Metal sculpture in Florence

A few weeks ago I posted some photos of Florentine wrought ironwork. Here is a follow-up featuring Florentine metalwork closer to the fine art end of the spectrum. This is a huge subject with a great tradition but these are just a few pictures that appealed to me.

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The main bronze doors of Florence Cathedral by Augusto Passaglia

The casting of relief-decorated bronze doors has been a major art form in Florence since the start of the Renaissance. In fact, many classic texts date the true start of the Italian Renaissance to the sculpting of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s doors for Florence’s Baptistery.

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“The Annunciation” – A panel in a side door of Florence Cathedral

Sadly, the two sets of doors that Ghiberti made for the Baptistery have now been replaced by modern copies in order to preserve the originals. The copies are superb, however, and a great testament to an enduring Florentine bronze casting tradition.

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One of the North doors of the Baptistery (a modern exact replica)

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The second set of doors by Ghiberti were christened “The Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo

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Detail from “The Gates of Paradise” (a modern replica)

Cast sculpture can be found throughout Florence both in the galleries and out in public spaces. A favourite of mine is the fountains in the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata by Pietro Tacca.

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Detail from a mannerist fountain by Pietro Tacca

As well as skills with bronze, Florence has long been renowned as a centre for gold-smithing. In the Pitti Palace fine examples are displayed of gold working from many periods.

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A gold mounted drinking horn

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A large gold snail featuring a real seashell

Finally, though not high art, I noticed a number small metal tortoises scattered around the city, often in hard to spot places and usually carrying heavy loads on their backs.sculpture 8

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See also: Florentine Ironwork

 

 

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Ironwork in Florence

When the family took a short break in Florence a couple of weeks ago we were all struck by the amount of wrought ironwork attached to walls and covering ground floor windows. Much of this ironwork dates back to renaissance times but the tradition of using metal in attractive and interesting ways continues today.

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Wrought iron bars covering the ground floor window of an old building

In medieval and renaissance times Florence was a turbulent place, with civil unrest, invasion and religious upheaval all being regular hazards. Measures to keep unwanted intruders out of your property were essential.

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Over time the window coverings became less utilitarian and more decorative

 

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Wandering the streets of Florence you see many variations of the blacksmith’s art

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A more modern take on the window bars concept

During the renaissance, streets and buildings were lit by burning torches inserted into brackets on walls. Different designs of bracket can be seen throughout the old city.

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Bracket for a torch

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Later these torch brackets also became much more elaborate like this dragon

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An elaborate lantern

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The metalwork tradition continued when new kinds of street lighting were introduced

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Many interesting balconies continue the public metalwork tradition

Stokesay Castle

A few weeks ago we spent a weekend in the lovely city of Hereford. As well as spending time visiting the beautiful cathedral and interesting shops we also took a trip by car to see an old favourite of ours.

Stokesay Castle is a medieval fortified manor house situated on the A49 between Hereford and Shrewsbury. It was originally built in the 1280’s and much of that first building phase has somehow survived.

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The entrance to Stokesay Castle with its ornate gatehouse

Some additions and alterations were made in the 16th century, most notably the construction of an ornate gatehouse. The only other major change to the layout came during the civil war when the Parliamentarians demolished the curtain wall after the castle was surrendered to them.

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The South Tower is the most military looking part of the structure

Stokesay was built as a grand country residence by a powerful wool merchant named Richard of Ludlow, who was one of the richest people in England.

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The great hall stands just as originally built

The great hall is the stand out feature of the castle and gives a powerful impression of how basic life in a medieval household must have been. We had last visited Stokesay about fifteen years before on a warm summer’s day. This time we came on a bleak freezing day in February and it really brought home how cold life was in large uninsulated buildings without glazing to keep the wind out.

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The impressive roof of the great hall

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The main door to the great hall

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The carved wooden fireplace surround in the 16th century solar

Things became more civilized in the sixteenth century when a private room adjoining the great hall was converted into a solar, with glazed windows and wood panelled walls.

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The elaborate and decorative gatehouse

The building of the decorative gatehouse as part of the sixteenth century updating illustrates how life had become much less dangerous on the Welsh borders by this time. The gatehouse is very beautiful but looks slightly incongruous in the context of the other buildings. The missing outer castle wall adds to its sense of dislocation.

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This serpent is one of many carved decorations on the gatehouse walls

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Stokesay Castle is situated in a beautiful valley

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Sheep grazing by the castle

Today, Stokesay Castle is owned and maintained by English Heritage. In a world where heritage sites too often try to be entertaining, this old building that has survived so miraculously is presented to visitors with the minimum modern embellishment possible and that is very refreshing. If you are ever in that part of the world it is worth a visit.

A Trip to Rome

Last week my husband Alex and daughter Isla made a short trip to Rome. Here are some of their photographs and thoughts on the experience.

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Roman ruins on the Palatine hill in bright early morning sunshine

You cannot do justice to all that Rome has to offer in three days. We tried to cover just a few of the tourist highlights but it was more of a brief introduction than a chance to understand this historic city. Visiting in January has the advantage that the sites are much less crowded but you can end up arriving during a cold snap as we did. The bright sunshine in our photos does not convey how cold it was, with ice on the puddles and a biting wind (we passed on the gelato!)

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The Palatine ruins were much bigger and more interesting than anticipated. We were left feeling we should have done much more reading before the visit.

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The low morning sunshine made for some dramatic shadows

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The scale of these buildings that are heading towards 2000 years old is staggering but it is very hard to imagine what they would have looked like when clad in marble and plaster

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Fragments of marble dotted all around give clues to what these palaces must have looked like in their glory

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The Roman Forum – A fascinating but puzzling jumble of foundations and disjointed bits of architecture

We both found the Roman Forum a real challenge to the imagination. You try to picture it as it must have been in its heyday but also as it was in the dark ages, buried under soil and used for grazing animals.

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The Colosseum – Rome’s equivalent of Wembley Stadium but a bit more gruesome!

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Vaticam Museums – The Hall of Maps. The Museums gave a feeling of decoration gone mad. After a while the obsessive covering of every surface with paint or gilding began to feel oppressive

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The decoration of the Vatican Museums varies wildly in quality but offers lots of amusing details. This very human lion sitting by his St. Jerome caught our eye

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Beautiful tourist Rome – The Tiber from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo

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The Baths of Diocletian

On our final morning in Rome we visited an unexpected gem, The Baths of Diocletian. Built around 300 AD this vast complex offered bathing for several thousand people and it really brings home the scale that the Romans built on. Equally impressive is the sensitive reuse of the buildings. (Building onto historic ruins rather than knocking them down to build afresh seems a notable theme in Rome.) Around 1563-4, Michelangelo worked to convert the ruins into a church (Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs) and a monastery. At the age of 86 this was his last architectural project. He placed the new building work inside the original walls leaving the Roman brickwork exposed which works beautifully. Today the Basilica remains but the rest of the complex has largely been converted into part of the Museum of Rome.

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Michelangelo’s Cloister – Part of the monastic complex at the Baths of Diocletian, now part of the Museum of Rome

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In the centre of the gardens are iconic sculptures of animal heads

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Around the huge cloister are hundreds of examples of classical Roman sculpture

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Among the sculptures are many wonderful grotesque heads

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This refined lady could belong in a Victorian drawing room but is from a tomb dated to around 40AD

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A display of child’s heads was very moving and powerful

On the flight back to London, Isla amused herself by composing a series of Rome-related acrostic poems. Here is one inspired by the Diocletian Baths and the display of child portraits shown above:

Dismembered heads seem entirely
Innocuous until the
Object in question is a
Child. Pale lips an eternal moment from speech,
Locks of hair unmoved by chill breeze, and
Eyes never carved to completion.
They loved this face enough to make it marble. While the laughing boy
Is now forgotten, love
Anchors to his every
Nick and fracture.

 

 

India – Early Morning

I recently made another trip to visit India, the fourth time I have gone there and every visit is unique. This time instead of concentrating on crafts we were visiting some of the great heritage sights in Central India. I hope to produce a number of posts based on the photos I took but for a start here are a few pics of a beautiful morning spent in a beautiful heritage hotel.

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The Neemrana Deo Bagh in Gwalior is a fabulous place to stay. Converted from a 17th century aristocrat’s residence, it features two 17th-18th century temples, two cenotaphs and a beautiful arched pavilion all within the grounds. What an amazing place to wake up in!

The grounds of Deo Bagh are renowned for the variety of bird life

The grounds of Deo Bagh are renowned for the variety of bird life

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Making a new acquaintance

Making a new acquaintance

The tranquil light of morning

The tranquil light of morning

Japan 6 – Food on a Budget

Alex and I both love Japanese food but eating in fancy restaurants in Japan can be extremely expensive. On our trip there last summer our target was to eat as cheaply as possible but without entirely missing out on the wide variety of culinary experiences Japan can offer. Of course you could stay in Japan’s cities without trying anything beyond McDonalds and KFC (we used to know people who did just that!) but you might as well stay at home. Noodles are the other obvious low cost food option that is available everywhere but is lacking a bit of variety if you choose it every day.
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Japanese restaurant chains offer a wide choice of delicious food

Japanese restaurant chains offer a wide choice of delicious food

Our approach was to eat as cheaply as possible for most meals and then splash out a bit more once in a while for something special. Most days we ate convenience food for at least one meal. Fresh ready to eat meals in Japan are very different from Western equivalents. Typically they consist of meat and vegetables over noodles or rice in a plastic tray or bowl but things like dumplings or sushi are also available. We started out using convenience stores such as Seven Eleven. These were good but the food had a mass produced feel and seemed a little pricey for what you got.

Seafood with rice and vegetables. Convenience Store meals are tasty but basic

Seafood with rice and vegetables. Convenience Store meals are tasty but basic

Later we discovered that big supermarkets and department store food halls offered even better choice and value. Japanese supermarkets time-stamp all sushi and start marking it down after about four hours.

Even budget sushi is great quality in Japan

Even budget sushi is great quality in Japan

Simple but delicious snack for lunch. A slice of grilled salmon with grated daikon and soy sauce

Simple but delicious snack for lunch. A slice of grilled salmon with grated daikon and soy sauce

When we stayed in a traditional inn or Minshuku we splashed out on the Japanese breakfast. Fish, rice, pickles and miso soup are not everyone’s favourite start to the day but we love it.

Japanese breakfast in a traditional inn

Japanese breakfast in a traditional inn

We also splashed out on a wonderful evening meal at an inn one night.

The evening meal at an inn

The evening meal at an inn

Not all our meals were traditional Japanese food. One night in Kanazawa we had a very fine Sri-Lankan curry meal. On a rainy afternoon in Matsumoto the only eating place we could find open was a Japanese “Hawaiian” themed burger restaurant which proved to be amazing. The burgers were pure steak and made on the premises – a real surprise!

Sri-Lankan food in Kanazawa

Sri-Lankan food in Kanazawa

A wonderful "Hawaian" burger

A wonderful “Hawaiian” burger

Japan has many different budget restaurant chains serving all types of food. We decided that our favourite was “Yayoi”, a big chain with outlets all over Japan (and a number of other Asian countries).

The Japanese take on the concept of a mixed-grill

Japanese take on the concept of a mixed-grill in a Yayoi restaurant

Finally, you cannot talk about food in Japan without mentioning the ubiquitous plastic food models on display outside almost every budget restaurant. While many of the big city food outlets now make an effort to cater for customers who cannot read Japanese, the food models are still a great help in deciding what you are going to eat.

Plastic models of food are seen everywhere

Plastic models of food are seen everywhere

Mmmmm! yummy plastic food

Mmmmm! yummy plastic food

Japan 5 – Hida no Sato

Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village) is a wonderful open air museum situated on the outskirts of Takayama, a delightful town in the mountains of central Honshu, north of Nagoya. The site consists of around 30 old buildings from all over the mountains that were dismantled and then rebuilt here in the 1970’s. The buildings are mainly large farmhouses of various types and most are over 100 years old.

The old buildings have been re-erected as a small village in a rural landscape

The old buildings have been re-erected as a small village in a rural landscape

The Hida region of Gifu Prefecture is subject to heavy snowfall (often up to two metres) and the different styles of architecture show alternative approaches to dealing with this climate. In the north of the region the farmers built using steeply sloped roofs so that snow would slide off. This is the “gassho-zukuri” (praying hands) style of building used at the nearby Shirakawa-go village that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other areas built houses with very strong, low-pitched roofs so that people could climb up and shovel off the excess snow.

The "gassho-zukuri" farmhouses were built with steep thatched roofs

The “gassho-zukuri” farmhouses were built with steep thatched roofs

Other buildings have shallow-pitched roofs where snow could be easily cleared

Other buildings have shallow-pitched roofs where snow could be easily cleared

Visitors are able to wander around and enter the buildings. Inside are many of the everyday tools and artifacts used by their original inhabitants. Each structure also functions as a museum for one aspect of traditional mountain life, including weaving, house building and repair, cultivation, transport, etc.

The houses are packed with many original artifacts

The houses are packed with many original artifacts

This building displayed many looms and other fabric processing equipment

This building displayed many examples of looms and other fabric processing equipment

Models are also used to show house construction techniques and such things as farm layouts.

A model showing the construction of a "gassho-zukuri" house

A model showing the construction of a “gassho-zukuri” house

The immense size of many buildings is very impressive. Large extended families would have all lived together under one roof.

Many of the farmhouses are very large spaces

Many of the farmhouses are very large spaces

Most buildings also feature space for the domestic animals

Buildings also feature space for the domestic animals alongside the people

Hido no Sato even features an original village well that has been painstakingly reconstructed on the site.

A village well

A village well

A view down the well showing the handmade wooden buckets

A view down the well showing the handmade wooden buckets

A fascinating old phot showing one of the buildings before it was moved

A fascinating old photo showing one of the buildings before it was moved

Hida no Sato is a very peacefull and picturesque place to visit

Hida no Sato is a very peaceful and picturesque place to visit

Some old thatched roofs have developed into interesting little ecosystems

Some old thatched roofs have developed into interesting little ecosystems

The village has a couple of little rice paddies that were developing a nice crop when we visited

The village even has a couple of little rice paddies that were developing a nice crop when we visited

Developing rice

Developing rice

This is a wonderful place to visit and certainly proved much more interesting than we had anticipated. In one part of the site visitors can watch traditional craftspeople at work and buy their wares.

The doll is called "Sarubobo" and is a symbol of Takayama

The doll is called “Sarubobo” and is a traditional symbol of Takayama