Vintage Italian Postcards

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Presepi

The Christmas Nativity is a big part of Christmas, the local schools’ display, the miniature version in the local department store or large public displays in town centres the world over. Although not started by St Francis, it was popularised by him, when in 1223 he set up a living nativity in the caves of Graccio, Umbria. It featured people and animals who depicted the birth of Christ and it was said that the site was responsible for a number of miracles not long after this event.

During the Renaissance, craftsmen in Val Gardeno, a small valley in the Dolemite mountains began crafting and painting model figures of the nativity, the presepi, in the local stone. These would be brought out and displayed during the festive season and as word spread, people came from far and wide to see the annual exhibition of their work.

400 years later and the “Presepi” - the cribs as they are known in Italian, have now become a popular attraction, interest and hobby the world over. Although nowhere greater than their native Italy. These dioramas are made from a wide variety of materials, in Sicily they use coral, mother of pearl and bone, while wood, stone and clay are preferred in other regions. The most sought after Presepi are those from Naples where in the 18th century a flourishing trade developed producing the little models for the local gentry. Via S. Gregorio Armeno in Naples is still the most concentrated area in the world for the production of the figures.

While initially representations included the manger with baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds and wise men, artists quickly added their own interpretations. Today you can add boxes of fruit and veg, joints of meat and fish, flagons of wine and trays of bread, a wide variety of buildings, outhouses and stables. In fact with enough money and space you could conceivable recreate Bethlehem itself.

During the Christmas season there a number of exhibitions of the “Presepi” art, fairs where you can start your own collection and re-enactments of the “living nativity”. The most popular being in Assisi where 60 to 70 locals in period costume and featuring many live animals recreate Christ’s birth. Other living scenes can be visited at Voteranno and Celaba, in the Upper Tiber Valley, while the Cathedral in Citta di Castello hosts the 9th annual Napoletani Presepi Exhibition with collections from all over Italy and Latin America.

Donatello's David returns to public gaze

The first major work of Renaissance sculpture, Donatello's bronze of David, is nearing the end of a complex restoration process.

The statue will be unveiled to the public during an inauguration ceremony on November 28 in Florence at the Bargello Museum.
The final phase of the 18-month restoration has seen the famed statue entirely closed off to visitors because of the sensitive tools being used.

Technological innovations have been used throughout the process, such as laser combs invented specially to swipe clean the delicate gold leaf that decorates parts of the work.
The 200,000-euro project followed a major check-up on the state of the work, carried out early in 2007. The David was subjected to X-rays and a range of other more sophisticated diagnostic tests.

Most experts believe Donatello (1386-1466) sculpted the sensuous work in the 1440s.
It depicts David standing with one foot on Goliath's severed head. Apart from a hat and a pair of boots, David is naked.

At the time of its creation, it was probably the first free standing bronze nude since ancient times and it caused a sensation.

The almost feminine physique contrasts with Michelangelo's powerful, masculine depiction of the biblical figure, sculpted between 1500 and 1504.

It is also very different from Donatello's earlier marble version - created around 1412 - in which David is clothed.

Donatello, whose full name was Donato di Niccolo' di Betto Bardi, was the son of a Florentine woolcomber.

As a teenager, he worked in the studio of noted sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti.
Later, he travelled to Rome with the great architect Filippo Brunelleschi to study the monuments of antiquity.

Donatello's dramatic departure from stylised Gothic art is credited with kick-starting the Renaissance.
The Florentine sculptor even anticipated the use of perspective that is often thought a painterly invention - as can be seen in his early bas relief of St George and the Dragon on Florence's Orsanmichele church.

Other major Donatello works include a grim prophet called Habbakuk - or popularly, Zuccone (big head) - on Florence's Duomo and an equestrian warlord in Padua called the Gattamelata.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Upper Tiber Valley - the 90th anniversary of the ending of the Great War.

Yesterday evening saw the launch of the exhibition in the Upper Tiber Valley of the exhibition to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the ending of the Great War. Historical enthusiasts were amazed by the wealth of detail assembled by Alvarro Tachini, during the four years of preparation for this event, from personal sources in the local Upper Tiber Valley, not just the fighters, but also their families.

The Mayors of Citta' di Castello (Umbria) and San Sepolcro (Tuscany) gave short addresses and read a letter from the President of the Italian Republic complimenting the organiser, Mr Tachini, because, probably, for the first time, two compeditive adjoining Italian regions had combined in complete harmony in order to support this wonderful effort.

The total content of the exhibition has been photographed and reproduced in a most attractive format, and is now produced as a good quality book available to the public. ( price publisher details sponsor)

For students of this period, collectors, social historians and archivists, this work is an important and deeply moving account of the sufferings endured by all classes of the population, and which was repeated in different lands and different languages for most of the peoples of of a once divided Europe.

The terrible military casualties incurred during the war were overshadowed by the effects of the Spanish 'flu', a plague that struck down millions in the war torn countries, and then, to add to the misery, an earthquake. All of these grim details are recorded in the exhibition, and the book, and serve to remind us all that this valley in central Italy was not always the green and pleasant land that we find today.