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Florence, Land of the Medici (Part 2): Michelangelo’s David

It is one of the most famous icons in all the history of Art, and one of the world’s undisputed masterpieces of sculpture. Michelangelo’s David must have been reproduced more than any other statue across the globe: You’d be hard pushed to find a garden centre which didn’t contain a moss-covered replica, or an Italian souvernir shop which didn’t have a panoply of aprons focusing on David’s genitals, keyrings of the same, and your own personal desktop David in every size and colour variation. Yet despite it’s high visibility, nothing can prepare you for seeing the real thing. Nothing.

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I remember the moment of my first acquaintance with David when I studied art history in 2001. It was the day I was least looking forward to, since I thought David was too well-known and obvious to excite. But when I saw the original, the huge vast scale of it, the sheer perfection of his exquisitely sculpted flesh in marble, it made me cry. I stood before that masterpiece completely enraptured. And I have looked forward to making a second acquaintance ever since. Some 16 years passed before I could see David up close again, but as these photos show, he inspired me every bit as much on this second visit, and I took a long and happy pause to revel in every details of Michelangelo’s impossibly perfected magnum opus.

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Created between 1501 and 1504, David is the work not of an experienced sculptor at the height of his game, but of a junior Michelangelo in the early years of his career. Much nurtured by his patron, Lorenzo (the Magnificent) di Medici, Michelangelo enjoyed a swift rise to fame, but his talent was the true driver, something which was never so brilliantly exhibited as in the creation of this perfect nude. The work is yet more incredible when you consider that Michelangelo first had to sculpt around the previous abandoned attempts made by two other sculptors on the same block of marble. He also had to make the best of this mammoth hunk of stone which had suffered notable deterioration during the 26 years when it had lain abandoned in a sculptural workshop, exposed to the elements. But as Michelangelo always said, he did not create sculptures, but simply freed them from the marble. And with David, he gave liberty to the most perfectly formed being ever seen in the history of art.

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Of course David is not the only gem to be discovered in the Accademia Gallery where he can now be found. There reside a number of the unfinished Michelangelo’s sculptures commenced in anticipation of the great Pope Julius II tomb of which the sculptor’s famous Moses was also intended to be part. Likewise there is a room loaded full of plaster casts, all of which were used to give instructions to fellow scuptors who, like Michelangelo, would come to emerge from this indubitable city of the rebirth of Art. All of it makes a visit to the Accademia gallery a must, but book online to avoid the queues – it’s well worth the not waiting :-).

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Photographing Firenze

Whenever I go abroad, my camera is never far from my hands. If I had a preference, I guess I would capture all of those mesmerising European views with a paintbrush and canvas. But that’s just not practical with the pace of our travels, and photography offers the unrivaled ability to snatch moment upon moment in an endless succession of beautiful images. In Florence, my camera was with me less. The reason is quite simple: in a city with such a rich art historical offering, my eyes were otherwise engaged, and there is something about photographing paintings which makes me squeal inside. The masterpieces of artists require our undivided attention. Captured through the camera feels like a betrayal.

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So as a result, I don’t have that many photos of Florence, from this past trip at least.  It’s a city whose beauty speaks for itself, and whose bustling cobbled streets, ancient rugged stone walls, multiple church towers and tangible medievalism lends itself very easily to the camera, a fact which is proven by the few photos which I did take, collated together for this post.

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Here the golden pomposity of the Medici palaces is evident, as well as the proud riverside residences of the merchants who made the city great. The photos are peppered with the varying marble tones which decorate the most famous facades of the city’s churches, and demonstrate something of the scale of the grand urban planning which the ruling Medicis put in place when they designed the long airy galleries of the Uffizi and the broad sweeping shop-lined streets.

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Florence is a city which glows warmly in the summer and comes alive in the Spring. In the autumn it is a place of comfortable elegance. And as I was to discover on this past trip, at Christmas it was a city alive with the spirit and magic of the time. Florence truly is a gem for all seasons.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Florence Nocturne

The inspirational capability of Florence is extreme. There is no doubting the city’s role in the rebirth of art in the western world and its transformation into the greatest proliferation of creativity seen since the age of antiquity. So there can be no surprise that it has inspired artists to paint, draw, sculpt and write ever since. I could paint the city endlessly. But time never stands to indulge me. I had time for just one small gouache, hastily designed on the train from Florence to Milan, but executed when time allowed me to reflect on the pastel shades and Renaissance brilliance of that impeccable city.

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Florence Nocturne (©2018, Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

My work, Florence Nocturne, is like a musical homage to a city lost in the dream-world of sleep but whose elegant topography remains unchanged by the twilight. It mirrors the city with simple lines – it was after all a city known for the relative austerity of its grandeur compared with the later embellishments of baroque Rome and romantically Gothic Venice, and its palette reflects the pink and green marble of the ornamental Duomo.

It captures the moment when the tourists have gone home and the city sleeps, but its pearly white facades remain aglow against the dark night sky. It is my poetic dedication to Florence, the city which inspired the greatest lights of Art, and which has continued to ensnare new generations of creatives ever since.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Florence, Land of the Medici (Part 1): The Loggia dei Lanzi

I was in Florence in my imaginings, long before I set foot there on the eve of Christmas Eve. In the weeks preceding our trip, I had been variously transported to the great city of the Renaissance by Mary Hollingsworth, whose new revealing narrative of the Medici family enchanted me before I even turned to the first page. Charting the multiple highs and lows of a family who came to dominate the city of Florence and shape the very fabric of the city to their taste and fancy, the book reminded me that love them or hate them, without the Medici, Florence would never have become the gem which catapulted it to international fame and admiration.

So when I returned to Florence for Christmas, my first visit in over six years, I did so with a mind filled to the brim with tales of the Cosimos and the Lorenzos, of the audacious Grand Dukes and their self-made apotheosis. And in such a state, I could not help but notice their stamp wherever I turned in the city. Barely a metre would pass without their family crest of the 6 balls appearing like an apparition on every stone and surface of Florence. And in striving to fill my trip with some of the city’s greatest masterpieces of art, I was of course undertaking an inadvertent journey along the road of great Medici patronage which, most will agree, underpinned the birth of the Renaissance and promoted artistic excellence to new heights.

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No place quite smacks of Medici prowess as the Piazza della Signoria where our trip began. Not only does it play host to the Palazzo Vecchio, once Medici palace and seat of the Florentine government with its sturdy fortress-like walls ensuring all knew of the powerhouse within; it also contains some of the finest works of sculpture ever commissioned during the thriving Florentine Renaissance. Yes, there’s a copy of Michelangelo’s ravishing David (more about him another day), and a rather magnificent bronze statue of Cosimo I, mounted on a horse, but the very best works are contained within the Loggia del Lanzi, the great gallery of public proclamation and official ceremonies. Named after the Lansquenets guards posted there by Cosimo I de’ Medici, today it contains some of the most recognisable masterpieces of the Medici patronage (as well as a good number of ancient treasures collected by the family in Rome).

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You can spend a fortune on buying entry tickets for Florence’s many art museums, and a even greater amount of time in queuing, but spend an hour in the Loggia del Lanzi, and you will feast upon true treasure of art history and all for free. Thus we passed a wonderfully calm morning on Christmas Day, drinking in the drama, the emotion and the sheer artistic skill of these incredible works; of Pio Fedi’s ravishing but deeply traumatic Rape of Polyxena, and the equally dramatic, soaring masterpiece of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women; gazing at the sheer muscle and brawn of Hercules and the Centaur, and admiring the dexterity of antiquity as we enjoyed an equal number of early Roman lions and graceful Trajan women.

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Firenze is a city with much to offer. You could spend your time focusing on its famous gelaterias, its bustling leather markets or ambling from one glittering church to another. But one thing which you cannot fail to miss is the influence of the Medici. In many ways, their output will provide the visitor with the most enchanting treat of them all.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Seeing Out Seventeen: NYE in Zürich

Happy New Year from The Daily Norm! I know, I’m five days late in wishing you these tidings, but what are 5 mere days when you have 360 left to enjoy? Plus, it has taken me as many days to recover my stride since touching down into normal-land after a grand tour of magnificent proportions, taking festive Florence, magnificent Milan, and the stunning Swiss city of Zürich in my stride. Of course there is much to share, and while I should be methodical about it, and take you straight into the bosom of Michelangelo’s prodigious David, back in Firenze where it all began, I am throwing chronology to the wind.

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I’m starting instead at the end, rewinding the clock just a few days to New Year’s Eve, to the wonderful city of Zürich. My reason for doing so is clear: Zürich is one of those places which is so idyllically Christmassy that it could appear on any Christmas card all covered in snow. Consequently, if I post my photos in three weeks time, Christmas will be as outmoded as turkey left overs, and that would do the city little favours. For as we discovered upon this first visit, Zürich is a gem of magnificent proportions. Far from being the glittering metropolitan of its banking-centre reputation, you will find a city with a true historical apotheosis at its heart: An old town emboldened with delicately gilded and modestly coppered greed spiked spires and oversized chiming clocks, characterised by twisting cobbled lanes and varnished wooden shop fronts which invite you to enter and bask in the glow of cosyness.

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It is a city which knows how to do Christmas, whose streets are strung with lights not just horizontally, but vertically too, so that the result is a total immersion in the magic of the season, almost like hypnotherapy into the world of the festive fairy. Meanwhile, it’s patisseries and grand cafes are an orgy of festive abundance, with light-strung, foliage-packed decor filling every last inch to create a true winter wonderland to engorge the senses.

Zürich is a place truly deserving of this voluptuous description, but for the rest, I’ll let the photos do the talking, from the pink rosy sunset over the magnificent Swiss lake on whose banks the city was born, to the light-strewn streets and picture-perfect chocolate shops. This post ends with the stunning 20 minute firework display which entranced the whole city who hung out on its bridges to see the sky aflame with colour. It was a truly spectacular way to see out 2017, and a privileged moment in which to get to know a fine European city.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

2017: My Year in Photos

There is no doubt that my favourite post of every year is this one: the moment when, in looking back over a year of photos, I am able to consolidate the last 365 days and review an overarching visual picture of the year. There’s nothing quite so fulfilling as the recognition of a year well spent, and looking back over this year’s photos, I am able to confidently conclude that 2017 has been an extraordinary year.

It was extraordinary for many reasons, not least for the variety not only of our holidays, but of our lifestyle changes too. At the beginning of the year, we were living in Mallorca and I was working in Marketing. By the end, I am once again a hardened (but wiser) Londoner, but with an altogether more exciting role in commercial law. It was consequently a year of big changes, and not least in our home, where a total redecoration accompanied our return to the big smoke, and Farrow & Ball calke green became the indubitable shade of the season.

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But if I was to remember 2017 for one thing, it would be for the breadth and diversity of our travels. 2017 saw us setting foot on African soil for the first time, and the cultural shift which resulted just a few hundred miles south of Spain is an experience which will stay with me forever. But similarly variable were the sun-baked lands of Sicily whose Eastern shores we explored in June. Whether it be the explosive volcanic soils surrounding Etna or the proliferation of baroque architecture peppering the ancient towns, Sicily was a true hot bed of unique creative and natural passions. Then there were the lush vineyards of Tuscany, the ochre glow of Aix, aperol spritz in Siena, the great stags of Windsor…

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So scan your eyes over the photos above and below and bask in a glorious plethora of multicoloured captures – clear evidence of a year which punched above its weight in scintillating sites and alluring appeal. It was a year of great holidays, but also of staycations too – a warm and balmy English summer provided us with the perfect excuse to explore the leafy gardens of South West London and enjoy the very visible changes of the English seasons, from floral Spring in Battersea Park to an auburn Autumn on Clapham Common.

Now the seasonal chapter is shifting once again. Christmas is over and the days of wintery cold have just begun. But just as I reflect with relish upon this last year in its final fading hours, I look forward with anticipation to the year soon to come. New sights, news sensations, and another cycle of seasonal variations has started all over again.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

A very Normy Christmas

Christmas is all about nostalgia, for the Norms as much as for us humans, and when the Norms think of Christmas, they reflect upon snowy days in their family homes, when the ground is as white as they are, and they can roll around unnoticed amongst the frozen snowflakes and white-covered landscapes. So what better way to wish all readers of The Daily Norm a very Merry Christmas than to share with you all this depiction of a Very Normy Christmas, as we join the Norms in one of their family homes on Christmas Day. Whether it be building a snowman, putting up the tree, or taking a breath of fresh air after a hearty Christmas lunch, the Norms love their Christmas afternoons out in the snow. Even Father Christmas Norm appears to have stuck around for this one (if you can find him!).

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Norms go home for Christmas (©2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

This is actually the Norm sketch I created for my Mother’s present this Christmas (don’t worry, she’s already opened it, so I’m not spoiling the surprise by sharing the sketch with you all this Christmas Day morning). Each Norm represents a member of my family at Christmas, and the house you see is my family home and the setting of all of my childhood Christmases. Even though I won’t be there this Christmas, it’s a setting where my mind always wonders on these nostalgic days of Christmas.

What more is there to add than to wish you all a very Merry, Normy Christmas – look forward to seeing you all in the New Year!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Christmas Comes Home: Party time!

I’m not ashamed to spend many an hour making my home wonderful for Christmas just for myself and my partner to enjoy. Who else really matters? After all, it is us who get the ultimate pleasure of waking and sleeping to lights twinkling like an enchanted forest all around us. Nevertheless, there is something of the Nigella in me, and I can’t help but revel in the opportunity to share my winter wonderland with friends. So in this last post extolling the virtues of my home at Christmastime, why not take a glimpse of the flat all trussed up for a small soiree we held last weekend.

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Central to the event was the table. A vase at its centre hosted a flurry of discarded Clapham Common tree branches. What the wind had cast asunder, I recycled, creating the perfect skeleton for a cornucopia of lights and dazzling gold and glass decorations. On those branches, our glass treasures from Venice have never looked so beautiful, hanging freely, suspended in mid air, rather than getting caught up in the denser gathering of Christmas tree branches. Beneath this composition, a plethora of festive food gathered: a cheese board bedecked with berries and nuts, freshly cut meats from Italy and, best of all, the “Merookies” (a cross between meringues and cookies) recently featured on the newest Christmas episode of Nigella Lawson’s At My Table series. With an exquisite salty pistachio balance to the sweetness of the meringue and the rich depth of chocolate chips, I was completely sold on these Nigella creations. So was everyone else – they disappeared in seconds.

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I love Christmas parties. I love sharing with friends. And I love seeing my home so pristine in its presentation for a night out on the town. But even more, I love the clearing up at the end of the evening – when empty champagne flutes tell of hours of merriment enjoyed, and the crumbs of cookies and Christmas biscuits intermingle with fallen shards of glitter flickering in the dying candlelight. Home sweet home.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Christmas Comes Home: St Petersburg Palace

Christmas is in full swing. Ridiculously there’s only a week to go! While that makes me panic ever so slightly, the best tranquiliser is to switch on some Christmas carols (or Nigella Lawson’s Christmas series on TV…oozing pure aesthetic) and sit in the warm glow provided by my beloved Christmas trees. Last week I shared with you my new kitchen-inspired carrot-laden scheme. Today I want to take you to frostier quarters, where elegance reaches an all time high: my tree inspired by a St Petersburg Palace.

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Replacing the annual real tree whose needles played havoc with my cream carpets, this year we have introduced a new 7ft snow sprayed false tree adorned with warm lights and begging for the fake polar-bear throw which is wrapped around the base of the tree and provides a wonderful soft landing for all those gold and white presents. On the snowy white branches, I added golden fern leaves for embellishment, and thus set the scene for my favourite ever set of decorations: an abundance of whites and golds and blues of every shade, all in homage to the glory and opulence of a Russian Christmas.

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Choosing Russia as a theme meant a stark contrast to the interior design of the bedroom setting which is very Mediterranean in feel. But what better way to get cold blue and warm gold into a tree theme than to translate the tones of a Mediterranean beach into the frosted splendour of a St Petersburg Palace. With its onion-roofed houses, night-sky baubles, glass whales, white nutcrackers and elegant Russian dolls, I love the way this design has pulled together. It is the ultimate bedroom tree and a true delight to both see out and see in these festive wintery days.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

NG1 (after Sebastiano del Piombo)

Those eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that in the background of my freshly dressed kitchen Christmas tree (featured on Tuesday’s blog), a new painting lay in the shadows. Recently completed after some months of on and off work, the painting, NG1, is the latest in my series of interpretative abstracts which aim to reinterpret great masterpieces in an abstract form. This work is based on the great painting by Sebastiano del Piombo, a protégé of Michelangelo’s and who painted the work as a commission for Cardinal Giulio di Medici in around 1518.  Entitled The Raising of Lazarus, the original work shows the moment when Jesus performed the miracle in which Lazarus was raised from the bounds of death. My reinterpretation aims to follow the exact compositional and colour profile of the original, dramatic scene, while presenting the moment of this miracle in a far more modern light.

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NPG1 (after Sebastiano) ©2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas

It was important for me that I was able to present the background in an almost identical form to the original. But that is where the similarities end, and the figures which dominate Sebastiano’s original are henceforth reduced into purely abstract forms. The result loses nothing of the compositional force of the original, yet feels like an altogether more contemporary work.

As for the name – NG1 – this emanates, very simply, from the inventory code for the original painting relative to its place within the collection of the National Gallery in London. As the first major masterpiece purchased for the Gallery’s collection, it gained the code no.1, and is today unsurpassed in retaining its prominent position hanging gloriously amongst the Renaissance masterpieces displayed nearby.

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The original work, The Raising of Nazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo (1517-19)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com