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Posts from the ‘2017’ Category

Florence, Land of the Medici (Part 3): The Gozzoli Chapel

Attempting to highlight one work of art in the vast collection amassed by Italy’s most famous Renaissance patrons, the Medici dynasty, is rather like choosing one golden bean from a bag of thousands. The Medici family brought together such a hoard of masterpieces that one could choose a different highlight for each day of the year, and never run out during the course of an entire lifetime. But certainly one of the most enchanting of the works commissioned by the family is one which says Medici like none other, a masterpiece of colour and figuration which is unapologetic in its glorification of the entire Medici clan. I am, of course, talking about the fresco series painted by one Benozzo Gozzoli and depicting the journey of the Magi in all its magical splendour.

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Entirely covering the walls of the private chapel of the Palazzo Medici, close to Florence’s Duomo, the Gozzoli fresco must surely be one of the most magnificent examples of Renaissance decoration ever conceived. Its location deep within the mammoth fortress-like pietra-forte walls of the Medici’s palace makes the chapel conceivably missable by those unaware of its existence (I am lucky enough to enjoy the highly refined recommendations of my dear friend Charlotte, whose suggestions for art historical treasures always hit the spot), but has also been the source of its superb condition, protecting the inherently delicate surface of the fresco from the elements. Only structural changes to the chapel when a new owner, the Riccardi family, took over the palace in the 18th century, caused damage to the fresco when an entire corner was moved inwards to make way for a staircase, spoiling the perfect symmetry conceived for the original cycle. However, what remains today is nonetheless a feast for the eyes, and frankly my photos don’t do it justice.

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Gozzoli’s fresco is both a perfectly festive narrative of the Three Kings’ journey to visit the newly born Jesus, but also a wonderfully characterful portrait of the Medici family and their magnificent entourage. There you can find an idealised cherub-like portrait of what was, in reality, a rather ugly Lorenzo the Magnificent. The original father of the Medici tribe, Cosimo the Elder is also in the crowd, together with Pietro the Gouty and Lorenzo’s assassinated brother, Giuliano. Quite asides from the portraits, I adore the colours – unapologetic homage is paid to cadium reds and ultramarine blues, verdant green landscapes and cool grey rocky outcrops. The fresco is filled with little details – deer chased in a hunt, a pond surrounded by ducks and delicate birds, and hillsides rolling across valleys and peppered with trees of every shape and size.

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Moving across all four walls of the chapel, Gozzoli artfully steers the viewer along the course of the mountain road, encouraging your eye to follow the route of the Magi and so feel immersed in their same magical journey. The result is the sensation of being not in a tiny chapel, but out in the open air enjoying the Tuscan countryside with these magnificent looking Medieval monarchs, filled with the excitement of the birth of this new Messiah.

How many relics from the 1460s have such a transformative effect and contemporary feel? So often the age and condition of Renaissance works predicates against total engagement of the kind intended by the artist at that time. It’s too easy to be distracted by the signs of age, by the cracks and the mildew. But like the perfectly conceived David, Gozzoli’s work is another example of the immediacy and wonderful accessibility of Renaissance art when unimpeded by the deterioration of the years. It is a true gem of the Medici collection and an undisputed treasure perfectly preserved of the age. I can only thank Charlotte for recommending it, and suggest that all visitors to Florence make it an equal priority of their trip.

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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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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.

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.

Casa Andaluz

My arrival in Marbella always coincides with a notable heightening in my artistic powers. Something in the air combines with the enveloping heat and the culturally visceral soul of Andalucia to arouse within my mind a flowering of creative inspiration. It’s why, over the years, I have painted some of my favourite artworks in my family’s little jasmine filled garden patio, an open air studio of which the Impressionists themselves would have been proud, and to which I swiftly returned this past summer.

Not even the marked increase of pesky tiger mosquitos could keep me from my canvases, especially since I had two paintings in mind and only 8 days in which to paint them. The first, based on our Marseille trip, I have already shared. But its completion was followed swiftly by a canvas of identical size, marking the Spanish limb of our trip.

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Casa Andaluz (©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, 2017 – acrylic on canvas)

Characterised by the burnt, olive-peppered landscape of Southern Spain, and dominated something of an abstract Andalucian house at its centre, Casa Andaluz is a work which celebrates the essence of Andalucia: its sun-baked white washed walls, the spirit of Flamenco which fills the minds and souls of its people, the religious faith which remains strong in the region, and the deeply ochre, unforgiving but beautiful landscape which underpins the region. With its palette of golden brown and olive green, it is a painting which has the look and feel of Andalucia, with its rough textures and unplanned lines. It is therefore a clear homage to this imperfect region which is, in so many ways, the unbridled soul of Spain.

© 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 

Marseille to Marbella, Part VIII: Home Sweet Home

No matter how riveting the travel or how dazzling the sights, there is nothing quite like coming home, especially when that home happens to be combined with a holiday. For I am lucky to call Marbella, as well as London, my home, and every year I look forward to heading down to Andalucia, to the jasmine-perfumed, sun-baked land of my youth, and the ever present inspiration of my adult years. So, much perfumed, sun kissed, and infused with something of a je ne sais quoi spirit, we left Marseille and the lavender filled hills of Provence, and flew down to the earthy, olive-honeyed lands of Southern Spain. We had finally made it from Marseille to Marbella.

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Marbella has featured countless times on The Daily Norm, as is only appropriate for my second home, and each time I feel the need to justify the town’s place as one of Andalucia’s true gem. The fault is the ravages of tourism and crass hedonism, although this species of club-land savagery is luckily limited to the outskirts of Marbella’s coastal sprawl and has left the charm of the casco antiguo – where our home is to be found – quite mercifully untouched. Marbella for me is no club land. It is, instead, a place of true calm. Where bird song fills the air, the smells of garlic and seafood, barbecued sardines and sweet evening jasmine waft in perfumed waves, and the sound of the sea resonates across the town.

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Like the face of a favourite grandmother, Marbella is a town whose sun-baked walls are cracked with age, and its streets warped from the passage of time, but it is a place whose history has been preserved in every layer of its thickly white-washed walls, and which unites with its locals and countless bars, restaurants and little boutiques to make it one of the most welcoming and quaint towns on Andalucia’s magical Mediterranean coastline. And above all things it is my home. How lucky I am to say it.

© 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.

Marseille to Marbella, Part VII: Aix, Le Marché

Colour, colour, colour! Shiny red apples, ruby like strawberries, resplendent silver fish and emerald green herbs. Courgettes in forest green, sage green, yellow green and white, blackboards written with curly french writing. And king of it all those sunflowers: a full, powerful sunshine punch of yellow with a deep fury chocolate brown at its centre, signalling the very epitome of this Provençal heartland. This is the market of Aix-en-Provence, the sensory spectacle to which I rushed on my birthday morning, and which is such a sight for the eyes that it deserves a post all of its own.

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I can only imagine how Paul Cezanne, famous son of the city, became inspired by the bustling, vivid life of Aix’s morning market. Who could not become an artist when basking in the glories of a sun filled square, filled with stripy umbrellas casting a warm glow over stalls full of just-picked produce and carefully nurtured harvests. Yet despite its beauty, this is no artwork to be admired on a gallery wall: The beauty of le marché in Aix is that it continues to be such a vital cog in the life of the city. It is a place for bargaining and butchering, for perusing and tasting. And in Aix’s market, watching the picky locals carefully choose the very best from an already magnificently presented selection was almost as captivating for me as the produce itself.

The market of Aix is a king amongst European street markets. Not big, not intimidating, but utterly authentic and wonderfully, completely charming.

© 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.