Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Alinari National Museum of Photography Now Open

A month ago, in Florence, the new Alinari National Museum of Photography opened in a renovated historic structure in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Now the collection from the fabulous Alinari Archives will be displayed to the public, representing an astonishing patrimony of documentary material pertaining to art, history, folklore, landscape, industry and society. The particularly exciting thing to me is that Alinari has, from the beginning, specialized (among other things) in the documentation of works of art and historic monuments.

Founded in Florence in 1852, Fratelli Alinari is the oldest photography firm in the world. Through Alinari photographs – dating from the second half of the 19thC to the present – the history, society, art and culture of Italy and Europe and the rest of the world, have been preserved and catalogued.

Alinari owns more than 3.5 million images, plus the firm manages or represents more than 21 million photos owned by other organizations, including 400,000 images from the archive of the Touring Club Italiano.

Not going to be in Florence any time soon? You can gain on-line access to the Alinari Archive at The website also has a bookstore with interesting books of photography, and also selections of cards.

According to the official press release announcing the opening, “The itinerary begins with the year 1839, with the first daguerreotypes, and goes as far as the digital images and photocellular phones of today. It is a fascinating itinerary that journeys through the era of the pioneers; the new world of a picture that can be technically reproduced, thus revolutionizing possibilities for knowing and seeing; … the relentless technological advances which created a market for everyone; photography which refines its language to become an art; and an infinite number of promotional objects. Hundreds of rare photographs, vintage objects, cameras of the past and the most up to date … in a presentation designed by the Oscar winning film director Giuseppe Tornatore."

There is also a space for temporary exhibits. The first themed display is called View of Italy, 1841-1941: The Great Masters of Italian Photography in the Alinari Collections.

Finally, one very interesting first-of-its-kind experiment that the Museum developed in collaboration with the Stamperia Braille of the Region of Tuscany is the “touch tour for the blind.” It’s a unique collection of 20 pictures re-created in relief to be seen by the blind through touch. Even as a sighted person, I look forward to experiencing the touch tour. I wonder if feeling the dimensionality of an image will enhance my seeing in any way.

In the words of Florence’s mayor Leonardo Domenici “The MNAF ( Museo Nazionale Alinari della Fotografia) is a new treasure for Florence, a museum of modernity of exceptional cultural value. It also has allowed the city to reclaim in the best of ways the historical Leopoldine complex threatened with deterioration. Once restoration is completed the complex will also house the Museo del Novecento (20th C) dedicated to contemporary Italian art.”

I won’t be in Florence again until next Fall, so I’ll have to make do ‘til then with on-line access to the archive. But the MNAF will definitley be on my itinerary when I do get there!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fra Angelico Hiding in the Bedroom!

If you have a love for early Renaissance art -- perhaps Fra Angelico in particular -- (or if you're a fan of The Antiques Roadshow) the recent discovery of two Fra Angelico panels in a modest home in Oxford, England, should give you a little shiver of excitement!

The panels are recognized by art experts as being from the San Marco Altarpiece, painted by Fra Angelico, c. 1439, commissioned by Cosimo dei Medici. The central panel of the altarpiece is still at San Marco, but the smaller panels surrounding it were dismantled 200 years ago during Napoleon's occupation of Italy. Today most of these secondary panels can be seen in Museums scattered around the world. Some, however, remained unaccounted for, including these two. I wonder how many of these little treaures remain lost.

According to a Reuters report from London, two panels painted in tempera on a gold background, each showing a standing figure of a Dominican saint, were found tucked away behind a bedroom door by an art auctioneer who had been asked to carry out a valuation after the owner of the house died in July. The homeowner, a librarian, had retrieved the paintings from a box of odds and ends while working as a manuscript curator at a museum in Huntington, California, in the 1960s. Unaware that they were by Fra Angelico, she thought they were "quite nice" and persuaded her father to buy them for a few hundred pounds. Today, they are expected to bring more than a million pounds at auction.

"We are dealing with two works of art painted by one of the 'greats', intended for his own church and commissioned by one of the greatest art patrons in history," the auctioneer, Guy Schwinge, said in a statement. "It simply does not get much better than that."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Angels Of The Mud

On November 4th, 1966 -- after days of rain -- the Arno flooded its banks to a depth of roughly 12 feet, destroying everything in its path. As an impassioned 16-year-old, I had fallen in love with Florence in April of that year, and I remember that hearing the news of the flood affected me as nothing had ever done before in my short life. When I heard that people from all over the world were converging to help with the clean-up, I begged my parents to let me take a semester off from high school ... to no avail.

If I were forced to produce a list of my regrets in life, that would be one of them. Had I been a couple of years older I would have gone to Florence to be one of what were soon dubbed as "gli angeli del fango" -- the angels of the mud.

The official Angeli del Fango website is definitely worth looking at, with photos and videos and eye-witness accounts of the event and its aftermath. To see images of the water rushing through streets and past the Duomo, and to see priceless frescoes and sculpture blackened with filth is really sobering. It's hard to imagine today what an undertaking it was, how extensive was the damage to a vast amount of irreplacible art.

This Saturday will be the 40th anniversary of that heart-wrenching event, and a reunion of "gli angeli" will take place in Florence.

Hats off to the volunteer angels and the professional restorers who slogged through muck for months,living in seriously uncomfortable conditions, to reclaim the city's artistic and architectural heritage from the mud.