Lady Madonna, Baby at Your Breast


Madonna del’latte, Ambrogio Lorenzetti c. 1330

I really enjoyed the museums in Siena in part because they were small enough to manage with children, and not so packed. But the best part was their troves of early Renaissance art. I like the early stuff because it’s not so all-fired perfect like the late Renaissance art. During the early period, artists had figured out a few things about perspective, but they hadn’t yet cracked the whole code. 

The art from the early period also seems brighter and more colorful than the later Renaissance. I find myself relating to it because it’s more like what I’d want to create myself. Perfection in artwork doesn’t really interest me that much, probably because I’m living after the invention of photography. So the beautiful but imperfect early Renaissance paintings (as well as pre-Renaissance works) have an almost modern feel to me.

Disclaimer: this isn’t an all that scholarly perspective, so bear that in mind.

St. Bernardino Preaching, by Sano di Pietro (above)—This scene takes place in the same Piazza del Campo from my previous post. I couldn’t find a better image of it, but in real life the colors are much brighter. The building behind St. Bernardino is the color of papaya flesh. 

Datei:Simone Martini 018.jpg

(detail from The Siege of the Castle of Montemassi, by Simone Martini)

The image above is just a tiny bit of a beautiful and famous painting. You can see the artist has made an attempt to show the dimensionality of the castle, but it’s still a bit flat, with an almost cubist feeling. I love it.

Our favorite pieces in the museum were the nursing Madonnas. I had never seen anything like them and was so moved by their tenderness. Whoever thought of Mary breastfeeding Jesus? Evidently plenty of artists have, but I hadn’t. I found the images so intimate, so human. So different from some other Madonnas where she’s looking away from baby Jesus, holding him like she’s not sure whose kid this is but would someone please take him?

Evidently there are a lot of these lactating Madonnas from 14th century Tuscany. According to Wikipedia,  they were “something of a visual revolution for the theology of the time, compared to the Queen of Heaven depictions.”

Madonna del latte, Paolo di Giovanni Fei

“During the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, a decree against nudity was issued, and the use of the Madonna Lactans iconography began to fade away.”

Sigh. At least they didn’t burn them.

The coolest thing about seeing these paintings was how much my small children responded to them. I think the idea of baby Jesus being so like themselves, so like other babies they know, excited them.

The images above came from wikipedia and wikimedia. They are in the public domain, and the paintings themselves all reside in Siena.

p.s. My post about Pisa was featured on Freshly Pressed (the wordpress front page roundup) this week, so this little blog got a lot of new traffic. Welcome, new subscribers!

People-Watching in Siena

At the heart of Siena lies the famous Piazza del Campo*, flanked by restaurants and historic buildings. During our few days in Siena we  crossed through the piazza again and again. We enjoyed eating pizza at the edge of it while watching people come and go.

Wow, Italians are sharp dressers. We played at being The Sartorialist, looking for classily-dressed locals we’d award for their fashion sense. The older gentlemen really know how to do it up—a common theme: thin (cashmere?) sweater, button-up shirt, blazer/ jacket, pants, nice leather shoes. Always nice shoes. It is Italy.

Though Siena is popular with tourists, we didn’t find it jam-packed or difficult to navigate. People are friendly, and the restaurants are great. The architecture and general ambiance are charming. Like most of the Italian towns we visited, you’re not allowed to drive in the city center unless you’re a local. The ancient narrow streets just aren’t built for car traffic. You begin to see why motorcycles and mopeds are popular here.

At every single restaurant (was it a rule?) we were given brown paper placemats. It looked like drawing paper, so I couldn’t resist sketching. The kids had their colored pencils along, so we were all set.

The food came before I could finish anything (terrible problem, I know).

I was excited to eat at an official Slow Food member restaurant, Hosteria il Carroccio.

Our other favorite restaurant was La Sosta Di Violante. We ate there twice it was so good, and the staff was very friendly.

One more Italy post and then it’s back to regularly scheduled programming.

*It’s also the scene of Siena’s famed twice-yearly horse race, Palio di Siena.

Bumping into Vampires in Volterra

Spaghetti! Buongiorno! Ragu! Fresca! This is about the extent of my Italian skills. Thank goodness for American convenience foods, eh?

Italy is what I dreamed of during our long gray period this winter in Germany. Like the London women in Enchanted April—-did you ever see it? See the trailer here. The women band together to rent an Italian villa, where they escape a rainy, dreary existence, and all their problems get solved.

Our vacation was exactly like that. Haha!

I didn’t realize I had booked a villa near a town that’s home to characters from a certain very popular YA series. I don’t know, something about good-looking vampires? Maybe you’ve heard of it?

In addition to being featured in New Moon, Volterra is a charming town, fairly small, not too touristy, with a lovely cathedral. I loved its bumpy old streets and funky shops and restaurants.

Also had some fabulous gelato, my number 2 pick in Italy:

We ate gelato every day, so number 2 is a very high ranking.

More Italy posts to come…