Exploring the Path of Del Sarto, Pontormo, and Rosso Fiorentino
Below is an essay written by Beth Fagan, a member of Friends of Florence’s Council of Academic Advisors and a 2015 June Program participant.
Traveling with Friends of Florence: Discovering Michelangelo’s Legacy
Private visits to the world’s most famous works of art. Meals that set your mouth afire with amazing tastes. Spectacular palazzi and hosts who are as interesting as they are gracious. Two intrepid professors named Bill. Our charmingly brilliant hostess Simonetta and her feisty sister, Renée. New friendships forged. Watching dedicated Florentine restorers bring back masterpieces to life. Yes, it was another Friends of Florence trip!
With each Friends of Florence trip, and this is my third, we undertake an adventure in learning to expand our appreciation for times past. Our guides, the indefatigable professors Bill Cook, historian extraordinaire and emeritus from SUNY Geneseo, and the enthusiastic Bill Wallace, renowned Michelangelo scholar and distinguished art historian from Washington University, inspired us with love for the period. As usual, Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda, president of Friends of Florence, planned an intimate and exclusive experience for the group, with private viewings and magical evenings.
Hence we met in the beautiful city of Florence to trace Michelangelo’s legacy, and discover how his work forever changed artistic values and tastes.
Michelangelo’s giant figure of Dusk, Crepuscolo, stared down at us from atop his sarcophagus as we silently entered the Medici Chapel. It was after official closing, and we were his last visitors of the day. Night, with her highly polished surface demurely shone like the moon from across the chapel. Then, Wallace began to weave his magic, opening our eyes to these inspiring tombs, carved five hundred years earlier by Michelangelo.
We changed for dinner, and the first of our culinary extravaganzas started at Buca Lapi in the Antinori wine cellar.
Friday dawned hot but clear. We started with supper – The Last Supper – by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the San Marco complex. As Cook pointed out, this was the refectory for guests of the monastery who contemplated their supper before Christ. A 15-minute bus ride and we descended at a hidden gem, Andrea del Sarto’s Last Supper in the refectory of San Salvi. Michelangelo had completed his Sistine Ceiling in 1512, and we already could see its influence on del Sarto’s colors and figures.
Then to the Badia at Passignano to see a Friends of Florence renovation in progress. White-haired with twinkling eyes, the Badia’s lively prior escorted us into the refectory. A blast of cold damp air came from the dark hall. Scaffold covered one end. Brother and sister restoration team, Andrea and Ilaria Cellini, took us up the scaffold to see up-close Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper, one of his first commissions. The fresco had been badly damaged, pigment coming away from the surface and aggressive repainting in many places. Ilaria spoke about the work with such love and admiration, you could tell she was honored to be part of the process of saving it.
Lunch at the Antinori vineyard, where the cool crisp Vermentino rolled across your tongue, and each course danced with freshness and flavor.
Pontormo Awaits: After carefully checking our identity cards against their list, an officer of the Carabinieri escorted our group of 15 across the cortile behind the Santa Maria Novella complex, through another cortile, and finally up the stairs into a small dark chapel, Cappella dei Papi, commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515 during his stay in Florence. Lights came on and Veronica showed us her veil. The extraordinary fresco by Pontormo took your breath away. Our Carabinieri guide admitted he’d worked there 20 years and never seen the chapel, as its key was held in a sealed envelope in a locked box in his superior’s office.
Escaping the Carabinieri, we crossed the Arno for a private visit to Santa Felicità and its gated Capponi Chapel with Pontormo’s Deposition. “Secondo me,” it’s the most beautiful painting in Florence. Here, Pontormo owes much to Michelangelo and the Sistine Ceiling for his colors, the serpentine twisting of his figures, and overall composition. Interestingly, even Michelangelo called Pontormo the best painter of the time. Our private visit to the Bargello followed. As the clock struck 8, it was time for wine and hors d’oeuvres on the rooftop of the Gondi Palace looking across Florence with Marchese and Marchesa Gondi. In their early sixties, he runs the family’s wine-making operations and she handles their organic olive oil production.
Late afternoon the next day found us in Rome, climbing Bernini’s Vatican Palace staircase behind the Bronze Doors. The charming Director of Conservation Marco Pratelli led us for an after-hours visit to the Pauline and Sistine Chapels. Wallace made the Pauline frescos come alive for us, as St. Peter glowered and St. Paul followed our movements in the chapel. We crossed the frescoed hallway to the Sistine Chapel, where Cook regaled us with its history and religious significance. And then, magic. A choir entered the chapel and began to sing. Music floated up to heaven.
Sunday morning dawned cool and clear. Our bus took us in search of more Pontormo. From his frescos in the hilltop Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano to the stunning Visitation of the Madonna and Elizabeth in the little church at Carmignano, we were evermore enthralled. Pontormo is the master of inventive colors and combinations – as pale pinks and oranges jumped at us from his panel!
We lunched at the inestimable trattoria Da Delfina, where food just keeps coming. Afterwards, Friends of Florence Board Member Claudio Caprotti and his lovely companion Lorena warmly welcomed us into their lovingly restored, elegant Galluzzo home.
Even on our last day, the wonders continued. Entry to the forever closed Chiostro dello Scalzo to see the grisaille frescos of Andrea del Sarto was followed by a visit to the Cloister of the Vows at SS Annunziata to see restoration progress made possible by the Friends of Florence funding. For those of us who have been visiting SS Annunziata for 40 years, it’s a revelation to see these truly beautiful frescos by Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo and others emerge from the black soot of time. Lead Restorer Gioia Germani spoke with such pride as she described the many challenges faced daily in restoring these masterworks. We could have stayed for hours, but our private visit to the Uffizi awaited, followed by a walk along the Vasari Corridor, before lunch hosted by Simonetta and her charming husband Conte Momi Brandolini d’Adda.
Finally, our last supper held beneath the challenging gaze of David. “Such a wonder!” to quote Wallace, who was quoting chroniclers of the day. Plus, it’s always a treat to visit the Galleria Academia, home to Michelangelo’s slaves twisting in their marble prisons and countless seicento artworks restored through grants by Friends of Florence.
Let me end with a heartfelt “Thank You” to Friends of Florence. The artwork you are saving is priceless. The restorers you have hired are not only expert but so very respectful of the works they restore. Your funding model is brilliant as it directly pays those restoring artworks, thus ensuring funds are spent to complete conservation, not enrich governments or institutions. Your officers and faculty volunteer their time, again ensuring funds go toward conservation. You, Friends of Florence, have set an admirable standard with a noble purpose, helping to ensure our children and grandchildren will be able to appreciate the art of Florence for centuries to come.
Please click here to download an article by Carlo Migliavacca (in Italian) about Friends of Florence that appears in the current issue of the Italian magazine Bell’Italia.
Thursday, June 11th
- Afternoon welcome lecture by historians Bill Wallace and Bill Cook, followed by a private visit to the Medici Chapels.
- Dinner at the historic Buca Lapi, within the wine cellars of Palazzo Antinori.
Friday, June 12th
- Followed the path of a selection of frescoes from the Last Supper cycle across Florence, with an exploration of the Last Supper by Ghirlandaio in San Marco and by Andrea del Sarto in San Salvi.
- Visited Badia a Passignano to view the current Friends of Florence restoration project of Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper and enjoyed a luncheon amongst the vineyards and olive groves near this exceptional Abbey.
- Private visit to the Cappella dei Papi in the Santa Maria Novella Cloister, which is closed to the public and viewable only by special permission of the Carabinieri.
- Special afternoon visit to the church of Santa Felicità to view the extraordinary Pontormo masterpieces found there.
- Private visit to the Bargello Museum to view several Michelangelo sculptures and other important artworks, followed by cocktails and dinner in the Palazzo Gondi with our hosts Marchese Bernardo and Marchesa Vittoria Gondi.
Saturday, June 13th
- Traveled via fast train to Rome.
- Viewed Michelangelo’s Moses and Risen Christ, followed by a traditional Roman luncheon at the charming “Vecchia Roma” restaurant.
- A private visit to the magnificent Palazzo Colonna to view their collection, following the path of Pontormo, Ridolfo da Ghirlandaio, and other artists.
- A private visit to the Vatican to view the unique masterpieces by Michelangelo in both the Pauline Chapel and the Sistine Chapel, kindly arranged by the Papal offices and the Director of the Vatican Museums.
- Returned to Florence via train for a late casual dinner at the Trattoria Cammillo.
Sunday, June 14th
- Visited the Medici villa of Poggio a Caiano, then traveled to Carmignano to see the fascinating Visitation by Pontormo that has been recently restored.
- Lunch at “Da Delfina,” followed by a scenic drive to Volterra to view the fascinating Deposition by Rosso Fiorentino.
- Dinner on the terraces of the lovely Villa San Michele – thought to be designed by Michelangelo – on the hillsides of Fiesole overlooking the city of Florence.
Monday, June 15th
- Morning visit to the Chiostro dell Scalzo, followed by a viewing of the Cloister of the Vows in the Church of SS Annunziata, a current major restoration projects of Friends of Florence.
- Private visit to the Uffizi Gallery, to follow the artistic path running from Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo to the works of Del Sarto and Pontormo. We will also view the Gallery’s Botticelli and Pollaiolo Collection, which is the focus of another current Friends of Florence major project in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the devastating flood of 1966.
- Luncheon at the private club the Circolo dell’ Unione, hosted by Simonetta and Momi Brandolini d’Adda.
- Free time in the afternoon.
- Private visit to the Accademia Gallery, followed by cocktails and dinner in this extraordinary venue amidst Michelangelo’s David and Slaves and other masterpieces by Pontormo and Andrea del Sarto. Several members of the Board of Friends of Florence, as well as members of our Florence Chapter joined us for this final evening.
Tuesday, June 16th