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Borsheim Art Newsletter:

by Kelly Borsheim copyright 30 January 2007

  1. Piazza Santa Croce and its Basilica
  2. New Pencil Drawings
  3. Subscription Info.

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[artist in Florence]

Kelly Borsheim in Florence, Italy
26 gennaio 2007
photo by Jay Blums

Piazza Santa Croce

The word piazza in Italy means more than just a square or a plaza. It often describes a place of social gatherings and community. A piazza occurs at many street intersections and often is an open space that allows for more activity. In central Florence, a medieval city of narrow streets and close buildings several stories high, a piazza is an inviting place where the sun can soften the ever-present shadows.

I walk by Piazza Santa Croce at least once almost every day. This is one of the main piazze in Florence and is primarily an empty space, much larger than most. It is named after the basilica that faces the piazza from the east. Since I have been living in Florence, I have attended various festivals in Piazza Santa Croce, including an international festival featuring food and handmade items from all over Europe and a few African countries; an exhibit of rescue equipment and services after the November anniversary of the famous Florence Flood of 1966; a Bavarian Christmas festival, and an Ecological Festival of organic foods and wines of Tuscany and surrounding rural areas.

[piazza santa croce florence italy]
Above: Piazza Santa Croce at night as viewed from the north side of the steps near the statue of Dante. Palazzo Vecchio's tower is visible in the background.

[piazza santa croce florence italy]
Above: 6 Dicembre 2006 - Artist Kelly Borsheim with new friend Sylvia from Austria. Sylvia sold clove ornaments and other charming gift items
at the Bavarian Christmas Festival (not the real name) in Piazza Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.

[piazza santa croce florence italy] [piazza santa croce florence italy]
Above: 5 November 2006 - A public exhibit in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, Italy, of safety and rescue equipment to commemorate the devastating Flood of 1966.

And I have witnessed several drunken brawls while sitting on the steps of Santa Croce in the wee hours while sharing a kabob and/or a beer with a friend. Recently, an Italian girl approached me with caution to see if I needed help. It was around midnight. She saw me lying on the ground, alone in the center of Piazza Santa Croce, and thought that I might be injured or drunk. However, I had simply been bracing my camera on the stone-like pavement as I photographed the moon. I was so wrapped up in what I was thinking that it took me a minute to understand her question and realize how I must have looked to her. But my embarrassment subsided as I chuckled to myself on my way home. There truly are kind people here at most hours of the day.

[piazza santa croce florence italy]
Above: View at dusk of the façade of the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy. All photos are copyright of Kelly Borsheim, unless noted.

Basilica di Santa Croce; Florence, Italy

Two weeks ago, I decided to visit the inside of the Basilica of Santa Croce. It is the largest Franciscan church in the world, claims the brochure. Santa Croce was originally planned as an Egyptian cross with an open timber roof. The style of the façade is Florentine Gothic. The building of the current basilica was begun in 1294, over the foundations of a small church started in 1252 by some monks. Over the centuries, the ever-evolving basilica and its surrounding buildings have been the gathering place of the great figures in Florence's history, including businessmen, theologians, politicians, writers, artists, philosophers, saints, humanists, and the famous Medici family.

[ceiling basilica santa croce florence italy]
Above: View of the painted wooden ceiling of the beautiful and beloved
Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.

Tombs Inside the Basilica of Santa Croce

Inside Santa Croce are the tombs of notables such as Galileo Galilei, Niccolò Macchiavelli, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Giorgio Vasari, and Michelangelo Buonarroti. There is also an elaborate monument to Dante Alighieri, one of Florence's more celebrated citizens.

[piazza santa croce florence italy] [piazza santa croce florence italy]

Above: Michelangelo's Tomb, designed by Georgio Vasari; Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.
Left: My friend artist Nancy Hines stands before the tomb to give us an idea of its size. Note the lush colors well choreographed.
Right: This is a detail shot of the central figurative marble carving representing Sculpture by V. Cioli.
The figures on either side of Sculpture represent Painting (left) and Architecture, both carved by G. B. Lorenzi.

You may remember that during my first trip to Italy in 2004, I was much taken with a marble sculpture by Pio Fedi that is on exhibit in the Loggia near Florence's Uffizi Gallery. I was even inspired to create a painting from one of the male figures, Polites.

[Liberty of Poetry florence italy] [pio fedi sculpture florence italy]

Above: Although the similarities are obvious, la Libertà della Poesia (pictured above) by Italian sculptor Pio Fedi
has a more feminine form and gracefully arching curve in the pose than the French-American Statue of Liberty.
This marble carving is for the monument of the poet Giovan Battista Niccolini and
resides within the Basilica di Santa Croce.

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to find another interesting work by Pio Fedi inside the Basilica of Santa Croce. This Italian sculptor created the monument to poet Giovan Battista Niccolini in 1877. Pio Fedi's marble sculpture represents the Liberty of Poetry, and thus creative genius and art. She holds a lyre and a crown of laurel in her left hand, while her uplifted right hand holds a broken chain, symbolizing the defeat of tyranny.

As you can see in my images of the Italian sculpture, she looks a lot like the more famous Liberty Enlightening the World, more commonly known as the Statue of Liberty by the French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi in New York City. The plaque in front of the monument in Santa Croce hints that the Statue of Liberty may have un precedente in Pio Fedi's work.

I became curious about this relationship. Niccolini died in 1861 and according to the Italian plaque, the monument was commissioned nel decenale della morte or at the tenth anniversary of the poet's death. It also says that preparatory drawings were made and well-distributed in artistic circles before a full-size plaster original of the future stone carving was completed in 1872. I could not find much information about Pio Fedi (whose name translates to something like "devout faith"), but further research on an Italian Web site noted that he was active in France for a time.

In contrast, the French Bartoldi is reported by wikipedia to have been commissioned in 1876 to design a statue as a gift for the United States, although the first maquette was supposedly created in 1870, six years before the commission date. [This site could be read to be referring to the model for only the face of liberty. I was unclear on whether or not it meant the entire design.] The site also claims that the first inspiration came from Egypt, with similar plans submitted unsuccessfully for an Egyptian commission in 1867.

Knowing that inspiration for a work of art comes in bits and pieces and often from many sources, and knowing that throughout history, artists cannot seem to help but be influenced by their peers, I find myself left with more questions than answers. Another factor is that commissions for sculptures often take years to finalize and it is possible that sculptors may be working towards a design before having officially been chosen to implement it.

I would be interested in learning whether or not the contemporary sculptors Pio Fedi and Bartoldi knew of one another, and also about the possible personal connection between Pio Fedi and the poet Niccolini. After all, some people still believe that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and that Columbus discovered America first.

More Artworks Inside Basilica of Santa Croce

In addition, the Basilica of Santa Croce houses some of Florence's most cherished artworks, from frescoes to stained glass and altar pieces to sculpture and paintings. Many of these works had to be rescued and/or restored after the great flood of 1966 that I wrote about in my last newsletter. Some of the more famous artists here (not yet mentioned) are Giotto, Cimabue, Donatello, Canova, and Pio Fedi. I have only photographed a few artworks here, but I hope this gives you enough of a taste to entice you to visit this often overlooked destination in the city that spawned the Renaissance.

[Santa Croce Donatello florence italy] [basilica Santa Croce florence italy]

Above left: Tabernacle, Cavalcanti Annunciation by Donatello, 1433-1435 ca.
Above right: In the background may be the crucifix by Donatello. I just liked the way the Virgin's face was lit
and even more enchanted with her silhouette being projected up and behind her near the stained glass above the altar.
This section of the Basilica was roped off during my visit.

[Santa Croce Donatello florence italy] [basilica Santa Croce florence italy]

Above left: Baroncelli Chapel - Taddeo Gaddi
Above right: Castellani Chapel - Agnolo Gaddi. I liked the way the
white marble contrasted to the warm colors of the frescoes by Pietro Parigi.
The marble figure on the right that I cropped out was a standing woman with a castle
on her head. Nancy and I figured it was a reference to the funding family's name.

[Santa Croce Donatello florence italy] [basilica Santa Croce florence italy]

Above left: Castellani Chapel - Agnolo Gaddi. I have a soft spot for harps and marble.
Above right: unknown artist of marble sculpture situated outside and above the 19th Century Funerary Monuments Gallery.
This latter sculpture is outside, but it was about 17:30 and getting dark. Here,
one can look through a grated hole in the floor to view tombs beneath this level.

New Pencil Drawings:

There is always room to grow and some time ago I decided to improve my drawing ability and my understanding of construction and light. Even a sculptor should realize that drawing is the basis of all of the visual arts. So, for the past several months, I have been working on a new way to draw, which is really more in the manner of the old masters. Presented here are five new drawings in pencil. The first two are copies of drawings made by Charles Bargue. He created many drawings of sculptures and I have been learning much about the turning of light around forms by copying his works. The latter three are drawings that I made from multiple sittings with live models.

Please contact one of my galleries or me if you are interested in acquiring any of these artworks. I do promise that the real thing looks much better than what you see on my Web site.

[pencil drawing Italy] [pencil drawing Italy]
L-R: Bargue Hand (on light grey paper), Bargue Girl's Profile (on dark grey paper); pencil drawing by Kelly Borsheim after Charles Bargue.

[pencil drawing Italy] [pencil drawing Italy] [pencil drawing Italy]
L-R: Original pencil drawings by Kelly Borsheim: "David," "Charlotte," and "Giacomo." These are on white Canson paper.

In closing, thank you for your continued interest. I enjoy your feedback and friendship.

Thank you for reading.
Kelly Borsheim
30 Gennaio 2007

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