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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Milan, at Piazza del Duomo

Milan Duomo is the cathedral church of Milan, Italy. It is dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (St Mary of the Nativity). It is the most impressive structure in Milan. Standing tall in Piazza del Duomo, it took more than 600 years to built. The front facade of the Duomo was completed only in the 19th century.

This cathedral is a genuine Gothic masterpiece with more than 3,500 statues of saints, animals and monsters, and 135 towers stretching towards the heavens.
The roofline dissolves into openwork pinnacles that are punctuated by a grove of spires, topped with statues that overlook the city. The main spire is 109 meters high. These can all be investigated up close on a breathtaking walk on the roof.
The most famous of the statues on the roof is the Madonnina (Little Madonna), a copper statue of the virgin Mary covered with 3900 pieces of gold leaf. It was cast in 1774 by goldsmith Giuseppe Bini and sculptor Giuseppe Perego. The statue, four meters and sixteen centimeters tall , was placed on top of the cathedral's tallest spire.
The Duomo's most imposing element, the front façade facing Piazza del Duomo, was completed in the 19th century. The façade is baroque up to the first order of windows, and neo-Gothic above. The five ornated bronze doorways provide a magnificent entrance to the Duomo.  Each of the five bronze doors was sculpted by a different artist. The central one is the oldest and was decorated with floral Gothic reliefs by Ludovico Pogliaghi. The panels on the doors depict episodes in the lives of the virgin Mary, Saint Ambrose (patron of Milan) and Saint Charles Borromeo, as well as scenes from the history of Milan and the construction of the cathedral.
The inside of Milan's Duomo is expansive and magnificent. There are five large naves divided by fifty-two pillars - one for each week of the year - that support the cross vaulted ceiling.
Above the apse (the arched part above the altar) there is a spot marked with a red lightbulb. This marks the spot where one of the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion was placed.
The American writer and journalist Mark Twain one time visited Milan and the Duomo, he was very impressed by the Duomo and describes it in his travel book “Innocents Abroad” as follows:
“What a wonder it is! 
So grand, so solemn, so vast!
And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful!
A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems ...a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!... “

Sources: Wikipedia

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Milan, at the Last Supper

The monument of Leonardo da Vinci by sculptor Pietro Magni is located at the center of Piazza della Scala in Milan. The Piazza is connected  with Piazza Duomo by the shopping mall Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Leonardo da Vinci worked and lived  in Milan in the 15th century at the Sforza Castle, under the Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza.
His job was to take care of the cultural life and the arts at the court of Milan. During this period, Leonardo da Vinci was busy with inventions, the expansion of the canal system and the construction of locks as well as the study of man. During his time in Milan, he also created the famous mural painting "The Last Supper".
The Last Supper is contained in the church Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, which is displayed in the dining hall of the convent. It was painted on the northern wall of  the dining hall for the Dominican monks. It measures fifteen by twenty-nine feet. It stands whole as of today, except for the construction of a doorway in 17th century, eliminating the lower central area of the painting. Leonardo da Vinci set the long dining table at stage center in this room, with Jesus at the center surrounded by the 12 apostles.
It is said that the look of every apostle was based on a real-life model. When it came time to pick the face for the traitorous Judas (fifth from the left, holding a bag of telltale silver), da Vinci searched the jails of Milan for the perfect looking scoundrel.
During world war 2 the Allied bombers struck and heavily damaged the Church. The Dining hall was razed to the ground, a few of the walls survived, including that of the Last Supper, as it had been reinforced prior with sandbags. 
The Last Supper, which miraculously survived the Allied bombing, suffers from other problem which are due to Leonardo’s experimental technique, which deteriorated the painting faster than expected.
Careful treatment of the extremely delicate paint layer restored the painting hidden colours. The church and convent have been the object of continuous restoration  from the 1990s onwards, following a unified conservation strategy. 
The church Santa Maria delle Grazie was originally commissioned by the Dominican Order to Guiniforte Solari for their monastery. Solari designed a beautiful structure in a late Gothic style, which was completed in 1490.
Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, decided that the church Santa Maria delle Grazie would be a perfect burial place for him and his wife, and in preparation asked Donato Bramante to remodel the church. Bramante rebuilt the apse and crowned it with a magnificent sixteen-sided drum in Renaissance style. 
Both the interior and exterior of the church show an interesting combination of Gothic and Renaissance styles. The sober brick facade was designed by Guiniforte Solari while the Renaissance-style entrance is attributed to  Donato Bramante. 
The central nave and aisles are magnificent examples of late Gothic architecture. It features elegant pointed arches embellished with delicate frescoes. The Renaissance style is less decorated and seems almost sparse in contrast. Along the aisles are a number of chapels, many of which are beautifully decorated with frescoes.
The church and convent has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites list. 
Sources: Wikipedia

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Milan, at Castello Sforzesco

Milan is the capital of Lombardy region, and the second most populous city in Italy after Rome. It is the leading financial centre and the most prosperous manufacturing and commercial city of Italy.

In the Renaissanse period, Milan was a large city with extensive territory, and it was rich.  Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan from 1494 to 1499, made Milan the most splendid not only in Italy but in Europe , with lavish but enlightened patronage of artists and scholars. Leonardo da Vinci and the architect Donato Bramante were among the many artists, poets, and musicians who gathered in Milan. Ludovico presided over the final and most productive stage of the Milanese Renaissance, and he is probably best known as the man who commissioned The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.

Ludovico also sponsored extensive work in civil and military engineering, such as canals and fortifications.

One of the main tourist attraction of Milan is the Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle) which was built by Ludovico’s father, Francesco Sforza,  Duke of Milan, on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification. Extensively rebuilt in 1891–1905, it now houses several of the city's museums and art collections.
The castle has a quadrangular plan, site across the city's walls. The wall which once faced the countryside north to Milan has square towers and has an ogival gate. This was once accessed through a drawbridge.
The central tower of the castle is dedicated to King Umberto I, who was assassinated 5 years earlier.The central tower is designed and decorated by the sculptor and architect Filarete, so the tower is named after him, Torre del Filarete. 
Just a few minutes walk from the Milan Duomo, there is a square called Piazza Mercanti or Market Square. The square dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries and was once the commercial centre of the city. Various traders, such as bakers, cobblers, and tailors would conduct their business here.
Adjacent to the Castello Sforzesco there is large park named Sempione Park. It has an overall area of 38 hectares, designed by the architect Emilio Alemagna. The park is nicely laid out in a landscape style with winding paths, open grassy areas, tall trees and a picturesque bridge across a central pond.
The Sempione Park was established in the 17th century filled with oak and chestnut trees as well as exotic animals. After the Spaniards conquered Milan, the park was converted to crops. Later under Napoleon's rule, the park was once again converted  to its original use and given back to the locals.
After World War 2, a real estate company lobbied for the conversion  of the Park to residential buildings. However, a strong opposition from the local population allowed this park to be preserved the way we see it today.

Sources: Wikipedia

Monday, February 5, 2018

An Interview with Niccolo

One day, I met Niccolo in exile in Sant'Andrea in Percussina, he looked rugged and drunk. His sweet smile had disappeared into a sad face. A very different image of a person in an ambassador role he had before the Medici threw him in jail, tortured him and sent him into solitary exile at his country retreat.
He was a diplomat for 14 years in Italy's Florentine Republic during the Medici family's exile. When the Medici family returned to power in 1512, Niccolo was dismissed and jailed.
During his exile he wrote books, including The Prince which became his most renowned book.
I asked him straightforwardly:
“People say that nowadays you drink in the company of peasants, fought in villages and rail at your fate.  The solitary exile must have been hard for you, it is like a punishment worse than death for a man who found high-level politics as necessary as breathing.  Do you feel bitter about the treatment of the Medici to you?”

“When evening comes, I go back home, and go to my study. On the threshold, I take off my work clothes, covered in mud and filth, and I put on the clothes an ambassador would wear. Decently dressed, I enter the ancient courts of rulers who have long since died. There, I am warmly welcomed, and I feed on the only food I find nourishing and was born to savour. I am not ashamed to talk to them and ask them to explain their actions and they, out of kindness, answer me. Four hours go by without my feeling any anxiety. I forget every worry. I am no longer afraid of poverty or frightened of death. I live entirely through them.”

I said:
“The Medici threw you in jail, tortured you with a rope hanged from your bound wrists, from the back, forcing your arms to bear your body's weight and dislocating your shoulders. However they  could find no evidence of your direct involvement in the conspiracy, and, under the general amnesty granted by the Pope you were released a few weeks later and they sent you into solitary exile here.
But despite the cruel treatment by the Medici, you dedicated your most renowned book “The Prince” to the Magnificence Lorenzo de Medici a prince of the Medici who tortured you. Why so?”

Niccolo citing the opening chapter of The Prince said:
“I want to present myself to his Magnificence with some testimony of my devotion towards him, the possession of mine that I love best and value most is my knowledge of the actions of great men—knowledge that I have acquired from long experience in contemporary affairs and from a continual study of antiquity. Having reflected on it long and hard, I now send it, digested into a little volume, to his Magnificence.
And if his Magnificence, from the mountain-top of his greatness will sometimes look down at this plain, he will see how little I deserve the wretched ill-fortune that continually pursues me”

I said:
“The word “Prince” in your book “The Prince” obviously does not refer to hereditary prince in aristocratic system but to a ruler of a country.”

 Niccolo citing Chapter 9 said:
“It is about a citizen who becomes the prince of his country not by wickedness or any intolerable violence, but by the favour of his fellow citizens. We can call this ‘civil principality’. Now, this kind of principality (princely state)—·this way of becoming a prince·—is obtained with the support of the common people or with the support of the nobles.
Someone who becomes prince with the help of the nobles will find it hard to maintain his position because he’ll be surrounded by men who regard themselves as his equals, which will inhibit him in giving orders and managing affairs. It is easier for a prince who got there with the help of popular favour: he’ll be able to exercise his principality single-handed, with few if any people unwilling to obey him.”

I said:
“Machiavellianism" is a widely used negative term to characterize unscrupulous politicians of the sort you described most famously in The Prince. You described immoral behavior, such as dishonesty and killing innocents, as being normal and effective in politics. “

Niccolo citing Chapter 15 said:
“I am not apologetic about this·: my aim is to write things that will be useful the reader who understands them; so I find it more appropriate to pursue the real truth of the matter than to repeat what people have imagined about it. Many writers have dreamed up republics and principalities such as have never been seen or known in the real world. ·And attending to them is dangerous·, because the gap between “how men live”  and “how they ought to live” is so wide that any prince who thinks in terms not of how people do behave but of how they ought to behave will destroy his power rather than maintaining it. A man who tries to act virtuously will soon come to grief at the hands of the unscrupulous people surrounding him. Thus, a prince who wants to keep his power must learn how to act immorally, using or not using this skill according to necessity.
As I said in Chapter 18, a prince is forced to know how to act like a beast, he must learn from the fox and the lion; because the lion is defenceless against traps and a fox is defenceless against wolves. So the prince needs to be a fox to discover the traps and a lion to scare off the wolves.”

I said :
“You seemed to endorse cruelty, violence and even murder in some situations, which  oppose the universal norms in our society.”

Niccolo citing Chapter 17 said:
“I say that every prince should want to be regarded as merciful and not cruel; but he should be careful not to mismanage his mercy! Cesare Borgia was considered cruel; yet his ‘cruelty’ restored order to Romagna, unified it, and restored it to peace and loyalty. When you come to think about it, you’ll see him as being much more ·truly· merciful than the Florentines who, to avoid a reputation for cruelty, allowed Pistoia to be destroyed.”

I said:
“This philosophy of "the end justifies the means" has often been associated with you, and so named Machiavellianism. The Prince became a handbook for ruler like Stalin, who starved the Ukranian people șo he could sell the grain from Ukraine to  the west so he could make the army stronger and to grow the indunstry.
The Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini saw himself as a modern-day Machiavellian and wrote an introduction to his honorary doctoral thesis for the University of Bologna—"Prelude to Machiavelli.”
In this thesis he quoted your Chapter 17 as evidence of your bitter pessimism in respect to human nature: “For we may say here in general that men are ungrateful, inconstant, deceiving, cowardly in the face of danger, greedy for gain: and as long as you do them favors they are loyal to you and ready to pledge you their blood, their property, their lives, their children — until, as I have said above, they no longer need you; but when that time arrives they are quick to desert you.”

Niccolo citing Chapter 8 said:
“Someone who is seizing a state should think hard about all the injuries he’ll have to inflict, and get them all over with at the outset, rather than having cruelty as a daily occurrence. By stopping cruelty very soon, the usurper will be able to reassure people and win them over to his side by generosity. Someone who doesn’t proceed in this way—whether from fear or on bad advice—will always have to have a knife in his hand; and he won’t be able to rely on his subjects, who will be alienated by his continued and repeated injuries....”

I said:
“Your book The Prince is actually a little book with a clear language, easy to understand. However the books of commentaries, reviews, critics and analysis about it are much longer than this little book. What do you say about it?"

Niccolo citing Chapter 1 said:
“Many writers decorate their work—choke their work—with smoothly sweeping sentences, pompous words, and other ‘attractions’ that are irrelevant to the matter in hand; but I haven’t done any of that, because I have wanted this work of mine to be given only such respect as it can get from the importance of its topic and the truth of what it says about it.”

I said:
“Yet this little book became very famous because of its controversy, Bertrand Russell called it a “handbook for gangsters”.  Leo Strauss called you a “teacher of evil” because of The Prince. Are you surprised about it?”

Nicollo said:
“The Prince is just one of my books, I also wrote “The Art of War”,  “Discourses on Livy”, and plays.
In “The Art of War”, Lord Fabrizio Colonna said that we should learn things similar to the ancients that honor and reward virtue, not to have contempt for poverty, to esteem the modes and orders of military discipline, to constrain citizens to love one another, to live without factions, to esteem less the private than the public good.
However, good institutions without the help of the military are not much differently disordered than the habitation of a superb and regal palace, which, even though adorned with jewels and gold, if it is not roofed over will not have anything to protect it from the rain.
In “Discourses on Livy” I quoted Livy saying that people are strong together, but weak when alone giving the example of the Roman plebs. Livy additionally feels that the multitude is wiser than the one prince. And in Chapter 30 I wrote about that truly powerful Republics and Princes buy friendships not with money, but with virtue and reputation of strength.
The book discusses the rulers of Rome and how a strong or weak Prince can maintain or destroy a kingdom. After a weak prince a kingdom could not remain strong with another weak prince. Luckily, the first three kings each had a certain strength, which aided the city. Romulus was fierce, Numa was religious, and Tullus was dedicated to war.”

I said:
“ So it seems your focus is that a Prince shall rely on his virtue and strength, rather than being a weak Prince, and relying on fortune.”

Nicollo said, with a nod:
“Yes, after all I am not so Machiavellian……”

This is an imaginary interview in memory of Niccolo Machiavelli.
Sources: Wikipedia, CliffsNotes