Issue 45

August 2013

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Visiting the cradle of the Renaissance with U3A
In May this year seventeen of us from the History of Art group had a week’s–art-intensive–trip to Florence, with side tours to Siena and Pisa, organized by tutor Brian Souter.  We had just completed our study of the Renaissance and welcomed the opportunity to visit the place where it began.

Leaving Leeds-Bradford Airport on Saturday afternoon, by 8pm we were wining and dining in a typical Tuscan restaurant where we were to share many more meals.

Next morning we walked to the Accademia (Michaelangelo’s David) and nearby we visited the Museum of San Marco, a former convent built by Cosimo de Medici the Elder.  The cells are decorated with frescos by Fra Angelico, including his Annunciation. Here we saw Savonarola’s cell and his wooden ‘study station’ which, at 500+ years old has all the clean lines of a modern computer work station, amazing.

In the Duomo, not surprisingly, no one had the ambition to climb the 464 steps to Brunelleschi’s dome. The Baptistry, just outside, dates from the 11th and 12th centuries and the stylistic features in the cast bronze doors exemplify the changes in art from the Gothic to the Renaissance.

The Palazzo Vecchio is an example of the Italian Gothic. It was the home of  the Medici family before moving to the Pitti Palace across the Arno. A few of us shared a coffee on the terrace of the Uffizi Gallery where the view of the tower is breathtaking.  The highlight of the Uffizi for me was the room with three Madonnas in majesty by Cimabue, Giotto and Ducio. They depict the gradual changes from Byzantine and Gothic stylized art toward the more naturalistic, three dimensional and mathematically correct perspective that was in progress during the 13th to the 15th centuries.

A startling use of perspective is Masaccio’s fresco Trinity, c1425, in the church of Santa Maria Novella. The use of mathematical perspective created such an illusion of depth in the picture that people were astonished and came from far away to see it.

The Brancacci Chapel, c1426, in the Church of the Carmine is a clear example. Frescos by Masolino, an older artist, show his Adam and Eve in the traditional style, the naked figures are formal and decorative. On the opposite wall by Massaccio, Adam and Eve are displaying emotion on their faces and seem to be in motion, walking out from the Garden of Eden.

In Siena, curiously, Brian was handed 40 tickets for the Palazzo Publico, instead of the usual 17.  Scratching heads, we headed upstairs only to be sent back down and informed that we were given the tickets for the Milanese Collegio della Terzia Eta who were visiting the same day!!   Nice to know U3A is alive and well in Italy.

The hire bus made light work of touring as we had no concerns about luggage or catching trains. Walking around Florence was a delight, and somehow everyone managed to be back at the “feet of David” in the Piazza della Signoria at 1pm to meet Brian for the afternoon outing.

Our last evening was back at the Giglio Rosso restaurant where we were treated very well with limoncello, biscotti and desert wine on the house.  A few short speeches and we strolled back to the hotel.

The week passed much too quickly, as this holiday was the perfect complement to our study of the Renaissance.  We are all looking forward to September when Brian will take up the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, that is: Mannerism and Baroque.