Milano – A Rain Day – Part 3 – Winter in Spring

Just prior to the Paladino exhibitions the Palazzo Reale had mounted a retrospective of the work of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the Renaissance painter known for his strange portraits made up of vegetables, plants, fruit, sea creatures and tree roots.  Much of his “normal” work has been overshadowed by these fantastical human heads but the Milano exhibition offered a more complete view of the Milanese artist who worked for the Hapsburg as a court painter in Vienna and Prague.

L’inverno (Winter) is one of the four oils on canvas that Arcimboldo created in 1573 devoted to the Seasons. Sadly the series was split up: Winter, Summer and Autumn are found in the Louvre while Spring hangs in the Madrid’s Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get up to Milano during the three months it was on but still got a bit of the flavour of Arcimboldo, howbeit at second hand. During the exhibition – and currently – passersby in front of the Piazza Reale were welcomed into the Palazzo Reale not by the madcap Milanese but by an modern artist.  Winter, created in 2010 by American artist Philip Haas,was inspired by L’Inverno, one of a quartet of oils the artist painted in 1573.

Taking as his inspiration not only Acrimboldo’s work but also the elaborate decorations for court balls and fetes at the Hapsburg Courts where he served,  Haas created a 4.6 metre (15 feet) high piece in fibre glass. The monumental scale of the sculpture highlights the visual puzzle created by the natural elements – dark, branches, twigs, moss, vines, ivy even straw barriers used in the winter to protect the fruit trees all combine to create an image of a European winter.

I’ve been thinking about winter a great deal lately and I must admit that neither Arcrimboldo’s, rather menacing, version of Old Man Winter nor Haas’s, slightly more benign, rethinking have me looking forward to it.

As the blue skies would indicate these pictures where taken the day before my walk in the rain – however as I was strolling umbrella held high through the Piazza del Duomo it was hard to miss it so I did get a second look.

17 giugno – San Ranieri Scacceri

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Milano – A Rain Day – Part 2

After listening to the jazz band in the old Mercante building I popped into the tavola caldo at Al Mercante for a tuna salad, a glass of wine and a dolci. I must admit I was a little taken aback when a glass – and only a glass – of Pinot Grigio added €12.00 to the bill!!!!! €12.00 for a glass of white wine – either a touch of the old get-the-tourist or they were just preparing me for Ottawa prices. Then over to the Piazza Duomo, umbrella unfurled to take a second look at an installation that was being tended to the previous day when I passed by.

Even without the sun glistening off its white surface the Mountain of Salt couldn’t help  but dominate the space between the Palazzo Reale and the Duomo.

The Museo at the Palazzo Reale is mounting a special series of exhibitions to celebrate thirty years in the creative life of artist Mimmo Paladino.  One of his more fascinating and controversial pieces has been recreated in the space between the Palazzo Reale and the Duomo.  Paladino first created Montagna di Sale (Salt Mountain) some twenty years ago in Gibellina, a small hill town in Sicily and then again in Piazza del Plebiscito in Napoli 15 years ago.

Some of the 150 quintals of salt used in Mimmo Paladino’s Montagna di Sale had been washed away in a weekend of rain and a few of the horses had toppled. Several bags of the extra 100 quintals of Sicilian salt were being used to make repairs to the installation on the Monday as I walked by.

Though it may not exactly be a “mountain” it is definitely salt – 150 quintals of the finest Sicilian salt. That’s 1500 kilos or 1 1/2 tons of salt transported from the mines in Agrigento and Petralia in the far South to Milan in the north – plus another 100 quintals held in reserve to keep the sculpture in good condition.   The whole – the transporting from one end of the country to the other, that 150 figure – are all meant to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy that we are celebrating this year.

Many of the horses look to be struggling, plowing through the salt or emerging from it.  Their appearance is strongly reminiscent of sculptures seen in many of the collections of artifacts of earlier Italian civilizations.

First unveiled in mid-April the installation stand 10 meters high (about 33 feet) with a 35 meter (115 feet) diameter.  However those measurements are fluid as it is salt and subject to the whims of nature.  After several days of rain there were repairs being made to it in the sunshine on Monday and Tuesday’s rain suggested more repairs would be needed in the weeks until its disappears for good in mid-July.

Thirty sculptured horses in black modelled, it would appear, on ancient and primitive equine sculptures stand out against the white salt.  Some are balanced on the mound, others are emerging from or disappearing into its depths.  In some cases – though the horses are almost uniform in their appearance and featureless – they appear to be struggling against their ascent or fighting to extricate themselves from some saline prison.

 When seen against the Gothic spires and arches of the Duomo those horses take on an almost mythical appearance. 

Having made its way from South to North over a period of twenty years Paladino’s has expressed the hope that it will travel the length of the country as a show of the cultural unity of Italy.  I’m trying to think of some place in Roma where it would look as stunning as it does in its Milan setting.

I only wish I had the opportunity to see it in full sunshine – I’m sure the impact, both virtually and photographically, would be stunning.

16 giugno – Santi Quirico e Giulitta

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Milano – A Rain Day – Part I

“You brought the sunshine with you from Roma,” beamed the always welcoming Vittoria as I checked in a week ago Monday at the Hotel Star in Milano.  And indeed after several days of continuous rain it seemed that the sun had returned to warm the Piazza Duomo and it was a glorious day for strolling through Centro.  However my gift was short-lived: the next morning Vittoria suggested that an umbrella and a sweater would be more appropriate than SF15 to the day.

Peck is a food lover’s paradise however the stern warning tells you – No dogs! No Photos!  And some of the staff give a new dimension to Milan attitude – except for Bruno behind the prepared food counter who is charm incarnate. Though at those prices everyone should be.

Fortunately even in the rain Milano has much to offer – it means spending a bit of extra time studying the marvellous shop windows in the Galleria, popping into that church that I’ve always meant to have a look at, stopping off to have the senses of taste, smell and sight stimulated at Peck (and maybe even picking up one of their jars of tiny artichokes in olive oil – after having taken out the suitable bank loan to pay for it), seeking the shelter of the 14th century Mercato building to listen to a jazz band and wandering down to the Museo Diocesano in the San Lorenzo area to take a look at an exhibition with the rather intriguing title of Gli occhi di Caravaggio.

Now poor Michelangelo Merisi was largely ignored for a few centuries but has suddenly become all the rage. Just last year we celebrated the 400th anniversary of his rather mysterious death with a “Notte di Caravaggio” here in Roma – a decidedly festive all night celebration of a less than festive event – which had been preceded by the blockbuster exhibition at the Scuderie. And it would appear that his name on a poster draws the crowds in, no matter how tenuous the connection. In this case the exhibition was dedicated to painters and city-states in Northern Italy that may well have influenced the work of a home-town boy whose become a household name down South.  Though he was born in Milano most of Caravaggio’s productive years were spent in Roma, Napoli and Sicilia.  And the poster and the title may have created the (misleading) impression that we would be seeing some of his more famous works only one was on display – his powerful The Flagellation of Christ.  But what was displayed were some very fine pieces by other artists who may well have influenced him: Giorgione, Moretto da Brescia, G.B. Moroni, Tiziano, Vincenzo e Antonio Campi, Simone Peterzano, Tintoretto, Lorenzo Lotto and Giovanni Ambrogio Figino.  So though the draw may have been the bad boy of Renaissance art there was some splendid examples of many of the great artists of the period that made the exhibition a must see.  That and the Museo Diocesano itself.

Hidden of in a rather dreary section of the city – even drearier on a rain-soaked morning – the entrance to the Museo is not particularly inviting but once inside!!!!  The collection chiefly traces the history of Christian art in Milan and the surrounding areas of Lombardy and Veneto but is wide ranging for all that.  Many of the works come from parish churches in the region that are no longer used for worship or have given works to the Museo for safe keeping and restoration.   The three collections that intrigued me most where the 41 gold backed paintings on wood that make up the Crespi Fondi Oro, the Diocesan Collection of works from parish churches and items from the now defunct Museo Ambrogio.

Three wood and gilt statutes from the Diocesan Gallery of the Museo Diocesano in Milano.

One of my pet bugaboos is  people who take photos when it is expressly forbidden and I am proud to say I have never taken a “forbidden” picture.  If there is any doubt in my mind I always ask.  None of the normal signs were posted in the Museo so ask I did in each gallery – and got three different responses.  In the Diocesan Gallery the mature lady, head buried in a musical score and singing softly to herself, raised her head and an eyebrow and murmured “One would be okay, but only one!”  So one I took of three beautiful statues in wood and gilt that once graced the church of Sant’Agnese in Sommo Lombardo in the Varese district of Lombardy.  They are by a craftsman named Rolando Botta who was active in the area during the second half of the 15th century.

Santa Barbara
Santa Maria Maddalena

I find these three statues have a serenity and grace that makes me curious as to the rest of this artist’s work. Unfortunately a search revealed very little concerning him.

The Ambrogio Gallery contains older pieces from early incarnations of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio. The Patron Saint of Milano – and I am ashamed to say that the only reason I know that is because it is the opening night of the opera season at La Scala – Ambrogio is credited with building four churches in the city. He is also credited – it would appear erroneously – with the creation of the Ambrosian rite that is celebrated in much of Lombardy. Again it was three carved wood pieces that caught my attention. These walnut choir stall dossals were the work of a team of artists for the Basilica between 1469-1471. Lorenzeo da Origgio, Giacomo da torre and Giacomo del Maino worked in carving, inlay, paint and lacquer to create these three beautiful panels. When I asked the guard if it was okay if I took a photo he shrugged and said, “Take as many as you like.”



I mentioned last week that I was reading Aesop’s Fables on my iPhone and for some reason these carvings reminded me of early wood cuts I’d seen of the old morality messages. Could they have been the inspiration for these three artists?

There was one other piece from the Visconti collection that took my breath away – a massive carved, painted and gilt redoes from Antwerp that filled one wall at the top of a staircase.  Unfortunately when I approached the guard this time I was sternly admonished that no photos were allowed anywhere in the Museum. Now I know better than to argue with someone in their own little domain so I held my peace. Though I was sorely tempted once his back was turned I didn’t break my own rule.   I was sure there would be a post card or even a pamphlet about such a major piece – sometimes I should stop being so damned Anglo-Saxon and take the bloody photos!

14 giugno – San Eliseo – profeta

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The Ring Continues – La Scala December 10, 2010

As I mentioned in December I went up to Milano mid-month to see the opening opera of the new season at La Scala: Die Walküre , the second installment of their new Der Ring des Nibelungen. I been there in May last year when the cycle began with Das Rheingold and reviewed it at that time for Opera Britannia. Once again the kind editors (Faye and Anthony) had arranged for me to be there as both an opera lover and their critic.

Unfortunately a combination of Holidays and a hacker – the deadly H and H combo – resulted in many of the December reviews at Opera Britannia being delayed in posting but they were finally able to get things sorted out and my thoughts on the new season’s opener where published today.

A left click on the poster from the December 10, 2010 performance will take you over to Opera Britannia and my review.

28 gennaio – San Valerio di Saragozza

Visions of Sugar Plums

A few weekends ago when I was up in Milano and a stroll along Via Monte Napoleone was, as always, a treat for the eyes. All the upscale shops were sporting their Christmas decorations – some traditional, some trendy but all with that flair that is so Italian. Most were selling luxury items of the wearable sort but one was selling wonderfully over the top eatables.

Cova Pasticceria Confetteria has been around since 1817 when it was founded by a pastry chef who had been a soldier in Napoleon’s invading army. Until 1950 the Cafe was located next to La Scala but after sustaining damaged during WWII they moved premises to Via Monte Napoleone. Their coffee is still amongst the best in town and their pastries and sweets fancy and fanciful but at no time are they more fanciful than at Christmas.

Though nowadays the Castagna (chestnut) seller is most likely to be a recently arrived immigrant the pastry chefs at Cova have harkened back to earlier days with this jolly be-moustached Italian marzipan street seller.

I’m not sure what they were implying with the Babbo Natale with the pacifier in his mouth and very Italian looking Mrs Santa but this is certainly a fun piece of spun sugar art.

The expression on this “tiny reindeer” suggests that he may be a little less than pleased with the idea of having to fly around the world tethered to a sleigh carrying a slightly over-weight man in a red suit. Particularly since the Jolly Old Man seems more interested in playing golf!

And this sugar and icing Alto-Adige ski village seemed almost prophetic for this year’s ski conditions in the North. Santa is finding the skiing just perfect thank you! And for apés-ski he can have some of Cavo’s wonderful hot chocolate.

The problem with all of these wonderful creations is that if I bought one I would hard pressed to break it up and eat it. Though I do know quite a few people who would have no such qualms.

24 decembre – Sant’Adela di Pfalzel

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