It has been 50 years since the Arno River in Florence, Italy, flooded its banks on November 4, 1966, breaching the basements and first floors of museums, libraries, and private residences, and burying centuries of books, manuscripts, and works of art in muck and muddy water.
The catastrophe was not only caused by the amount of water. The powerful flood ruptured heating oil tanks stored under or at ground level of most of the buildings, and the oil mixed with the water and the tons of muddy topsoil washed down the agricultural Arno Valley, causing far greater damage than that attributed to the water alone.
Twenty thousand families lost their homes, fifteen thousand cars were destroyed, and six thousand shops went out of business. At least thirty people were confirmed fatalities, but some reports put the toll at more than a hundred.
At its highest, the water reached over 6.7 meters (22 ft) in the Santa Croce area, more than twice as high as the flood of 1557.
Records after the flood estimated that 1,500 works of art in Florence were disfigured or destroyed. Of these, 850 were seriously damaged, including paintings on wood and on canvas, frescoes and sculptures. Among the casualties were Paolo Uccello’s Creation and Fall at Santa Maria Novella, Sandro Botticelli’s Saint Augustine and Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Saint Jerome at the Church of the Ognissanti, Andrea di Bonaiuto’s The Church Militant and Triumphant at Santa Maria Novella, Donatello’s wooden statue of Mary Magdalenein the Baptistry of the Duomo, Baccio Bandinelli’s white marble Pietà in Santa Croce and Filippo Brunelleschi’s wooden model for the Cupola of the Duomo, in the Duomo’s Museum.
When you're in Florence you'll often see markers showing how high the waters were. This picture puts it into perspective.
Last night Mom and Paul met me in the city after work and we went to the Art Gallery of Ontario. This weekend is the last weekend of the Lawren Harris exhibit and we were determined to see it.
Harris is one of my favourite artists. Famous for monumental pictures of smooth-sheen shorelines and mountains, often bathed in beatific light. One of the things the exhibit showed was the artist's talent for building heavy counterweights to those spiritual landscapes with deep, uncomfortable context all around them.
It starts with Harris’s earliest pictures of Toronto, a teeming brew of industry and people that coalesce in its gritty, hardscrabble streets. The Eaton’s manufacturing plant looms above the Ward, a tight warren of immigrant worker’s cottages where Nathan Phillips Square now sits, cloaked in a smoky shroud. A gas plant belches steam over the dun-grey snow of the city’s filthy core. A weathered two-storey shack perches on a desolate street, its plaster hide crumbling into the muck below, the sky the colour of ash.
You can see in the contours of the snow above the evolving style the later evolved in the looming pictures of the north, a place Harris only visited once yet it formed the basis for his most renowned period of art.
After feeding our souls we went to the gallery restaurant, Frank, for another type of feed. Mom was pokey in the gallery so Paul and I were there a bit early - perfect for enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail.
I ordered a Ginger and Lemongrass Daiquiri.
Paul ordered an Old Fashioned made with the Canadian Whiskey - Great Northern, that has taken the world by storm. He doesn't normally order 'straight up' cocktails so the booze hit him like a brick and loopy Paul soon joined the table.
The soup of the day was watermelon gazpacho.
My main was the chicken and biscuit - sweet corn pudding, summer squash succotash, smoked sage biscuit, bee pollen dust, honey mustard. MMMMMM Pure comfort food.
Mom and Paul both ordered dessert - I stayed out of the pool to some extent with coffee and a biscotti.
After dinner we had a bit of an adventure getting the car out of a parking garage when all of the entrances were locked. SIGH Once we figured that out we zipped home and to bed. It was an awesome finish to a crazy week but a good reminder that there is more in life than work.
Last week Paul, mom, and I went to the Chihuly exhibit at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. We've seen his work before and were excited to see this exhibit featuring almost 20 separate installations.
For anyone who hasn’t seen them Chihuly makes sculptures of glass, in incredibly bright, vivid colours. In fact, his work almost seems like an explosion of shapes and colours.
Some of the reviews were rather snooty - frowning on the exhibit of glass sculptures being housed in Canada's most respected and revered museum. Others suggesting that glass making is a craft not an art and therefore not worthy of display. A few reviewers have criticized the work because of the 'studio approach' used by Chihuly (apparently forgetting that all of the great artists of the renaissance utilized a similar approach).
At the end of the day, the collection is a beautiful explosion of bright, vivid installations. I was struck by the reaction of the people in attendance - pure amazement.
Chihuly will be on display at the ROM through Jan. 2, 2017.
We left the snow behind and headed to California for a long weekend of fun. We shoppedm toured wineries, tasted olive oil, met up with good friends, and ate some wonderful food. I can't wait for slow bowl 2009.