Florence italy

Strewn with foreign bodies

Ghosts of the Past by Marco Vichi (Hodder, £18.99) is unashamedly nostalgic in tone. The title could not be more apposite. The action takes place in 1967, when Inspector Bordelli of the Florence police force is called to a house where a wealthy industrialist has been run through with a sword. Each member of the family is acting suspiciously, as are the various colleagues and associates of the deceased. Bordelli’s life is further complicated when an old friend, Colonel Arcieri, turns up in dire trouble and needing protection. The case unfolds in a slow haze of interviews and recollections. Vichi takes his time to explore Bordelli’s mind, his thoughts and

The grand tourist trap

Last week, I was in the Florence Baptistery by 8.30 a.m. That used to be early enough to avoid the crowds and admire the Baptistery’s east doors by Ghiberti — the Gates of Paradise, as Michel-angelo called them. No longer. As I stared at the 13th-century mosaics in the apse and Donatello and Michelozzo’s tomb of Antipope John XXIII, a group of bored Italian teenagers started hugging each other and gossiping on the front pew next to me. It was the same all over town. In the Piazza della Signoria, tourists flocked round the copy of Michelangelo’s David at 8 a.m. Next door, they were queuing to see the Botticellis

May’s Brexit speech leaves some key questions unanswered

Theresa May’s speech in Florence set out more detail on the government’s position on transition. But it did not answer the question of what the UK’s final relationship with the EU should be, and how the UK thinks regulatory divergence between it and the EU should be managed. May’s transition proposal, though she still prefers the term implementation period, would see the UK continue to obey all EU rules and regulations and accept free movement, albeit with registrations of new arrivals. In effect, Britain would be staying in the EU but as a non-voting member. She suggested that this transition last two years. But she also said it should go

Theresa May’s Florence speech on Brexit, full text

It’s good to be here in this great city of Florence today at a critical time in the evolution of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. It was here, more than anywhere else, that the Renaissance began – a period of history that inspired centuries of creativity and critical thought across our continent and which in many ways defined what it meant to be European. A period of history whose example shaped the modern world. A period of history that teaches us that when we come together in a spirit of ambition and innovation, we have it within ourselves to do great things. That shows us

The Cabinet’s Brexit negotiation

Theresa May will give her Brexit speech in Florence today safe in the knowledge that she finally has the full backing of her Cabinet – at least, until the warm prosecco comes out at party conference. After a difficult week, Cabinet ministers today met on Thursday a two-and-a-half hour meeting where approval was given. In an attempt to demonstrate unity, the two poles of the Cabinet’s Brexit debate – Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson – left No 10 together. Whether this new Cabinet unity can last is another matter entirely. It’s expected that May will use the speech to propose a transitional deal with the EU of up to two years

This is what Theresa May should say in her Florence speech

Tomorrow in Florence, Theresa May needs to make the speech of her life. Britain has a strong hand to play in these EU talks and it’s time the Prime Minister showed it. May must assert once again that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, shoring up the UK’s bargaining position. She should also insist Britain won’t confirm any ‘divorce bill’ until these Article 50 talks end in March 2019, with the final amount dependent on the goodwill the EU has shown. Above all, taking her cue from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister needs to present an inspiring vision of the UK outside the EU. The heyday

Books Podcast: Machiavelli’s lifelong quest for freedom

In this week’s Books Podcast I talk to Erica Benner about her new Life of Machiavelli, Be Like The Fox. Professor Benner, a Yale expert in political science, offers a new and intriguing reading of the great theorist of statecraft — arguing that in the violent and unstable Florence of his time, he learned to conceal his real meanings in layers of irony and satire. We ask, in essence, just how Machiavellian Machiavelli really was…. You can listen to our conversation here: And if you enjoyed that, please subscribe on iTunes for a new episode every Thursday.

Dante’s egomania

Unlike Shakespeare, who kept himself out of all his works, except the Sonnets, Dante was endlessly reworking his autobiography, even when supposedly writing on politics or arranging love poems to his dream-women. The core of this new book about him can be found in a sentence following Dante’s banishment from Florence, and his setting out as a poverty-stricken exile, deprived of all power, separated from his wife and family and stripped of his wealth. Marco Santagata writes: One of the typical features of Dante’s personality, which qualifies him as an ‘intellectual’ in the modern sense of the word, is his endless reflection on what he is doing, both as an

Black mischief among the Medicis

In a recent interview, the African American actor Wendell Pierce revealed he had once been told by the head of casting at a Hollywood studio: ‘I couldn’t put you in a Shakespeare movie, because they didn’t have black people then.’ The story was repeated on social media with a mixture of horror and hilarity, many responding — as Pierce himself did — ‘You ever heard of Othello?’ Yet the head of casting’s comments represent a common misconception and a significant gap in historical memory. Black Africans have been a visible presence in European life for centuries — and not only as slaves. In the 16th century, there were black musicians,

Does Paul Mason really want the next century to imitate Renaissance Florence?

‘Amid the cobbled passageways and tumbling tenements of the Italian city of Perugia, it’s possible to daydream you are in the middle ages. You are surrounded by medieval art and architecture. And then you think: hold on, what happened to the Renaissance?’ So begins Paul Mason’s article for the Guardian on Monday about the Panama Papers, in which he makes the case that because Perugia’s wealthy citizens did not pay their taxes, the city fell into decline. ‘We want to be the Florence, Bruges or Amsterdam of the coming century, not the Perugia,’ he adds. Renaissance Florence may be intoxicating and I don’t doubt that its citizens were possibly better at paying their taxes

Florence | 31 March 2016

Once, it seems, Sandro Botticelli played a trick on a neighbour. Next door was a weaver who possessed eight looms. He and his assistants kept these in constant use, creating such a judder-ing racket that the poor painter was unable to concentrate on his pictures. Botticelli implored this fellow to reduce the noise, but to no avail. So eventually the artist carried an enormous rock on to his roof, poised so the slightest vibration would bring it crashing through the noisy weaver’s premises. The man then saw reason. You can easily imagine the problem today as you walk down Botticelli’s street, Via del Porcellana. It’s a long, narrow thoroughfare running

A love letter to Italy

Imagine you’re an unknown young writer whose first collection of stories wins the Pulitzer prize. Your first novel is filmed, your second is shortlisted for the Man Booker and your next collection of stories goes straight to No.1 in the New York Times bestseller list, while prizes and honours are showered on you. Might the words ‘rest’ and ‘laurels’ come to mind? Not for Jhumpa Lahiri. The Bengali-American author of Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake chose instead to swap New York for Rome with her husband and two young children for what she calls ‘a trial by fire’ into a new life and a new language: for nearly three

Escaping the Inferno

I read this, Meg Rosoff’s first novel for adults (though her previous fiction, aimed at teenagers, is widely enjoyed by older readers), curled up with my beautiful lurcher, Una, twitching her ears beside me. Appropriately so, as the novel concerns the relationship between a young man and two dogs, super-intelligent collie Dante and devoted spaniel Sissy. All dog-owners will recognise how Rosoff describes their interactions: Jonathan worries about ‘the practical and spiritual difficulties of caring for other sentient beings’, and spends hours imagining ‘the Byzantine quality’ of their inner lives (when I read that sentence, I exchanged glances with Una; she lifted her tail as if to say, You didn’t

The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour usually culminated with Naples, ragamuffin capital of the Italian south, where Vesuvius offered a visual education in the grand style. Some Grand Tourists, among them Lord Byron, got as far as Greece; but Italy was coveted as the glittering birthplace of the Renaissance — a haven of art on the Arno. In some ways, then, Britain became civilised through its contact with Italy. ‘A man who has not been to Italy,’ Samuel Johnson observed in 1776 (perhaps ironically), ‘is always conscious of an inferiority.’ The grand habit of touring the Continent for its art and classical antiquity flourished from the mid-17th century until the advent of rail


The British have always been in love with Florence. First visits cannot disappoint. One friend recalls being herded around as a schoolgirl, unexpectedly coming face to face with the replica of Michelangelo’s David in the Piazza della Signoria and fainting right there in the street. Return visits can be just as stunning. You can fly in to Pisa or to Florence airport, which receives an increasing number of flights. And the high-speed train from Rome takes just an hour and a half. Weather-wise it can be tricky to pick the best season. Winters can be very cold, but like many Italian cities Florence develops a different charm as it empties

Toujours la politesse

Robert Cumming’s opening sentence is: ‘Kenneth Clark and Bernard Berenson first met in the summer of 1925.’ One is then transported to terraces of cypress and statuary, sunshine and high art, Edith Wharton and Paul of Yugoslavia cooing over a balustrade. Clark was 22 and had just finished at Oxford; he was ‘doing’ Italy with Charles Bell, Keeper of Fine Art at the Ashmolean. Lunch at I Tatti, Berenson’s citadel of aesthetic endeavour near Florence, was arranged. By the end of it, Clark had been taken on as Berenson’s assistant for the revision of the master’s classic The Drawings of the Florentine Painters. Cumming tweaks the myth: Clark’s youthful self-assurance

Reimaging the lost masterpieces of antiquity

For centuries there has been a note of yearning in our feelings about ancient Greek and Roman art. We can’t help mourning for what has irretrievably vanished. In 1764 Johann Joachim Winckelmann wrote that we have ‘nothing but a shadowy outline left of the object of our wishes, but that very indistinctness awakens only a more earnest longing for what we have lost’. In the same spirit, Power and Pathos, an exhibition of Hellenistic bronze sculpture at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, begins with an empty plinth. It is the marble base of a statue, found in Corinth, on which are written the words ‘Lysippos made [this]’. The inscription is poignant

The hidden history of one of the greatest treasures of the early Renaissance: Florence’s Brancacci chapel

In 1439 Abraham of Souzdal, a Russian bishop visiting Florence, was in the audience in Santa Maria del Carmine for the famous Ascension play, arranged by the members of the lay confraternity, the Sant’Agnese. Sitting in the body of the church, Abraham looked up and saw, on top of one end of the huge stone choir screen, a castle with towers and ramparts, and at the other a Mount of Olives. From here the ascending Christ was drawn up through celestial curtains to be united with God the Father, suspended ‘in a miraculous fashion’ in the far distance above the altar. Invisible ropes and pulleys and visible local children, ‘who

The brilliant neurotics of the late Renaissance

In many respects the average art-lover remains a Victorian, and the Florentine Renaissance is one area in which that is decidedly so. Most of us, like Ruskin, love the works of 15th-century artists of that city — Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Ghiberti — and are much less enthusiastic about those of the 16th. But a superb exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino: Diverging Paths of Mannerism, might change some minds. It contains pictures that are intense in emotion, eccentric, mysterious, sometimes bizarre and — to a 21st-century eye — appealingly neurotic. Rosso Fiorentino and Pontormo were almost exact contemporaries, born within a few months of each other

It’s the whisper you’ve got to listen for in Arturo Di Stefano’s paintings

One of the paintings in Arturo Di Stefano’s impressive new show at Purdy Hicks Gallery is called ‘Santa Croce’ and it depicts the arcaded cloister of the church in Florence where Giotto painted a series of frescoes. Di Stefano has not chosen to paint the obvious view — its famous black-and-white façade — but focuses instead on the cloister, where he imagines Giotto walking during the making of his frescoes. The painting is thus charged with the human presence of an artist Di Stefano much admires, a hidden presence, though real enough in the frescoed chapels behind the façade of the basilica. This is the kind of thing that Di