Saturday, August 11, 2018

Art in the Cemetery of the Holy Gate in Florence, Italy

With a zoom lens you can view the Duomo in Florence

Cemetery of the Holy Gate
Located next to the church San Miniato al Monte.

Italy is packed with art and the city of Florence, Italy is no exception.    Major museums display and protect some of the most famous paintings, tapestries and sculpture.  

Sculptures can be found outside of formal institutions.     You can view sculpture in a public piazza, as ornamentation to a building or even in private homes.

San Miniato al Monte
But do not miss the amazing sculpture in the local cemeteries.

The artists creating grave memorials do not restrict themselves to crosses as I discovered in the three cemeteries I recently visited. 

On this visit I climbed the hill to San Miniato al Monte to find the entrance to the Cemetery of the Holy gate to the left of the Church.  Check times and days open on line.


Don't miss the crypt in the lower level.                                    The dome pictures are done in mosaics


Angels have always been my favorite.   The mystery of how wings are attached to the statue or more amazing, how they might be planned as part of the block of marble keeps me searching for  every angel in the cemetery.   When in Rome be sure to visit the English Cemetery too.

In addition to wings the artists have created drapery (robes and clothing) that appears soft as it folds around a figure.      Perhaps the most arresting features can be the facial expressions that convey such intense emotion.  Perhaps my favorite tomb in this cemetery, is in a more remote location and you come around the corner to find her weeping.

What is missing for most of the monument art is the name of the artist.   The family name is on most stones and usually the name of each interned but few stories about the occupants or the artist.

Perhaps one of the most discussed stories is that of Antonio and Maria.  You see the 5 foot figures as you enter the main part of the cemetery and the white stone glows.   What happened to these two young people?     Their stone says they passed within 2 months of each other.  Were they just married or were they brother and sister who their mother wished them to  be together.    This story needs to be researched and the on line information verified.  Whatever the background, I felt sad when visiting them.  

                A resting angel?   A guardian angel?    What is the cost for a private piece of art?

                           There are multi story crypts to accommodate more graves.

                            Some families build mausoleums that resemble miniature villas.

In the courtyard at the front of the church you will find a gift shop selling handcrafts.   There is a large display of small bottles of home remedies I expect the brothers make.   The directions are in Italian but there is a short summary for the use of each bottle.   Apparently they are well know for their ice cream.  The freezer was almost empty!   Make time to visit while you are exploring the property.    Note:  WC available at the left of the entrance to the cemetery.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Stone angels in Italy

Italy is known for outstanding museums           where art treasures are on display

You can find incredible marble carvings in museums, public plazas and even private homes and courtyards.  But have you searched for other incredible carvings in the cemetery?

Entrance to the Rome English cemetery in Rome

A view of the Piramide from the cemetery. 
Only a few blocks from the metro station Piramide 

The English Cemetery or also known as the Protestant Cemetery, was my first stop to find marble angels.   

How does an artist make hard stone look alive, show stone like a folded piece of fabric and the depth of emotion in the facial expressions?   No other grave sculpture has had such a lasting impression on me as the The Angel of Grief, also know as the Weeping Angel.   

              You see this grave piece from across the cemetery.   

A number of well know expats are buried in the cemetery but many visitors may make the pilgrimage to see the Weeping Angel.  This massive sculpture by artist William Story  is a memorial for his wife.      

                                         The posture of the angel expresses abject sadness.

                       You do not need to see the face of this angel to feel the pain she is experiencing.

The grounds are very well kept with paths that allow you to walk past every headstone.  On a very hot day in Rome the cooler temperature and quiet was a welcome respite from the hectic pace of the city.

There is a welcome center near the entrance where friendly English speaking volunteers will sell you a simple map and give you directions and or background information on the graves you may be looking for. 

Continuing my search for stone angels I found several of interest but nothing compared with the Weeping Angel.

I have to question how some of the angel wings are attached.   Some of the 'slimmer' statues were carved from one piece of marble.   Angles with a wide wing span are 'attached'.   On my next visit I will try to find an answer.   Did the artist use metal bars to attach the wings?

                      Just another example of the incredible detail the artist puts into a statue.

                                   A visitor may have left the flower for this sleeping lady
Possibly a raven . Makes me think of an Edgar Allen Poe story.  

  I must thank Steve at The Beehive in Rome for a post about the cemetery.     There are so many other great places to explore on every trip Home to Italy. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Padua to visit the Scrovegni Chapel

Part of the massive fresco "The Last Judgment"

Most visitors race from Firenze to Venice without considering a stop at any of the wonderful cities that can easily be visited during this trip.  Travelers, unlike tourists, seek experiences that may not be on the top 10 list of a tourist guides.  Padua offers a number of experiences that should be added to your travel list even if you only spend a few hours in the city:   the city market, restaurants, cafes, churches and a pedestrian shopping street.   Padua also has a massive weekly market with products for locals not the tourist market!

Padua city center is a short walk from the train station.   The station was a wonderful surprise for a traveler.    It includes a full service tourist office, several restaurants and a grocery store in addition to the usual station services.

On a June trip Home to Italy I saw a post on author  Susan Van Allen's face book page mentioning the new hours/tours available at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.   Since I was staying only 40 minutes away, I booked a visit.

According to, "Italian artist Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267–January 8, 1337), better known simply as Giotto, was an Italian painter and architect from Florence.   He is generally considered the first in a line of great artists who contributed to the Italian Renaissance."    Years ago, as an exchange student in Firenze, our class often visited some of his original work when studying the Renaissance artists.

Enrico degli  Scrovegni, a banker in Padua in the 1300's, built the chapel as part of the family palace complex.   Scrovegni commissioned Giotto to decorate the interior of the chapel.  The theme of fresco cycle is the life of the Virgin Mary.  

Taking photos from 5 feet off the ground do not do this amazing array of paintings any justice.  And visiting in the afternoon limits the natural light available.  note:  photos were allowed but NO flash
The colors are far more vibrant and the expressions on the faces in the paintings are very lifelike.

There was far too much to see and appreciate in this short time period.  

The chapel walls and ceiling are covered with frescoes created centuries ago, but are as alive with color as if they were in the 1300's.


The chapel is one of the buildings in the large green park area.  It is set apart from the visitors center/gift shop and the exceptional museum that was included in my ticket.   Suggestion:  arrive early so you can check in, line up for a mandatory bag checking and review the many tour guides available for purchase.

In the gift shop you can rent an audio map with and interactive wand, 2 Euros on my recent visit.      An amazing feature that describes each of the paintings.    Be sure to review the descriptions before you enter the chapel, there will not be sufficient time while you are in the chapel to do more that gaze and perhaps take photos.

The chapel is separate from the main buildings, a short walk to the meeting point.  BE ON TIME.  If you miss your assigned ticket time you will not be admitted.    The doors lock to begin the mandatory 'atmosphere stabilization' process.    There are staff to answer questions but it was not clear what time to line up or where to find the start of the tour.

The waiting room that is air locked for 15 minutes before your visit

Each tour group waits in a comfortable room for 15 minutes prior to visiting the chapel.   The climate-controlled air locked vault is used to stabilize the temperature between the chapel and the exterior.   You do not feel any change in temperature or air pressure while you watch the video presentation.    The excellent video with English subtitles is very quick paced giving an overview of the paintings we would see in a few minutes.

My group was only 3 people but we found a large tour group in the chapel who had purchased an 'extended visit' of 40 minutes.   This was unfortunate because the tour guide was loud and the group reluctant to move away from the paintings so it can be more difficult to peacefully view this incredible site, depending on the group.

Art experts spend decades studying the work of Giotto so my 15 minutes was more of an attempt to see as much before the signal to leave was announced.   Wikipedia has a wonderful review of the panels giving me background for the photos I was able to capture.


Visiting the Scrovegni Chapel reminds me of a visit to the Sistine Chapel for the first time:  too much to see and absorb in a single visit.

On the lower portion of the side walls you find depictions of the 'vices' and 'virtues'.   There is little color in these painting but the vivid message they offer is clear.  I particularly enjoyed the woman with the snake in her mouth:   envy





I did not allow enough time to visit the amazing museum that is also in this location.   It was almost empty and you could have viewed every item up close and without distraction.   The manager of the ticket office strongly suggested I at least see the wood cross attributed to Giotto so I race walked through the 2 floors to reach this room.

Equally striking were two carvings outside the exhibit, very arresting:

                                                                   Viewing some of the museum without any other visitors.

Additional information

Information on purchasing tickets is available on the online ticket system:
Purchase your tickets in advance.  You can pick up the tickets in the  ticket office/entrance prior to your entry time.

The addition of evening tours offers a different way to view the chapel.

And animated tours with actors re creating the scenes in the paintings, available in Italian.

Even a guided tour is available, when booked in advance, according to the web site instructions.    Fees and restrictions on the web site.