Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dante's Florence Week 5 Part One

By the end of the 13th century Florence was a bustling and prosperous city. We looked at a painting by Lord Leighton - Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna is carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence, 1853-1855. The Victorians had an intense interest in Dante. In this painting, which was bought by Queen Victoria, Cimabue’s painting of the Madonna, a hugh altarpiece is carried through the streets of Florence. Giotto, a pupil of Cimabue, is shown in white, with Dante on the far right.

In week 4 we had looked at the new city walls designed by Arnolfo Di Cambio. Di Cambio’s crowning achievement was, however, his design for a new cathedral. The old cathedral was considered to be too small and too coarse. As the population of the city increased the new cathedral was designed with a hugh interior space to accommodate the whole population. Dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, it was started in 1296 and took many years to complete. Old buildings were knocked down to make way for it, including the hospital and the old cathedral, dedicated to Santa Reparata.

It seems that Di Cambio originally planned a wooden dome, but this was replaced by Brunelleschi’s dome which was completed in 1436. We looked at a copy of his outline plan for the cathedral (the original of the drawing is in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo) and also at Poccetti’s drawing (c. 1587) of the façade of the Duomo, which shows the façade as it was before it was covered over in the 19th century by the current façade. This shows the mosaics, reliefs and statues designed by Di Cambio.

The illustration (copied from the course handout) is not very clear but does give an impression of what the façade was like. Only a few of the original sculptures have survived, including the ‘Madonna of the Glass Eyes’, the Annunciation to the Shepherds and a statue of Pope Boniface VIII, the luxury loving, warrior pope whom Dante opposed. these are now in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.

I particularly like the story of Dante’s stone – the Sasso di Dante - where Dante is supposed to have sat and watched the cathedral being built. A plaque embedded in the wall of one of the houses opposite the cathedral was placed in memory of his special seat.

This was one of the places of pilgrimage during the 19th century for the nobility on the Grand Tour of Europe.

Under the shadow of a stately Pile,
The dome of Florence, pensive and alone,
Nor giving heed to aught that passed the while,
I stood, and gazed upon
a marble stone,
The laurelled Dante's favourite seat. …

From Wordsworth, Memorials of a tour in Italy, 1837 At Florence

Di Cambio also began the design of the Palazzo Vecchio, a very important building that housed the Priors, the governors of the city and is now the town hall and a museum. The crenulated Arnolfo Tower is characteristic of a fortified building. Uberti family buildings were demolished to make way for the Palazzo.

Dante's Exile in Week 5 Part Two

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