I’m going to switch to Art History mode for a few posts. Although at one point I earned an MA in the subject from the University of Michigan, I never pursued a career in it, and thus lost a lot of the knowledge I’d gained. But I never really lost my interest.
In preparation for a recent trip to Rome, Florence and Venice, I read the following books (in addition to 5 guide books): The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone, Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon, The Medici: Power, Money and Ambition in the Italian Renaissance by Paul Strathern, The Venetians: A New History from Marco Polo to Casanova by Paul Strathern, Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World, Adrian Goldsworthy, How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower by Adrian Goldsworthy, and The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World by Paul Robert Walker. I used Audible.com for all of them, so I could continue with my art work while listening. I loved the performances by the readers almost as much as I enjoyed the books.
Although the Renaissance is definitely the star of the show in a tour of Italy, I want to highlight a couple of pieces from the Middle Ages today.
Andrea Pisano, a sculptor and architect (c. 1290-1348) executed panels for the Campanile (bell tower) of the Duomo (Cathedral) in Florence. These included artisans and workers at work, such as ploughing, building, weaving, painting and forging metal. I loved these little panels. The originals have been removed from the Companile and installed in the Cathedral Museum. They are thus being preserved, and also are easier to see.
A second thing that fascinated me were the inlaid marble floors, especially in the Duomo (Cathedral) in Siena. Although the cathedral itself was completed 1215 – 1263, the work on the floors continued in the 14th through 16th Century. About 40 artists worked on the 56 floor panels.
The earliest method they used was “graffito,” scratching lines in the marble that were filled with pitch. (yes the term graffiti comes from this word.) The effect is of drawing.
Later they used the “intarsia” method, which had been perfected in Islamic North Africa. It was use to create intricately fitted different colored stones into elaborate pictures. Actually “intarsia” mostly refers to wood inlay. For stone it is called “pietra dura.”
Even though I sort of understand how this was done, I can’t imagine how the accuracy in fitting together the stone was achieved. Today it is carried on in Agra, India. And a workshop still exists in Florence. I want to follow up on this in the future.