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Protected: Rome: Part Two

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Filed under architecture, art, Italy, Rome, Travel

Art and Architecture in Prague

As my dedicated readers know, I am a museum addict.

One of the museums that I knew I wanted to visit in Prague was the Museum of Czech Cubism, which is located in the House of the Black Madonna.  I must say, I was hoping for something a little more exotic than this building:

House of the Black Madonna

The cubist architecture in Prague is unique.  Before WWI, nationalist Czech artists wanted to create pieces that were distinctly Czech.  So it has an interesting historical legacy.  However, applying the cubist style to a building is challenging.  I thought some of the geometric shapes were interesting, but overall I wasn’t impressed.  I much prefer the art deco style that came after WWI.

Cubist Chair

Cubist Furniture

Cubist Staircase

Cubist Lamp Post

The building that I really fell in love with is Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunić’s Dancing House.  Adding modern architecture to any European city is always controversial, but I think the Dancing House compliments its surroundings.

It was built on an empty lot that had been bombed in WWII (like I said, only about two bombs landed on Prague).  The lot was also next door to President Václav Havel’s house.  He was both a poet and a politician, and he supported the project, which was inspired by the dancing duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Gehry is most famous for his Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain, which I haven’t visited, but I’ve seen his building on the Case Western campus in Cleveland and his pavilion at Millennium Park in Chicago.  His style is very distinct, and is always interesting to look at–if you’re not blinded by the sun reflecting off his shiny metal surfaces.

I am never content with just one museum, so we also went to the Alfons Mucha museum.  Mucha’s poster for Sarah Bernhardt’s “Gismonda” launched both his career and the Art Nouveau movement.  I love the way curves, plants, and flowers are incorporated into his motifs.  Art Nouveau was less about painting and more about applied arts: posters, textiles, buildings, and even mass-produced products.

Like the cubists, Mucha was a Czech nationalist.  In the 1930s, he ran afoul of the Nazis and contracted pneumonia while being held for interrogation by the Gestapo.  He died in 1939.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

After seeing cubist paintings and Mucha’s posters, we couldn’t resist a little more art.  The Municipal House had an exhibit called Tauromaquia, which included bullfighting paintings and sketches by Picasso, Dalí, and Goya.  Although I am opposed to bullfighting, I really enjoyed seeing the same theme depicted by radically different artists.  They also had a full-size cartoon sketch for Picasso’s Guernica.

Bullfighting Sketch by Goya (Source: Wikipedia)

With just a few brushstrokes, Picasso captured the violent energy of bullfighting:

Ironically, after seeing the Fred and Ginger building, my feet were too tired to walk, let alone dance.  We took the tram back to our hotel, heads spinning with all the beautiful sites we’d seen.

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Filed under architecture, art, Czech Republic, Prague, Travel

Florence: Last Day

On our last day in Florence, I was determined to see one more museum and one more church.

First, we went to the Bargello, a former prison.  It was a bit eerie to gaze at sculptures and paintings knowing that hundreds of years ago people were imprisoned and tortured within those stone walls.

The Bargello, Florence

The museum had a fascinating collection of small pieces: jewelry, ivories, coins.  There were also some artifacts from Norman Sicily, which is Jesse’s area of expertise.

The blockbuster pieces, however, were by Donatello.  There was a room full of his work.

I watched a vigilant security guard chastise one man who was sneaking photographs, calling from across the room, “Ah, ah, ah!  No pictures, sir!”  He even shook his finger, as if the man were a naughty primary school student. So, my images are borrowed from Wikipedia.

There were two Davids by Donatello, and the differences between the two are striking.

His marble David from the 1410s was one of his first major commissions.  Some elements of the sculpture hint at his great skill and vision, but David is staring blankly off into space.  Overall, David seems lifeless and medieval.

Marble David by Donatello (Image from Wikipedia)

About three decades later, Donatello did a second David, this one in bronze.  This jaunty prepubescent David seems alive.  He is naked except for the hat on his head.  The effect is unsettling, but the attitude is clear.  This is a Renaissance sculpture.

Bronze David by Donatello (Image from Wikipedia)

These two sculptures helped me appreciate how one artist can change his approach to art over the course of his lifetime.  I am still trying to shake the impression I got in middle school social studies that one day the Middle Ages ended and everyone woke up and decided it was the Renaissance instead.

Last, we went to Santa Croce.  This church has the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo.

Santa Croce

Tragically, the church and its treasures were severely damaged in a flood in 1966.  Restoration work continues to this day.

One painting that was fully restored was “Christ Descending into Purgatory” by Bronzino.  The colors were luminous.  Each figure had a unique reaction to the appearance of Christ.  It was a huge piece and it took several minutes to fully absorb the story.  For some reason, pictures were permitted, so Jesse took these:

"Christ Descending into Purgatory"

Bronzino's "Christ Descending into Purgatory"

Section from Bronzino's "Christ Descending into Purgatory"

As amazing as the trip was, Jesse and I were exhausted and ready to go home.  I had saturated myself with art, architecture, and the beauty of Tuscany.

I am still in disbelief that over the course of the trip I saw Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello. These names have been imprinted on my memory since my days of watching Ninja Turtles.  As a kid, I thought it was a great joke that these cartoon characters were named after Renaissance artists.   Now I have seen great pieces by each of these artists, and I wonder how they would feel to know they’ve been immortalized as turtles!

I left Italy filled with creative energy.  I am currently determined to write a young adult book.

Jesse and I both want to return to Italy as soon as possible, and we booked our tickets almost as soon as we got back to Debrecen–were are going to Sicily the week before Easter.  If I stick with my book idea, I would like to go to Tuscany again in June before we return to the U.S.  We might be broke by the time we make it back to the States, but we will be rich with memories and experiences.

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Florence: Lost in the Uffizi

Officially opened to the public in 1765, the Uffizi Gallery was one of the first museums in the modern sense of the word.  It is also notorious for having long lines.  Although the Florence Card allowed us to bypass some of the lines, after we passed through security, we had about fifteen minutes of frustration in which we were just standing in a mass of people.  Any semblance of a line had disappeared.  We Americans were about to have a meltdown, but we made it through.

The museum is huge, but it was still crowded.  Not so crowded that I couldn’t move around comfortably or get close to a painting, but crowded enough that I got separated from Jesse and our friends.  I spent over an hour wandering around the first corridor by myself.  At first I was worried whether I would ever be able to find my husband again.  Soon, though, I was absorbed in the Renaissance masterpieces and stopped worrying.

For me, the diptych of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero Della Francesca epitomizes the Renaissance elite who were the patrons of artists.  The duchess looks haughty, and the duke has a “don’t mess with me” look in his eyes.  They were so confident in their power and wealth that they didn’t have to appear more beautiful in their portraits than they were in real life.  Although the duke is facing to the left to disguise his missing right eye, the artist didn’t do anything to disguise his hideous nose!

The Duchess of Urbino (Image from Wikipedia)

They were so confident in their power and wealth that they didn’t have to appear more beautiful in their portraits than they were in real life.  Although the duke is facing to the left to disguise his missing right eye, the artist didn’t do anything to disguise his hideous nose!

The Duke of Urbino (Image from Wikipedia)

The Botticelli room was my favorite.  I couldn’t believe that the paintings I’d seen so often in textbooks were hanging in front of me.  I don’t have the vocabulary to properly describe them.

According to my Uffizi guidebook, this painting is actually not depicting the birth of Venus, but rather the arrival of Venus at an island.  She is blown along by Zephryus and Aura and is being welcomed with a flowered cloak.  The colors are soft.  Venus is posing chastely on her shell.  She seems modest but also unaware of her beauty.  The figures are so graceful.

The Birth of Venus by Botticelli (From Wikipedia)

There was quite a crowd around Primavera (Spring).  I eavesdropped on a tour being given in English.  This painting is also full of figures from mythology and can be interpreted in many different ways.  I love the translucent material of the dresses, as well as the beautiful expressions on the Three Graces’ faces.

Primavera by Botticelli (Image from Wikipedia)

The Annunciation was a popular subject in Renaissance art.  I like Botticelli’s the best.  Gabriel clearly has an important message to deliver, and Mary is almost shrinking away from him, shocked by the appearance of the angel and uncertain about the role for which God has selected her.

The Annunciation by Botticelli (image from Wikipedia)

The painting that captivated me the most is one by Botticelli’s master, Fra’ Filippo Lippi.  I was not familiar with this artist before going to Florence, but he is one of the greats.

Madonna with Child and Two Angels by Lippi (Image from Wikipedia)

This Madonna’s profile stuck in my mind.  She has such a gentle face and sad eyes.   Lippi’s skill is evident in the Madonna’s hair, which is piled on her head, decorated with pearls, and covered with a sheer veil.

How did Lippi paint such magnificent beauty? I purchased a book about the Uffizi on my way out of the museum and turned to this painting right away.  Lippi was in love with the model, who was both a nun and the mother of his son.

In the end, I was reunited with my group.  Jesse and I both had our cellphones with us, so I couldn’t have lost him forever, but when I emerged from the First Corridor I did panic a bit as I surveyed the mass of people and no redhead was in sight.  Turns out my group had gone through two corridors in the time that I did one.

I don’t know as much about the Renaissance or art history as I would like to, but I left the Uffizi eager to learn more.

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Filed under art, Florence, Italy, Pisa, Travel

Florence Day 4: Fiesole

For anyone wanting to escape the swarming hordes of tourists in Florence’s city center, relief is a short bus ride away.  That is, once you find the bus.  According to the internet and a guide book, City Bus #7 picked up outside Santa Maria Novella train station.  Turns out, the stop had been relocated months or even years ago.  Sometimes being a tourist is more like being a detective.

Thanks to Bobby, we found the stop, and soon we were on the bus, zipping up the hills to Fiesole.

We spent the day looking at churches and walking around the hills of Tuscany.  The weather was splendid.  At lunchtime, we sat outside and I was comfortable in just my turtleneck.

We had the chance to inspect olive trees up close.  This was the first time I’d seen olives growing on a tree.  Jesse persuaded me to taste one, even though I knew they wouldn’t taste good before being cured.  It was disgusting, but at least now I know.

This nun reclining on the wall and taking in the view seemed to capture the essence of Tuscany.  She was radiating peace and serenity.

She also sensed that Jesse was taking her picture and smiled obligingly.

Kellie set up her camera to take a picture of all four of us:

We spent quite a bit of time at the Convent of San Francesco.  The interior of the church was tranquil, small, and relatively plain.

We could peek into the monks’ cells, including San Bernardino of Siena’s.  One of his miracles was prematurely aging because he was so devout.  According to Wikipedia, he caught the plague but survived, which may also have affected his aging.

I could imagine the monks walking through the cloisters and sitting in their cells praying.

The convent also housed a small museum that included Etruscan and Roman artifacts found in Fiesole, an Egyptian mummy, and objects from China.  (The mummy and the Chinese pieces were brought back from missions by the Franciscans.)

We passed more churches tucked away in the hills.

The silvery leaves of the trees in an olive grove were breathtaking.

I really should just let the pictures speak for themselves: a day full of sunshine, nature, and historic churches is hard to top.

Fore more pictures of Fiesole, please check out these blogs:

Kellie’s Blog

Bobby’s Blog

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A Firenzeben: Day Three

On December 26th, I saw Michelangelo’s David.

My palms were sweating as we went through security at the Academy.  Not because I was trying to sneak any prohibited items into the museum, but because I felt like I was about to meet a celebrity.

As soon as we were in the museum, I couldn’t resist going straight to David.  After seeing so many images of him in pop culture, I was worried that I wouldn’t be impressed by the real thing.  As I approached this famous statue, all my anxiety dissipated.

I couldn’t believe that something so beautiful was carved out of a piece of marble.  The pose is so perfect and natural.  He is calmly assessing his enemy, prepared to use his intellect to take out the giant Goliath.  (Jesse and I had a debate about whether the statue is showing Daivd before or after killing Goliath, and I maintain that it is before.)

He is frozen in one pose for eternity, but I could imagine him coming to life and slinging his stone at any moment.

The details on his hands and his muscles are just amazing.  The veins on his arms and hands seem as if they really have blood flowing through them.

Michelangelo's David (Wikipedia)

The years in which Michelangelo carved David were turbulent ones for the city.  When he was unveiled, Florentines immediately recognized David as a symbol of their republic.  He has been an honored citizen of Florence ever since.  The Accademy was built in the nineteenth century solely to house this treasured sculpture.

We paid €50 each for the Florence card, a three day pass giving us free admission to almost every museum in the city as well as unlimited use of public transportation.  I felt like I got my money’s worth after seeing just one sculpture.

After gawking at David for fifteen or twenty minutes, Jesse and I did view the rest of the art in the museum.

Next, we climbed Giotto’s bell tower at Santa Maria del Fiore.  The bell tower has more steps than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so it was quite a climb.  Also, no one monitored when you could go up or down, so there were traffic jams on the narrow staircase.  This definitely pushed the limits of my tolerance for confined spaces, and I am in no hurry to do it again any time soon, although the view at the top was great.

After that, we went to the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall.  Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decided to move in for awhile in the 1500s, before the Medicis built the Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno.  The museum shows the various apartments that were designed for his family.

From the Palazzo Vecchio, we headed to the Strozzi, another museum housed in the former palace of a powerful Florentine family.  The exhibit was about the relationship between banking, politics, and art in Renaissance Florence.  It was designed to tell a story, and it succeeded in placing the great pieces of art in the context of the time in which they were created.

When we finished with our third museum of the day, the sun was setting, and we snapped several pictures by the Arno.  The white shapes seem to be a protective covering for the olive trees in the street.

The Ponte Vecchio at dusk

We met our friends/fellow CETP teachers for dinner that evening.  For some beautiful pictures of Florence, please peruse their blogs:

Bobby’s Blog

Kellie’s Blog

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Vienna: Days Two and Three

On Wednesday morning, we set out for Schönbrunn Palace, the exquisite summer residence of the Hapsburgs.  Unfortunately, we were halfway to the Westbahnhof before I realized I’d forgotten my camera.  The day was cold and blustery, and Jesse had a nasty cold, so we decided not to go back.

So far on the trip, we had been to the Primate’s Palace in Bratislava and the Belvedere in Vienna.  Schönbrunn made the Primate’s Palace look like a shack and the Belvedere like a quaint cottage.  I had never before witnessed such obscene grandeur.

The palace was decorated as it would have looked in 1916 when Emperor Franz Joseph died.  The walls were covered in lavish fabrics and moldings.  Many surfaces glittered with gold.  Portraits of Hapsburg relations hung in every room.  And the rooms just kept going and going.  We began in the private family wing and moved through countless galleries and audience chambers.

This is the palace where young Marie Antoinette played as a child.  I guess I can see how her worldview was a little narrow after such an upbringing.  Such a sheltered, lavish existence (although probably lacking love and affection) wouldn’t give you an ability to empathize with impoverished French peasants.

After Schönbrunn, we headed back towards the center of Vienna and visited the Albertina, an art museum in yet another imperial palace.  The palace housed various other attractions, including the:

(As you can probably guess, Schmetterling means “butterfly” in German and it is perhaps my favorite German word.)

The grounds of the palace were beautifully decked out in Autumn colors.

We passed a huge statue of Maria Theresa (Marie Antoinette’s mom) on the way to the Albertina.  There were countless statues, busts, and portraits of her throughout the city.

From the Albertina, we had a good view of the Opera House (at least I think that’s what that is):

My favorite piece from the Albertina was Albrecht Dürer’s Hare.   It’s not the most esoteric of paintings–just a very detailed bunny, but I thought it was charming.  It was hung in a furnished part of the palace, and I didn’t feel that tucking such a wonderful rabbit in amongst furniture and vases really invited people to stop and notice him.   I saw one guy breeze right past it with barely a glance, and I wanted to shout, “Wait!  Stop!  Look at the rabbit!”

In an equally distracting room adjoining the rabbit, there were sketches by Raphael and Michelangelo.  I had a hard time appreciating the beauty of the sketches because the red wall coverings and ornate furniture were so overwhelming.  The sketches were rather small, and they were hung kind of like framed prints in someone’s grandma’s house.  As if they were just taking up wall space and not the true showpieces of the room.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the Albertina.  I remember learning about Dürer’s Hare when I was an elementary school student, and my mom reminded me that she had taught my class about the painting when she volunteered as the “Art Lady” at my school.  Seeing it in person really thrilled me.

After the museum, we were ready for a snack.  Our guide book recommended going to Demel for traditional Austrian pastry, so that’s where we headed.  Jesse and I both ordered specialty coffee drinks.  (They cost about €8–the prices in Vienna really shocked us after going on several reasonably priced trips within Hungary.)

I quickly polished mine off and was ready for a pastry.

However, I couldn’t figure out how to obtain a pastry.  Our waitress had mentioned going to the display case in the other room and picking one out, which seemed pretty easy.  I went over and gazed at the delicious desserts.  I wanted them all, of course.  For several minutes, waitresses zipped back and forth by me, but no one took my order.  I stared some more, then sat down, dejected.

Finally, Jesse noticed that the man next to us handed the waitress a green ticket and was promptly brought a piece of cake.  Determined to get my sugar fix, I went back to the display case.  This time, there was a waitress standing there.  I pointed at a pastry and said, “I would like that one.”  (No garbled German necessary on my part–everyone we encountered in Vienna spoke English.)  She scribbled “vanilla cream” on a green ticket and handed it to me.

I was very disappointed that she didn’t just hand me my dessert.  There seemed to be some taboo against diners carrying their own pastries to their tables.  I sat down and prominently displayed my ticket in front of me.  Our waitress dashed by several times before grabbing my ticket.  At last, she arrived with a vanilla cream pastry.  It was delicious, but the process of ordering was one of those frustrating travel moments when I thought, “Okay, I am trying to do something that should be really simple and it’s not.”

On Thursday morning, Jesse and I had to be at the train station around 11:00 AM, so we didn’t have much time for sight-seeing.  We went back to St. Stephen’s to see it in daylight, and then we went to a café for a small Viennese breakfast (a soft boiled egg, two rolls, homemade marmalade, and coffee).  Sitting at a café and sipping coffee is probably the best way to enjoy Vienna.

This Papa Smurf statue was chained outside a store near the café.  The Smurfs seem to be very popular in Europe right now.  Sadly, the chains made Papa Smurf look like a convict

All too soon, we had to leave Vienna.  Because it was cheaper to buy round-trip tickets, we went back to Bratislava, and from Bratislava to Budapest Keleti.  At Keleti Station, we were perplexed  when the time table said the train to Debrecen left from Platform 8, but the train cars at Platform 8 had Russian lettering on the sides and appeared to be going to Moscow.  After asking a few people, we realized that only a few cars were continuing from Debrecen to Moscow, and that our cars were towards the front of the train.

Before we knew it, we were back in Debrecen (where Jesse recovered from his cold, and I promptly acquired a chin injury . . . life is never dull.)

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