Throwback Thursday

As I mentioned I’ve been going through exhibition catalogues. Of course when I say going through I mean I’ve been pulling one off the shelf and then spending the next three hours thumbing through it and reliving the experience. One of the most memorable, of so many memorable, was an exhibition I went through twice at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence: Bronzino – Artist and Poet at the Court of the Medici. As a Throwback Thursday I thought I’d revisit that exhibition again over the next day or two.

On this day in 1897: Dreyfus affair: Émile Zola is brought to trial for libel for publishing J’accuse.

Willy Or Won't He

Despite my constant complaining about their website TrenItalia does make travel within Italy remarkably easy to most of the major cities. With their new Frecce high speed trains Napoli is only 90 minutes from Roma as is Firenze in the other direction. So Sunday it came as no surprise heading back on the 2010 out of Firenze to see a fair number of people in our car clutching – as where my friend Peter and I – programmes from the Maggio Musicale performance of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino and catalogues from the Bronzino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi.

We had taken a morning train up and arrived – in the pouring rain – at Santa Maria Novella with enough time to catch the exhibition, have a leisurely lunch at Trattoria 4 Leoni and make the late afternoon performance at the Teatro Communale. And we were back home in…

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Bronzino – Limmericks and Holy Pictures

I thought I’d posted more of the enchanting observations on a few of the paintings that were in the Bronzino exhibition that just closed in Firenze. You may recall that Italian author Roberto Piumini wrote doggeral verses in the style popular with the painter and his friends at the Academia and Konrad Eisenbichler used them as his inspiration for English verses. They thought of them as “ways to look at Bronzino”.

I think this is perhaps one of the loveliest paintings I have ever seen of a sleeping child – you almost feel John’s kiss awakening his little cousin.

*“Dear Mary,” Joseph says, “if in a while,
Our little Jesus should awake
And want to eat, I’ll light this little pile
of sticks so you might cook a meal or bake,

But note,” then Joseph adds, “his cousin John
has come to play with him, and when they’re done
Pursuing one another on the lawn
They’ll both be very hungry, for a bun.”

“I’ll bake some sweets for them,” she says and smiles,
“Some buns, some pastries, and a healthy snack.
I’ll make some cookies, too, in various styles.
But where is my flour? Where is that sack?”

Holy Family with Saint John (Panciatichi Maddona) – 1538-40 – was one of five paintings commissioned by the wealthy and influential Bartolomeo Panciatichi.

«Maria,»
dice Giuseppe, «se fra poco,
Gesù si sveglierà, a vorrà mangiare,
io accenderò con la legna un bel fuoco,
ma tu, che cos’avrai da cucinare?”

«E poi,»
Giuseppe dice, «è arrivato
anche Giovanni, suo cugino, e sai
che è un bambino molto affamato…
Maria, Maria, cos cusinerai?»

Lei sorride e risponde: «Farò
frittelle di farina, dolci e bionde.»
Vedi un sacco di farina? Io no.
Tu guarda melgio:” dove si nasconde?

As with many painters of the period Bronzino found himself suddenly constrained by the decrees on art that came out of the Council of Trento – decrees that effected not only the spiritual but the physical content of what took place in Catholic churches. Subjects that had once been considered part of the normal Christian iconography were banned and strict use of symbols and groupings were carefully watched by the unsettled church authorities. This simple and beautiful Christ Crucified straddles the two worlds with a severity that is almost Protestant but with all the required iconography demanded by the Council. It was painted for Bartolemeo and Lucrezia Panciatichi, who at the time were suspected of having “Reformationist” leanings and were investigate by the Church until a gentle word from Cosimo caused the authorities to back away.

Christ Crucified – circa 1540 – Bronzino for the Panciatichi chapel.

Around the time that Bronzino became part of a group exploring the virtues of one form of art over the other – painting over sculpture being the most heatedly debated. Certainly this study could have been achieved in wood and polychrome but Bronzino’s technique and artistry has turned it into a “real dead-body”.

*Bel gioco l’altalena, in verità
si v agiù e poi su, alternamente.
Ma vedi? C’è qualcosa che non va
in questa altalena risplendente …

Un angelo la regge con la mano,
e il piccolo di destra porta su:
chi e quello che in basso, scuro e strano,
l’altro, a sinistra, tiene a tire giu?

Forse questa non è un’altalena…
E se un angelo salva l’innocente,
chi sarà quello che, con brutta lena,
trascina l’altro giù, dannatamente?

Saint Michael the Archangel – circa 1525-28 – the fact that it is on canvas, unusual for a time when most paintings were done on wood suggests this may have been a banner made for a confraternity.

A seesaw, wow! That’s lots of fun!
You’re up and down, you laugh and scream.
But look! This seesaw has begun
To go off-balance. See the beam?

An angel holds it in his hand,
And on the right that boy is up,
But on the left a grasping hand
has seized the boy that’s in that cup.

What kind of seesaw could this be?
If that’s an angel helping out
Then who’s that figure that I see
Grabbing the boy who seems to shout?

* Cherci nei Quadri/Hide and Seek
Roberto Piumini – Konrad Eisenbichler
2010 Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze
2010 Alias, Firenze
It may be purchased through their on-line store.

31 gennaio – Sant’Armentario

Painterly Poetry and Dog(gerel)

The second visit to the Bronzino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi was as delightful as the first. It was a chance to examine closer many of the paintings and related works and to read, more extensively, the fine explanations (in Italian and English) that put the works in context. An added feature was the burlesque verses in the style of Bronzino, again in both Italian and English. As a member of the Academia the painter was expected to excel in more than one of the arts. He was a writer of poetry – serious, burlesque, doggerel and limerick poetry all of which circulated among his friends and some of which was published. The exhibition included a display of his literary works including this page, at the right, from a book of his burlesque poems.

In the spirit of this really remarkable exhibition curators Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali – to whom be all honour and glory! – have included burlesque verses for many of the works created by Italian writer-poet-actor Roberto Piumini who is known for his modern takes on mythological subjects. They then were used as inspiration by Konrad Eisenbichler, a well-known teacher of Renaissance studies at the University of Toronto, to write English poems in the same spirit.

Here is the first of a selection I’ll post over the next few days gleaned from their book that accompanies the exhibition: Cerchi nei QUADRI/Hide AND Seek* along with the picture the verses accompany. (Remember a left click will enlarge both Bartolomeo and his pup!)

Portrait of Bartolomeo Panciaticchi
(1541-5) oil on canvas
Galleria degli Uffizi

Bartolomeo, d’acccordo, tu leggevi
tranquillament quel tu libricino
pieno di cose sagge, e riflettevi
nel bel silenso del tu balconino.

Lui ha abbaiato, sì, ma solamente
perché voleva un po’ farsi notare,
perché, lo sai, è fedele e intelligente,
ma ha voglia di muoversi, di andare …

Tu invece l’hai sgridato, e lui è fuggito,
e adesso è lì, stordito di dolore,
tristissimo, nascosto, impaurito …
Su, dagli una carezza, buon signore!

Detail of sorrowful pup!

Bartolemo, I know you were
Constantly reading a small tome
(A learned text, if I don’t err)
On your fine balcony at home,

When all at once he barked because
He wished to tell you he was there
And that, perhaps, his restless paws
needed to move and go somewhere.

You scowled at him and told him: “Hush!”
So now he sits, forlorn and sad,
With ears down low, his face a blush.
Give him a pat and make him glad!

* Cherci nei Quadri/Hide and Seek
Roberto Piumini – Konrad Eisenbichler
2010 Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze
2010 Alias, Firenze
It may be purchased through their on-line store.


15 gennaio – San Macario il Vecchio