance of my local guide).

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It is my local tour guide who took me out to a local monastery which, much to my amazement, produced Ouzo. I haven’t remembered the name that monastery, even though I sort of remember driving there and more clearly remember having a small glass of clear liquor, which had been made on location by the monks still living in the monastery. It was visiting this monastery which felt incredibly authentic and a window into another world and indeed the reason why we travel…to see and experience something beyond our own backyard and way of life.

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However, I was a 23 year old when I visited the monastry and I experienced this incredible place through those eyes and it was here that possibly my favourite photo of myself on my European travels was taken. I’d spotted this sign on the end of a high stone wall and pulled myself along the top to get into position grateful for my many years of climbing trees as a kid preparing me for the job.

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This photo shows me for how I saw myself…a traveller. I was an Australian over in Europe exploring Italy and I was miles and miles away from home and living the life of a bird.

Doing a Google search from my lounge room back in Australia in 2020, it looks like this monastry was the Certosa of Galluzzo. It would be wonderful to go back and retrace my steps and experience this incredible historica place through more mature eyes.

Florence in April 2020…

Then, I was brutally brought back to the present where Florence and all of Italy is embroiled in the deepest depths of the coronavirus and Florence is closed.

All the world is thinking of you and praying for release, a flattening of the curve an end to this blight. I send you my love and the outstretched arms of a friend. We hope you’ll be okay and we look forward to catching up in person on the other side.

Have you ever been to Florence? Have some memories or posts to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

V-Leonardo Da Vinci – Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

‘Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.’

-Leonardo Da Vinci

Welcome back to my series for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge… Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ll be writing to Leonardo Da Vinci and I’ve paired him up with the inimitable David Bowie. Firstly, encapsulating the relationship between the artistic genius and their masterpiece (in Leonardo’s case being the Mona Lisa), I’ve chosen Heroes (I will be King, and you, you will be Queen). To reflect the man of science and the great inventor, I’ve chosen Star Man.

My goodness! Only a masochist or a lunatic would ever attempt to tackle Leonardo da Vinci in one day. Well, it hasn’t exactly been a day, because there’s been something like a lifetime of osmosis, absorbing his genius drop by drop like a glass of rich, red Beaujolais. I’ve also managed to squeeze some preparation while working on the rest.

‘Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.’

Leonardo Da Vinci

Of course,  Leonardo is so much more than the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, or even his Vitruvian Man. He is a man who deeply embraced painting, anatomy, science, engineering and had an absolute fascination with flight. There was seemingly no end to his vast genius and he certainly wasn’t one of those experts who stuck tenaciously to their specialty but knew nothing about the bigger picture. He even dissected the human smile, to find out how it worked. The only thing I’ve dissected lately, other than the minds of dead artists, has been a leg of lamb.

 

On the 29th July, 1992, the day before my 23rd birthday, I visited the Louvre in Paris for the very first time. I know it was on that very day, because I still have the ticket pasted into my diary some 26 years later. I also recorded my very first impressions of seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time.

By the way, I should probably point out that I stayed in Paris for about six weeks and so my experience was very different to somebody who was in more of a hurry and needing to cross things off their checklist. Hence, there was this remark:

I’m about to be stampeded by tourists here all blindly whizzing past without pausing to take in the other art. It’s” Go Directly to the Mona Lisa. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”

It looks like I took my time to find the Mona Lisa, and by the time I found her, I wasn’t that impressed:

“What’s the big deal about Mona Lisa? Why is it here? Why is it everywhere? The most reproduced work of art. The crowd watching the Mona Lisa is more interesting. Standing on tippy toes of tippy toes with cameras, video cameras all vying for a shot. …Why doesn’t anybody challenge the supremacy of this boring portrait? Sure, her eyes follow you around and there’s something about her smile, which suggests she knows some unspoken, secret raison d’etre. That she holds the key to unlocking the truth of human existence behind that ever-reproduced smile. It’s quite apt then, that she’s kept sealed behind the glass. We need to protect her secret as though one day she will speak. Share her words of wisdom gained from watching her admirers with those moving eyes and watching us while were watching her and making her own conclusions about humanity. It’s like…if you could cut her smile open with a Swiss Army Knife, the mystery would all gush out from behind the canvas. Of speak, oh Mona. Speak!”

Later on, I added:

“She’s determined to keep her mouth shut to hold onto her precious secret, because it’s the only privacy she has left.”

I wrote a lot more about the Mona Lisa and visiting the Louvre while I was actually there, especially about the Salle de Rubins, which I absolutely loved. It was much more my type of art than the Mona Lisa.

However, my understanding of Leonardo da Vinci went to another level when I attended a touring exhibition in Sydney. This exhibition brought to life a number of his inventions and it was amazing to see them in person and even interact with them. I was so impressed by the exhibition that I saw it once by myself and then went back with the family. Our son was only five at the time and our daughter was three but I just felt it was something they had to experience. Who knows what they retained, but I wanted to plant a seed.

Through this exhibition I gained a much deeper appreciation of Leonardo’s quest for humans to fly as well as how his detailed knowledge of human anatomy gained by dissecting and drawing cadavers himself, must’ve greatly contributed towards his artistic genius. Indeed, I wondered if I embraced my physical body more, whether my creativity would also flourish in some way. Leonardo’s example, at least as far as I’ve been concerned, demonstrates the importance of creative cross-training where you’re not just an Artist, a Poet or Photographer, but you enhance your abilities by delving into other fields the same way for example that a runner will go to the gym, swim and modify diet to improve their overall fitness and performance.

This brings me to perhaps the greatest mystery of all surrounded Leonardo Da Vinci…What was the source of his genius?

Ritchie Caldor author of Leonardo & The Age of the Eye writes: “There was nothing in Leonardo’s origins to account for his attributes. For generations on his father’s side, they had been notories, registrars, farmers and winegrowers. His mother, Caterina, who was “of humble station”.”Certainly he was an interesting concatenation of genes, from the unlikely stock-pot of rural Tuscany, from the lusty notary and the peasant wench.”

He goes on to say:

“The shuffled genes of heredity talents can be compared to the deck of cards in the game of poker. In the deal, one would recognize as a genius anything from a Full House to a royal flush. Leonardo held the ace, the king, the queen, the knave and the ten – supreme in the talents of many fields- but in our awe we tend to throw in the joker as well and regard him as unique for all time- The Universal Genius. Rather we should regard him as the Universal Man who added to his innate talents an avid awareness of what was going on around him, and could exercise his skill in expressing and amplifying his own interests.”

This brings me to a very interesting point. What would you do if you had a genius like Leonardo Da Vinci in your family? Would you simply stop at the one you had, or would you try to create some more? Clearly, this type of thinking was taken to an extreme by the Nazi’s with their horrific crimes against humanity. However, we’re not talking about something on such a grand scale. Just perhaps being a little selective in your choice of marriage partner, for example.

Well, Leonardo had a half-brother by his father’s third wife, Bartolommeo who examined every detail of his father’s association with Caterina  and sought out  another peasant woman who corresponded to what he knew about Caterina and married her. He called the child Piero. The boy looked like Leonardo and was brought up with all the encouragement to follow in his footsteps. He became an artist and a sculptor of some talent but unfortunately died young. After that, “the Da Vinci genes reverted to the commonplace”.

Portrait circa 1510

My Letter To Leonardo Da Vinci

Dear Leonardo,

There was only one way I could post my letter to you, Leonardo…as a paper plane. How I wish that I could take you up in a jumbo jet and soar above the clouds. Or, perhaps you’d prefer hang gliding?

Personally, I’d rather stick to the relative safety of a plane, but you strike me as more of a risk taker. A man of action. Indeed, perhaps you’re the embodiment of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker. Although he might be called “The Thinker”, you just need to look at his muscular legs to see he’s not a desk jockey. That his thoughts translate into action.

This brings me to my question:

What does it take to create a genius? What are the essential ingredients?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Why did you put “Describe the tongue of the woodpecker” on your to do list? Why did it matter?

Vitruvian man

A Letter From Leonardo Da Vinci

Dear Rowena,

You sure know how to throw a dead artist in at the deep end. How to create a genius? You could’ve given me something easy to warm up on. Indeed, I could’ve described the tongue of a woodpecker without any trouble at all! Creating a genius? That’s going to take a bit of thought and I might have to consult a few of these fellow dead artists.

Not that I’ve been idle around here. I brought my insatiable curiosity with me, and have been driving everyone mad asking: “Why is it so?” They told me in no uncertain terms to join the choir!

Anyway, I flicked through some of my notebooks I’ve written up here and have jotted down a few ideas:

Firstly, curiosity is very important. It’s more important to ask questions, than it is to have all the answers. “I roamed the countryside searching for the answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprints of coral and plant and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it and why immediately on its creation the lightening becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engaged my thought throughout my life.”

Leonardo eye drawing

Secondly, you need to keep your eyes open. The sense of sight is three times greater than any of the other senses: “The eye whereby the beauty of the world is reflected by beholders is of such excellence that whoso consents to its loss deprives himself of the representation of all the works of nature. Because we can see these things owing to our eyes the soul is content to stay imprisoned in the human body; for through the eyes all the various things of nature are represented to the soul. Who loses his eyes leaves his soul a dark prison without hope of ever again seeing the sun, light of all the world….”

Lastly, you need to get out there and make things happen. Stop sticking your manuscripts in your bottom drawer and filing your paintings at the back of your cupboard.  “People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

I hope that helps. I’ll put my thinking cap on and try to think of some more.
Best wishes,

Leonardo.

Further Reading & References

U- Paolo Uccelli “Paul of the Birds” – Letters to Dead Artist, A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Letters to Dead Artists, my theme for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge. Today, I’ll be writing to Paolo Uccelli (1397 – 1475), or “Paul of the Birds”.Uccelli will be accompanied by the Two Cellos playing  Game of Thrones

So strap on your seat belts. We’re boarding the time machine and heading back to early Renaissance Florence. By the way, the term Renaissance means rebirth.  and to give you a quick insight into Paolo Uccelli, he was concerned with achieving with linear perspective, something which hasn’t really crossed my mind so I’m in for a steep learning curve.

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Portrait of Paolo Uccelli, Artist unknown, The Louvre, Paris.

Rather than going into much biographical detail about Uccelli, I’m going to place him in a very loose historical context. While there’s naturally debate about The Renaissance, it roughly started in Florence around 1350-1400. Paulo Uccelli was born in 1397 and died in 1475 only 17 years before Colombus “discovered the “New World” in 1492. Florence’s Cathedrale di Santa Maria de Fiore was completed in 1436, during Uccelli’s life time. Botticelli was born in 1445 and died in 1510. Leonardo Da Vinci was born in 1452 in near Vinci in Tuscany and died in 1519 in France. Michelangelo was born in 1475… the year Uccelli died.

According to Vasari, Uccello’s first painting was a Saint Anthony between the saints Cosmas and Damianus, a commission for the hospital of Lelmo. Next, he painted two figures in the convent of Annalena. Shortly afterwards, he painted three frescoes with scenes from

Paolo Uccello The Annunciation 1430

Paolo Uccelli, The Annunciation

anta Maria Maggiore church, he painted a fresco of the Annunciation. In this fresco, he painted a large building with columns in perspective. According to Vasari, people found this to be a great and beautiful achievement because this was the first example of how lines could be expertly used to demonstrate perspective and size. As a result, this work became a model for artists who wished to craft illusions of space in order to enhance the realness of their paintings.1.

One aspect of Uccello’s work that writers have not failed to praise is his imaginative and innovative imagery, replete with fantastically elaborate dragons, fierce thunderstorms, the pageantry of war, and the elegance of the Renaissance hunt 2.

When it comes to most of the artists in this series, we’ve had “history”. Thank goodness, we’re only talking about falling in love with their paintings and sculptures, and not with the artists themselves. Or, I’d be in huge trouble with my husband. Putting the shoe on the other foot, goodness know how I’d feel if he ran off with 26 artists for the month. Let’s just say there would be a “discussion” at the very least.

On the other hand, when it came to choosing Paolo Uccelli, is was more of a lucky dip because I didn’t know any artists starting with “U”. However, there’s nothing like turning a challenge into an opportunity, is there? Could I actually find a connection with Uccelli’s art after plucking his name out of a hat? That remained to be seen. First, I had to check out his paintings, and get to know what I could about the man. A man who died in 1475 and 563 years ago and all I really have to go on is Giorgio Vasari’s biography, written 75 years after Paolo’s death, and a few contemporary official documents. Indeed, it would easier to get to know the man on the moon.

Yet, all it takes is an angle and a hook and from there, you can launch a journey of a thousand miles. On the other hand, you can also end up in a dead-end before you’ve even got started. It’s all in the luck of the draw as well as just how persistent you are as a researcher and conversationalist. Can you draw blood from a stone or a dead artist who could be very determined to conceal their secrets.

When it comes to understanding Uccelli, it’s all a matter of PERSPECTIVE. That is, the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other.

However, if you’ve ever seen me try to park my car, you’ll know that my spatial skills are abysmal. Moreover, while my husband will tell you I can’t navigate or read a map, our son would just snatch the map away and give up on me in disgust.

So, you could say I have a lot of learn about perspective.

However, that’s another story.

What I wanted to understand was why perspective was such a big deal to Renaissance artists. Surely, perspective was kind of obvious…what’s close up appears larger than the stuff in the distance or further away. However, that also depends on your world view. You see, during the medieval period, a person or object who was more important, was often larger than a less significant person who might’ve been standing closer. That’s putting it very simply, but if you’re anything like me when it comes to geometry and maths, I need to keep it very slow and s-i-m-p-l-e.

In about 1413 there was a big breakthrough in art when  a contemporary of Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, demonstrated the geometrical method of perspective, used today by artists, by painting the outlines of various Florentine buildings onto a mirror. When the building’s outline was continued, he noticed that all of the lines converged on the horizon line. According to Vasari, he then set up a demonstration of his painting of the Baptistery in the incomplete doorway of the Duomo. He had the viewer look through a small hole on the back of the painting, facing the Baptistery. He would then set up a mirror, facing the viewer, which reflected his painting. To the viewer, the painting of the Baptistery and the building itself were nearly indistinguishable. Soon after, nearly every artist in Florence and in Italy used geometrical perspective in their paintings, notably Paolo Uccello, Masolino da Panicale and Donatello.

Speaking abut Renaissance sculptor Donatello, Uccello and Donatello were long term friends, and Uccello even named his son after him.

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Ortelius World Map 1570.

Letter to Paolo Uccello

Dear Paolo,

I hope you don’t mind me popping in on you like this out of the blue. Of course, even a dead artist should be allowed to rest in peace, but are you getting bored? After all, you were living in Florence during the early Renaissance, when humanity was just waking up from years of repression and a very long sleep. Indeed, humanity was thirsting for knowledge, and it was such a time of human discovery and awakening. You were there. Not on the periphery of it all. You were there in Florence at the very epicentre of it all. What was it like?

Today, I was reading about the Renaissance and how humanity had lost all the knowledge of the mighty Greek and Roman civilizations for a thousand years. That’s not to say, nothing was going on during those so-called Dark Ages, but it is a healthy reminder that what goes up, can come down and we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels. How much would it take to destroy much of our centres of learning? There’s the nuclear threat, global warming, but what about a computer virus? A lightening bolt up in the cloud? Then they’ll be saying “Blessed are the book hoarders, for they will have knowledge.”

By the way, I thought I’d enclose a current world map, along with a copy of Ortelius’s WorldMap from 1570 so you can get a bit of a comparison. If you look down towards the bottom of the map, you’ll find Australia and I’m from Sydney, a beautiful city with its stunning harbour, Harbour Bridge and Opera House all coming together to make a perfect  postcard. Hope you like it.

Well, I’ve been so engrossed in the Renaissance, that I haven’t been able to make my ANZAC biscuits. Tomorrow is ANZAC Day here where we honour those who have served our country, especially those you made the ultimate sacrifice.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Paolo Uccelli

Dear Rowena,

Thank goodness you wrote to me. I can’t tell you what it’s been like being cut off from the happenings on Earth for so long. Of course, we have quite an artists fraternity up here, and even Heaven has it’s prima donnas always wanting their portraits done. I’m afraid there’s no such thing as a selfie up here, although I could think of a few good uses for the stick, especially if you could attach an electric current!

I actually have a question for you, Rowena. What happens when you lose perspective? My entire life’s mission was to find perspective, and now humans are throwing that all away. Humph! That Jackson Pollock and I…Let’s just say were seated poles apart up here at the dinner table. That man was something of a rogue barbarian splashing his paint around like that, without any respect for the rules. You know what really breaks my heart, is the extraordinary price tag humanity has attached to that rubbish when mine works are worth a fraction of the price. Indeed, one of mine ended up in a charity shop in Bondi the other day, simply because someone was decluttering. I bought it back and hid it. You’re not getting it back.

Anyway, as I said, what happens when you lose perspective? Not just in a painting or in your own life, but as a civilization?

Civilizations can rise up, but just as easily fall down. Your generation takes too much for granted, and has become lazy. Why can’t you walk, instead of burning up the planet wasting so much petrol? You only have two feet, so why do you have enough shoes for an army? You’ll end up consuming the Earth.

Hey, but what would I know? I’m just a Renaissance Man!

Your friend,

Paolo

PS: Could you please send me one of those cheeky white cockatoos with the yellow crest? I’d love to teach it to speak and stir up Leonardo. He works so hard and could use a funny distraction.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paolo_Uccello

http://www.carnesecchi.eu/Maggiore4.htm

 

B: Botticelli…A-Z Challenge.

This year my theme for the A-Z Challenge is Letters to Dead Artists. Yesterday’s artist was A: Alexandros of Antioch who reputedly sculpted the famous Venus de Milo.

Today, I am writing to Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445 – May 17, 1510), an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. He belonged to the Florentine School under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The piece of music I have chosen to represent Botticelli is: O Fortuna – Carmina Burana

I was introduced to Botticelli’s works in 1992 when I visited Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, as a 23 year old Australian backpacking through Europe. That was when I first saw The Birth of Venus. I was awestruck, and loved it enough to buy a print and cart it all the way back to Australia in my very overweight backpack. That says a lot!

In addition to admiring his achievements as an artist, this letter also addresses Botticelli’s role and possible participation in the Bonfire of the Vanities.  On the 7th February 1497, supporters of the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned thousands of objects such as cosmetics, art, and books in Florence, Italy, on the Mardi Gras festival. It is believed that Botticelli may have added some of his works to the pyre. It is hard to comprehend what went up in those flames, but there’s no doubt that priceless works of art and other cultural treasures were destroyed.

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Probable self-portrait of Botticelli, in his Adoration of the Magi (1475)

Letter to Sandro Botticelli

Dear Botticelli,

How are you? I expect that’s a rather rhetorical question these days. I was only being polite, but if you feel like responding in some way, I’d only be too happy to hear from you. Sometimes, the walls between heaven and earth aren’t quite what they seem, and people might even wander in and out. I don’t know. They’ve never spoken to me.

Anyway, I am writing to you to ask you a question. While that might seem simple enough, it’s much easier to ask a lot of questions, than it is to narrow it down to one, especially when I’m writing to such a monumentally great artist like yourself.

Botticelli, I first came across your paintings in the Summer of 1992 when I spent three days in Florence. It was stinking hot and I still remember the relief of an icy cold, real Italian gelato. Although I’d already visited The Louvre in Paris which had blown my mind, going to the Uffizzi Gallery, also felt like all my senses were being energized at once. I still remember seeing The Birth of Venus on the wall with its fairytale beauty and Venus standing in the shell. It was mesmerizing. Yet, it didn’t end there. Like a glutton at a sumptuous feast, there was more, including Primavera (1470s or early 1480s) and Pallas and the Centaur (1482-1483). I had just had my heart broken and I knew that anguish screaming through the centaur’s eyes. I also remember being swept away by your more religious works, although I can’t remember them by name.I don’t know how to describe that enormity of feeling. The best I can do, is compare it to falling in love…all consuming, passionate, divine.

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Primavera, Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery.

I don’t know whether it’s right to pull apart those feelings, or to try to work out why. Or, whether I should be pulling apart and analysing the life out of such a masterpiece. Or, whether it is better to simply leave it be as pure, unadulterated  awe and wonder.

One thing’s for sure. I didn’t want to hear this magnificent reflection of something in my soul denigrated by my future boyfriend as: “the naked woman standing in a shell”. What? How could he? Philistine! Despite being a Christian, I didn’t denigrate it because it was “pagan” either. How could I let ideology or doctrine come between me and something of such beauty and spirit?

This brings me to the Bonfire of the Vanities and my question.

How did you allow yourself to be swept away by Girolama Savonarola? How could you even be a bystander to the Bonfire of the Vanities on February 7, 1497 in Piazza del Signoria, Florence? Indeed, it’s even been suggested that you even added some of your own works to the pyre. I’m sorry if I’m coming on a bit too strong, but I can’t understand how an artist like you could stand by and do nothing. Let it happen. Or, even worse, join in and be a part of it.

That’s not to judge you, Sir. I didn’t mean to get so fired up. However, it terrifies me that The Birth of Venus and your other so-called “pagan works” could have been, in effect, burned at the stake, and humanity robbed. Indeed, I shudder at all the artworks and treasures that were lost. No doubt, you do too.

Strangely, I only found out about the Bonfire of the Vanities last night. Of course, you can’t know every piece of history. Yet, as a writer, a photographer, a creative who fears the mighty forces of fire and flood, I should have known about that. Marked it on my calendar every year to remember how doctrine and politics can destroy the creative spirit and its progeny.

I wonder how you feel about all that now. Is there regret? Perhaps, but I hope you’re primarily proud of how your works have been revered and considered among the greatest paintings of all time. You’re a genius!

Indeed, I wish I could meet you and not just sit down for a coffee, but to see you paint. Hear you speak. What inspired you? How can a 21st century woman on the other side of the world, possibly tap into whatever that was?

I hope. I dream. I write.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Rowena in Florence

Photographed at a monastry near Florence in 1992.

Letter From Botticelli

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter.

Now, what was your question? Please excuse me. I’m feeling a bit foggy today and haven’t had to bother myself with earthly matters for a very long time. Indeed, much of your memory gets deleted once you enter the pearly gates. After all, you’re not supposed to be spending eternity regretting things on Earth when you’re in heaven!

Yet, nothing could erase those flames, and seeing those precious masterpieces burning up. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, we followed him like lambs to the slaughter house. Florence was magnificent…the jewel of the Renaissance.  She wasn’t perfect but, it wasn’t Sodom and Gomorrah. It wasn’t hell on Earth. Well, that is until he stepped in.

In my defense, Rowena, I would like to suggest that you can’t always control of your own strings. Not that you’re a puppet, but even an artist has to eat and to some extent, each of us has had to sell our soul. Serve it up on a platter. That’s just the way it is…or how it was.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard that they now hide artworks away during times of war and keep the world’s great masterpieces away from the battlefield. Protect what is more than just a reflection of humanity, a mirror, but also radiates the human spirit. As you might appreciate, art crosses language and cultural barriers and draws humans closer together. Well, that’s if we allow ourselves to be moved.

Anyway, I haven’t asked you if you paint? I’ve always been a great teacher. If you feel like popping back, I’d be happy to teach you.

Best wishes,

Botticelli.