A Visit to Trieste

Trieste, what a pleasant surprise!! An often overlooked gem of the Adriatic, TRIESTE provided lots of beautiful sites and emotions.

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We visited the Castle of MiramareMiramare, which stands on the tip of the promontory of Grignano. Commissioned and built between 1856 and 1860 by Archduke Maximilian of Austria, also eventually Emperor of Mexico, the building is positioned overlooking the sea, providing a stunning view of the Gulf of Trieste.

The Castello is surrounded by 22 hectars of a beautiful botanical garden and its interiors feature sumptuous original historical furniture. Miramare has more than 20 rooms including Maximilian’s bedroom, furnished as a ship’s cabin. The poet Giosue Carducci speaks of the “white towers” of Miramare, with its English and Italian style garden, stepping down towards the sea with a beautiful ‘Scalinata’.

What a fabulous place to visit, don’t miss it!! We wholeheartedly  recommend it  :-)


Italy’s Iron Crown

Iron Crown
Italy's Iron Crown

The tradition of Italian jewelry-making and of silver- and gold-smithing goes back centuries.  But most objects of silver and gold, whether made for aesthetic or utilitarian purposes, belonged to wealthy individuals, and their historical vicissitudes were not necessarily recorded for posterity.  Some institutional collections, however, such as royal treasures, have recorded histories that offer fascinating details on the historical fate of the jewels of which they were comprised.

Italy, as is well-known, was a kingdom until the end of the second World War, when the people opted, by plebiscite, for a republican form of government.  The House of Savoy was one of the oldest aristocratic houses in Europe, having ruled over shifting boundaries since the tenth century.  And of course there were the jewels of the Crown, which eventually became the official jewels of the Kingdom of Italy, to be used only on solemn state occasions.

The chief piece of the collection is undoubtedly the Iron Crown, which, for centuries, has been kept in the Duomo di Monza.  This crown is of 8th century Longobard manufacture, and, according to tradition, it incorporates a circular insert made of metal from one of the nails from Christ’s cross.  The Iron Crown thus antedates the Savoy dynasty, and it is a symbol of the Kingdom of Italy quite apart from the historical vicissitudes of which dynasty happened to rule the country.  It was used, in fact, to crown the German kings of Italy in the Middle Ages, the kings of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, and the kings of the Lombardo-Veneto kingdom, but never a Savoy king.

The crown, despite its name, is made of a silver-gold alloy.  It is constructed in six segments joined vertically to each other.  Since the crown, in its present state, is too small to fit the head of a grown man, it is hypothesized that it was originally composed of EIGHT segments, two of which have somehow been lost.  The crown is adorned with 26 embossed golden roses, 22 precious stones of various colors, and 24 cloisonne’ plaques.

The historical value of the Iron Crown is inestimable.  The legend of the nail from the True Cross goes back to Empress Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine.  The crown itself was commissioned by Teodolinda, Queen of the Longobards, and it was used thereafter to crown the Kings of Italy, amongst which Theodoric, Charles the Great, and Frederick Barbarossa.

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The Nativity Scene in Italian Art – 1

Nativity scene
Italian Nativity Scene

The Nativity Scene, called the “Presepe” in Italian, began with Saint Francis of Assisi, who re-enacted the scene of Christ’s birth in a living tableau in Greccio in 1223.  While conventional two-dimensional representations of the Nativity were plentiful in medieval and Renaissance Italy, the idea of a three-dimensional representation achieved via sculpted figures was slow to take off.  The earliest known artist to have attempted this was Arnolfo di Cambio, who, in 1283, created a representation “del tutto tondo”, in his own words.  But it was not until the first half of the Seicento that great advances in this new art form were made, starting in Lombardia  and Liguria and then extending elsewhere.  The artists associated with these advances were Antonio Bagarelli at Modena, Guido Mazzoni a Piobbico, Federico Brandani at Urbino, etc.

There are three themes that are played out in the Presepe.  They are the Mystery, the Annunciation, and the Diversorium.  The Mystery is of course, in Christian doctrine, the mystery of the Son of God taking on a human nature for the salvation of mankind,  The Annunciation in this context refers to announcing the fateful event to the world, symbolised by the shepherds receiving word from the Angel.  The Diversorium is a fancy Latin word which refers to the location, in this case the hut, in which the holy birth takes place.

The tale of the Nativity on which the Presepe is based can be found in Luke and Matthew.  Origen added the now canonical bue e asinello in the third century.  A point of deep theological import was the depiction of the Virgin Mary.  Should she be represented as a woman who had just given birth, attended by midwives and fortune tellers, as was common at that time?  Or should she be shown immune to the stress and the pain of human childbirth?  The former representation emphasised heavily the human nature of Christ; the second brought to the fore His divine nature, making it seem that his birth had not been of the normal human variety.

The Presepe as an art form reached its zenith in the Bourbon Naples of the 18th century.  A later article will detail its progress from these small beginning to the baroque masterpieces housed at the Museo di San Martino.

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Le Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome

Scuderie Art Museum
Le Scuderie del Quirinale

Some of the most acclaimed art exhibits to have taken place in Rome in recent years have been held at the Scuderie del Quirinale.  These have included works from quintessentially Italian artists, such as Antonello da Messina and Giovanni Bellini, as well as international collections on loan from from their permanent homes.  Such were the 100 Masterworks of the Hermitage and the masterworks of the Guggenheim, of which more later.  Notable other exhibits were Birth of an Empire, the Ottocento, Pop Art, Metaphysics, and Futurism.Over a scant 10 years the 32 exhibits hosted at the Scuderie have been characterized by uncompromising professionalism and unflagging passion, with the result that this former Museum of the Carriage has been indelibly etched in the memories of artists, art historians, and of the public, as one of the more prestigious venues of its kind in the world.  The physical building is itself interesting, and, as is true for many buildings in Italy, has a somewhat mysterious history which is well worth recounting.

Built in the first half of the 18th century, the building is located between the Piazza del Quirinale and the Salita di Montecavallo.  For the first two centuries of life its quiet purpose was to provide logistic support to its more imposing and important neighbor, the Palazzo del Quirinale, which is the Italian equivalent of the American White House in Washington.  One of the roles played by the Scuderie was to serve as a garage for the conveyances of the Pope, and, later, of the Italian royal family.  In the 80’s it was turned into a museum, the Museo delle Carrozze, in recognition of its early role as a rimessa.

The Exhibitions

A new life for the Scuderie began in1997, when the Office of the Italian Presidency, to which the building belongs, gave permission to the Commune of Rome to remodel and use the historic building for major art exhibitions.  Following an international competition, the architect Gae Aulenti was selected to restore the structure and design the exhibition spaces.  The work was performed in record time, just in time to inaugurate the new millennium.  On December 21, 1999, this most recent addition to the world’s top-tier exhibition halls was officially launched with the attendance of the President of the Republic, the Mayor of Rome, and the Italian Minister of Culture.  At its launch the Scuderie featured the 100 Masterworks of the Hermitage, obtained on loan from Saint Petersburg, the largest outpouring of art in that museum’s history.  Included were masterworks by Degas, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin, Rousseau  le Douanier, Vlaminck, Derein, Vallotton, Vuillard, Sisley, Pisarro, Matisse e Picasso.  They were to remain at the Scuderie until June 2000.  Five years later, in 2005, there followed an equally important exhibit, the Masterworks of the Guggenheim, which definitely solidified the position of the Scuderie as one of the premier artistic centers of international collectivism.

Another important paradigm that animates the choice and programmation of exhibited material derives from the expressed goal to enhance the public’s understanding and appreciation for Italian classical and modern art.  This goal has been amply supported by great exhibits dedicated to such figures as Botticelli, Alberto Burri, Antonello da Messina.  Entire historical periods, such as the Renaissance and the Risorgimento, have been featured.  The place of Italian art in the larger context of international art has been explored in a series of thoughtful and innovative shows (Maestà di Roma, Rembrandt, Metafisica, Velazquez, Bernini, Luca Giordano, Da Giotto a Malevic. La reciproca meraviglia, Dürer e l’Italia.)

Not least of the Scuderie’s endeavors is carrying out a mainly summer program dedicated to the great figures of the international cultural scene (Sebastiāo Salgado, Wim Wenders e Santiago Calatrava.)  These are extraordinary events that manage to deliver maximum enjoyment and comprehensibility to the public, while retaining  maximum historical and artistic rigor and innovation.

The Scuderie, after 10 years of uninterrupted successful exhibitions, represents simultaneously the realization of an ambitious artistic goal and a departure point for similarly important endeavors in the future.

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