The Monumental Scale of Palazzo Strozzi

I’ve lived in New York City, surrounded by skyscrapers. The scale of the buildings is truly impressive as you see them towering overhead, forming narrow canyons as you walk among them. But in many other parts of the US, it’s the outward scale of the size of cities, rather than the upward scale of tall structures, that really stands out. In Europe, the historic city centers may not take that long to traverse on foot, and many of the buildings aren’t skyscrapers, but the scale of the historic structures is often even more impressive, particularly when you consider how long ago they were built.

In Florence, the number of monumental (in every sense) buildings is impressive. When you add in the narrow streets, the buildings that seem large already then seem to double in height. On my first visit to Italy, which started off in Florence, I remember being blown away by the sheer scale and height of the front door of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. I had studied the building in many of my art history courses, but nothing truly prepared me for the reality of the size of it all.

My beloved Palazzo Strozzi is even larger, measuring around 105 feet/32 meters high*, and still remains impressive to me. (Although after all those years in Utrecht, it suddenly seems a bit shorter, since the Domtoren measures in at 368 feet/112.5 meters. Seriously, it’s a GIANT bell tower.) When I visited Florence recently, I still felt a thrill when I saw the Palazzo Strozzi peeking through the gap at the end of a narrow street. As I got closer, it grew taller and taller and soon my head was tilted all the way back as I gazed up at the beautiful rustication and spectacular cornice.

Palazzo Strozzi corner angolo scale photography travel florence

palazzo strozzi rustication iron ring cornice

My father, who was a professional photographer for years, often suggests getting people into a shot to add some interest or give a sense of scale. There’s no shortage of people in Florence, and there were even more people milling around the palazzo this time than during my first visit. All of the tiny ant-like figures really do give a sense of the scale of the building, whether it’s the doorways, the height of the building, or the width of it. And it’s really hard to fit all of it into one photo! It’s a grand, monumental, beautiful building and the scale of my love for it, even after all of these years, is truly hard to measure.

*I had a surprisingly hard time finding the height of the Palazzo Strozzi listed online. I knew I had included it in the paper I’d written on the building, and sure enough, I found the height in the rough draft I have among my notes and photocopies from my research, all bundled up in a big binder. I feel vindicated in keeping all of that through all the moves now.
Palazzo Strozzi rustication museum florence

Palazzo Strozzi rustication museum florence travel scale

The Lettered and Learned Palazzo Bocchi

At university, while studying Renaissance architecture, I wrote a paper on the origins, styles, and uses of rustication. Rustication is essentially the rows of tooled, raised stone often found at least on the ground level of buildings and sometimes around doorways and windows and the corners of buildings. It’s been around since classical times and showed up frequently in Renaissance architecture, unsurprisingly.

Palazzo Bocchi rustication Bologna architecture hebrew inscription hermatena academy

After the blood, sweat, and tears that went into that paper, I could have never wanted to think of rustication again or I could have fallen in love with it completely. In my case, it was the latter. Roommates at uni had to put up with me pointing it out everywhere and talking about it incessantly; parents have had it pointed out extensively; my dear friend who travelled to Italy with me the first time REALLY got the full brunt of my fascination; and G has had to watch me caress it lovingly. And now I have a blog so I can tell EVERYONE about it!

There are a variety of forms of rustication, especially as it developed and became more stylized over the years, but no matter the form, I’m a sucker for a good bit of rustication. So imagine my joy when I was wandering around town one day with Charlie, going wherever his nose directed us, when I came across two buildings facing each other with some truly fantastic rustication. Charlie soon grew impatient, but there was no dragging me away. I was going to soak it all in. I’m still trying to find out about one building, but I did find out about the other, which truly is a fascinating building in its own right: the Palazzo Bocchi (pronounced BOH-key; hear it here).

Achille Bocchi

The palazzo was commissioned by Achille Bocchi, an Italian humanist writer, emblematist, historian and lecturer in Greek, poetry and humanae litterae at the University of Bologna. He lived 1488-1562, and his best-known book, written in 1555, was Symbolicarum quaestionum de universo genere. I love the following description of it:

[It] “takes as its subject the whole of universal knowledge: physics, metaphysics, theology, dialectic, Love, Life and Death, packaging them under the veil of fables and myths.”*

Life, the universe, and everything else, indeed!

Palazzo Bocchi

Bocchi commissioned the palazzo design in 1545/6 from Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, one of the great Mannerism architects and also a native of Bologna. Vignola was responsible for the Villa Farnese in Caprarola and is grouped with Palladio and Serlio as the three main architects who spread the Italian Renaissance architectural style throughout Western Europe. Nice company to keep!

Palazzo Bocchi rustication Bologna architecture hebrew inscription hermatena academy

Bocchi soon turned his palazzo into the home of his Hermatena Academy. The name is the combination of Hermes and Athena, as Hermes was the god of eloquence, and Athena was the goddess of wisdom, arts and science. An appropriate combination for his interests.

I haven’t seen the inside, but it includes frescoes by Prospero Fontana, a Bolognese artist important in his own right, who also painted frescoes in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

However, I have seen the outside and the wonderful Bolognese colors, along with the truly eye-catching rustication. The rustication runs along the base, up to the bottom of the windows on the first level. They are fairly typical rectangular raised stones that are slightly rounded and rough in texture, placed in even rows, much like brickwork, but on a much larger scale. Interestingly, the columns around the door and the frames around the first level windows are also rusticated, as are the corners (quoins). It is typical in these instances to leave space between the rusticated blocks.

Palazzo Bocchi rustication Bologna architecture hebrew inscription hermatena academy

Hebrew and Latin

What really makes this building so unusual are the inscriptions within the Palazzo Bocchi rustication on the facade. It is uncommon to have anything written into the rustication in this manner, and in this case, one side is in Hebrew and the other in Latin. The Hebrew side is a verse from Psalm 120: “Deliver me from the liars, God! They smile so sweetly, but lie through their teeth.” The other side, in Latin, comes from Horace’s Epistle 1: “Rex eris, aiunt, si recte facies” (Do well, thou shalt be crowned).

Palazzo Bocchi rustication Bologna architecture hebrew inscription hermatena academy

Palazzo Bocchi rustication Bologna architecture hebrew inscription hermatena academy

The Palazzo Bocchi is located at Via Goito 16, but it does seem to be a private building at this point, or at least not specifically open to the public. It’s worth a visit, though, just to see the exterior and some of the other buildings on the street. Via Goito on one end leads onto Via Oberdan, which is home to a variety of shops and restaurants and leads out onto Via Rizzoli, another major street that takes you to the two towers or to Piazza Maggiore. And really, no matter where you end up wandering, you’re sure to run into some beautiful buildings.


*John Manning, The Emblem (2002) p.114.

Daniel Craig’s Bond in Italy

Daniel Craig’s Bond In Italy

In 2019 Daniel Craig will sign off with the 25th James Bond film. Since taking on the role in 2005, Craig has gone on to become a global icon and arguably the most popular Bond since Sean Connery. To celebrate his tenure we look at the times his version of the character visited Italy.

Casino Royale

The canal city of Venice played an important role in the film’s finale. In typical Bond fashion he enters Venice sailing a 54ft yacht with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. The building that “sank” in the film’s climatic action set piece is the 17th Century Palazzo Pisani Moretta. While the interior of the building is usually closed off to the public, the exterior (which is seen in the film) can be visited by boat.

Lake Como featured at the end of Casio Royale and has earned its place in cinematic history as the location of Daniel Craig’s first “Bond, James Bond”. The luxury villa where this line is uttered is the Villa La Gaeta and rooms can be rented out.

Quantum of Solace

As Craig’s second Bond film takes place immediately after the events of Casino Royale, Italy featured again. The first instance is in the pre-credits car chase sequence next to Lake Garda. The tunnel at the beginning of the chase is at the northeast part of the lake for those who want to recreate the opening shot in an Aston Martin (or any other car).

After the car chase Bond engages on a foot chase that take place Tuscany city of Siena during the famous Palio di Siena. The race is held twice a year and is considered a historically important event in the city.

Spectre

The capital of Italy, Rome was central to the plot of Craig’s last film. Many famous locations around the city were used. For the funeral scene where Bond first gets a glimpse of Christopher Waltz’s villain, the Museum of Roman Civilization was used as the backdrop. This location has been featured in hundreds of films and is a popular tourist destination.

The highlight of the Rome sequence is the car chase between Bond and Dave Bautista’s character Mr. Hinx. The chase goes over, around, and through many of the city’s most iconic locations. Atlas of Wonders notes that the chase features the banks of the Tiber River, the bridge of Ponte Sant’Angelo, the Vatican, and a passage known as the Passetto di Borgo.

The Bond Legacy

The Bond franchise continues to be one of cinema’s most enduring franchises. Since the first film Dr. No was released in 1962, the series has gone on to earn over $7 billion at the box office. The character of Bond has influenced many alternative versions across numerous mediums. The most recent example is Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman films (the latest is was released this year). Vaughn has explained in interviews how the less serious Roger Moore films influenced him. Many of the parodies have embraced the Moore tongue-in-cheek era to create new twists on the character. Entertainment outlet Slingo in their slot game Jane Blonde reversed the gender of the famous spy in a game that both pays homage to and parodies James Bond. After Daniel Craig retires it is likely that the franchise will return to a less serious Bond, and inspire many more parodies.

One thing is for sure. Italy will always be a favorite location of the superspy, and we can expect to see Bond return to the country in the near future.

 


This is a guest post. As a long-time Bond fan (books and films) I thought this was a nice look at the way Bond and Italy have become intertwined.

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Pedestrian but Civilized

While visiting Florence the other week, the weather was warm, the sun was shining down, and we were miserable. Well, not miserable, but seriously, y’all, it was hot! I know plenty of people who love warm weather, but that’s not G and me. We arrived at the consulate early, and while it was next to the Arno, the sun was beating down on us, with no immediate shade on that side of the river. Plus, as a result of security, I had to wait to go into the building until it was my appointment time, so there was at least a half hour spent in the sun.

After the appointment, I ended up doing a few laps along the river looking for G who had to wait outside. I was going to call him when I was done, but having had to turn off my phone before entering the consulate, I realized that I didn’t have the SIM number memorized to unlock it. Doh! Fortunately, after just a bit of panicking and walking back and forth, I spotted him in a shady area behind the consulate. The shade — and the sight of a couple of cats — had lured him back there. While I cooled off, we made plans to find a small bar to have a quick lunch before going to the Palazzo Strozzi.

After walking in the sun for a few minutes, we decided to take our chances and head to more shadowed streets heading in the general direction we needed to go. The Arno side, though direct enough, was too hot. Fortunately, we ended up finding a cooler street that had a number of restaurants. While most were maybe a bit more touristic and heavier than we wanted, we ended up finding an attractive little bar with some tasty panini and a nice cross breeze.

Sated, we were once again on our way to the Palazzo Strozzi. Most of the streets at that point were narrow and shadowed. One of the joys of ancient city centers! firenze florence historic center centro architectureStill, the roads and walkways are often a bit uneven, with many narrow sidewalks cobbled. By the end of the day, after also wandering around the Palazzo Strozzi and then heading to the Piazza Repubblica, our feet were feeling the effect of those uneven paths.

Does it sound like I’m complaining a lot? I know! I sound like one of those expats/tourists. I hate those people! I promise, I didn’t complain about any of it the first time I went to Florence (although it was much cooler then). This time, I was there mainly for a bit of bureaucratic paperwork that was making me feel a bit stressed and the heat wasn’t helping my anxiety. Plus, by the end, my feet were really hurting, and just about everyone knows that foot pain will turn the sunniest personality into a grump. Blah blah blah excuses …

Mainly, all this over-the-top complaining is to explain why G and I were joking about how much more civilized Bologna is compared to other cities, thanks to the wonderful portici that offer shade from the sun, protection from the rain, and have smooth, even paths beneath them that don’t try to turn your ankle every two steps. The Bologna portici, which cover a huge part of the city, may be pedestrian walkways, but they are anything but pedestrian in their form and function. Many have beautiful marble walkways and some stunning arches and vaulting. And since this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is “pedestrian”, I thought I’d share some of these civilized Bologna portici that came in handy on a recent rainy Sunday morning.

bologna portici covered walkways portico bologna portici covered walkways portico

bologna portici covered walkways portico
Many portici serve as covered terrace areas for restaurants, bars, and cafés. They may look pedestrian when the shutters are closed, but they come alive during the day and evening, many with their own special lights and lamps.

bologna portici covered walkways portico

In Utrecht, we’d joke about people wearing bicycle helmets being tourists, as locals almost never wear them. In this case, part of me wants to joke that these are tourists who don’t automatically appreciate the benefits of the portici. And is that someone walking in a bike lane?! Tourists!*

*All tourist teasing and Florence complaining is purely tongue-in-cheek.

Celebrating Bologna’s Saint’s Day

basilica san petronio bologna patron saint architecture

Each saint in the Catholic Church has his or her own special day dedicated to them. If you happen to be named after a saint — and lots of people are — then you sometimes get to celebrate your saint’s day. If you’re a city, you have your own patron saint. Bologna’s patron saint is San Petronio and his day of celebration is today, 4 October. San Petronio was the 8th bishop of the city, from 431 to 450 AD. And no, I’m not missing any “1s” from those dates.

San Petronio festa statue bologna patron saint

For some, today is a holiday, though it seems that most of the regular shops are open. There are some special festivities to celebrate the day, though. There is a rally of some sort at the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana by the two towers, and later there is a religious procession from Piazza Maggiore to Piazza Nettuno. To be honest, that’s not exactly a long trek, as the two squares really just make up one big area in front of the basilica, particularly as the Neptune (Nettuno) statue is under renovation and the covering takes up a lot of the square.

basilica san petronio bologna patron saint architecture

The basilica is dedicated to San Petronio and is a pretty spectacular bit of architecture that was first started in 1390. It may seem a bit odd at first glance, as the upper half of the facade remains unfinished. However, inside it’s pretty impressive and not lacking in decoration or beautifully colored warm marble. There’s some interesting history and stories to go along with it, but that will have to wait for another post.

So, to all Bolognese, wherever you are, buona festa di San Petronio!

Windows of Palazzo Strozzi

When I saw the topic of this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge was windows, I knew immediately what I would post, even if it varies slightly from their take on the theme. After my trip to Florence last week, I had an abundance of photos of Palazzo Strozzi windows, inside and out. Really, I could have done any number of photos of windows taken throughout Florence. There were some real beauties. But today, I’m going to keep it simple and focus on the windows in the courtyard of the Palazzo Strozzi and a few views looking out some of the exterior windows … at more windows!

First up is the courtyard. Having spent a semester studying this palazzo at university, I felt like I was in a familiar and happy spot, despite having never been inside the palazzo. The soft light that filters down is almost magical, well, at least for me. I could have stood or sat there forever. G would say that it felt like I was there forever as I kept taking photos and just drinking in the atmosphere and all the little familiar details that I was so happy to finally see in person.

palazzo strozzi windows florence firenze courtyard palazzo strozzi windows florence firenze courtyard palazzo strozzi windows florence firenze courtyard

I love how there are two sets of window styles, each facing each other, with one almost all glass, while the other retains the same shape, but uses less glass.

Upstairs, in the current art exhibit, most windows are covered, but a few of the beautiful bifore windows were exposed and offered some fascinating views of the surrounding buildings. It gets particularly meta when you start looking at windows through a window. It was lovely to see the progression of the windows on one of the opposite buildings, as they move from a flat lintel over the windows on the top, followed by the triangular pediment and then the curved pediment. It just goes to show that windows can be just as interesting as the views they offer.

palazzo strozzi windows bifore florence firenze palazzo strozzi windows pediments lintel florence firenze

A Papal Visit to Bologna

Other than the seemingly nightly mentions on the TG1 evening news, it’s relatively easy to forget about the Catholic Church here in Bologna. That’s not to say that there aren’t churches everywhere and various church bells ringing throughout the day, and the city certainly has the impressive Basilica di San Petronio. Yet unless you actually practice the religion — and G and I are both non-believers — it’s easy enough to forget about the Church.

That is until this week. Today, specifically. You see, the Pope came to Bologna today. It’s been in the plans for ages so that the die-hards could get their tickets and passes for his appearances at Piazza Maggiore and at the stadium. There have been posters up over the past week and this weekend they started clearing out cars and bicycles from some of the streets closer to Piazza Maggiore and shutting down traffic on streets further out, in part to allow for the motorcade through part of the city.

This morning, despite a bit of drizzle, I thought I’d take Charlie out for a nice long walk. To be honest, I kind of liked the break from the unrelentingly bright sun. It was also early enough that fewer people were around. We took a turn we hadn’t taken before and ended up in some new-to-us areas, which included a nice little park area, as well as a walk along the impressive side of the Oratory of St. Cecilia. As we continued walking — in between stops for people to take Charlie’s photo or comment on how bello he is — we eventually managed to find ourselves on Via Zamboni, heading straight to the two towers.

due torre bologna papal visit

That’s when I remembered the Bologna papal visit. The big giveaway was the crowds standing in the street beneath the towers. There are areas to stand and admire the views, but the street usually stays clear.

Out of curiosity, I thought I’d see how far we could get before we had to turn back, whether for lack of a pass or sheer density of the crowd. With a bit of weaving at times — and more stops for people to gush over Charlie — we actually made it all the way to Via Indipendenza. Along the way, we saw the usual crowds, as well as groups of nuns and even a monk/friar. [As a side note, we lived near a neighborhood of Utrecht called Wittevrouwen, literally meaning white women, but actually referring to the group of nuns who wear white that used to have a nunnery in the area. As I passed a group of them today, I may have found myself quietly exclaiming, “wittevrouwen!” when I saw them.]

bologna papal visit torre asinelli

bologna papal visit via rizzoli

bologna papal visit via rizzoli

bologna papal visit wittevrouwen white nuns

bologna papal visit via indipendenza banner
A banner for the visit hangs over the crowd at the intersection of Via Rizzoli and Via Indipendenza. It reads “Bologna Welcomes You/Pope Francis welcome among us.”

We made it all the way to Via Indipendenza, which would have been an easy enough way for us to head home. Or, at least a way I knew how to get home. I still get turned around sometimes. I was actually surprised at how few people were on the one side of the street until I got to the cathedral that is also on that side of the street. That’s when I realized that I could go no further and was penned in, essentially. No traffic, foot or vehicle, was allowed past those barriers. Whooops!

Not really wanting to stay, particularly as I think there were still at least 45 minutes before anything would happen, Charlie and I turned around and headed back the way we came. Eventually we found a side street that wasn’t blocked and it happened to be one I was familiar with, so we didn’t even get lost and we finally made it back home, two hours after setting out.

So no, I didn’t see the pope. This is just a long-winded excuse to post some crowd photos. From what I read later, the Popemobile was setting a pretty fast pace today, so you had to be quick to get a view anyway.

If you want to see a bit more of the crowds and the general view walking down Via Rizzoli — and some scenes of Charlie in action — check out the blog’s Facebook page where I’ll post a video I took while walking down the street. Nuns, monks, Charlie and his admirers are all included in the video.

Foto Friday: Michelangelo Edition

I’ve spent a good portion of the day just looking through the photos I took yesterday in Florence. Most are of the inner courtyard and the exterior of the Palazzo Strozzi, which are as magnificent as I remembered, if not more so. I was a very happy art historian.

While we were there, we took in the new exhibit, The Cinquecento in Florence: “Modern Manner” and Counter-Reformation. I enjoyed getting to see a number of works in person and relatively up close that I’d only seen in my art books. Other pieces were new to me, but still quite familiar, due to the subject matter. As I joked with G yesterday, I can tell an Annunciation just from a quick passing glace out the corner of my eye. I’m not bragging; it’s simply if you focus on Italian Renaissance art as I did for my degree, you tend to recognize the symbolism and general themes.

I’m short on time and still need to do a bit of tweaking to my photos, not to mention the need to go through all 200+ and figure out which ones to use in various posts. The last time I was in Florence I was using a film camera rather than a digital one. In retrospect, it didn’t really stop me from taking a million photos then, either. I just kept buying more film rolls!

To give you a hint of what I saw at the exhibit, here’s the first thing you see upon entering: River God, by Michelangelo and Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Andrea del Sarto. The Michelangelo work isn’t marble, it’s clay, sand, fibers and other ingredients built up over a wire-frame interior. You still see the beautiful form of his figures, down to the folds of the flesh at the stomach as the river god rises and twists. Absolutely stunning. The whole exhibit is worth a visit if you have even a remote interest in art. The colors, the forms, and even some of the sense of humor (intentional or not) in certain works are a joy to see.

michelangelo cinquecento del sarto renaissance art palazzo strozzi

Revisiting an Old Friend in Florence 

A trip to the US Consulate tomorrow is the perfect excuse to go see an old friend: the Palazzo Strozzi. I haven’t seen her since the late ’90s, and back then she wasn’t big on visitors going inside. But now she’s quite open and even hosting an exhibit of some of the art of the Cinquecento, which is an added bonus.

On my last visit I made do with a great deal of gawking at her glorious exterior and caressing her beautiful rustication. We’d had a long-distance relationship for years before that, you see. I spent a semester at uni studying her history and personal style and those who helped make her the stunning palazzo she was destined to become.
It has been years, but my heart still thrills at the mere thought of seeing her.

Palazzo Strozzi Florence Firenze renaissance architecture

Many more photos likely to come!

Waiting: Or the Patience of a Dog

I’m just barely (maybe) squeaking by on the Weekly Photo Challenge, despite the theme running for two weeks. The theme is waiting, and I thought I’d focus on the idea of a waiting dog, in particular, my dog who is always waiting for me to finish taking photos. I think of these as outtakes of my photo walks with Charlie. He’s surprisingly patient and has learned to sit and wait while I take my photos. Sometimes he does a bit of localized investigation on his own, but he never strays far. But don’t feel too bad for him. He tends to get a cookie if he’s been particularly patient.

This first one was taken the other week in the park. I thought he was just sniffing around, and he wasn’t in anyone’s way, so I let him be. While I was taking my photos for my last post, he finally gave up and sat down on his own to wait for me. I’m pretty sure there was a resigned sigh from him, though.

waiting dog

In this next one, his patience was wearing thin. He was ready to move on, but I was still fondling rustication and gazing in adoration at the architectural features in some of the surrounding buildings. Notice the stink-eye he’s giving me.

waiting dog bologna

His patience sometimes gives out, especially when nature calls and posts need to be marked. But look at that beautifully rusticated grand doorway!waiting dog bologna architecture rustication

Fortunately, because he’s such a good boy, we can take him to all sorts of places. During the move, he hung out quietly in the hotel bar with us in Germany during our overnight stop. He’s sat peacefully at various cafés here in Bologna, as well. And if a few pieces of pastry happen to make their way to him, he’s not one to complain. Waiting has its benefits.

waiting dog bologna cafe

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