Leonardo Lost: Seek and Ye Shall Find

This is hands-down one of my favorite stories. I mean it has it all: mystery, Renaissance celebrities, top-secret government sting operations, and a little Dan Brown-esque art history (that is actually FACTUAL). Also, for us at Select Study Abroad, it is particularly close to home. Not only is Leonardo da Vinci our BFF and not only do we personally take students to the scene of the “crime,” but our very own professor, Rab Hatfield, was involved, wrote a book on the subject, and gave us the opportunity of meeting (on several occasions) the man behind the mystery (No, not Leonardo! Read on!).

So the story goes like this:

There was this little thing called the Florentine Republic. It had a tough time over the years (those darn Medici are so troublesome), but at the very end of the 15th century it had been reinstated and things were looking good. Now, if you are a little republic in the Renaissance looking to flex your new governmental muscles there a couple things you can do. One of them just happens to be harnessing the artistic power of some of the most coveted and respected artists of the day to do your bidding. Lucky, for this little republic, they just happened to have access to two of the most significant artists available: Leonardo da Vinci (technically he is from Vinci, but whatevs) and Michelangelo. You know…no big deal.

So, you take these two BIG names and you give them a BIG project: decorate the massive walls of the Sala del Gran Consiglio (also known as the Sala dei Cinquecento) in the Palazzo Vecchio (the government building in Florence). In 1503, Leonardo was commissioned to fresco the “Battle of Anghiari” (a battle famously won by the Florentines) on one of the long walls of the rectangular Sala. He had finished his preliminary drawing (called a cartoon) and had begun painting it by 1505. In typical Leo fashion, however, he used a very experimental technique and before the brushes were dry the wall was already having problems. Continue reading…

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Florence on fire?! Nope. It’s just Easter.

It’s almost Easter! Hands down my favorite holiday after Christmas. I mean, some huge bunny hides chocolate for me? Who comes up with this stuff? AMAZING. So, in honor of this holiday I thought I would write a little something about Easter in Italy, which is really quite different.

There is chocolate, yes. It does come in an egg form, of course.
But, there is something so much better in addition. There is a 500 hundred year-old cart…ON FIRE!!!!
Read on.

EXPLODING CART!!!

Easter, according to the bible, is the day on which Christ rose from the dead, otherwise known as his Resurrection. If this is at all foggy to you (it can be so confusing!), let’s review. Christ is captured and sentenced to death. He is crucified on what is called Good Friday. He is then buried and is, for all intents and purposes, dead for three days. On the third day, the Sunday morning after Good Friday, he is resurrected.

The Jewish holiday of Passover falls at the same time as Easter, as they are symbolically linked through the bible. Jesus was eating Passover dinner – also known as the Last Supper- with the apostles, right before he was captured.

Now, what hidden chocolate eggs and huge bunnies have to do with the above-described biblical events is anybody’s guess. Whereas, lighting a huge antique cart on fire using a flaming dove as the spark and enjoying the ensuing fireworks display makes COMPLETE sense in light of the events surrounding a holiday celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Am I right? You think I’m kidding? Here is what our friends at Wiki say:
“In Florence, Italy, the unique custom of the Scoppio del Carro is observed in which a holy fire lit from stone shards from the Holy Sepulchre are used to light a fire during the singing of the Gloria of the Easter Sunday mass, which is used to ignite a rocket in the form of a dove, representing peace and the holy spirit, which following a wire in turn lights a cart containing pyrotechnics in the small square before the Cathedral.”
(Don’t believe me? Check here.)
Ok ok. Sheesh. We’ll explain! Continue reading…

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The Bust of Cosimo I and Ben Affleck

Cellini's Bust of Cosimo I

Above all, Florence is a city of sculpture. Although certain works get more press than others (*cough*…*cough*…the David), the city houses some of the finest Renaissance marble and bronze works around. One of the greatest pieces (in this writer’s humble opinion) is a three foot tall bronze bust of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, created by the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini between 1545-1547. Now I know what you’re thinking: busts sound boring. But this thing is really something to behold. It sits in the bottom floor of the Bargello, tucked in a corner where few even notice it. For those who do, something particular captures their attention: a presence seen in few Renaissance works. Continue reading…

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Florentine cultural heritage November 2010

It was Florentine Cultural heritage week this past Novemebr (12th-20th) and people weren’t messing around. The star of the show was a replica of Michelangelo’s David (made of a mixture of fiberglass and marble dust) which was placed on top of the Duomo (see photo) to recreate the statue’s originally intended home. That’s right. When Michelangelo first put chisel to marble he thought he was making a work that would be one of many to adorn the base of the domes of Florence’s (already very well-decorated) cathedral. However, when Mike was finally done, the finished product was so beautiful they simply could not relocate it to that hard-to-see spot so far off the ground. So they got a group of important Florentines together –including Leonardo da Vinci– to discuss where the statue should be placed. Continue reading…

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Things to do PART I: churches, monasteries, museums & gardens

How can I even begin to list all of wonderful art-related things to see in Florence? It is believed to be the city with the largest concentration of famous art in the world!! I mean the place is literally packed to the brim with beautiful objects. And if you are like me, you want to see all them.

Over the many years I have lived in Italy I STILL have not seen them all…but I think I got pretty close. Below is a list of my favorite places to see in Florence that are churches, monasteries, museums, or gardens. This list is really geared towards those of you who do not have a month so I am leaving some really amazing things off this list simply in interest of time. Later I will write a post about all those amazing things I recommend seeing if you do have the time, or if it is your second or third trip to this great city. At the very least, this will help you pick the best things to see for your FIRST trip to Florence (and then some!). Continue reading…

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