Posts Tagged ‘Florence’



[Picture of aerial view of Piazza Del Campo, Siena, Tuscany]I remember studying (many years ago now) Tuscan towns. I loved visiting San Gimignano, Pisa, Siena, Florence and the rest.

I am especially glad to have visited Siena with the girl I since married. I will never forget the heat of the day as Ruth and I stood with the crowds on the Piazza del Campo, right outside the Palazzo Comunale’s tower as [Picture of the New York style towers of ancient San Gimignano,  Tuscany]the cars for the Mille Miglia came and went.  We didn’t go up the tower as I had been up years before.

San Gimignano is probably the most famous place for towers — there are loads, but not for us on this trip. We didn’t go up the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa either.

That’s the way it is with us; we hate standing in queues and deplore being shepherded around with crowds of tourists.

[Picture iof The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France]It struck me that people (or should I say, tourists) love towers.  It seems to me that they will travel across the world to climb up the Eiffel Tower or The Empire State Building.

I wonder why that is. I can fully understand why we have towers and lighthouses, it is so that we can see enemies approaching. The higher the tower, the further you can see.

I can just about recall the formula too.  It starts off with a right-angled triangle, Pythagoras’s Theorem, and some facts — such as Planet Earth’s radius being 6378 km.

  • The formula is simply the square root of double the product of the Earth’s Radius and the tower height (m) divided by a thousand to get the answer in kilometres. ([2.6378] . h /1000)0.5

You wind up with a very simple formula for your tower/horizon relationship.

[Picture of Horizon at sea]The distance (km) to the vanishing point on the horizon is the square root of thirteen times the height (m) of your tower.

  • Let’s say you are standing on the beach looking at the horizon of the sea against the sky. Your height will be 1.8m or thereabouts, which means that the horizon is (13 . 1.8)0.5 away — which is — (23.4)0.5 which is 4.837 km.

You can immediately see the advantage of putting your castle up on a hill, building towers, and understanding lighthouses.  Naturally, you can work out how far a tower is (as long as you know it’s height) — you just wait until the tower’s top appears on the horizon!

Check out the height of statues here. Easterners seem to be obsessed with extremely tall structures and statues; a 128m tall Chinese Buddha simply dwarfs the 46m Statue of Liberty.

The Empire State Building is 443.2m high, The Eiffel Tower is 324m, these are cultural icons that are not religious, and as such are nearer the Tuscan towers’ in meaning and intent — mainly showing off, but also for broadening horizons.

The commerce and the wealth behind the towers of Tuscany and the skyscrapers of New York show that you are financially successful if you can see far ahead, see things coming, know when change is imminent, being able to see your enemies approach.  This elevated, lofty position — like the gods on Mount Olympus — shows a physical rise above peers to rival the career path rise.

I often wonder why these days governments stay so low to the ground.  It cannot be about the Twin Towers.  The White House is far from being a tower.  Number Ten Downing Street, Buckingham Palace and many others are not even up on hills.

Towers and tall structures these days are for tourists, capitalists and a  few others who like to expand their horizons.




For some unknown reason, The Portinari Altarpiece keeps popping into my head.  Quite why this should be so is beyond me; I really can’t explain it. I studied this work years ago, and probably the last time I even thought of it was over a decade ago.

[Picture of The Portinari]

My my, how the mind works.

I remember that Tom Portinari worked as a banker for the Medici family in Bruges for many years before commissioning this work from Hugo Van der Goes for a church in Florence. Maybe the Bruges connection is the clue; we saw the movie “In Bruges” not long ago, and Ruth and I have visited the place a couple of times. Would that be enough?

In any case, this work is pretty important to me.  It was the first time for a lot of things — my first tryptich, the first work that I encountered where I had to determine characters depicted by their “attributes”, the first artwork that I had studied that showed events using a weird 3D language (events in the past were depicted smaller and in the distance), the first time I had come across sponsors in the work and loads more firsts (these are the main ones I can recall).

It was finished in the late 1470s, and is about the “Adoration of The Shepherds“.  Mary has just given birth to the baby Jesus — she did so standing up and leaning against a pillar.  This is something altogether forgotten about today.

The scene is supposed to be based on a vivid dream of St Bridget, who saw the baby lying bare on the ground (as opposed to being in a manger).

It was usual for sponsors to be included in paintings — even though they were never at the events shown. As main sponsor, the Portinari family males were painted on the left-hand panel (father and two sons), and the right-hand side (the lesser side), is the mother and her daughter.

The patron saints are there with their attributes — the spear gives away St Thomas, the book and dragon has to be St Margaret, the bell is St Anthony, and as ever, Mary Magdalene, has her wee jar of ointment or oils.

  • I went to the Uffizi a few years back with Mike, Franco and Jenny (before I was married) — but I was hurried through the Palazzo Vecchio and the big square room mainly filled with Botticellis (including The Birth of Venus) and so did not get as long as I would have liked to meet and greet this great work of art.

I always intended visiting it again, but time has gone by and I have not as yet done so — to my deep regret.  Oh, how could I have been rushed? But then, it would have taken at least a full morning after all, it’s about 6 metres long by about two and a half metres high — it’s a full wall for heaven’s sakes!  A great painting in all respects.

One of the most charming things about this work is that it was always intended to be an altarpiece (the church of Sant’Egidio), and so in the foreground is painted flowers in vases that would have seemed like real flowers on the actual altar!  I remember that the orange lilies are supposed represent “The Passion”, while the wonderfully painted white irises represent Mary’s “Purity”.

It is choc-full of such symbols, hidden codes and meanings, representations, and Christian religious art language, and yet it is painted in a Dutch, Flemish, style for Italians.

Anyone interested in art history, religious effects on culture, semiotics, language and more, would have to study this immense work of art.

If you can get to see it, take it.  I know I will!