Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘ArtLovers pilgrimage’ Category

St Paul’s Cathedral, Saturday 25.9.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 26, 2010

Last night we had dinner with Tim’s niece Georgia (who’s an occupational therapist based here in London until she ‘stops having fun’) and this morning we had breakfast with my niece Cressida, her husband Marc and their two dear little girls.  They live here in London too now, and it was lovely to meet my grand-nieces for the first time!   

After that, we set off for St Paul’s Cathedral where, as part of the admission fee, we chanced upon one of the best tour guides we’ve come across.  His name was John and he took us through all sorts of interesting parts of the cathedral that tourists can’t usually access.  We went, for example,  into the Chapel of St Michael and St George and sat down among the pews, which are decorated with small individual plaques commemorating various military heroes.  The plaques are beautifully crafted in enamel, with coats of arms in vivid colours, and quite large, especially for chaps with many letters after their names.   We knew only one of them: Baden-Powell, who started the boy scout movement and after whom my grandfather Baden Powell Hill was named in admiration of the hero of Mafeking.  On the wooden carvings on the chapel walls we noted that St George was ready for battle but appeared to have lost a dragon to joust with – while St Michael had seven (representing the Seven Deadly Sins).  John (who had a rather droll sense of humour) said that he thought St George’s dragon was probably lurking among them.   

From there we went downstairs to admire Christopher Wren’s amazing staircase which has steps which seem to float in space.  Alas photography is not allowed because St Paul’s is a functioning place of worship, but you can see what it looks like from this link – which also shows a contemporary art installation called Flare II, by artist Antony Gormley.  This is not the only example of somewhat incongruous modern intrusions: there is also an exhibition of modern paintings down in the crypt which just looked silly there.   

From the choir, one can look up and admire the mosaics properly.  Apparently when Wren was commissioned to design the cathedral his brief was to avoid any of that un-Protestant florid popery beloved of those European Catholics, but it wasn’t long before there was consensus that British power and prestige would be well served by some extravagant mosaics and carvings and whatnot with which to impress those same Europeans.  So now there are magnificent golden mosaics of angels and so forth, and some of the carvings in the choir stalls are enchanting.  Above the altar the mosaics are even more impressive and I was pleased to be able to buy a souvenir book with close-up photos of these mosaics to browse through when we get home.   

Source: Wikipedia


Amongst the many plaques within the building, one of the first beside the entrance is a reminder of the bravery of the men who defended the cathedral against German bombing during WW2.  Night after night they climbed up onto the dome to protect it from the incendiary bombs which would otherwise have started fires in the roof.  They were not able to protect the cathedral from explosive bombs, one of which destroyed the altar entirely, and whereas repairs to other bomb damage in the cathedral are faithful reproductions, it was decided to replace the altar with Wren’s original design which was rejected at the time of building as being too fancy.    

The highlight for me was seeing the monuments and resting places of Britain’s best and bravest.  John Donne is there, looking remarkably pious for one who wrote such raunchy poetry, but judging by the respectful looks of my fellow-tourists when John talked about Donne’s religious poetry and ecclesiastical career, I was the only one who knew that.  Donne’s statue is the only one to have survived the Great Fire of London which destroyed the original St Paul’s.    

Wellington has a very impressive monument complete with a statue of the great man on his horse – apparently there was some to-do about the appropriateness of having a horse in a house of worship and even when it was agreed that it was okay, there was another fuss about which direction the horse should face because it wasn’t respectable to have its rear-end facing the altar.  Then as now, some people don’t have enough to worry about and so they create a fuss about nothing…   

In Artists’ Corner there are stone burial plaques over the bones of Joshua Reynolds, William Turner, William Blake, Van Dyk and British-born Randolph Caldecott after whom the American award for children’s book illustration is named.  In the Medical Corner there is Sir Henry Wellcome and Alexander Fleming, credited with the discovery of penicillin – though as Australians all know, it was Howard Florey who developed a method of manufacturing sufficient quantities of it to be useful, thereby saving countless lives during WW2.   

(Actually, it was quite interesting to see the extent to which the American contribution to WW2 is acknowledged, while that of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa seems to be completely ignored.  The Americans have a whole stained glass window, carvings and memorial reminders, but there is nothing to be seen to remind anyone about how the dominions rallied to the cause.  Tim thinks that perhaps this is because it was just expected that the Empire would turn up to defend the Mother Country whereas the Brits feel they have to be grateful to the US.  Two other Australians in our group were rather peeved about this neglect, muttering about how Australia had been there from the start of the hostilities whereas the American contribution was belated to say the least.)   

Whatever about all that, by the time we’d admired Nelson’s monument, we’d had enough of military heroes and sloped off to browse for souvenirs and have a cup of tea.  Yes, bizarre as it may seem, right there in the crypt there’s a cafe and a shop!

Posted in ArtLovers pilgrimage, England 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage, London 2010, MusicLovers pilgrimage, ScienceLovers pilgrimage, UK 2010 | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Villa Borghese and Gallery of Modern Art, Rome, 3.11.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 10, 2007

We got up bright and early for our visit to the Villa Borghese, and enjoyed a stroll around the gardens while we waited for the gallery to open. Admittance is restricted to 360 people at a time, and they are very strict about the timing, so it is a very pleasant experience and one can see things properly, without a crowd around to spoil it. This was one of our best experiences in a gallery: no dreary queues and the opportunity to take our time and really enjoy it.

We bought a guide book so that we could work our way through the rooms, identifying the allegories on the ceilings, and then the paintings around the walls and the sculptures – everywhere! Cardinal Scipio Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V) intended this villa to upgrade the importance of Rome, at a time when it was not the capital. (Italy wasn’t even a united country then, of course. Unification didn’t occur till the middle of the 19th century, when Garibaldi led the campaign to oust the assorted occupiers of the Italian states and unite them under Vittorio Emanuele in 1861. Rome and Venice were the last to join, in 1871.) Naturally, celebrating a reinvigorated Rome with magnificent artworks inspired by classical Rome meant that he himself became associated with the power of the Ancient Roman Empire (and boosted his ego). At least he had good taste!

Some people think that Bernini is too florid, but I love his sculptures. My favourites were the lifesize Daphne being turned into a laurel tree as she is pursued by Apollo in the Room of Apollo and Daphne; and The Rape of Proserpina in the Room of the Emperors. They are so lifelike that you can even see the indentations of Pluto’s hand pressing into the marble Proserpina, and Daphne’s fingers, transformed into leaves, seem like a natural extension of her body. They are magnificent.

There are fabulous paintings by Caravaggio too. They are in the Room of Silenus, and we were lucky that the ones we wanted to see were not on loan to other galleries. These treasures included Madonna of the Palafrenieri, a stunning self-portrait of the artist as Il Bacchino Malato, and most interesting of them all, St Jerome, old and scrawny but still hard at work on his scriptures while Death grins at him close by.

 From the villa, we then walked through beautiful parklands in search of the Temple of Diana and the lake. The temple was designed to look like an ancient ruin, and it’s very convincing. (Apparently there are also statues of Byron, Goethe and Victor Hugo but we’ll have to see if we can find them next time.) After getting just a little bit lost, (because the gardens are extensive) we found ourselves at – of all things – an enchanting Lost Dogs Home, called La Valle dei Cuccioli. It was such  a contrast to the LDH in North Melbourne (they do their best, but it is rather grim and forbidding in appearance) that it took us a while to work out what it was – there were cheery murals on the walls, and play places for the puppies, and a beautifully landscaped little lake with ducks. The dogs were captivating of course, especially to doglovers like us. By now I was really missing Sapphire and Chifley (who were, of course, being spoilt rotten by Aunty Glenda at home), and Tim was too, though he pretended not to.

From there we crossed the road to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. To us, modern art means 20th century art, but ‘modern’ in Rome means something different, and this gallery is devoted to works from the 18th and 19th century, though there are some from later on. It has works by Kandinsky, Cézanne, Modigliani, and there were many fine Italian impressionists that were unfamiliar to us. We saw Monet’s Water Lilies there, and also a charming portrait of The Bellelli Family by Degas, which is normally at the Musée D’Orsay. Most memorable was one which featured a couple seated in armchairs, with archaeological monuments growing organically out of their bodies and the chairs. It’s ambiguous, because it depicts people supported and enriched by their ancient Roman culture – but also burdened and taken over by it. If anyone reading this blog knows the name of this work or its artist, please let us know!

Another fantastic genre we hadn’t seen before was fascist art. These paintings were the response of artists to Mussolini’s regime from the 1920s through to the 1940s, and they are very striking. The most impressive was a massive mural of machine-like men arranged in rows one above the other, with Mussolini sternly overseeing his domain from the top. With some of these works it was easy to tell that they were not too impressed with the regime, but others appeared to embrace it whole-heartedly.

The sculptures were wonderful – a great gallery of the usual Roman gods, all conveniently labelled so that for once I could identify them easily. There was an enchanting one of a mother smiling fondly at her babe, and two superb small ones, of a conscript leaving, and then coming back home. Unlike the galleries in London and France, Italian galleries do not always seem to have inexpensive postcards of these interesting works of art for tourists to buy, and the rather expensive souvenir guide didn’t have pictures of the things I wanted to remember.

This gallery also has a very good restaurant, Cafe d’Arte, with most amiable waiters, who carved our turbot with great ceremony and aplomb! It was delightful to sit there in the peaceful sunshine, reflecting on our adventures, and dining on delicious food served with the usual excellent Italian wine.

Once again, we had a rest at the hotel, and then went out in the late afternoon to visit the Pantheon. Learning about it in books at university doesn’t prepare one for the experience of visiting a building that was built by the Emperor Hadrian in the second century but is still is daily use, not just by tourists but for regular worship in the parts that are roped off. Now, the ‘temple of all the gods’ hosts shrines from the Tomb of Raphael to the kings of modern Italy, and there are numerous chapels lined with wondrous artworks, but the dome, and its central hole providing the only light, is just as it was. It’s an enormous space, and it was full of people, but there was only a soft echo as they whispered to each other out of respect for the numerous nuns and priests attending mass in one of the chapels. It is a mystical experience to be there, where shafts of light from the dome pierce the gloom just as they did nearly 2000 years ago. I loved it.

From the Pantheon we went on to find Piazza Navone. It was full of artists protesting about the mayor removing their right to be there after 35-40 years. I think he may have a point, as the so-called Festival of Reading was just a bookshop under a marquee, and the ‘artists’ were churning out endless cartoons of the tourists. It’s not like Montmartre in Paris, where you can still see artists of some talent actually painting and drawing…

And then, quite by accident because we weren’t looking for it, we discovered the Church of S. Minerva. It’s actually a basilica, and was built (in the 13th century) on the foundations of a temple to Minerva. What a treat! It’s Rome’s only Gothic church, and everywhere you look there are frescoes, statues, paintings, portrait busts, and sarcophagi. The roof, with its soaring arches and frescoes of St Thomas Aquinas (by Lippi) is breathtaking. Fra Angelico’s tomb was there, (along with a couple of popes) as well as Michelangelo’s Christ on the Cross, still chastely covered to suit the prudes.

Rome by night is wonderful!

Posted in ArtLovers pilgrimage, Dining out, Europe 2005, Italy 2005, Rome 2005 | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Uffizi, Florence, 28.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 30, 2006

Tina and Thorolf had paperwork to sort out with AMEX in Florence, while we had tickets for the Uffizi so we drove into Arezzo and took the train again. It was a crisp and hazy morning, so after we’d gone our separate ways Tim and I took a sight-seeing tour on a bus. Alas, the driver conformed to all those stereotypes about Italian drivers and hurtled through the city at break-neck speed, pausing only at Piazza Michelangelo for us to admire yet another David…

Once inside the Uffizi, however, all was forgiven. What an amazing collection! I loved the pale faces of the Botticelli maidens, the massive statuary (even if it is mostly only Roman copies) and my favourite: the Tribune Room with its mother-of-pearl dome. It is a little unfortunate that this room is arranged so that visitors can only walk around the perimeter of the room with the statuary fenced off in the middle, so it’s not possible to stand there and see the pictures properly, but still, this is where the famous Bronzinos are, and it was a treat to see them. One of my favourite souvenir bookmarks at home is of Eleonora of Toledo, and now at last I could see the whole painting in all its glory, as well as the enchanting portrait of little Bia Medici, gazing solemnly out at the world.


Eleanor of Toledo with her son Giovanni by Bronzino (Source: Wikipedia, Google Art Project)

There were Canalettos too, but not as fine as the ones in the Wallace Collection, and the Caravaggios are very badly lit. As seems to be usual in Italy, the Uffizi gallery guards/guides seem to do very little of either, and are so nonchalant that anyone could deface or damage these beautiful artworks and still they would be absorbed in their mobile phone calls or the fashion magazines they read while on duty. I love Italy and its relaxed attitudes to many things, but their care of world heritage artworks is scandalous.

We had lunch at the Uffizi cafe, where a most officious waitress was kept busy ejecting tourists who didn’t understand the rules about paying extra to have a seat at a table. The view is splendid, right over the roof tops of the city, and it was good to rest our weary feet!

In the afternoon we went to San Croce. The church was full of scaffolding but that didn’t prevent us admiring the monuments of many illustrious men (and one woman, Florence Nightingale). Rossini, Dante, Galileo, Machiavelli and of course Michelangelo are all there, with the most amazing statuary above their tombs, and there are also beautiful frescoes by Giotto.

Within the monastery one can also contemplate the cowl and girdle of S. Francis (maybe), and there is also a school for leatherworkers, with wares for sale. Tim had already bought a rather swish leather jacket in the morning, so we weren’t tempted.

We took the late train back to Arezzo, but were unable to reserve seats and Tim ended up standing for most of the way, impervious to my offers to swap seats. My hero then drove us back to Monterchi in the dark, and a quiet dinner at home.

Next, off to Positano!

Posted in ArtLovers pilgrimage, Europe 2005, Florence 2005, Italy 2005, ScienceLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sansepolcro, 22.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 10, 2006

 It was ‘Moving Day’ so we had to be out of the house and elsewhere while Donatella cleaned La Rocca after the previous tenants had departed, so we headed off to Sansepolcro, birthplace of Piero della Francesca…
At the civic museum we saw pictures by baroque artists Santi di Tito, Raffaellino del Colle and Luca Signorelli, and of course more wonderful paintings by Piero della Francesca. The most famous one is The Resurrection, with its very muscular Christ and sleepy disciples, but I liked the Madonna della Misericordia, which is on a large panel that features a massive Mary holding her skirts wide, above some devotees. It is perhaps rather odd to contemporary eyes, but it was apparently painted to show Mary as a protector against the plague.
 The weather fortunately stayed fine while we strolled around this lovely town, described rather ungraciously in the guide book as ‘industrial’. In a side street there were players rigged out in 14th century costumes, having a break from rehearsals, and other interesting things like the plaque recording the 1944 vote for the republic. This little commemoration made me wonder why we don’t do something similar at home. Australia is the only place in the world to federate and establish a democracy without a civil war or two, and we should perhaps be more publicly proud of it.
 There was also a very pretty little church called S.Agostino, but our favourite find was of course the statue of Piero della Francesca in a gorgeous herb garden – a botanic garden really – where there were American women peacefully painting the scene. Despite a fairly determined search we couldn’t, alas, find the house Piero della Francesca was actually born in.
We had lunch at a fine restaurant recommended by Donatella. Signor Ventura looked after us most hospitably, and Tina, Thorolf and I had truffles again, this time with agnotelli. Tim, perhaps saving himself for the few remaining shreds of truffle back in the kitchen at La Rocca, had a splendid carpaccio of veal instead.
Not content with a feast for lunch, back ‘home’ in Monterchi we decided not to experiment with a new stove on our first night, and had a fine dinner in the restaurant on the piazza instead. We had rustic Tuscan vegetable soup with cannelini beans, followed by fillet steak with shavings of truffle nero and a garnish of tiny onions. For dessert I had pannacotta with chocolate and Tim had creme caramel. Feeling rather mellow after an Apero as an aperitif and two bottles of wine with the meal, we finished off with a Bowman single malt Islay and coffee. It’s a good thing we didn’t have far to walk home!
La Rocca was more comfortable than La Duetta. Just across the corner of the piazza from La Duetta, it was also within the walls in the centre of old Monterchi. Because it’s an old fortress, it had sensational views of the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside in all directions. Inside, it was lighter, brighter, and, thanks to central heating, warmer. La Duetta’s log fire was enchanting to start with, but I was getting tired of mucking about with the wood and cleaning out the grate.
Inside and outside, we now had 360 degree views and the whole place was much more spacious for four people. The bathrooms were more modern and the bedrooms were comfortable, but the general style is the rustic Tuscan stuff you’d expect, simple stuff in dark brown wood, but not terribly well made. Cabinetry is perhaps not a Tuscan strength..

Posted in ArtLovers pilgrimage, Europe 2005, Gardens, Italy 2005, Sansepolcro (Tuscany) 2005 | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Milan, 14-15.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 18, 2006

 We spent the day on the train. It was easy from Avignon to Nice, and the scenery was sublime. The sea is a beautiful blue, the villas are brightly coloured in yellow and terracotta, and the blue and teal shutters do look just the picture postcards. It’s good fun to admire the playgrounds of the rich and famous at Monte Carlo and Cannes, and we were very comfortable with the cabin all to ourselves.
At Nice, however, we had to race onto the train without a reservation because the queue was just too long and we would have otherwise have missed the train. We felt a bit anxious each time we stopped in case someone wanted our seats, but eventually the conductor turned up and although he couldn’t sell us a reserved seat because his machine was broken, he reassured us that we would be able to sort it out once the new conductor boarded at Genoa…
Well, she didn’t, but it didn’t matter. What spoiled the trip was three very disagreeable middle-aged Italian men who talked nonstop all the way to Milan, sniping at tourists (us), the trains, and young people, and then held a voluble argument about Italian cuisine and how bad all the restaurants were. They obviously didn’t realise that we could understand what they were saying!
Still, it was useful practice at listening to Italian, which came in handy the next day when we went back to the railway station to book reservations for Venice. Milan railway station is huge, with shops everywhere and dozens of confusing entrances and exits and places to buy tickets, but eventually we worked it out and found our way onto the subway for Castello Sforzesco.
 We didn’t have time to explore it thoroughly, but it’s a fascinating place. It’s certainly the biggest fortress I’ve ever seen, but I suppose the Sforza dukes had plenty to protect. The complex is built in the shape of a massive rectangle around a vast inner courtyard, and the clock tower in the middle of the façade is 70 metres high. Above the great door is a bas-relief of King Umberto I on horseback, and under the battlements is St. Ambrose among the coats of the arms of the six Sforza dukes. There’s a moat (minus the water) and a splendid drawbridge for the obligatory photo. There was no time to dawdle through the museum, but the park was peaceful and quiet after the city crowds, and we liked the monument to Napoleon III and the Arch of Peace.
 We had a lovely lunch at the Gambero Rosso Restaurant across the road from the castle. I tried risotto with cuttlefish ink, & Tim had linguine al pesto. My Italian was tried and found wanting, however, when I ordered two glasses of wine and got a bottle, and the waiter brought formaggio (cheese) instead of pane (bread)! Still, it was all very nice, and we tried Sardinian wine for the first time, a crisp and refreshing 2004 Nuraghe Majore, from Isola de Nuraghe. Nuragus is one of the oldest known species of vine, and was probably drunk by the Phoenicians!
. After lunch we discovered a phenomenon with which we were soon to become familiar in Italy, the famous landmark (in this case the Duomo) shrouded in sheets of advertising to mask restoration scaffolding. It didn’t matter – we enjoyed some terrific South American music in the piazza, and wandered through the Galeria Victor Emmanuel (Prada, Luis Vuitton, McDonalds) gawping at the ornate arcade with its frescoes and mosaics and breathtaking glass roof. From there we walked through to Piazza la Scala and saw the theatre and a marvellous monument of Leonardo da Vinci surrounded by four scholars all looking very erudite. Unfortunately I hadn’t thought to book tickets for The Last Supper and we couldn’t get in, but we’d had enough by then anyway and were glad to head back to the hotel for a rest.
Our Italian teacher, Maria Quinto, had warned us about La Passeggiata, the urban ritual of an evening stroll, but the real thing in Milan doesn’t leave much room on the pavement for a couple of hungry Aussies in search of a meal! Eventually, however, we found Sabatini’s off Corso Buenos Aires, and on the advice of a kind and helpful waiter who spoke very good English, we discovered that we like Valpolicella Classico Allegrini. Tim had a buffet antipasto, but once again I could not pass up the mushrooms and had bruschetta al funghi, followed by steak and porcini for him and green pepper pasta for me.
Our day in Milan had a couple of disappointments, but if we enjoyed our introduction to Italy in an impersonal busy city, then things could only get better from here onwards – and Venice is next!

Posted in ArtLovers pilgrimage, Dining out, Europe 2005, Italy 2005, Milan 2005, ScienceLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »