This and That

Random bits of my life

Archive for October, 2012

Buontalenti Grotto, Boboli Gardens, Florence

Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 26, 2012

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

Bernardo Buontalenti, the 16th century Florentine stage designer and architect, was also known as Bernardo delle Girandole (Bernardo of the
Fireworks). Sounds like a fun guy! He worked for the Medicis all his life, designing costumes, sets, fireworks displays, palaces, and gardens.

His three-chambered Grotto Grande in the Boboli gardens was built between 1583 and 1588. The grotto is not always open to the public. Times are posted. When I was there it was unlocked every two hours, for about half an hour at a time. Photography is permitted but the darkness of the interior chambers and the presence of crowds make it a tricky site to photograph. We couldn’t go into the third chamber, so I photographed it over the barrier.

The niches on either side of the entrance hold statues of Apollo and Ceres.

The close-up of the facade, below, was taken the first day we visited the Boboli Gardens (hence, the overcast sky and bluish tones). The other photos were taken on our second visit (sunny day!), and we showed up at one of the times when the grotto was open.

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

The first chamber is very bright because it is illuminated by a circular opening  in the painted ceiling and a large window above the columns, as well as by the columned entrance itself.

The next two photos show the painted ceiling of the first chamber.

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

The first chamber has carved pastoral scenes, decorated with paint and embedded seashells, on the left and right walls.

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

The triangular opening in the back wall leads to the second chamber, containing Vincenzo de’ Rossi’s statue of Paris and Helena (1560).

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

The second chamber is much smaller than the first. It’s also quite dark and difficult to photograph. I had to brighten these photos (ISO 3200!) considerably to show the details.

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

The third chamber, which we couldn’t enter, contains Giambologna’s statue of the bathing Venus (1565).

Grotto Buontalenti, Boboli Gardens, Florence

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Three Grottoes in the Boboli Gardens, Florence

Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 22, 2012

Boboli Gardens, Florence

The Boboli Gardens have several grottoes or man-made caves, besides the well-known Buontalenti Grotto, which I will cover in another posting. Of varying sizes, they are usually sculpted from stone to resemble natural stalactites, with elaborate ceilings decorated with shells and stone carvings.

The Annalena or  Adam and Eve Grotto is named after the statues by Michelangelo Naccharino. The grotto was created by Giuseppe Cacialli in 1817, making it the newest grotto in the Boboli.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

The Moses Grotto, so called because the statue of Moses in the photo below (the porphyry statue that is higher than the others), was created by Raphael Curradi. The sculpture of Moses, however, was the work of Raphael Curradi and Cosimo Salvestrini.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Ceiling of the Moses Grotto:

Boboli Gardens, Florence

The Grotto of Madama, also called the Grotto of Goats, was built by Buontalenti in 1570 to honour Joan of Austria, wife of Francesco I de’ Medici. The goat was one of the emblems of Cosimo I de Medici.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

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Porcelain Museum, Boboli Gardens, Florence

Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 22, 2012

Boboli Gardens, Florence

The Porcelain Museum, which houses porcelain from some of Europe’s best-known manufacturers (for example, Sèvres and Meissen), was moved to its present location, the Casino del Cavaliere, in 1973. Before the move the collection was part of the Treasury Museum in the main building of the Pitti Palace. Some pieces were gifts from European leaders to Florentine rulers while others were commissioned by the Grand Dukes of Florence. The Casino building was originally built as a retreat for one of the Grand Dukes and is located at the top of the hill, close to the wall surrounding the Boboli Gardens.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Francois Gerard’s portrait of Napoleon, who used the palace as his base in the late 18th century, in his coronation robes:

Boboli Gardens, Florence

The photo below shows the original 13th century wall of the City of Florence. Most of the wall was destroyed in the 19th century. The only remnants are here and by Porte San Miniato. The area is surprisingly rural, with olive groves and fruit trees.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

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Israel Museum: “A World Apart Next Door – Glimpses into the Life of Hasidic Jews”

Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 19, 2012

MItzvah Tanz

If you haven’t seen “A World Apart Next Door – Glimpses into the Life of Hasidic Jews” at the Israel Museum, it’s on until the end of November. The exhibit, filling six rooms, is organized by themes: marriage, men, women, the rebbe (leader of a Hasidic community).

In the photo above, a married couple watch a video of a mitzvah tanz (dance between a bride and the Rebbe). The videos are outstanding. The last room of the exhibit shows video clips on a large screen of tishes (Yiddish word for “table,” a festive meal with the Rebbe and hundreds of Hasidim) held on Purim, Tu beShvat, and other occasions.

The Hasidic world is notoriously difficult for outsiders to photograph. Many of the photographs are by Israeli photographer Gil Magen-Cohen, who spent a decade photographing Hasidic communities for his book, Hassidic Courts. His photos are superb. Speaking of photography, the Israel Museum now allows photography without flash!! The shutterbugs were out in full force, running through the archaeology wing, photographing everything in sight. 🙂

Clothing is part of the exhibit. Children’s garments appear in the photo below, boys’ on the left and girls’ on the right. The light gold satin coat with a striped sash is a bar mitzvah outfit.

Hassidic clothing

This head covering (sterntikhl in Yiddish, which translates loosely as “star scarf”; an ordinary headscarf or handkerchief is a tikhl) was worn by married women on festive occasions. Although it appears old, it was made in 2005. The “pearls” are glass beads, sewn on a long strip of cloth that is carefully folded and stitched to resemble hair. Sterntikhl are made by women of the Spinka Hasidic sect, who keep their methods a secret.

Sterntikhl, 2005

The photo below was deliberately over-exposed so that you can see the intricate pleats and gathers in the fabric.

Sterntikhl, 2005

Torah scroll crown, thought to have come from the court of the Israel Friedman, the Ruzhiner Rebbe. He was known for his opulent lifestyle. This crown is made of gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and turquoises. The Rebbe had crowns made for each of his six sons. This crown belonged to Menachem Nochum Friedman (1823–1868), the first Rebbe of Stefanesht.

Torah crown

The last photos show neckbands (atarot) of prayer shawls (tallitot). They interest me because they’re fine examples of Spanierarbeit (“Spanish work” in Yiddish), weaving with metallic threads.

prayer Shawl Neckband

Prayer Shawl Neckband

Prayer Shawl Neckband

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Boboli Gardens, Florence

Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 14, 2012

Pitti Palace, Florence

The Boboli Gardens are Florence’s most famous 16th century formal garden, stretching over the crest of a hill behind the Palazzo di Pitti. They were begun by the Medicis and show the work of many architects and designers, including Bartolomeo Ammanati, Giorgio Vasari and Bernardo Buontalenti. Most of the sculptures (copies, actually) date between the 16th and 18th century, with a few old Roman ruins. The photo above was taken along the main axis of the garden, overlooking the Neptune Pond towards the back of the Palazzo di Pitti.

The photo below was taken looking in the opposite direction, towards the Egyptian obelisk, brought from the Villa Medici in Rome. We spent two afternoons walking around the gardens, which is why the lighting conditions are so different in these photos.

Pitti Palace, Florence

Neptune Fountain, also called, irreverently, the Fountain of the Fork.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Catfish in the Neptune fountain. They aren’t very photogenic but this one was an exception.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

View from the Boboli Gardens towards the north side of the Arno. The red dome is the Medici Chapel by San Lorenzo.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

When you climb all the way to the top of the south axis of the garden, you turn 90 degrees towards the longest section, the west axis. Yes, it IS as long as it looks. You need good shoes and strong legs if you want to see every part of this park. The Cypress Lane, below, terminates Isolotto’s Pond and the Island Park.

Cypress Lane, Boboli Gardens

Boboli Gardens, Florence

The last photos are of Isolotto’s Pond and the Island Park.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Stork on balustrade of the Island Park.

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

Boboli Gardens, Florence

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Inside the Pitti Palace, Florence

Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 7, 2012

Pitti Palace, Florence

I love these painted ceilings. These are mainly photos inside the Pitti Palace, but not inside the major galleries (too many guards…). Some are old and some are new. These date mainly between 1600 and 1900.

Pitti Palace, Florence

Pitti Palace, Florence

Pitti Palace, Florence

Pitti Palace, Florence

Pitti Palace, Florence

Pitti Palace, Florence

The photo below shows an exhibit in the Costume Gallery. The Costume Gallery site has more photos, including this exhibit case (the colour balance is more accurate in my photo).

Pitti Palace, Florence

This dimly lit room houses the burial garments of Duke Cosimo de Medici, his wife Eleonora of Toledo, and her son Don Garzia. It’s a fascinating display of 16th century garments and undergarments. Besides the Costume Gallery, we visited the Medici Treasury (Museo degli Argenti) but it was too closely guarded to photograph. 🙂

Pitti Palace, Florence

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Recipe: Apple Pecan Cake

Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 7, 2012

Apple Pecan Cake

This is the tried-and-true, much loved apple pecan cake that graces my table during the High Holidays. I would make it more often if someone would invent a self-peeling, coreless apple that dices itself. Since I find the apple-chopping tedious, even with a corer, I only bake it once a year.

I use Granny Smith apples because they’re tart, firm, and somewhat drier than the yellow and red apples at my local store. Because apples vary significantly in water content, you may find that your cake is extremely moist. If so, bake it for an extra 10 minutes to dry it out.

Try to find genuine vanilla extract and fresh pecans. I don’t mean that you have to pick and shell them yourself! Treat yourself to a new bag from the health food store instead of using the package at the back of your baking supplies.

This is a dense, moist cake that freezes well. If you wish to substitute different sugars or whole wheat flour, it will still be delicious. It’s a very flexible recipe.

Apple Pecan Cake
Yield: Two 9×4″ loaves (or two 8×5″ loaves or one 9″ round)

600 gm (= 4) Granny Smith apples; peeled, cored, 1/4″ dice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
150 gm (3/4 cup) margarine or butter
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup pecans; coarsely chopped

Combine the diced apples, cinnamon, and sugar (this can be done in advance if necessary) in a bowl and stir well. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). Grease the pans.

In a large bowl, cream the margarine (or butter) with sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour and baking powder, until just combined (it’s OK if there are a few dry specks of flour showing but you don’t want big dry patches).

Stir in the apples and sugar, scraping all the juices into the batter. Stir in the pecans. The batter will be very sticky and stiff, so you will need a wooden spoon and a rubber scraper to wrestle it into the pans: pick up a large glob of batter with the wooden spoon and scrape it into a pan. Repeat until both pans are a little over half full. Smooth the tops.

Bake in the middle of the preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until a knife stuck in the center comes out moist but without streaks of raw batter and the center of the cake springs back when pressed gently. If your cake is very moist, bake it for a few minutes longer, covering with foil if the top is getting too brown.

Let the cake sit in the pan for a few minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife and turn out carefully onto a cake rack to finish cooling.

Variations:

I normally serve the cake plain but if you need something with more pizzazz, bake the cake in a 9″ springform pan. Peel, core, and thinly slice an additional two apples and arrange in concentric circles. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of melted margarine or butter over the top, sprinkle 7 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Bake for an hour (larger pan), checking for doneness around 50 minutes. The apples on top should be tender. It looks like you slaved for hours in the kitchen, which isn’t far from the truth…. 🙂

If you don’t want to go that far, dust the top of the cooled cake with sifted icing sugar or serve with a scoop of very good vanilla ice cream.

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Pitti Palace, Florence

Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 2, 2012

Pitti Palace, Florence

The Pitti Palace (or Palazzo Pitti) is a huge Renaissance palace that was home to the Grand Dukes of Tuscany and later King Victor Emanuel II. Now it houses several large galleries and is surrounded on three sides by the Boboli Gardens. The house was commissioned in 1458 by the Florentine banker Luca Pitti. In 1549, Pitti sold the house to Eleanora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de Medici, later Grand Duke of Tuscany. The palace is located on the south side of the Arno River, in a surprisingly pastoral setting.

This was a tough set of slides to edit because we spent two days wandering around the museum and the gardens. The first day was overcast but the second day was sunny. The photo above shows the front of the palace. I desaturated and cropped it because the sky was so grey.  There are two wings extending from the main structure but you can only see one of the wings.

The palace and gardens are quite extensive. Although we bought a three-day ticket, we only managed to get back on two days (the third day was the same day as our visit to the Accademia and we were too tired to do a lot of walking. This site is well worth a visit but be prepared for a lot of walking! The gardens sprawl over a steep hill.

Below is the main palace seen from the back, showing the Fontana del Carciofo (Fountain of the Artichoke, 1641) on a terrace.

Pitti Palace, Florence

Pitti Palace, Florence

Below: corbel above doorway in inner courtyard.

Pitti Palace, Florence

Inner courtyard of main palace:

Pitti Palace, Florence

There was a wine festival in progress.

Pitti Palace, Florence

Pitti Palace, Florence

Lion relief on the front of the palace, facing the street.

Pitti Palace, Florence

View of the palace from the Neptune fountain, the main axis of the Boboli gardens:

Pitti Palace, Florence

Pitti Palace, Florence

View of the palace from above the Neptune fountain, with the Tuscan hills in the background:

Pitti Palace, Florence

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