5 AHA favourites from three #supertutors

Last year we decided to run a series of social media posts highlighting our tutors’ “5 favourites from AHA“.  We asked them for their favourite Italian city, Italian dish, piece of art, piece of architecture and one of their most memorable AHA moments.  Unsurprisingly, they found it hard to choose but we finally pinned them all down.

First in the hot seat, our director:

Nick Ross

Detail of Pontormo’s Lamentation
  1. Italian city: Rome
  2. Italian dish: cacio e pepe
  3. Piece of art: Jacopo Pontormo’s Lamentation
  4. Piece of architecture: Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro fontane (San Carlino), Rome
  5. Memorable AHA moment: A perfect moment – I no longer wear my father’s Seamaster Omega watch. We were settling down to lunch in Rome with 18 students and 4 tutors, and I looked around the table taking in the antipasto, the wisteria, water and wine.  As I listened to the happy hubbub of conversation peppered with passing Vespas on the cobbled streets, noticed that my watch had stopped at 1 o’clock.  It has never worked since and I have not tried to repair it because I realised: that was as good as it gets.
Rome, San Carlo, churches, Borromini
San Carlino, ceiling & walls

Richard Stemp

Rome, Roma, Tempietto, Bramante, architecture, monastery
Bramante’s Tempietto, taken on one of our student courses
  1. Italian city: whichever one I am currently in
  2. Italian dish: it has to be the fiocchetti de pera at Quattro Leoni in Florence, though the sea food is what you would go to Naples to die for
  3. Piece of art: I am constantly amazed and astonished by Caravaggio’s Conversion of St Matthew in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome
  4. Piece of architecture: Bramante’s Tempietto small but perfectly formed. When I’m really rich I’ll have a replica built in the grounds as a study.  As yet I have no “grounds” but that’s just a minor inconvenience.
  5. Memorable AHA moment: walking into the Baptistery in Pisa to see the sun streaming through the windows and into Nicola Pisano’s pulpit. The marble around the crucified Christ is carved so thin that it glowed like the gold leaf on a medieval painting, an almost miraculous experience that I’m sure I will never see again.

You can follow Richard on Twitter for a wonderfully witty view of the world.

Tristan Hambleton

Michelangelo, Bacchus, sculpture, marble,
Michelangelo’s Bacchus
  1. Italian city: Rome, closely followed by the ever-classy Verona
  2. Italian dish: the carbonara at Da Enzo’s near Santa Cecilia in Rome!!!! To die for…
  3. Piece of art: Pontormo’s Deposition and Michelangelo’s Bacchus
  4. Piece of architecture: San Paolo Fuori le Mura in Rome. I remember walking in this Basilica for the first time and my mouth was agape for at least five minutes!
  5. Memorable AHA moment: Oh gosh – so many!  If I had to choose one, it would probably be the feeling I had when we jumped on the first train of the day back to Venice from Verona having spent the evening watching the most amazing performance of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette in the Arena followed by running through the marbled streets re-enacting Shakespeare. I felt complete.

To take a view of these glorious works of art yourself, or slurp some mouth-watering carbonara, make sure to get yourself on the next trip!

The Diagnostic scans of Leonardo da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi, by AHA tutor Freddie Mason.

It is often said that the life of Maurizio Seracini is like something out of the Da Vinci Code. He studied bioengineering at Harvard in the 70s before returning to his home, Florence, to develop technology to investigate Florentine renaissance paintings diagnostically and non-destructively. Since then, he has adapted medical and military technology to scan paintings and disclose secrets locked within the layers of paint.

In the 90s he used this technology to scan the walls of the Salone dei Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio to find a lost Leonardo fresco, The Battle of Anghiari, believed to be under the Vasari frescoes that are visible today. More recently, he turned his attention to an investigation of da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi. What his work uncovered in this latter piece is simply spell binding.

 

 

Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi, 1481

I recently helped to write a chapter in a book to be published about what was discovered. I thought I would share some of my thoughts on what Seracini’s work means for Leonardo da Vinci scholarship and the future of art history.

Leonardo’s enigmatic Adoration is unfinished and in a somewhat unsatisfactory state. The yellowing varnish that covers the entire piece mutes the vibrancy of the forms a great deal. Art historians have long suspected that a hand other than Leonardo’s applied the paint to the work at a later date. The dark brown smears in the foreground certainly seem much cruder than the delicate forms of the congregation.

But despite its unsatisfactory condition, it is clearly a bold work, exhibiting the young Leonardo’s precocious talent. With the painting, Leonardo broke decisively from the moods of pageantry and celebration that Gentile da Fabriano chose for his famous Adoration half a century earlier and instead gave the event a highly unusual sense of troubled urgency. Figures approach the Madonna in a state of unrest, desperately trying to catch her attention or a glimpse of the miraculous occasion. Gone are the dreamy, utopian landscapes of, say, Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Adoration, and instead we have a work that finds a kind of disquiet in the worship of the young Christ. It is a painting, I think, which associates the coming of Christ from the trauma of his crucifixion.

With Seracini’s scans we are able to see Leonardo’s original intentions for the piece. They provide us with unseen Leonardo drawings and a fascinating insight into his compositional process. We are literally able to ‘step into’ the painting.

 

 

Underdrawing for Leonardo’s Adoration.

Notice how the leg of the Virgin is bathed in an ethereal light in the under-drawings. This detail is completely lost in what is visible today. The scans restore a former luminosity to the seated Madonna and a sacred atmosphere to the event. This luminosity perhaps explains why one of the figures to her left appears to be shading his eyes.

Notice how Leonardo thought it necessary to design a much more complete architectural setting in his preparatory sketches. This is a truly remarkable insight into Leonardo’s compositional process: he seems to have felt the need to build the temple first before subjecting it to imaginary ruination. In the discovery of these hidden sketches we can see Leonardo working as a master of naturalistic gesture and anatomy, but also as an architect.

Notice how Leonardo included figures rebuilding the temple in his preparatory sketches. The ruined temple is a common theme in adoration scenes. It is meant to represent the decay of paganism at the birth of Christ. But, its rebuilding displays a desire to preserve, reawaken and revere the forms and ideals of pre-Christian antiquity. It seems Leonardo intended a more complex symbolic duality to the image of the ruined temple. The condemnation of paganism combined with the respect for classical antiquity is after all a contradiction at the heart of all renaissance religious painting.

These are just some of the amazing details you discover when observing Seracini’s scans. I think it is safe to say that his work has changed art history for ever.

Crucially, the scans are not just an important moment for scholarship, but also a deeply pleasurable aesthetic experience.

 

 

Under a Tuscan Sky: AHA alum Anna Fothergill reviews Tuscany’s lesser know treasures.

During my AHA experience, back when I was a young bright Gap Year student, drinking in the wonders of Italy (as well as the prosecco), the days we spent in Florence and Siena secured themselves a special place in my Italian Romance. And for so many others, the lure of Tuscany is undoubtedly present. This summer, I was fortunate enough to return to the land of pencil cedars, rhythmic hills and Medici fortunes. And I soon realised, that while Florence and Sienna might be the most famous gems of Tuscany, the surrounding region has ancient villages atop every hill, and endless landscapes to fill any camera.

 

View from San Gimignano - Own photo

So if you are drawn back to the heat and beauty of Tuscany, here are some places to consider visiting if you want a taste of real Italian life.

1) San Gimignano. A name which you may have heard, but know little about. I spent one gelato-meltingly hot day there, and was awestruck by the quiet beauty of it. Be warned that most of your time will be spent walking around looking skyward to the 14 remaining “power-towers”, which give San Gimignano it’s distinctive skyline. The town appeared to me like a 14th century Manhattan, with each stone skyscraper attempting to tower over its neighbour. There is a gelateria that claims to be the World Ice Cream Champion, and of course I sampled it to assure you all that it lives up to its title. If you wander into the Duomo, first being wrapped in Crete paper to protect your modesty, the church is illuminated with wall to wall frescos that for me were reminiscent of those in Giotto’s Area Chapel in their colour brilliance and animated expressions. The hellish portrayal of gluttony was particularly descriptive.

 

Sam Gimignano

 

Frescos in San Gimignano Duomo

Should you leave San Gimignano in search of new adventures, a place for a true taste of local Tuscan life is Montepulciano, a town where they have their own version of the Palio…trading the horses for barrel rolling. The town has wide, movie set streets and bars resting on sloped paved roads, any number of which will serve for apperitvi, before you head to the viewpoint to take in the sweeping countryside. A highlight of this town for me was the atmospheric Ristorante sotto L’arche, a pizzeria which seated you under a canopy of a lighted arch, the owner greets you as his own family and live music accompanied every bite of the unforgettable pizza (the real Italian stuff, not your standard Dominoes). The meal was loud with laughter and music, the manger himself as concerned with performing an aria as he was dutiful to his customers. Definitely  worth a visit.

Primi Piatti - Own photo

For those who wish for rest and relaxation, an escape from the endless supply of cultural wonders, it can be found at the villas of La Foce. The massive estate has a fascinating history as well as breathtaking views. Built on the volcanic lands of Val del’Orcia, it has served as a farming estate, was taken over by Nazis, secretly fed artisans during WW2, and today one can tour the gardens, relax by the pool and even attend olive oil tastings – the golden syrup is grown right beside your villa. The whole complex radiates with the smell of cedars, lavender and olives. the coolness and calm of La Foce is an oasis in the dry Tuscan heat.

La Foce

Sunset over La Foce -own photo

These are just a few of the things I was fortunate enough to discover in only a week. This is what amazed me about Tuscany. How there can be so much to do if you desire to do things, yet such an emphasis on Italian lifestyle. On enjoying eating and drinking, taking hours over meals, feeling no pressure to go to any 14th century town today because it will still be there tomorrow. If you are in Tuscany in the next year, know that you can see as much or as little as you want, and it will still be a wonderful Italian holiday. Of course, there is always Florence.

Firenze -own photograph

 

Happy student! Thank you AR for your lovely letter

Thank you so much for an amazing time on the AHA trip to Italy.  I cannot tell you how much fun I had with you and the rest of the group over the two weeks.  I have learnt so much and it has made me love Art History even more. Having never been to Venice or Rome before and Florence only once for a day, exploring and learning about the history and works of art in each city was an incredible experience that I will never forget.  Thank you so much for the most amazing two weeks of my life.

Best wishes

AR

Florence: Ponte Vecchio