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Posts tagged ‘Duomo’

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part V: Lakeside in Garda

It’s something of a contradiction in terms, that two Gentlemen in Verona were not in Verona at all, but should have ventured swiftly onwards to Italy’s great Lake Garda. However, the location of this mountain-locked beauty is comfortably close to Verona, and a mere 30 minute’s train ride transmitted us in a frictionless trajectory to the still waters of Garda, and to the idyllic town of Sirmione, the Lake’s most popular destination.

I’m no lover of tourist hot-spots, but it’s easy to see why Sirmione is visited by millions and the beloved of many. With it’s fairy-tale like Scaligero Castle marking the town’s entrance, and a quaint little historical centre all set upon a slender little peninsular jutting out into the lake, Sirmione is veritable honeypot of Italian charm, and the perfect location for gelato, lemon-flavoured treats and an aperol spritz aplenty.

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I first wanted to see Garda when we saw the utterly mesmerising scenes of young love being played out on its shores in Call Me By Your Name (2017), which I have long proclaimed to be the best film ever made. The protagonists, Oliver and Elio, are not there for long. Accompanying Elio’s father to unearth the discovery of an ancient sculpture found on the bed of the lake, there is a beautiful scene when all three go for a swim amongst the grasses and reeds which give this wide expanse of water the nature of a lake rather than the sea which it otherwise resembles. As we arrived near Sirmione we saw those same lush reeds and grasses, and the presence of ducks and swans marked this out as a freshwater paradise, with a tranquility most unlike the sea.

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A second signposting to Garda was the ravishing book, The Land Where Lemons Grow, in which author Helena Attlee expertly guides the reader through Italy’s most historically and currently significant citrus growing spots. The atmosphere she conjured with her descriptions of lemon growth on the shores of Lake Garda had me dreaming of the lake long before I went there. Once alongside Garda, I reveled in a panoply of lemon-infused products to mark our arrival in this wonderful place, a lemon-cream filled cannolo being chief among these guilty pleasures.

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Our trip to Lake Garda lived up to both film, and book. We left knowing that this one visit was a mere lemon-filled taster, and that one day we will return. For now, as we ventured back to Verona, these Two Gentlemen felt fully at home, as the city of love and style and Italian chic welcomed us back for one evening more… to drink Valpolicella amongst the people of the Piazza della Erbe, and to stroll in the marble-paved streets of the Romans that went before us.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. 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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part IV: Four Churches which Enchanted Us

“There are four main churches in Verona”, our hostess told us, “and you must visit them all.” Not two Gentlemen to take advice lightly, we decided we had better do just that. And so in their turn we visited the four principal churches of the city – Sant’Anastasia, San Fermo, the Duomo and San Zeno (although when viewed from the hilly city surroundings, we could see that Verona, peppered with spires, is host to more than four).

A combined visitors ticket made access to the spiritual quartet an easy endeavour, and once we had been inside the first – Sant’Anastasia – we were hungry to see them all. With its soaring vaulting ceilings frescoed in delicate bouquets of floral motifs, and harbouring the famous fresco of Saint George by Pisanello (which you’ll have to strain your neck to see), Sant’Anastasia made for an impressive beginning. The church had a tangible luminosity which bounced off its high ceilings and the walls adorned with devotional masterpieces. However it was the small details which enchanted the most, chief among them the holy water fonts, or hunchbacks, whose faces contorted with pain are said to represent the fact that the people of Verona were brought almost to their knees by the massive undertaking of constructing this church. Looking at the scale of the place, I can quite imagine why.

Sant’Anastasia

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A short stroll away saw us arriving at the second, and I suppose you should say the most important church of the lot – the Duomo. After Sant’Anastasia, the interior, while beautiful, did not impress us as much. That was the preserve of the exterior, whose delightful striped facade made for a truly beautiful sight when offset against the Veronese blue sky, while the huge mythological griffins which hold up enormous columns either side of the main entrance portico lent a true grandiosity to the building. A further highlight deserving of a mention is the Baptistery’s stunning octagonal font. Rendered from a single block of Veronese marble, it is aptly considered to be a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture and with good reason. Its scenes of expressive high-relief figures were joyous to behold, bursting to life in their narrative of the birth and baptism of Jesus and the many hurdles along the way.

The Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta

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After lunch and a stroll through the Giardino Giusti, we took in our third church on the way back to our apartment. San Fermo is all about the ceiling. Ancient though it may be, the extraordinary multi-arched wooden construction is punctuated by an even more impressive collection of some 416 portraits of saints. It was time again to strain the neck to appreciate them, although the scale of work meant this short-term discomfort was well worth it, just to pay homage to the unknown artist whose ingenuity created them. 

San Fermo

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Our fourth and final visit came the following day, when Saturday meant that our visit coincided with a big fat fluffy wedding. While this meant for a rather glamorous spectacle as the church of San Zeno was given over to a vision of bridal beauty and the admiration of all, it did mean that we were unable to get close and personal with all of the ancient masterpieces contained within the church. We did however manage to sneak in a moment or two with San Zeno’s greatest spectacle: its doors.

Comprising 48 bronze panels, dating from 1030 and 1137 respectively depending on which of the two doors you are looking at, the panels depict in delightfully naive fashion the life and times of San Zeno. More than the images, I loved seeing the parts which had been rubbed smooth by centuries of visitors, the dark bronze polished to a sparkling lustre by the touch of the faithful. I can well imagine how churches such as these inspired visitors over the years to reach out and touch… just to be sure that these miracles of art and faith actually existed, and weren’t just a wonderful mirage. That same sense of awe-inspiring disbelief continues to this day, as Verona’s four main churches continue to inspire.

San Zeno

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. 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.

Magnificent Milano (Part 4): The Duomo, Rooftop forest

In fashioning the most extravagantly elegantly shaped dresses and forging trends to go bankrupt for, the designers of Milan are merely following in the footsteps of their city forefathers who constructed a Cathedral to wow, inside and out. And while their objective was most certainly achieved in all the most conspicuous of places, they didn’t fall short of embellishing even those sections seen more regularly by the birds than by the faithful down below. For the Duomo’s rooftop is every bit as beautiful as its marble facade and its stunning grandiose interior. In fact to my mind, it’s the icing on the cake, and the cherry on top all rolled into one magnificent exhibition of man’s greatest craftsmanship.

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The roof of the Duomo of Milan is a veritable forest of marble Gothic spires (some 135 in all) topped by perfectly sculpted images of the saints, flowers and gargoyles. These upward thrusts of stone are coupled with gently arching buttresses which support the nave and make the initial approach along one side of the building and up to the central section a real treat of overlapping stone. Once on the very top, you need to have both a head for heights and a steady footing, as you literally walk on the sloping sides of the vaulted ceiling. But if you suffer from vertigo, think of Mary, whose golden statue still looks minuscule, even from the roof, as it soars upwards hundreds of metres into the sky.

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But perhaps the greatest aspect of the roof is the view. Behind the spires and the ancient statues is a city skyline progressing fast with the times. Out of the shadow of modernista palazzos, a vibrant new landscape of skyscrapers and apartment blocks is growing, from Ponti and Pier Lugui Nervi’s iconic Pirelli Tower, to the more recent, twisting form of Zaha Hadid’s Generali Tower or the strangely verdant Bosco Verticale by Stefano Boeri. It’s ancient meets modern, which more or less sums up the character of Milan: A city forging way ahead of many of its ancient Italian cousins, but retaining at its heart one of the most impressive historical buildings of them all: the Duomo.

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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.

Magnificent Milano (Part 3): The Duomo, Inside and Out

Move aside Prada, take a seat La Scala. For when it comes to the true and undisputed icon of Milan, it’s the mighty cathedral, Milan’s Duomo which will always take centre stage. The ultimate celebration of the gothic style at its most flamboyant, the Duomo is a veritable forest of multiple spires, and a jewellery box of delightfully pearlescent Candoglia marble which is crafted into an entire cast and crew of saints, sinners and ghoulish gargoyles peppering every inch of the abundantly decorated facade.

We must consider ourselves lucky in this century to see the Duomo in its current state of perfection. For the gigantic structure, which is surely one of the most dazzlingly ambitious historical structures to have ever been built, took some 6 centuries to complete after its commencement in 1386. And happily too, it survived the WW2 bombs which made mincemeat of much of the surrounding area.

Outside…

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So not knowing quite where to begin with this enormous building, which is in fact the third largest church in the world, we spent almost a whole sunny day admiring the Duomo from all angles. Starting with the wonderful roof (which will have a post all of its own), we turned our visit on its head, following the great heights of the soaring cathedral with a protracted study of its beautiful exterior furnishings while waiting, somewhat agonisingly, in the freezing wind, as we queued to get inside. While it took some time to defrost when we finally made it through one of the Duomo’s great bronze doors, the visual feast to be discovered within was more than sufficient to warm us up again.

I have been in many a cathedral, but I don’t think I have ever been quite so dazzled as when faced by the sheer scale and magnitude of this cathedral. Appearing even bigger on the inside than it did on the out, I didn’t know whether to focus first on the elaborately patterned marble floor, the soaring forest of 40 great pillars, the soaring, vaulting ceilings far, far above, or the stained glass windows which are the most complex and stunningly coloured I have ever seen. A mere side chapel of this Cathedral is the size of the principal place of worship of most countries. And just one small panel of the great stained glass windows close to the altar was packed with more detail and narrative than you would find across the entire diameter of a finely crafted rose window elsewhere.

…and inside

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If the great propaganda machine of historical Catholicism intended to dazzle and dominate with the sheer theatre of its religious spectacle, this place had me converted. Like a mere supplicant, I felt lost in the scale and sense of awestruck enormity of it all, and by the time we made our way outside again, I had quite lost all sense of proportion. Happily a Milanese lunch, and a quick look at some of the nearby boutique’s average prices gave me the sharp shock I needed to bring me back to reality.

© 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.

Siena: Doing the Duomo

In choosing Siena’s most iconic building, there are two clear contenders. Sat at the pithy core of the citrus-sliced semi circle of the Piazza del Campo, the Palazzo Pubblico is a clear contender. With its soaring bell tower of red brick characterised by medieval power status and the objective to outdo rival Florence, the Palazzo is in every way iconic as a symbol of Sienese politics and ambition. But while for me the Palazzo and surrounding Piazza may be the brains of Siena, its beating heart and most charismatic structure of all is its Duomo. With a lavishly intricate facade made of blackish green, coral pink and creamy white marble, together with a multitude of gold enhanced mosaics and relief sculptures, the Duomo looks good enough to eat – a minty humbug and a prize wedding cake al rolled into one.

The Duomo and its facade

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But to focus on Siena’s exterior would be to miss the treasures on the inside, which range from Michaelangelo’s treasured sculpture of Saint Paul, Nicola Pisano’s impressively intricate Carrara marble pulpit, Donatello’s bronze relief, The Feast of Herod, Bernini’s sunburst lantern atop the dome, and an incredible marble floor depicting a series of biblical tales with pristinely cut delicately interlaced pieces of multicoloured stone which was the life work of some 40 artists across 200 years. What’s more, in the Piccolomini Library off to one side of the main nave, there is the staggering feat of Bernadino di Betti’s ceiling and wall frescos whose multiple areas of gold embellish the room with a lavishness equal only to a jewellery shop.

The Piccolomini Library

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Interestingly however, the Cathedral might well have been far greater and even more exorbitantly lavish had a planned (and commenced) extension in the 14th century, intended to more than double its size, been completed. Sadly owing to the onset of the Black Death in 1348, the work was ceased, and the evidence of errors in the construction meant that it was never continued. All that remains of the plans today is a the large outer shell which helps to illustrate the scale to which the Duomo extenders aspired and the power and ambition of the city.

The interior and the incredible pictorial floors

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So with those unbeatable views I’m brining this Siena and Tuscany series of posts to a close. They’re photos which capture a region of outstanding natural beauty, and hold the memories of adventures which I will long cherish… until the next time I’m lucky enough to visit the home of my in laws.

Up in the gods… and the views of Siena from the top

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© 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.

Positano & beyond | Amalfi

We had been some time on Italy’s stunning Amalfi Coast before we actually visited the town of Amalfi itself. Or perhaps I should call it a city, for Amalfi is a place rich in maritime history left over from a time when it was as important on the trading map as Venice and Genoa. Today however it is a mere shadow of its former glory – small in size and population, but still retaining all the highlights of its historical magnificence. 

We set out to Amalfi one stormy morning from Positano, after a night when humid thunderstorms had tried to break through the sauna of heat clinging to the mountain sides down by the sea. However within the 45 minutes of our boat journey along the coast, the clouds were already rolling away, and the arrival of the sun coincided perfectly with our arrival into Amalfi, it’s magnificent gold tiled Duomo reflecting the sun like a lone diamond and glinting visibly all the way out to sea. 

Journey and arrival…

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As the boat docked on Amalfi’s busy quayside it was already obvious that the town had a much more tangibly urban feel than little Positano. Along the seafront, larger ornate apartment blocks stood proudly like the kind usually found in Rome or Naples; in its port boats glided in and out with greater regularity and purposefulness; and in its squares, crowds bustled in a way which inferred that real life was going on here, as well as tourism. 

The streets of Amalfi

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ITALIA Season – Florence and San Gimignano: My photographs

I have no qualms in declaring that Italy was the making of me. When I embarked upon a Gap Year trip studying art history across the main focus points of artistic Italy in 2001, it opened my eyes to a realm of creativity that I had never before imagined could exist in such abundance. Growing up in Sussex, the limits of my art education had been trips to see recreated plastic Victorian seaside scenes in the local Worthing museum, and a Monet exhibition at the Royal Academy which, having been hyped up on TV, I dragged my parents up to London to see.

Italy changed all of that, and the city which really began my love affair with Italia was the city of Firenze. It is a city so richly overflowing with beautiful cobbled streets, consistently charming buildings, stunning architectural gems such as the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, and a wealth of artistic treasures, that it is hard not to become utterly seduced, not to mention that it sits at the centre of a vast plain of equally lovely Tuscan countryside.

When I returned to Florence some years later, my visit was brief, but the city had lost none of its charm. Staying only a few days, old sights were revisited as I tried to recreate those carefree days of 2001, trying to stumble upon those once-loved haunts while following my mental recollected map of the city (which did not always prove to be correct!). But my time in Florence was short, as the nearby city of San Gimignano beckoned, a city which is so complete in its preserved medieval heritage that UNESCO has ring-fenced the whole town and marked it with its rubber stamp of protective approval. No wonder the place was so overloaded with tourists.

In the mood of Italia Season here on The Daily Norm, I enclose some of my favourite shots from that trip. They’re not your typical photos of the cities, but small, detail shots of little items of life that amused or interested me. Enjoy!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. 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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.