Tuesday, 30 May 2017


When the heat of Florence gets too much it's nice to be able to escape to the surrounding hills.  Walking up to Piazza San Marco if you wait and catch the number 7 bus for a mere 1 euro 20 (2.40 return) you'll be whisked up into the surrounding green of Fiesole in a matter of minutes (I've put what will hopefully be a useful photo of the timetable below). The small village is famous for its incredible Roman ruins and beautiful views over the city.

It's also famous for being at the heart of E.M. Forster's A Room with a View (one of the most famous books to be set in Florence) as it's near Fiesole where the protagonist Lucy Honeychurch is kissed by George Emerson in a poppy and barley field overlooking Florence. It's also mentioned in one of the first pieces of wisdom she's offered when she arrives in Florence by Mr. Beebe:
“Don’t neglect the country round,” his advice concluded. “The first fine afternoon drive up to Fiesole, and round by Settignano, or something of that sort.” 
I'm ashamed to think that I'm encouraging you to become the very people that Mr. Eager despises (who seems like the voice of Forster himself here):
Sometimes as I take tea in their beautiful grounds I hear, over the wall, the electric tram squealing up the new road with its loads of hot, dusty, unintelligent tourists who are going to ‘do’ Fiesole in an hour in order that they may say they have been there, and I think—think—I think how little they think what lies so near them.
However I have confidence you'll want to visit Fiesole again, and linger for far longer than an hour, and with the bus there's really no excuse to not head up to the hills once every now and then. I'm determined to explore further afield. Forster describes the countryside and ruins around Fiesole beautifully:
A hollow like a great amphitheatre, full of terraced steps and misty olives, now lay between them and the heights of Fiesole, and the road, still following its curve, was about to sweep on to a promontory which stood out in the plain.
These photos were taken from the small memorial garden on the way up the hill to the magical San Francesco Monastery. If this view is the 'hackneyed view' that is discarded by Mr. Eager then I'm certainly eager to see what the other hills around Florence hold in store! 
I am about to venture a suggestion. Would you and Miss Honeychurch be disposed to join me in a drive some day this week—a drive in the hills? We might go up by Fiesole and back by Settignano. There is a point on that road where we could get down and have an hour’s ramble on the hillside. The view thence of Florence is most beautiful—far better than the hackneyed view of Fiesole. 

For those attempting to take the bus here's the timetable:


Friday, 26 May 2017

In the Studio

Sadly Libri Bianchi by Lorenzo Perrone has now come to an end in the Harold Acton Library. However something I forgot to mention previously, during my first few days in Florence I was lucky enough to stumble upon Lorenzo's studio. It turns out I live just around the corner from where he creates his incredible white books in Oltrarno (south of the Arno). Walking into the Institute for my Italian lessons one day I glanced over the street to see his works peeking out from behind his studio door and thought they looked familiar. Gaining confidence I popped by head around the corner one day to say 'Buongiorno' and he was kind enough to let me take a few photos of him at work. It was incredible to watch and document the process of just how much work goes into creating his beautiful art objects and the variety of creations he's made. Don't miss them when they go on show in London later this year. 


The mysterious Maurice de Bosdari, a would-be agent for Stefano Bardini

Stefano Bardini
“If this were Downton Abbey, we’re probably in season six by now, so I’m just going to catch you up a little bit”. So began Lynn Catterson’s lecture on the mysterious Maurice de Bosdari, a would-be agent for Stefano Bardini, one of the biggest dealers of Italian art between 1866 and 1929, a man whose legacy continues to grow and unravel in unexpected ways. Catterson has been on the elusive Bosdari’s trail for a while now. After uncovering that the Italian banker from Ancona probably met Bardini in 1900 in order to buy art objects to sell on, she began working with the Bardini archives in Florence (the museum belongs to the city of Florence, the rest to the State), where she was granted access to the 70,000 objects in storage. Here she began to work her way through the material, as well as the thirty boxes of miscellaneous content from around Florence, organising the inventories, letters and photographs to create a paper trail portrait of Bardini and his family. 

As she did this it became evident to Catterson that "it’s not just what’s in an archive, but what isn’t in an archive" that’s important. Bardini was "like Amazon", his connections spread out across Italy, Europe, and by 1889 he had even reached America. Through the development of the archive Catterson was able to live through periods of history, she watched the development of the telegram in the archives as paper notes became stopped messages, she was able to identify the changing ways in which Bardini and his workers managed information. 

In fact she even discovered that Bardini’s manager had written a book about an antiquarian in 1908, a novel that she soon realised was written in real time, and most importantly was hardly a novel at all, but a step by step account of Bardini’s own work. While reading she came across an incredibly specific case of Ghiberti-style bronze doors that were sold via Bosdarsi to a “dumb” American businessman who then had them shipped to London. The American turned out to be none other than JP Morgan. Here was fact turning up in fiction; could there be more? Determined to test the book further she read on, the novel declared that Morgan had sent the doors to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. Calling up the museum to ask if they happened to have some doors of the same description she was met with a resounding 'yes' – further proof that the fiction of Bardini’s manager was actually fact. 

Using the novel as a guide, Catterson was then able to uncover more and more about Bosdari’s antics and Bardini’s empire. This was a time in which fooling Americans into buying ancient monuments in Italy was easy sport. After all Godfrey Kopp had managed to persuade John R Thompson to buy the arch of Constantine for 500,000, putting 100,000 down with a note that the balance would be “due on delivery to Chicago”. What a postal order that would have been! 

Bosdari became a notorious con artist, and from the sound of it Bardini’s extensive empire was part and parcel of his ability to succeed. Catterson is trying to recreate what modern technology takes for granted "I wish there was a facebook for the 19th century" she says. Social media now creates a hard and fast record of human relationships, interactions and correspondence; it fills the gaps that Catterson is attempting to fill in history: "I’m basically operating by the Facebook method to find out what’s going on". She takes us through some of the elaborate news reports of Bardini’s escapades and the notoriety that often surrounded him. When reflecting on the current epidemic of "fake news" in the media Patterson is blunt: "Fake news has existed for as long as I’ve been a historian looking". In short, lying to create headlines or manipulated public opinion is by no means a new trade. 

One particularly amusing episode saw a French con artist called Rosenberg arrested on suspicion of being Bosdari when he was masquerading as a priest and swindling divorced ladies from France. The fake news of Bosdari’s capture was soon followed by fake news of Bosdari’s death when his body was reportedly found "floating off the coast". In reality when Bosdari was actually captured he went willingly, fully aware that he was too useful a go-between to smuggle Italian art objects for wealthy businessmen and buyers to not get bailed out. The rest remains a mystery for now, and it’s easy to see how Catterson’s initial comparison to soap-opera-style TV rings true. The antics of these nineteenth century art dealers and con artists feels fantastical, and often during the lecture it was a struggle to keep up with just how many threads of the story there were. Yet Catterson is determined to unravel the mystery of Bosdari, and after this talk I don’t think I was alone in her audience in having every confidence that she’ll do just that.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Libri Bianchi di Lorenzo Perrone

Have you been to the Harold Acton Library recently? If you have you may have noticed the eerie but beautiful work of Lorenzo Perrone hanging from the shelves. Libri Bianchi or Shakespeare in White is a free exhibition that transforms books into glorious art objects, stripping them of words with white paint, while recreating them and allowing them to speak in a whole new way. Taking inspiration from Shakespeare each book is inspired by a certain play or line that Perrone then interpreted onto the pages of the books themselves. However the large totem of books you can see in the final picture is the exception. It's made up of 100 books, each book commemorating a year in celebration of the Institute's centenary, an incredible feat! 

As the exhibition is in its final week be sure to catch it before it heads over to London. For more information see the British Institute website here

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Artigianato e Palazzo

Every year the Corsini Gardens open up on Via della Scala for a unique artisan craft fair. Artigianato e Palazzo is hosted in the 17th century gardens that remain almost perfectly preserved since their conception. A series of ornate hedgerows, potted lemon trees, rose bushes and verbs feels like the perfect place to hold such an array of exiting artistic talent. There's everything on offer from delicate flower-adorned soaps to hand-carved furniture and hand-woven baskets. Don't miss it! 

For more information visit their website here