Friday, September 10, 2010

Pratolino Sculpture Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

In my final post in this series about the Parco Mediceo di Pratolino, I wanted to talk more about the grounds. My absolute favorite part was how large and old so many of the trees are. I must admit that I had a hard time NOT climbing them. However, it is forbidden there and since this park is under renovation, I certainly want to respect the rules (this time!). The brochure states that there are over 900 trees that need to be monitored in the monumental areas.

After the sudden deaths of Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (25 March 1541 – 17 October 1587) and his second wife Bianca Cappello, their villa and grounds were abandoned. Many sculptures were moved to the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy.

Today, there are information signs showing sketches of the former villa, of which I include images here.

Granduke Ferdinand III of Lorraine brought the park to life, but turned it into a romantic garden in a style that was popular at the time. In 1872, the Russian Prince Paolo II Demidoff bought the estate. One of the structures still standing is called The Villa Demidoff and I include here an image of a sculptural decoration high up on the front corner of the building, perhaps a coat of arms.

Walking across the vast green lawn, I was delighted to recognize a sculpture by Lorenzo Bartolini – and correctly so! Meaning that I am happy that I am starting to become familiar with more of the Italian sculptors to the point of being able to recognize their work before being told whom the artist was. Pictured here is “The Demidoff Monument.” You may see a lot of his plaster originals used to create his naturalistic marbles in the Accademia in Florence (where Michelangelo’s “David” lives).

Not far from this spot there is a symmetrical split staircase. At each turning point, there appears to be a tunnel underneath, but everything is locked up, so one can only imagine. Still, there is the same grotto-like mixture of (some painted) stone and brick, like what you see behind Giambologna’s Giant not far away.

This last image is a detail shot of what is left of the stairs. I just love this Italian combination of stone and brick! And I am not sure, but those might be caper plants. I have been told by a couple of knowledgeable friends that capers only grow in walls.

Since 1981, the grounds have been the property of the Provincia di Firenze, with the intent of using them as a public space. There is still so much work to be done and much of the land is closed. However, it is a lovely space and there are gems to see right now. The Parco Mediceo di Pratolino is open mainly from May to September. Free.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Seashells and a Dragon

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

In my last post, I told you about Giambologna’s gentle giant sculpture in Pratolino, Italy. If you were to follow the path in front of the pond to the right, circling the brick and stone figure of Il Colosso dell'Appennino (“The Apennine Colossus”), you would discover … a dragon!

In the mid-1500s, Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (25 March 1541 – 17 October 1587) hired architect Bernardo Buontalenti to create a holiday house of sorts for his amore, the Venetian Bianca Cappello. Buontalenti was also a stage and theatrical designer (and even has a flavor of gelato named after him!), which perhaps made him the perfect choice to design this fantasyland, blending technology with nature. It is said that he created “The Garden of Wonders” because of its “artificial grottoes, water tricks, and statues.” Most signs of this fun architecture are gone now.

However, behind the sculpture of the giant and under the dragon lies one of the artificial grottoes, inside of the gate you see in the image. The highly textured walls are decorated with sea shells and colored patterns, in a very different sort of mosaic. You may see the dark entryway of a tunnel or cave just south of the center of the second image

I was reminded of my visit to Hellbrunn Palace, just south of Salzburg, Austria. The backdrops for the Wasserspiele trick fountains had a similar textural effect. And of course, a mosaic of seashells makes sense when it come to fountains and water tricks.

I find this recollection interesting considering that Francesco is reported to have started this villa and gardens for his future wife Bianca Cappello, while he was still married to his first wife Johanna of Austria. Reportedly, Francesco’s father Cosimo I de' Medici decorated significant parts of Florence with a more Austrian taste to make Johanna feel more welcome. I wonder what Francesco’s thoughts were . . .

Johanna of Austria does not appear to have had a happy life in Tuscany and her untimely accidental death resulted in plenty of rumors, especially after the wedding of Francesco and Bianca. Oddly enough, Francesco and Bianca died on the same day and the villa was abandoned for some time. If you would like to read more about the circumstances of these deaths, just click on the names in this blog post.

Scientific Itineraries in Tuscany

Discover Tuscany: Includes link to more images

Monday, September 6, 2010

Giambologna Sculpture Pratolino

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Before I left Italy, I wanted to go see the huge sculpture by Giambologna in the Parco Mediceo di Pratolino. This free and mostly green space is about 12 km from Florence, along the road to Bologna.

I would have taken some images of the beautiful scenery up in the hills on the way there, but I was a passenger on the back of an Aprilia racing bike and really wanted to hold on. [At one point, I felt an instant and dramatic pain that made me wonder if somehow I had gotten an electric shock from the moto. After disembarking from the bike, I was told, “Oh, that was the sting of a wasp as his ass went through his head: What you might call ‘roadkill’.” True enough: About five minutes into the park, I had forgotten about the small red raised bump the size of a dime on my forearm.]

From 1568, the Park in Pratolino began as a private estate of the Medici family, Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (25 March 1541 – 17 October 1587) is reported to have built the space designed by architect Bernardino Buontalenti for his then mistress-later second wife Bianca Cappello. Giambologna created his giant figure titled Il Colosso dell'Appennino (“The Apennine Colossus”) in 1579-1580.

The figure is so cool, with the beard becoming a wonderful compositional device that also adds so much emotion to the sculpture. Signs say that the sculpture is made up of brick and stone, but I cannot quite figure that out. The bricks can be seen in a few places, where one can glimpse the underlying sculpture. The stone part, with its stalactite shapes and textures, strikes me as more like cement. In Roma six years ago, I heard a tour guide say that cement was actually invented by the Romans – and centuries before I ever thought it existed. Tour guides are not always accurate, but the thought does give me pause…

There is an artificial grotto underneath him (more about that in the next post) and in front is a large fish-stocked pond. This pond has the largest lilies and pads that I have ever seen: appropriately beautiful.

I love this view of the giant through the woods. Imagine approaching such a thing for the first time, not knowing it was there. You might wonder if that was truly a face that you could see in-between patches of green. This sculpture is truly fascinating.

I include here a few images by sculptor Simon Steele, including this last one, taken from a distance. It is a good composition, but also shows you how large this sculpture is in comparison to the land. And the centuries-old trees here are simply gorgeous!

The park is generally open from May through September and is free.

Giambologna’s most famous sculptures include the bronze “Fountain of Neptune” in Bologna, the first commission that made his famous; the marble “The Abduction of the Sabines” (incorrectly translated as “The Rape of the Sabines” and also given its title by someone else after his composition was completed); and the bronze Mercurio in the Bargello Museum in Florence, Italy.

Other links of interest:
Scientific Itineraries in Tuscany

Discover Tuscany: Includes link to more images