So, we were more than excited when we came upon Rinascimento in Valdarno--another in the Little Big Museums series. Again five sacred art museums are displaying their works with works from larger museums. We now had some day trips to look forward to.
We began at the Museum of Sacred Art of the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria in Figline where Giotto's Madonna col Bambino e Angeli and the Madonna col Bambino e Santi by Giotto's contemporary and rival, the Maestro of Figline were on view. We were the only people there as we stood inches away from these great works, studying each expression, color and the imperfections caused by the centuries between execution and now. It felt almost as if we were communicating with these men of the past.
Giotto has a special place in our hearts because of a wonderful gift Casey received a few weeks ago. A gift which adds to his budding art appreciation and, thus, will enrich his entire life. This is a link to his blog entry where he tells about this--KZ in Toscana.
A few days ago we drove to the small mountain villages of Reggello and Vallombrosa--not places one stumbles upon in the course of a normal drive or where one would go looking for great art.
But--as it seems with most of the Sacred Art Museums in Tuscany--tucked away in small rooms are incredible treasures. They remain there to be seen by the people in quiet, out-of-the-way places which seem very fitting.
At the Masaccio Museum of Sacred Art in Cascia di Reggello were two wonderful pieces by Masaccio--the Casini Madonna (normally in the Uffizi) and the Triptych of San Giovenale which is Masaccio's first known work and the one which "officially initiated Renaissance painting."
Masaccio is the artist who gave us the incredible frescos in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria della Carmine in Florence. He was the opening volley in the incredible art of the fourteenth century, impacted the history of art in monumental ways and yet died at the young age of 26.
But--it was in the new Museum of Sacred Art of the Vallombrosa Abbey where I stood most transfixed. Here was the wonderfully beautiful Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenico Ghirlandaio--normally found in the Sassetti Chapel in the Basilica of Santa Trinita in Florence. But in this museum the room was light, the painting was at an easily seen level and the rope separated us from the painting by a mere inches. I could have spent hours just studying its detail and beauty--things such as the angel in the sky (which at first I thought was a demon) which Joseph is staring at, the marvelous expressions on the faces of the shepherds and the exquisite face of young Mary. It was memorizing in both detail and the whole.
Coupled with this was Ghirlandaio's Madonna Enthroned with Child and Four Saints. Of course, this is wonderful--as is everything of Ghirlandaio's but, somehow it paled when juxtaposed with the complexity of the Nativity and Adoration.
The final venue we visited was the Museum of the Basilica of Santa Maria in San Giovanni Valdarno. Here we found the incomparable Fra Angelico--he of the fragile, gentle faces. Displayed were the panel of the Tabernacle of the Linen Guild Predella from the San Marco museum in Florence and the San Giovanni Museum's Annunciation.
Last week when we went to the Uffizi to visit just 2 rooms--Lippi and Botticelli--I spent long minutes just studying the faces of Mary. Too often Mary is so formalized or older than she should be--she does not draw you to her. But these artists give us a Mary who is lovely in her introverted portrayals. There is a longing in her face--a transcendence. A gentleness and humility that speaks of love.
Fra Angelico gives the same beauty--not only to Mary but to many of his portraits. The San Marco museum should be visited at least once just to spend time searching the faces rather than the whole.
Now we have one more Little Big Museum to search out--the Sacred Art Museum in Montevarchi where two Luca della Robbia pieces are displayed. I am looking forward to that day.
And, finally--The Greatest Master of All