Good news from Florence

Antique bronze head of a horse, once owned by Lorenzo the Magnificent.

It is well known that the famous Medici and Lorraine collections are housed in various museums in Florence, not just in the Uffizi and Pitti galleries (recently re-united under one director). The scientific collections are in the Museo Galileo, the musical instruments in the Galleria dell’Accademia, the Renaissance sculpture in the Bargello, the wax models in the Museo della Specola, etc., and the archeological material in the Museo Archeologico. But it is also a fact that all these ‘satellite’ museums are usually overlooked by visitors to the city, since it is the paintings that everyone seems to want to see (or at least that is what they are told by the tourist agencies).

 

It is therefore rare to encounter more than a handful of visitors in the Archaeological Museum (except when school parties are taken there). In fact throughout the many decades since the Arno Flood of 1966, when the entire ‘Museo Topografico’ of Etruscan finds from Tuscany was destroyed, it has had a rather neglected feel. But the exciting news is that with its new Director Mario Iozzo, under the umbrella of the ‘Polo Museale Toscana’, which since 2015 has been in the capable hands of Dr Stefano Casciu, the Museum has suddenly been spruced up and work is underway to open more exhibition space so that the works in the deposits can at last be seen.

 

Throughout the museum the display has begun to be renovated, with new stands for the pottery (and in some cases slowly moving circular bases so that you can stand still to see all the painted sides of certain vases). The garden, visible from many of the windows, is now beautifully kept with the fountain working again (but sadly still only open on Saturday mornings). The corridor with the Medici collection of precious antique gems and cameos is not yet regularly on view.

 

While work is going on, however (until March 2019), visitors can see a delightful exhibition, “The Art of Giving”, in the first hall. It documents recent donations including a huge collection of beautiful ceramics from burial sites and sanctuaries on the Ionian coast of southern Italy (the area known in antiquity as Magna Graecia). Many of the vases have scenes where the protagonists are exchanging gifts, making the title of the exhibition doubly meaningful. There is also a ceramic cup dating from the 6th century BC which has been recomposed using the missing piece which had found its way to the Akademisches Kunstmuseum in Bonn (in exchange, a fragment of another vase was given to the Bonn Museum so that it, too, could be reunited with the fragments they own). There are also some Roman marbles on view which have recently entered the collection (the sarcophagus with pairs of griffins between incense-burners is especially interesting).

 

In the permanent collection, the first room on the first floor is now used to exhibit the sensational Mater Matuta, an Etruscan masterpiece (c. 450 BC) showing a seated female god with a child on her lap. This is one of the treasures of the museum but has not been on show for decades. The famous bronze Chimera also has a room to itself, shared with a very beautiful bronze head of a youth found in Fiesole.

 

The Minerva, on the floor above, is now displayed without her right arm since it has been proved to have been an addition made by Francesco Carradori in 1784-5 in a mistaken restoration (the ‘modern’ arm is displayed close by, together with a cast of the statue as restored in the 18th century). The wonderful Arringatore is currently on exhibition in Karlsruhe but will be back here on 17th June. The bronze Horse’s Head (which belonged to Lorenzo the Magnificent and was restored in 2015) and the Roman portrait bronzes are all on show (in the past these were often in rooms kept locked). The famous François Vase, a huge Attic krater, has been given a room of its own with multi-media touch screens explaining all the details. The famous incident when a frustrated custodian seized his stool and smashed it is recorded by the presence of the stool itself (the vase was thankfully able to be restored, piece by piece). And for the first time, two more pieces of exquisite Attic pottery are displayed nearby, suggesting that they might have been part of the original hoard of artefacts found in the same tomb, placed there to accompany the deceased on his way to the underworld.

 

Further innovations are the scale model of the Chimaera at the entrance which can be felt by the visually impaired and stroked by young visitors, and a showcase before the ticket office displaying just three exquisite examples of the museum’s holdings to whet visitors’ appetites. One comes away with the feeling that at last the Museum is being well looked after and that there will be many exciting new developments there in the near future.

In this Florentine season of what has been termed ‘overtourism’, a visit to this Museum is highly recommended not only for the treasures it contains, but also for its peaceful atmosphere.

 

by Alta Macadam, author of Blue Guide Florence

The Heartwarming Middle Ages

Yellow-glaze stove tile of a mounted knight, from Diósgyőr (c. 1370. Herman Ottó Múzeum, Miskolc).

“The Heartwarming Middle Ages” (Szívmelegítő Középkor) is the title of an appealing small exhibition running at the Budapest History Museum’s Buda Castle site until September.

 

The forerunner of the ceramic stove is thought to have originated in Alpine Switzerland sometime in the early Middle Ages, when simple clay pots were built into house chimneys to increase the surface area that could be made to give out warmth. In Óbuda, Budapest’s District III, excavations at Roman Aquincum have revealed rows of hollow bricks placed between interior walls to circulate warm air from the hypocaust beneath. This sophisticated early radiation technology had been forgotten after the collapse of the Roman Empire and—until the Swiss hit upon the clay pots idea—people heated their living spaces with smoky open fires, creating a constant risk of conflagration (not to mention a carcinogenic atmosphere). The Swiss innovation was almost as great a leap forward as the invention of the internal combustion engine in much later times.

 

The exhibition begins with a selection of images evoking the winter chill of northern climes. Among them is an etching by Dürer (c. 1498, from the Prints and Drawings collection of the Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts) entitled The Philosopher’s Dream, showing a savant fast asleep beside a tile stove, dreaming of a visitation by a naked Venus. The stove he sleeps beside looks much like the tile-clad stoves that are still a familiar feature of Central European interiors.

 

Much as the first automobiles preserved the bodywork of the horse-drawn carriage, the first stoves were clad in tiles that retained the concave shape of the original earthen pots. Later, tile shapes became more elaborate and inventive. The exhibition traces this development. Ceramic is not perishable and in Buda—where so much has been destroyed—the tile survivals are some of the finest and most poignant reminders of the glory that once presided here. The material exhibited in this show comes from the rich collection of the Budapest History Museum as well as from further afield, in Hungary as well as Slovakia and Transylvania. The earliest tile finds are from the 12th century, although the technology probably predates this by some 300 years. It was a democratic technology: fired earth is not a luxury material and its application made warmth available to princes, prelates and peasants alike.

Siren stove tile and the Starbucks logo.

We know that underfloor heating returned to Hungary: the palace of Charles I (r. 1310–42) in Visegrád had it, while the upper floor was heated by a stove clad in cup-shaped tiles. Charles’ successor, Louis I (r. 1342–82) had stoves clad in flat, decorated tiles. By the mid-15th century foreign (probably Austrian) craftsmen were supplying the Hungarian court with high-quality, sophisticatedly decorated ceramic ware. Motifs include floral designs, bunches of grapes, knights in armour, biblical and other Christian motifs, heraldic devices, and royal personages. Fine examples on show include a Lamb of the Resurrection in green lead glaze from Banská Bystrica and a yellow-lead glazed crest of King Sigismund (d. 1437) with fine mantling and two badges of the Order of the Dragon (which Sigismund founded to combat Ottoman expansion; Vlad Dracul, father of the Impaler, is said to have taken his name from the Order). The image of a siren saucily parting her fishy tail is also popular. The exhibition has three of these, all from the collection of the Budapest History Museum (protoype of the Starbucks logo). There is also a splendid polychrome tile depicting King Matthias Corvinus (r. 1458–90) seated in majesty. King Matthias, under whom Buda enjoyed a great flowering, seems to have been adept at using his own image as a brand.

Polychrome tile with King Matthias Corvinus (c. 1480. Budapest History Museum).

By means of its decoration, the stove became at once a means of heating a room and also a vehicle for imparting information about the householder’s lineage, prestige and religious faith, as well as entertainment (stories of chivalry, popular legends and fables), much like a painting or a tapestry. The final part of the exhibition shows how the royal lead in stove manufacture was quickly imitated down the social scale. Soon bishops and barons and well-to-do burghers wanted cosy, smoke-free living spaces, and to achieve them they copied both the technique and the tile designs. Like coins, medals or seals, made from moulds and dies, stove tiles could be mass-produced, allowing identical images to proliferate. As the exhibition points out, ceramic manufacture was far in advance of the printing press in its ability to standardise the conceptual vocabulary of the populace. The last tiles in the show are secular in their subject matter: we see an irate wife belabouring her husband, a young man with a tankard of beer, and a pair of lovers in flagrante.

Green-glaze stove tile showing a pair of lovers (c. 1500. Stredlovenské Museum, Banská Bystrica).

The final room is provided with a video screen showing a crackling fire. You have to work hard to imagine its warmth, though. To protect the fragile glazes, temperatures throughout the exhibition are kept low. Bring a light sweater!

Waves of Art Nouveau

World Art Nouveau Day this year is celebrated on 10th June. In part to mark the occasion but also to honour the centenary of the death of Otto Wagner and the 150th anniversary of the birth of Marcell Komor, FUGA: Budapest Center of Architecture, in conjunction with the Hungarian Museum of Applied Arts and its partners, has mounted a small exhibition entitled Waves of Art Nouveau, dedicated to this ever-popular style of architecture in cities of the Danube region from Vienna to Constanţa. The material consists of a series of wall panels grouped thematically, with information and illustrations chosen by the participating cities (twelve of them in total).

Plastic scale model of Ödön Lechner's Hungarian Museum of Applied Arts

The show begins with Otto Wagner and his pupils and followers (notably Max Fabiani). After that comes the great Hungarian Secessionist architect Ödön Lechner. Lechner’s style is entirely unlike Wagner’s. Wagner was preoccupied with modernity and the question of how to refashion the architecture and urban planning of an imperial capital in a way that would reflect profound shifts in society. Lechner, on the other hand, was preoccupied with the distant past—even the subliminal—plumbing the depths of the Hungarian folk subconscious to create an entirely original and quintessentially Magyar idiom, part-European and part-Oriental. Lechner and his followers, particularly Marcell Komor and Dezső Jakab, are well represented in this exhibition, with buildings in Budapest; Oradea and Târgu Mureș (Romania); and Subotica (Serbia), where the synagogue is very Lechneresque in feel, with a green-and-yellow-tiled lampshade dome and a façade articulated with symmetrical detailing in exposed brickwork.

The buildings featured in this exhibition illustrate the different ways in which architects of this period explored the relationship between structure and decoration. Sometimes the decorative elements entirely follow the physical lineaments of the building, picking out and enhancing cornices, bays and apertures. This is well seen in the work of the Serbian architect Branko Tanazević, who creates a sort of Art Nouveau version of the Renaissance in his former Telephone Exchange building in Belgrade. At other times the decoration masks the structure, obscuring it and playing hide and seek with it, as in Ivan Vurnik’s extraordinary, almost trompe l’oeilCooperative Bank building in Ljubljana (1923) or Vladimir Baranyai’s Bauda House in Zagreb (1905), where the balcony consoles are disguised as balls of laurel leaves. Occasionally the decoration is entirely gratuitous, most famously perhaps on Otto Wagner’s celebrated Majolica House in Vienna (1898–9), where the pattern on the ceramic cladding mocks a gigantic rambling rose. In some buildings, the decoration almost becomes the structure, as for example Daniel Renard’s memorable Casino in Constanţa (1910), whose huge windows are fashioned like displayed peacock’s tails. Renard studied in Paris, and though his work is filed in the same architectural compartment as that of Lechner or Komor, his aesthetic could not be more different.

It is always a pleasure to discover something new. For visitors familiar with French, Belgian and Austrian Art Nouveau the sheer delight here will be the number of exuberant, eye-catching and daringly original buildings in cities all across Central and Eastern Europe by architects whose names are entirely—and surely unjustly—unfamiliar.

Before you leave, spare a few moments to look at the FUGA building itself. It is a work of 1905 by the architectural partnership of Gyula Ullmann and Géza Kármán, architects who were also exponents of Art Nouveau but in a manner more closely allied to that of the Vienna Secession. Prime examples of their work can also be seen in Budapest’s Szabadság tér (three adjoining buildings now occupied by the US Embassy). The FUGA building preserves an imposing façade emblazoned with its original name, Hermes Udvar (Hermes Court). It was built for a firm specialising in safe deposits, a fact still advertised above the front door.

Waves of Art Nouveau. On show until June 18th at FUGA: Budapest Center of Architecture, at Petőfi Sándor u. 5. Open daily except Tues from 1pm. Free entry. There is a small café and an excellent bookshop.

29.05.2018
10:51

Bookshops in Budapest

As bookshops continue to close down in cities across the world, the pleasure of browsing becomes ever more difficult to indulge. Shopping online is undeniably convenient, if you know precisely which title you want to buy. But how do you find out about those books you never knew you wanted? Thankfully in Budapest there are still plenty of places where you can give yourself over to the serendipity of the shelves. Here we list our favourites, not in preferential order, but adding them one at a time, as we revisit (and making sure always to leave with a purchase or—in the case of bookshops with cafés attached—to stop for a drink and snack).

1. MASSOLIT

Massolit is a very special place, an old-fashioned bookshop, enticingly and scruffily crammed floor to ceiling with titles on diverse subjects from Archaeology to Zoroastrianism, mainly (but not only) in English. It takes its name from the Soviet literary clique of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. A warren of interconnected rooms leads through to a garden courtyard at the back, where you can sit with your book and a drink. There is a bar in the main room where you place your orders (simple food is also available). Although right in the heart of Budapest’s ‘Party District’, well known for its rowdy ruin pubs, Massolit preserves an air of wonderfully nerdy calm, possibly because it serves no alcohol. A chalkboard notice kindly asks co-workers to remember to order something from time to time if they intend to spend all day there on their laptops.

 

Last visited: 28th May

Book: Selected Poems of Endre Ady

Drink: Cherry juice and soda.

 

Massolit Books & Café

Budapest VII. Nagy Diófa u. 30

Open until 7.30pm.

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2. ATLANTISZ KÖNYVSZIGET

The Könyvsziget or 'Book Island' is a split-level bookstore belonging to the Atlantisz publishing house, whose list is strong on philosophy, history, art, classics and other Humanities subjects. Most of the ground floor is devoted to books in English and other languages. The location is extremely central, right behind Deák tér where three of the city's four metro lines intersect and the terminus of the 100E airport buses. Visitors to Pest's city centre and to the Jewish District will find this bookshop very handily placed. Service is friendly and there are one or two chairs for you sit down while you browse.

 

Last visited: 29th May

Book: Promote, Tolerate, Ban: Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary

(For a review of the recent exhibition at the Hungarian National Gallery dealing with Communist-era art censorship, see here.)

 

Atlantisz Könyvsziget

Budapest VI. Anker köz 1–3

Closed Sat from 2pm and all day Sun.

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3. BEERS AND BOOKS

This is an eccentric and deeply delightful second-hand bookshop in Ujlipótváros, Budapest’s 13th District. You go down a few steps into a cool space lined on two sides with bookshelves, and on a third with an array of beers. You can buy either beer, or books, or both. It is also possible to drink a beer while you browse. I chose a bottle from the cool cabinet and it was poured out for me by the taciturnly friendly proprietor and served in a handsome long-stemmed glass. Beer in hand, you can pull up the high-backed faux-leather chair to a shelf of your choice and begin browsing. The offering is mainly in Hungarian but there is a small section of books in English as well. Not a chain, not a franchise, not an imitation of anyone else’s commercial prototype; this is a true Budapest original. The left-field choice of background music adds to the charm: on a scorching hot day in late May we were regaled with 'Santa Claus is coming to Town'.

 

Last visited: 30th May

Book: Lajos Hatvany: Urak és emberek. A novel trilogy on the history of Budapest Jewry, from their arrival, through assimilation to persecution (for more on Lajos Hatvany, his family story and his brother’s celebrated art collection, see Blue Guide Budapest)

Drink: Monyó Flying Rabbit craft beer (for more on the Monyó brewery see Blue Guide Budapest)

 

Beers and Books

Budapest XIII. Pannónia u. 46/b

Open until 9pm.

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4. BESTSELLERS

Opened in 1992 by accomplished bookseller Tony Láng and still going from strength to strength after over a quarter of a century. Bestsellers has firmly established itself as the go-to destination for people looking for English-language books in Budapest. They have an excellent range of stock over many genres, including children’s books, newpapers and magazines. The section on Hungary and its history is particularly strong. Staff are well-informed and helpful. Browsing here is a delight. The location, slap bang in the heart of downtown Pest, could not be bettered.

 

Last visited: 31st May

Book: District VIII by Adam LeBor.

 

Bestsellers

Budapest V. Október 6. u. 11

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5. FUGA

The Hermes Udvar or Hermes Court, was built in 1905 for a company specialising in safe deposits. Operated as such until the First World War, after which the building was converted into flats. The architects, Géza Kármán and Gyula Ullmann, are known for a number of early 20th-century buildings in Pest, in a recognisably thickset, Seccessionist style. Today the Hermes Court is home to FUGA, the Budapest Center of Architecture, with a bookshop, café and exhibition spaces. The bookshop is excellently stocked, with a huge array of titles on fine art, applied art, architecture, urban planning etc in Hungarian and English, all enticingly spread out on the enormous central table. There are cosy nooks to sit and have a drink and at the back and upstairs there are exhibition rooms. The shows here are usually free and—naturally enough—take architecture as their subject matter.

 

Last Visited: 1st June

Book: Budapest Atlantisza by Emőke Tomsics, a study of the development of inner Pest in the late 19th century

Drink: Tomato juice

 

FUGA

Budapest V. Petőfi Sándor u. 5

Closed Tues.

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6. RÓZSAVÖLGYI

The Rózsavölgyi building is landmark example of Hungarian Modernism, built in 1910–11 by Béla Lajta. Part of the building is occupied by a chemist’s, the other by a bookshop. Historically Rózsavölgyi began life as a music publisher and shop, run by the son of a popular composer, and there is still a wide range of instruments, scores, sheet music and CDs on sale on the ground floor. At the front is a section of souvenir books and guides. Upstairs there are books on art and architecture, and further up still, the Rózsavölgyi Salon, which hosts muisc and theatre events and has a café (opens an hour and a half before performances).

 

Last Visited: 4th June

Book: Schirmer Performance Editions, The Classical Era (piano music)

 

Rózsavölgyi

Budapest V. Szervita tér 5.

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7. LÍRA

 

As the name, ‘Lyre’, suggests, this chain of bookstores specialises in music as well as in the printed word. They have shops well distributed across Budapest, in busy downtown areas of Pest as well as in residential districts of Buda (typically in shopping centres). The offering is wide, with a selection covering fiction and non-fiction, arts and sciences, adults and children and usually with a good range of titles in English and other languages. A link to the list of stores is given below. The illustration above was taken in the Múzeum körút bookshop opposite the Hungarian National Museum.

 

Last visited: 5th June

Book: Ignác Romsics: A Short History of Hungary

 

Líra (at many addresses across town; for a list, see here).

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8. HUNGARIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM

 

The bookshop of the Hungarian National Museum is in the building’s lofty Neoclassical lobby, to the left of the ticket desk. You can visit the shop without entering the museum. Its stock ranges from books to souvenir replicas, maps, posters and postcards. The books are often a motley bunch and it is always worth popping in to browse and to see what new titles have cropped up. There is always a selection in English and other languages. Titles held here are on history, art history and the museum collections themselves.

 

Last visited: 6th June

Book: The Dowry of Beatrice. Exhibition catalogue on Italian majolica and the court of King Matthias Corvinus

Drink: Sparkling mineral water. The museum has a café in the basement which you can only visit with a ticket. When the weather is fine, you can sit outside in the courtyard.

 

Hungarian National Museum

Budapest VIII. Múzeum krt. 14–16

Closed Mon.

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9. ÍRÓK BOLTJA

 

The ‘Writers’ Bookshop’ is not only famous for inhabiting the premises of the celebrated Japán Coffeehouse, haunt of artists and poets at the turn of the 20th century. It is also well known as the finest highbrow bookshop in the city. The shelves reach floor to ceiling (the topmost volumes are accessed by ladder) and the titles in stock cover poetry, fiction, philosophy, architecture, history, economics, law, sociology, theatre, gastronomy, design (and more). Books in English and other languages are on the upper gallery. The offering includes books on Budapest and a good choice of Hungarian literature in translation. There are also tables where you can sit and browse. Írók boltja often holds afternoon readings, discussions and other presentations: it is at the centre of a lively literary scene.

 

Last visited: 7th June

Book: Budapest Írókönyv (Liber ad scribendum). A beautifully presented anthology of archive photographs and extracts from prose and poetry thickly interspersed with blank pages, so you can write your travel journal. (The trouble is, the book is too beautiful to write in.)

 

Írók boltja

Budapest VI. Andrássy út 45

Open until 7pm, daily except Sun.

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10. HUNGARIAN NATIONAL GALLERY

 

The bookshop attached to the Hungarian National Gallery, in the Danube-facing wing of the former royal palace on Buda’s Castle Hill, has an excellent selection of books and souvenirs. The books on offer include publications on Budapest and Hungary, exhibition catalogues, artist monographs and numerous works on art history, including a wide choice of titles in English. The shop is separated from the museum: you can visit the shop without an entrance ticket. The same is true of the café, which is in the opposite wing of the same building.

 

Last visited: 8th June

Book: Painting the Town Red by Bob Dent

Drink: Iced coffee

 

Hungarian National Gallery

Budapest I. Castle Hill

Closed Mon.

28.05.2018
11:49

Budapest at the Biennale

When the Szabadság híd (Freedom Bridge) that spans the Danube in Budapest had to be closed to traffic for essential repairs and maintenance in 2016, the city seized the opportunity to turn the traffic-free road- and tramway into a public space, a floating park above the water, where people young and old could disport and recreate themselves while the bridge was being made safe for traffic again. The initiative proved so popular that the bridge was closed to traffic on four weekends in 2017-and once again this year, between mid-July and early August, the 'Freedom Bridge Picnic' has been promised. The phenomenon has also made it to this year's Venice Architecture Biennale. For details, see here. The bridge, which was built in 1896, was originally named Franz Joseph Bridge after the reigning king and emperor. Badly damaged by the retreating Nazis at the end of WWII, it was given the name Freedom Bridge on its reopening in 1946.

Living with Leonardo

Martin Kemp, Living with Leonardo, Fifty Years of Sanity and Insanity in the Art World and Beyond. Thames and Hudson, London 2018.

Some time ago I was sitting next to a retired surgeon at a dinner party. I asked him how he filled his time. He told me that he had discovered the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and was so astonished by their accuracy that he had taken to lecturing about them. Leonardo was a pioneer in relating thought to observation; in the words of the celebrated art historian Ernst Gombrich, quoted here by Kemp, establishing that ‘the correct representation of nature rests on intellectual understanding as much as on good eyesight’. It is not only the sheer quality of Leonardo’s art and drawing that impresses, it is the endlessly inventive nature of his mind: ‘no one covered the surface of pages with such an impetuous cascade of observations, visualized thoughts, brainstormed alternatives, theories, polemics and debates, covering virtually every branch of knowledge about the visible world known in his time’.

This last quotation is from Martin Kemp’s study of Leonardo’s drawings for an exhibition held at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2006. For fifty years he has been immersed in the works and the book under review is an account of the many adventures that have come his way in what is often a weird world of charlatans, code-breakers, ‘devious dealers and unctuous auctioneers’, as well as honest and committed scholars. As Kemp notes, Leonardo has never finished with him and as late as 2008 he was alerted to a new find, what turned out to be the Christ as Salvator Mundi, now accepted by many—if not all—experts as an original and sold for the Louvre Abu Dhabi for a staggering $450 million.

Kemp’s chapter on ‘The Saviour’ is one of the most absorbing, partly because the subject is so topical. Almost as soon as he had first seen it in the conservation studio of London’s National Gallery, Kemp knew it was special and that it showed many of the characteristics of Leonardo. Originally it was thought to be one of twenty known copies of an original recorded in the collection of Charles I, but once cleaned of accretions and restorations it emerged as clearly superior to its competitors. There were telltale signs such as a pentimento (an alteration made as the artist worked) in Christ’s fingers that was typical of the way Leonardo painted and would not have been found in a copy. Researches of the draperies in Leonardo’s drawings and studies of rock crystal, probably the mineral of the orb that Christ is holding, gradually consolidated the attribution, at least so far as Kemp and other acknowledged experts were concerned. Others disagreed, sometimes without even having examined the painting itself. In the end, solid scientific and archival research have to marry with instinctive reactions to reach a final judgement and Kemp stands firm on the ‘Saviour’s’ authenticity.

Kemp was first drawn to Leonardo when asked to advise on a study of the motion of fluids in his drawings. He gradually became aware of the principles that underpinned the depictions, with Leonardo relating the flow of water to the way that hair curls naturally. In fact, he was later to use this to confirm that the hair of Jesus in one of the versions of the Madonna of the Yarnwinder (see below) was by Leonardo. From there he moved on to the anatomical drawings in the Windsor Castle collection, and he was hooked.

In Living with Leonardo, Kemp takes us through some of the great paintings. There is the famous Last Supper in Milan and the controversy over its restoration. He has been able to see the Mona Lisa ‘out of its prison’ twice, and recent technical work on the underpainting has provided a model for the way Leonardo worked, revising as he went along. This immediately shows up copies and Kemp is thus able to reject the so-called ‘Isleworth Mona Lisa’, which was heavily backed by its owners as the original of the Mona Lisa with a sumptuous volume of ‘research’, without even seeing it. Kemp adds to his appreciation of the Mona Lisa through becoming immersed in the literature of the period, especially the Renaissance idealisation of women, and by making use of discoveries in the Florentine archives to recognise a certain Caterina Lippi as Leonardo’s mother. Caterina married elsewhere soon afterwards but Leonardo’s father, a successful Florentine notary, took Leonardo into his household without shame.

There is a good chapter comparing the two versions of the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, one the property of the Duke of Buccleugh, the other known as the ‘Lansdowne Madonna’. Both appear to be by Leonardo and the relationship between them is complex. The former was spectacularly stolen in 2003 from the ducal castle but Kemp is on hand to confirm its authenticity when it is recovered by police. Then we are on to La Bella Principessa, a haunting study of a girl in Renaissance dress, once believed to be a 19th-century German copy on vellum. Again, simply by looking at it, Kemp and others suspect it is something more than this and studies of the eye link it back to drawings by Leonardo. This is, of course, not enough to confirm an attribution, especially as it is unusual for Leonardo to paint on vellum. However, a breakthrough moment comes with the discovery of a missing page in a vellum book in the National Library in Warsaw. This was a presentation volume to Duke Ludovico of Milan to celebrate the marriage of his legitimised daughter Bianca Sforza in 1496. Leonardo was working for the Duke at the time and so his contribution is possible. It seems that the quality, if not the attribution, of the painting was recognised and the page was cut out in the 19th century. This chapter is notable for the abuse Kemp receives when he goes public that the Principessa is indeed a Leonardo likeness of Bianca Sforza.

As with the medieval Turin Shroud, Leonardo attracts cranks. In a final chapter, ‘Codes and Codswallop’, Kemp deals with Leonardo as a Master of the Priory of Sion, with supposedly heretical additions to the Louvre version of the Virgin of the Rocks, with hidden messages in landscapes, secret letters in the eyes of the Mona Lisa, divine proportions and so on. He appears amazingly generous to purveyors of such nonsense—or perhaps he is simply intrigued with the absurdities that Leonardo provokes. (I have to sympathise: during the course of my own studies of the undoubtedly medieval Shroud of Turin, I found that the more bizarre the arguments by Shroudies were, the more fascinating the Shroud became.)

Living with Leonardo is an excellent introduction to the cut-throat world of attributions and scholarship, here related to a formidable genius. The pressures to find a genuine Leonardo are immense. Yet in the end, it is the instinct that matters, and Kemp’s many years of study enable him to spot the lineaments of a Leonardo among the hundreds of hopefuls that reach him every year.

Reviewed by Charles Freeman, Historical Consultant to the Blue Guides.

To see more details about this book, check the Amazon links below.

The Zeugma Mosaics Saga

Visitors to southeast Turkey will be familiar with the ‘Gipsy Girl’, the portrait of a young lady (actually a maenad, one of the frenzied followers of Dionysus) exhibited amid tight security at the Gaziantep Museum. The image—featured on the cover of Blue Guide Southeastern Turkey—is now so ubiquitous (second only to the Nemrut Dağ) that it has become the logo for ‘Archaeology in Turkey’; unfortunately in the process the archaeological context of the find has been overlooked. The image was uncovered in 1998–9 during the tail end of rescue excavations when work on the dam was completed and water levels were rising. We know that it came from a villa, one of the many in Zeugma, and on stylistic grounds it is dated to the 2nd century AD. Soon, however, visitors will be able to admire the piece in a context of sorts.

Back in the early 1960s, the villa floor had been unofficially excavated, at which time the mosaic floor was hacked into twelve convenient, portable sections and sold on the international art market. The items found a new home at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, which paid $35,000 for them. Fifty years on, an agreement has been reached and the pieces will be repatriated.

Included among them is another female figure, a young lady with a frightening—or firghtened—look on her plump face and a lot of foliage in her hair. In this case the mosaicist did not reach the heights of the haunted look that has made the ‘Gipsy Girl’ so famous. On the other hand the birds are delightful and the theatre masks (if they are theatre masks) may offer a clue to understanding the composition.

In due course the pieces will be displayed at the Gaziantep Museum and one hopes that all 13 of them will be exhibited together on the floor, not hanging incongruously on the wall, in an atmosphere of less intrusive security and together with a plan of the villa.

By Paola Pugsley. Paola is the author of Blue Guide Southeastern Turkey. Her latest volume, Blue Guide Aegean Turkey: Troy to Bodrum, was published earlier this year.

11.05.2018
12:38

News from Syracuse

Blue Guide Sicily author Ellen Grady has some updates from Syracuse, where, on the island of Ortygia, the old city, there's a useful new Tourist Infopoint just behind the cathedral, at Via Minerva 4. It has up-to-date information on opening hours of the museums and the archaeological sites in Syracuse and the area of Noto. There is also a shop offering local crafts.

While visiting Syracuse, don't miss the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum. On the upper floor, a look at the Greek and Roman statuary in Section D is always worth your time. In Section F, the interesting Late Antique section is now complete, with a permanent and beautifully displayed exhibition of early Christian frescoes, epigraphs, reliefs and artefacts from the local catacombs. This surprisingly extensive system of underground tunnels and caves served as a place for burials, but also for practising the forbidden cult of Christianity.

If you’re in a car, head south from Syracuse to the charming fishing village of Marzamemi (an hour's drive) for lunch or dinner at La Cialoma. Our recommended restaurant is now listed in the Michelin Guide for Italy. You can eat either in the square, or on the terrace overlooking the sea and the old tuna fishery. The fish dishes are always good, especially if accompanied by Lina's organic house wine, which is cloudy, white and slightly fizzy. Local strawberries are perfect when in season, or you could try sheep's milk ricotta with a sauce of vino cotto, reduced wine. La Cialoma is open daily for lunch and dinner from April to October; in winter for lunch only, except at weekends.

Fresco of a saint from Pantalica
Fried Mediterranean cod

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