Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas 2023 in Florence: Discovering a Mannerist Masterwork

A sculpture attributed to Tribolo in the loggiato of Borgo degli Albizi 15

 Well, the old doorman at Borgo degli Albizi, Alberico, would place illumination in the shape of a shooting star every Christmas on this sculpture in the covered courtyard of a Renaissance building where my office is located.  He identified the author of the work as no less than Michelangelo.

I always took that attribution with a grain of salt; however, a visit by art historian Jonathan Nelson earlier this year solved the mystery.  "There's a Tribolo near the entrance," he stated authoritatively.
The name sounded familiar: indeed Tribolo (aka Niccolò di Raffaello, 1500-1550) was a Florentine artist, sculptor and architect, most famous for the initial design of the Boboli Gardens and for his layout of the Medici Villa di Castello, with its terraces, fountains and grottoes.  He was also an assistant to Renaissance artist Andrea Sansovino (1467 - 1529), the name that Andrea Contucci was known by since he came from the Tuscan village of Monte San Savino.  Funnily enough, that was also Alberico's home town before coming to Florence

What was Tribolo's connection, if any, to Michelangelo?

A court artist of Grand Duke Cosimo de' Medici, he was sent by his employer to Rome to try to persuade the Renaissance genius to return to Florence and finish his work on the Laurentian Library, to no avail.  The commission was completed by Tribolo himself, together with Vasari and Ammannati, based on Michelangelo's project sketches.

Some of Tribolo's drawings were to be erroneously identified as being by Michelangelo by art historians in the 17th and 18th centuries, a sure sign of his influence.

So Alberico wasn't so far off.  After Dr. Nelson shed light on the centuries-old mystery, the current person at the door, Rosie, finally took up his old tradition of illuminating the sculpture, this time at its base.

Buon Natale!

reporting live from Beautiful Florence

                                                                 -- Rosanna

Friday, May 26, 2023

The 1993 Florence Bomb Blast: A Memoir

Florence was experiencing a precocious heat wave in late May, 1993, so much so that I was outside on my home terrace on at 1:04 am on May 27 when a bomb planted in a car went off on via dei Georgofili near the Uffizi Gallery.  Living just beyond the historic center past Porta Romana, I did not hear the explosion, but artist Charles Cecil on via Pandolfini did, remembering that it was followed by the sound 
of sirens screaming all night long.

When dawn broke, the Torre dei Pulci (Pulci Tower) on via dei Georgofili was heavily devastated, and five of its inhabitants -- the Nencioni family: mother, father, their nine-year-old daughter Nadia in addition to daughter Caterina, less than two months old -- plus a neighbor who lived across the street, 
student Dario Capolicchio -- were dead.
Also damaged was the library and archives of the Georgofili Academy (Accademia dei Georgofili), an institution devoted to the study of agriculture and the science of soil management and crop production since its establishment at that location in 1753.  Not to mention the 173 paintings and 56 sculptures at the Uffizi Gallery, the near destruction of the Antica Fattore trattoria on via Lambertesca, and the slivers of glass shattered from windows that lodged in the works on display at Ken's Art Gallery on the same street.

It was assumed that that the cause of the tragedy was a gas leak.  It was not until 12 noon on May 27 that word spread throughout Florence that what triggered the tragedy was a bomb.  As I well remember, 
the atmosphere in Florence turned into one of lead, gray and weighty.

In this surreal moment, I reported to work as usual to La Repubblica's editorial offices (then on via Maggio) at 6 pm, to write my daily column in English published by the newspaper.
I received two phone calls:  one from the BBC in London, and the other by a Sunday Telegraph journalist who had just arrived in town, like others of the international press.

The upshot was that at 8 pm, first I did a rehearsal then a one-minute live broadcast on the bomb blast for BBC World Service.  A surprise question at the end threw me off but I kept my composure to answer it.
"Who was responsible?"  
As always, I spoke the truth: "it is believed to be the Mafia."
I was immensely relieved later when it was revealed that indeed was the case.

Those at the BBC news service kindly sent me a cassette of my coverage.
I have always kept it in the office, but never, have brought myself to listen to it: it is too harrowing to listen to my voice narrating a tragedy.

After a quick dinner, I met the Sunday Telegraph reporter for what I assumed would be a quick drink at Harry's Bar in order to be his source for the article.

Well, the talk lasted nearly an hour and a half.  The English journalist, living up the reputation of press from the UK, knocked back four doubles in front of my incredulous eyes.  
While answering his questions, I slowly drank two gin and tonics. The barman, who was Lio at that time, was impassible, continuing to mix drinks.
At the end of our conversation, the journalist said; "I am going back to my hotel room as I need to send in the story by 4 am."  I thought, "buddy, in your hotel room 
you are going to fall on your face."

I'm not sure whether he made the 4 am deadline, but in any case the article ran the following Sunday, May 30, 1993, in the Telegraph.  It was impeccable reporting; in addition, I was quoted accurately.  
I should know -- he sent me a copy.  

On the 30th anniversary of the bomb blast, Florence is hosting many events to remember the tragedy triggered by the Mafia's desire to destabilize the government, which had organized
unrelentless investigations and arrests.

My homage to the 30th anniversary of the Georgofili bomb blast is to show my gentle readers 
an all-too-prophetic poem written by nine-year-old Nadia Nencioni in school a few short weeks before her death:


The afternoon is on its way

Sunset is approaching

– a moment of wonder

The sun is heading to bed

It is already night, all is finished

                        -- reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                                -- Rosanna



Monday, February 13, 2023

A Valentine's Surprise


Despite the state of the world, love is alive and well in Florence, Italy, as can be seen in this 
 piece of wall graffiti, unsigned, in the Monte Oliveto neighborhood.

In English it reads

(or more poetically)


Well, I came across this romantic inscription after having walked unintentionally for miles.  I simply meant to renew my car insurance at the Unipol Sai office across from Piazza Tasso.  I had forgotten, however, that the 36 and 36 bus lines had been rerouted since Christmas due to a sinkhole in Borgo San Frediano.
So I walked there from Porta Romana. After signing the appropriate documents, I asked how to get to my office in downtown Florence located between the Cathedral and Santa Croce.  Walk straight ahead, I was told, hang a left at the Esselunga supermarket on via Pisana, and continue to the Paolo Uccello tram stop.
The tram would take me to the Station, not exactly the best solution, but it seemed the only option.

Like everything in Italy, it was not.
This is the land where the art of arrangarsi (finding an alternative)
reigns supreme.

Lo and behold, I saw a #6 bus roll by.

I quickly asked information of a random person walking by who told me to keep bearing left.  Past the road leading up to Villa Strozzi, once the home of Polimoda, a long way before the Paolo Uccello tram stop, I found a #6 bus stop.

I also found the romantic writing on the wall, obviously intended for Elena to lay eyes on every day.
I barely had time to register the loving message when I saw a #6 turning a corner.  I only had 
a split second to take the picture 
and managed not to drop my I phone before jumping on the bus.
And no time to check the bus route.  So I asked the good looking, 35ish bus driver, where 
bus #6 was heading.

Al manicomio (the insane asylum) he answered.
Say again, I said.
Same answer.

Figuring he was having a bad day, I then asked where I could get off in downtown Florence.
Via Vecchietti, near Piazza Repubblica, was his answer.

Upon arrival in the office, I repeated this anecdote to Magenta Publishing intern Parker Hurley, 
who, being a newcomer, was deeply intrigued by the mysterious ways of Italians.

Well, the mystery was revealed later that week by my hairdresser, Federico of BZ on via Senese.
The hair salon is located near Porta Romana, so the story goes full circle.

"The end of the line of the #6 is the former insane asylum at San Salvi," he told me.
He thought me not understanding the bus driver's answer hilarious, as you can seen from his smile.

San Salvi slowly closed, like all psychiatric hospitals in Italy, between 1978 and the 1998 thanks to the Basaglia law.
In fact, in the '80s I lived in the adjacent Bellariva neighborhood and clearly remember former inmates aimlessly walking the streets trying to bum a cigarette from residents.

San Salvi is now home to a theatre group, Chille de la Balanza, whose members reside in one of the pavilions. Chille de la Balanza's mission, funded by the Municipality of Florence, is to create performances and community projects that keep the sad history of San Salvi -- once home to 5,000 inmates -- from slipping from mind.

Indelible, like the message to Elena.

Well, the visit to the hairdresser brought two other revelations, furnished by Federico's mother, Laura, who does the shampoo before the cut and blow dry styling.

She reminded me of what I already knew, that many of the buildings at San Salvi today host offices of the  Health Department, the Asl.

"San Salvi where you go to get your physical and eye exam to in order to have your driver's license renewed at age 80 and up," she said.  

Federico and I burst out laughing, and I said I would keep this piece of information in mind.

Returning to the photo of the romantic message on the wall next to the bus stop, which sparked the conversation, I said, "but it had no signature," which I thought strange.

"Of course not, said Laura, ever practical.  "Graffiti is illegal.  If signed, the police would track down the author, and he would be fined."

Later I learned, from a Repubblica article, that the fine ranges from 5,000 to 15,000 euro and
the anonymous poet also risked up to five years in jail.

Once again, the art of arrangarsi!  Hence the silence.

True love, however, overcomes every obstacle.

The message is loud and clear, despite the law.

"You are my first thought every day."

Happy Valentine's Day!

                                               reporting live from Beautiful Florence