On Discovering a Painting by Vasari
The port of Livorno, Italy is a major stopping call for cruise ships, as it is only a few hours away form Florence. It is well worth defying those crowds which define Florence in a Tuscan summer and instead explore this seas-side town.
Venice Nuovo (or New Venice) is an area of Livorno where the streets are, naturally, crisscrossed by canals. It was designed by Medici architects in an effort to create the prefect city. The canals linked the port to the warehouses, and many of the streets are lined with the houses of the nobility and important merchant families of the 17th and 18th C.
Like its namesake, Venice Nuovo is a great place to simply wander. When exploring and the Tuscan sun become too hot, there is always a place for a coffee and a cool drink, a gelato, or something more substantial.
|The pace of life in Livorno|
Unmentioned by my guide-books (and I always have a few) the church nestles between a canal, the Via del Forte S. Pietro, and the Via Santa Caterina. I was struck first by the rough façade, so typical of many Tuscan churches of the time. Above this towers an octagonal dome, designed on the Pantheon of Rome.
The door stood open, so I walked in.
The church was empty. Light poured in through the windows of the dome. Large side chapels open from the central octagonal space, so that the church feels airy and light.
Despite the wars which have flowed through this part of Italy, and the fact the adjacent Dominican monastery was used as a prison from Napoleonic times until a few decades ago, many works have survived, including the Altar of Relics where, according to the pamphlet I picked up in the church, ‘are kept different bones of Saints’.
Most surprisingly of all, however, was finding Vasari’s Coronation of the Virgin. I know of Vasari largely through his Lives of the Artists (considered the first work on art history). Although I knew him to be a painter, I had never seen any of his works. I did not expect to find one in Livorno.
Born in 1511, Vasari lived and worked during that amazing period in Florentine and
Italian history. A true Renaissance man, he was also an architect, designing
the Uffizi Loggia as well as the eponymous Vasari Corridor. (He also worked on
churches in Florence and elsewhere in Italy, and worked on Julius III’s villa
in Rome.) He worked
on some of the frescoes adorning the cupola of Florence’s Duomo, and his more
famous paintings are in Palazzo Vecchio.
The Coronation of the Virgin shows Our Lady (supported by tiers of angels) ascending into Heaven where Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Spirit await with a golden crown. Originally painted for St Michael’s Chapel in the Vatican (Vasari received a knighthood from the pope after his work in Rome) it was later donated to the church, and has recently been restored.
Discovering ‘my’ Vasari reminded me why I travel – popular sights are often crowded because they are worth the visit, but there are always so many other unexpected finds along the way.