Tiddley-Bits tea

Tiddley-Bits tea

Thursday, 19 August 2010

{Up at the Villa}

     While watching Up at the Villa (2000) last night starring the stunning Kristin Scott Thomas, I was captured once again by the lure of Florence. I have to admit that in recent years I have been less fond of the city, but while watching the movie I returned to so many wonderful memories of that city...and a fateful city at that for me, for it was on my first trip to Florence at 18-while a student in Montpellier- that I decided I wanted to focus on Renaissance Italian Art. Since then I've returned a handful of times: as part of an MA trip when I was at the Courtauld Institute of Art, as a grad student/TA for an undergrad class with McGill, for research as a doctoral student, and to attend a workshop.

{Photo taken of the Ponte Vecchio from my antique Pentax in 2006 when I lived in Florence for a month as a grad student/TA}

     While the movie itself doesn't have a huge amount to offer--Kristen Scott Thomas is a poor, yet elegant & smart spinster, who is trying to land a wealthy suitor and ends up in a murderous mess with Sean Penn--the scenery, the locations, the style & the outfits (just love the 1930s), and the art were glorious...not to mention the walks down memory lane of favourite sites in Florence & the Tuscan surroundings.
{The Art & the Sights}
In the first part of the movie we are introduced to a variety of important artworks & monuments as the backdrop to various scenes.

Orsanmichele, is one of my favourite buildings in Florence, particularly because it reflects so well the civic & communal history of Florence and the close connection between the arts and the guilds. Orsanmichele was originally the site of the city’s grain-market and in 1284 a Loggia was built to provide shelter for the grain merchants, and it was on one of its pillars that an image of the Virgin was attached. Over the next 7 years a cult developed around the Madonna. Eventually a more permanent structure was built around the miraculous Madonna and in 1339 each of the 12 major guilds was to be allocated a pilaster on the exterior of the ground floor of the palace, which they had to decorate with their patron saint. Over the next hundred years famous artists including Ghiberti and Donatello were employed by various guilds to build their statues in the niches, many of which are still visible today by tourists walking by.

{Nanni di Banco, Four Crowned Saints, 1414-16, north side, niche of the Arte dei Maestri di Pietra e Legname (now in Museo di Orsanmichele)}
     In the movie we are then shown the Loggia dei Lanzi-once the site of political speeches & sermons, and then taken over in the 16th century, along with the space across from it, as the battle ground for displays of sculpture by the Republic and the Medici (most of the sculptures are still there today, although the most famous ones like Michelangelo's David have been placed in museums for protective covering). The Uffizi is also shown lit up at night as the two main actors drive through the arcaded U-shape towards the Arno (Today of course, it is only open to pedestrians, except for the odd car belonging to Carabinieri--who have been known to frequent the location at night to bother art historians who are returning home from a dinner bountiful in wine and who have come to admire the building and discuss the father of art history, in loud & largely incomprehensible terms, right katie?!).

{The Uffizi with crowds of tourists}
I digress. The Uffizi was designed to house the civil offices (uffizi), the guilds & Medici court artists, and became an architectural symbol of a unified bureaucracy under Medici rule. The architect was none other than Giorgio Vasari himself, so it is little coincidence that the corridors are now the site of long queues of anxious tourists to see the  treasures hidden within this temple or art history. The room with Botticelli's Primavera & The Birth of Venus is probably the most packed (I was lucky during my MA trip to be 1 of 4 people in that room, thanks to my supervisor's careful negotiation to allow the museum to be opened up for us on a day it was closed).

     Kristen Scott Thomas takes a trip to San Miniato (highly recommended), which has breathtaking views of Florence but is also a lovely church. The Cardinal of Portugal's Chapel is worth checking out because it offers a glimpse at artistic collaboration. The chapel displays the works of numerous artists in a variety of media, but the walk up to S. Miniato is lovely...and head down the opposite side of the church to have a meander amongst the lemon grove. San Miniato is a good chance to get away from the hoards near San Lorenzo, the Accademia & the Uffizi. This area, across the River Arno, is known as the Oltrarno and is often less inundated with tourists.
{the protagonist meets an art historian/tour guide in S. Miniato. Behind you can see the breathtaking views of the Duomo & the rest of Florence}

{Other art historical recommendations}:
There are many in a place like Florence, and besides the obvious Uffizi & Accademia, here are a few of my favourites:
Fresco chapel decorations are stunning in Florence and I taught lectures on site in many of these buildings:
-Santa Maria Novella is bursting with great chapels: Ghirlandaio's extraordinary frescoes in the Tornabuoni Chapel that cover the entire sky-high walls of the main chapel; Lippi's crazy frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel (Katie-I know you're reading & you'll get a laugh here!); and Masaccio's Trinity: not a real chapel but an astounding use of perspective & always a must in any Renaissance art course.
-Santa Trinita: another great cycle by Ghirlandaio in the Sassetti Chapel
-Santa Felicita: the use of pastels and the "mannerist" tendencies of Pontormo makes this a truly remarkable work.
-Santa Maria del Carmine: Masaccio & Masolino's (&Lippi's) work in the Brancacci Chapel have often been said to mark the beginning of the expressive tendencies in Renaissance art. *a must see* and the piazza where the church is located is a great place to have a drink (in the Oltrarno) and there are usually very few tourists here.
-frescoes at San Marco painted by the monk Fra Angelico give you a glimpse of the daily life of Dominicans.
-Other spots of interest include the Palazzo Medici (make sure you check out Gozzoli's amazing work of the magi in the chapel), the Pitti Palace (the grander residence of the Medici principato, which includes museums, and the Boboli gardens (the grotto is fantastic!) and the Pitti is quite near the lovely restaurant Quattro Leoni (see below))...of course there are so many more!

The costumes for this movie were delightful. I absolutely loved her fine leather gloves (which you can find in abundance at the San Lorenzo market in Florence), her evening dresses and her day outfits, and the accessories were wonderful.
Inspirations from her outfits:

{Absolutely L.O.V.E brooches: Lori Ettlinger Gross seems to also share my passion}
{Hats are in abundance in this movie--check out this funky illustration for a 1931 Simplicity Pattern. From Lulu's Vintage}

{a whole ensemble from College Fashion (Skirt, pumps, and jacket –Forever 21; gloves John Lewis, but I would get the gloves at San Lorenzo market!}
{Design Ideas}
I absolutely love old places & old things. The villa our protagonist stays in has numerous tables, chests, shelves--any flat surface really--laden down with antiques. My dream is to own an old villa in Italy with a never-ending library.

{I like this contemporary idea from Design Sponge: busts line a side table; roughly painted walls add a patina}

Eating al fresco also appears throughout the movie, and I believe this is a tradition which we have unfortunately lost. Yes, we might picnic, or eat at a casual table outdoors, but what about those 5 course meals with crystal glasses & a string quartet? Now that I would love to see again.
{Crystal glasses, flowers, cloth napkins--the works! and if the actress appears to not be enjoying herself she is only in shock from having seen a man kill himself the night previously}
 {How fun would this be? from At Home Arkansas}
While I know of nowhere that offers such an experience, Trattoria Quattro Leoni in the Oltrarno offers a lovely dining experience--I've been numerous times & the food is absolutely excellent. There is a small area outside & ample room inside.
{Quattro Leoni, Florence}
For further villa/Italian inspirations you might want to check out Design Sponge's inspiration/creation segment.

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