January 25, 2009

One of the Best Sights in Florence

Posted in museums at 12:49 pm by classicalmusic

The Palazzo Pitti of Firenze

Firenze (Florence) is my favorite Italian city.  In addition to its outstanding architecture, there is so much to see there that the two or three days, which tourists generally allow it, are only enough to catch a “feel” of the Florentine treasures.  One of my favorite places to wander about is the Palazzo Pitti.

Built on what was once the “wrong” side of the Arno, you approach it by crossing Firenze’s oldest and most beautiful bridge, the Ponte Vecchio.  The Pitti family who were rivals of the powerful Medici, built their palace on high ground overlooking the Arno to prove that they were loftier than the Medici.  They only lived there for a few years and the Palazzo was eventually bought by the Medici.  It is huge containing about 1000 rooms of all sizes, and it is not just one museum but a combination of five:  the Pitti Gallery, the Modern Art Gallery, the Silver Museum, the Royal Apartments and the Carriage Museum.  It holds artworks of some of the greatest painters of the Renaissance and beyond, including Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens, Van Dyke, Raphael, Veronese, Perogino and more.  And it also contains a lot of mediocre artwork.

If you tire of walking through the endless gallery rooms of the museums, you can go out throught the courtyard to the Boboli Gardens, one of the most imposing gardens in Italy with stately trees, fountains, a grotto and Neptune’s pond.  It is lovely, quiet and restful to walk through the area even going up the long hill to the Belvedere Fort, which the Medici built to use as a refuge in troubled times.  A delightful place to relax after viewing the Palazzo museums.

June 26, 2008

The Gardner Museum of Boston

Posted in museums at 1:46 pm by classicalmusic

The Elegance of the 1900’s

The Gardner Museum opened to the public on New Year’s Day 1903.  The building is an elegant 15th century Venetian-styled palace containing three stories of galleries all surrounding a central flowering courtyard.  It houses the Gardner collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture, rare books and decorative arts, and it is a real joy to go through the collections.  I was there many years ago so that I don’t know what it looks like today after a great renovation job that took about two years.

The Gardner collection which includes some of the greatest artists in the world (Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Manet, Degas, Whittier, Sargent) was haphazardly placed as though Mrs. Gardner had hung the pictures herself wherever she felt like it.  There was no real trail to follow and one could just have a good time looking around at everything available.  When tired of viewing, the lovely central courtyard provides a peaceful and restful place to relax and collect your thoughts.

The day I visited, there was a chamber concert held in one of the elegant rooms.  Unfortunately the chairs were hard and wooden and the players were not the greatest.  I left at the intermission, but the beautiful palace and its huge collection of art have stuck in my memory all these years.

June 12, 2008

The Medici Chapels and Michelangelo’s Hideout

Posted in museums at 1:27 pm by classicalmusic

Michelangelo’s Hideout

I am back in Florence again, my favorite Italian city.  A visit to the Medici Chapels is one of the “musts” in Florence.  Very grim on the outside, they are opulent and exquisite inside, and everyone goes to see the Medici tombs sculpted by Michelangelo with his beauties:  Day and Night, Dawn and Dusk.  However, the chapels hold a secret that not too many people know about.  If you are in the know and ask for a special ticket, you are allowed to enter what was, for three days, Michelangelo’s hideout.

During the many fights and intrigues of the members of the Medici family, Michelangelo managed to get on the wrong side of them, and, frightened that he would be killed, he looked for a refuge.  Inside one of the chapels he found a trap door in the floor that led to a small underground hideaway.  And there, with only a torch and no food or water, he hid himself for three days till he felt it was safe for him to leave and run.  While there, with the black pitch from his torch, he drew on the walls of this dungeon.  Today, at certain hours, a limited number of visitors are allowed to go down into this hideout, which is only about ten meters long and three meters wide, and view these sketches, made in the dark.  They are amazing!  It makes you feel like you have gotten inside his head!

May 14, 2008

David at the Galleria dell’Accademia

Posted in museums at 2:48 pm by classicalmusic

The Galleria dell’Accademia is located in the San Marco quarter of Florence and, outwardly, is not especially an impressive building.  However, once inside, you will find yourself holding your breath at the beauty in the main gallery.  This main gallery holds the strong and powerful figures of Michelangelo’s Four Slaves and St. Matthew.  All five sculptures are unfinished and the figures seem to be struggling to release themselves from the marble surrounding them.  However, these figures are not what the viewer sees at first glance when he enters the gallery.

At the far end of the long hall, in a specially designed apse-like space, is the magnificent Michelangelo David.  This monumental figure is so inexpressibly beautiful that you simply cannot breathe when you look upon it.  No photograph nor replica can give you the feeling of strength, youth and beauty that the actual real sculpture does.  Michelangelo was only 26 when he began working on David and it took him three years to complete the statue.  David seems to be poised to go into battle with Goliath, although some experts feel that it is David after he has conquered Goliath contemplating his victory.

Whatever interpretation you wish to give it, the David is a glorious representation of youthful beauty.

April 23, 2008

The Fondation Beyeler

Posted in museums at 1:43 pm by classicalmusic

A Visit to the Fondation Beyeler

About 8 years ago I visited my mother at a small pension in the town of Spiez, Switzerland, located on Lake Thun.  Although a very small town, the nice thing about Spiez is that you can get wonderful train service to almost anywhere in Switzerland, and one day my mom decided that we MUST go to Basel to visit the new Beyeler Museum.  Her special reason for wanting to see it was that it had been designed by the Italian architect, Renzo Piano, who collaborated with Richard Rogers to design the controversial Pompidou Centre in Paris.  So off we went for an approximately onef-hour train ride to Basel, followed by a short tram ride to the Berowerpark.

The Fondation Beyeler which opened to the public in 1997 was built to house the art collection of the Basel art dealer and collector, Ernst Beyeler.  The building is modest and modern with reddish colored walls.  I was told that the red is porphyry (a very hard rock) from Patagonia, Argentina.  Two very large bay windows give onto the park, and the whole feeling is one of serenity.

The Beyeler collection includes some primitive art sculptures and about 200 paintings and sculptures from the Post Impressionist to Cubists.  One room is devoted to pictures and sculptures of Alberto Giacometti and another to the British artist Francis Bacon.  However, you can also find the pop-art of Rauscheberg, Rothko and Liechstenstein along with some Cezannes, Van Goghs, Monets and Picassos.

There is a fine and elegant restaurant in the garden where we ate a very good lunch before taking the train back to our little pension in Spiez.  A pleasant trip in all!

March 16, 2008

Paris – L’Orangerie

Posted in museums at 2:27 pm by classicalmusic

See L’Orangerie for the Monet Lilies

L’Orangerie is a charming Second Empire styled building at the end of the Tuileries Gardens.  Whenever I visit Paris it is one of my favorite haunts.  If the weather is good, it is a pleasure to stroll through the Gardens themselves and then end up at this small but lovely museum.

Originally built to as a greenhouse for the Tuileries Palace, it was turned into an exhibition gallery in the early 20th century to house the art collection of Walter-Guillaume.  There is an elegant horseshoe wrought iron staircase which takes the visitor to the first floor galleries to the Walter-Guillaume collection of Impressionists.  There are several Soutine tortured portraits and still lifes, a Picasso, and a Modigliani.  There are also some good examples of Renoir, Derain, Matisse, Henri Rousseau and Sisley.

But the highlight of L’Orangerie are the two large oval rooms on the ground floor with a series of paintings by Monet made in his garden at Giverny.  These are eight gigantic panels of Water Lilies, called the Nympheas, presented to the museum in 1927.  It is breathtaking to stand in the center of these rooms and simply turn from one panel to the next to observe the depth of colors and tones.  If you are fortunate to be there all alone, you can really enjoy the lilies without the annoyance of flash cameras (which are forbidden, but tourists use them anyhow).  I go back there every time I can get to Paris.

January 22, 2008

The Heard Museum

Posted in museums at 9:52 am by classicalmusic

A Phoenix “Point of Pride”

The Heard Museum was founded in 1929 by Dwight and Maie Heard to house their own personal collection of Native American art.  Begun as a small private museum, it has greatly expanded and states as its “mission”:  education of the public about the heritage and living cultures and arts of Native peoples of the Southwest.  It is now recognized internationally both for the quality of its collections and its educational programming.

I had never heard of the Heard until I visited relatives in Phoenix, Arizona, about ten years ago.  One of the sights of Phoenix that they particularly wanted me to visit was this museum.  The building itself is a lovely, spreading, sand colored edifice built on the Mexican hacienda style with lovely arches, pavilions and courtyard garden.

Most of the collection objects are from the 19th and 20th centuries, but since this is a “living” museum, contemporary Native American art is constantly being added to it.

The Barry Goldwater Collection of historic Hopi kachina dolls and the huge collection of contemporary Native American jewelry especially impressed me.

In addition to all of the above, the Heard Museum is the home of the annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest which is generally held in the month of February.

In the last ten years, in fact since I was there, the Museum has expanded to include two more sites:  one in Scottsdale, Arizona, and another in Surprise in the West Valley.  The original Phoenix site is a popular and well attended museum.

January 3, 2008

Piazza San Petro, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel

Posted in museums at 2:01 pm by classicalmusic

Piazza San Petro

Designed by Michelangelo after the original architect, Bramante, had died, this piazza is a wondrous impressive sight of classic beauty and symmetry. Bernini’s encircling columns on each side of the piazza stretch out like welcoming arms, and St. Peter’s Cathedral or Basilica stands as a commanding edifice topped by Michelangelo’s dome. If you are not there on a Sunday, when the piazza is full of devout believers awaiting the Pope’s blessing, the piazza is a lovely quiet place to contemplate the genius of the Renaissance popes and their artists. It is so large that the tourists wandering in to go into the Cathedral do not crowd or worry you.

The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel

The Vatican Museums are so extensive that to go through them takes a whole day. Not all of the displays are really worth spending that amount of time. As a result, and understanding that many tourists do not want to see everything, the museum has 4 tours: A,B,C and D. These are arranged in accordance with length. All of them end up in the Sistine Chapel which is the place you definitely do not want to miss. Therefore, it is best to pick the “A” tour, which is the shortest, and then spend as much of your time as you can in the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling, Michelangelo’s masterpiece accomplished in 4 years, is absolutely awe-inspiring. Everyone is familiar with the famous centerpiece: God and Adam almost touching fingers, but there is so much to see in all of the ceiling that one visit is never enough. A most wonderful description of Michelangelo’s trials, tribulations, sorrows, anger and triumph while painting the ceiling are depicted in Ross King’s well-researched book “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling”. First visit the chapel and then read the book.

November 27, 2007

Sagamore Hill – Remembering Teddy Roosevelt

Posted in museums at 3:02 pm by classicalmusic

Teddy Roosevelt’s Home

Sagamore Hill, built by Teddy Roosevelt in 1894 and 1895, became his permanent home until his death there in January, 1919.  He built it believing the area to be healthy for children (he had six), and during his presidency it was nicknamed “the Summer Whitehouse”.  For more than 30 years, Sagamore Hill was one of the most talked about homes in America.  Particularly, people would talk about the man never too busy being president to be a devoted father.

The house itself is a Victorian rambling structure made of frame and brick.  It has 23 rooms on three floors and is kept, today much as it was during its use by the Roosevelts.  Although Teddy Roosevelt died in 1919, his wife continued to live at Sagamore Hill until her death in 1948.  In 1950 the house and its 83 acres of land were purchased by the Theodore Roosevelt Association who, in turn, gave it to the American people as a gift in 1963.  There is a guided tour through the house which is interesting, showing Roosevelt’s hunting trophies, books, paintings, flags and furniture all very much reflecting the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt.

The extensive grounds, consisting of gardens and arboretum overlooking Oyster Bay, are delight to wander through.  Because of their beauty, they are a favorite spot for wedding pictures, and the Sunday that I was there, a long line of limousines disgorged brides and grooms and photographers.  However, the place is large enough to walk through without encountering the wedding photo ops at every turn.  The Sunday I was there, we had a very nice brunch at the cafe/restaurant on the grounds and, of course, we took a turn through the gift shop.  In short, Sagamore Hill, an American Heritage Site, is a charming place for a Sunday trip.

October 10, 2007

The Bargello of Florence

Posted in museums tagged , at 2:41 pm by classicalmusic

A 13th Century Palazzo

The Palazzo del Bargello was built in the mid 1200’s as the residence of the chief magistrate of the city of Firenze (Florence).  It was then turned into a police station where many instances of torture took place in the center of its majestic courtyard, and where guilty prisoners were often thrown to their death from the roof top.

The palazzo is a beautiful, austere example of medieval architecture which is not easy to recognize because it is located on a very narrow street immediately opposite a large 10th century church called the Badia.  Today the Bargello is a museum housing some absolutely magnificent Renaissance sculpture.

Michelangelo at the Bargello

One of the main reasons that I love Firenze is that it totally oozes Michelangelos, and the Bargello is one of the places to see some of his great works.  There is a most impressive, lifelike bust of Brutus, so handsome that you can fall in love with him.  There is also a drunken Bacchus and a gorgeous medallion relief of the Virgin and Child with St. John.  Tourists who whiz through Firenze do not usually get to the Bargello for Michelangelo.  They see the more famous of his works:  David, the Medici Tombs.  But these smaller Michelangelos are pearls and not to be missed.

Also at this museum is the not to be missed Donatello bronze sculpture of David.  It is not as impressive as the monumental Michelangelo David, but beautiful in its own way.  On the same floor as the Donatello, there are some charming works of art by the Della Robbia family.

The museum is not a large one, but it is well worth a visit when touring Firenze.

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