My brush with Caravaggio

Head-of-Goliath

I recall a day in Rome when I encountered a violent, volatile, brawling, murderous cutthroat of a man. I went through a door, a door that I later learned I should not have entered. And then, beyond that portal: the sword, the blood, that man.

There he was. Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio. The painter. Suddenly and unexpectedly.

To be honest, this was not someone in the flesh, or even the ghost of the painter who died 400 years ago.

This was, nevertheless, a forbidden shock-and-awe encounter, with a different kind of presence, a physical presence in paint and on canvas, by Caravaggio’s own hand, and was likely his own self-portrait in the form of a bloody severed head.

Such things do possess an aura of authenticity said Walter Benjamin, the great modernist literary and art critic. When one occupies space in the same room as a famously great work of art, there is a presence that never accompanies reproductions. And yet, it’s almost always the reproduction through which these works live in the minds of most of humanity.

While well-known works of are not living things of themselves, biologically speaking, they operate as entities at play in a world-wide culture. They are at play through both the recollections of those who have traveled to be in their presence, and in the minds of those who know them through the mass media. In this way these art works are as alive as Humanity’s collective consciousness.

One is never alone in the presence of something like that.

Until that moment, I had no idea what was beyond the door, not until after I had made an unauthorized entry and had stolen into the place, feeling like I had come like a thief in the night.

Borghesebw

Visiting the Villa Borghese and seeing Rome’s most magnificent collection of paintings and sculpture is always by reservation. You go to the website, pick a two-hour time slot some weeks in advanced. Next, you pay for your ticket by typing in your credit card number.

I had no reservation this day. If I had had a reservation, and had purchased a ticket, the guards would’ve made me check my bag. They are strict about that. One cannot walk around willy-nilly into a room full of priceless art with a bag you can zip open and close at will.

So, that day I was only intending to walk around the gardens and contemplate the art the guidebooks say is inside, and that I would see on another day. Meanwhile, I’d watch waves of ticket holders come and go, some no doubt talking of Caravaggio.

The Villa Borghese is situated in the middle of a large park, the Borghese Gardens. Everything around it is open to the public. Old men play bocce ball, couples mosey around in rented pedal cars. The Villa and surrounding gardens were once owned by the Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of the Pope, Pope Paul V (1605-1621). The cardinal was a compulsive collector of Classical, Renaissance and Baroque art, as well as the patron to the painter Michelangelo Caravaggio, and the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

In the gardens around the villa, wild parrots fluttered from the ground to the trees’ lower branches. Green parrots with long tails. Psittacula krameri In the front of the building, and up the first flight of outside stairs, I was seeing what appeared to be a patio and sculpture garden behind an open gate. The loggia. Two guards stood beside the iron gate, talking, engrossed in a conversation I could not follow. I climbed the stairs and wandered past them without incident, in plain sight, with my pack strapped to my back, fully expecting to be stopped if I was stepping into an off limits zone. I examined the carvings for a few minutes. The guards continued to talk to each other.

From there I passed through an unguarded doorway, casting a glance over my shoulder to see if perhaps my movement raised any alarm. This too must be public, I was thinking. Perhaps this was some preview of what’s inside. Maybe the gift shop was just beyond that, perhaps the cafeteria.

Here’s where I found myself. Alone. By most art gallery standards this was a small room, but one with lavishly frescoed baroque ceilings, and walls cluttered with framed paintings. As my eyes adjusted to the indoor light, and as I scanned the pictures, I felt the little hairs raise on the back of my neck, and a kind of chill that the French would say accompanies the drop of the guillotine blade. I looked up, and there was the severed head, or at least a ghoulishly detailed painting of a severed head, a depiction of Caravaggio’s own head, according to many art historians.

The story of this painting is that around 1606 the painter rendered his own likenesses as the “Head of Goliath.” A sword wielding David holds the head by a tuft of hair. Blood drains from the neck. What’s more, some Caravaggio scholars say the David is a likeness of the painter in his youth.

Now get this: The young Caravaggio-David presents the head of the older Caravaggio-Goliath in a painting that Caravaggio, the painter, presented to Cardinal Borghese. We think this painting was Caravaggio’s payment to the Cardinal for sparing the painter’s head. Caravaggio had been convicted of murdering a man in a brawl. The influential Borghese arranged a papal pardon.

So that was two faces of Caravaggio that I was alone in the room with. Could there be others? Yes. That would be the painting, “Young Sick Bacchus”, or as it is often called, “Self-Portrait as Bacchus.”

Bacchus clutches a grape cluster. The grapes are pump, ripe, at their peak, as is the rest of the fruit on the table. In contrast, Bacchus is jaundiced, his complexion yellowed and baggy. His eyes have set deep into the unnaturally dark hollows of his face. The story of this picture is that Caravaggio painted himself as the sickly Bacchus while recovering from an extended illness in 1593, at Rome’s Santa Maria della Consolazione Hospital. He asked for a mirror, and someone brought him one.

I turned to other paintings hanging about me in the small room. There was also Caravaggio’s “Boy with Basket of Fruit” and “St. Jerome Writing,” and “Madonna with Child” and “John the Baptist in the Wilderness.” All of them famous. This was becoming really too much for me. Clearly I had inadvertently stolen into a place I’m not supposed to be, and like the Bacchus, I too am a little ill and over-indulged.

Sick Bacchus

I felt light-headed, detached from the ordinary here-and-now, in a place where I seemed to be invisible to the guards stationed to stop people like me. I wouldn’t go further within the Villa.

At this point, I was grateful for what ever spell that permitted me to saunter invisibly past the guards on my way out. I made my way beyond Cardinal Borghese’s gardens, and toward the busy cross-town traffic on the Viale del Muro Torto. Stairs led me underground to the subway stop.

The car was packed. Here was humanity. Most of us were standing in each others’ breath. We pressed against each other, our combined presence in the isle held each other up where the rails and straps were beyond reach. At the station stops, we did our best to make paths for those who needed squeeze out. We were in this together, making this work.

I was thinking how we are together in another way. Most everyone there would at some time have seen some of the famous pictures I had seen that day, even if only pictures of the pictures. They could say in their languages, “Ah, yes, Caravaggio” “Oh, such light and shadow.” or “He killed a man, you know.”

It’s knowledge we share.

This is how our train sped through that tunnel that day.

Happy Festa della Toscana!!

000fraangelicobeheadsIn 1438 the painter and monk Fra Angelico imagined the execution of saints in the manner that criminals were in his day. That is, just outside of walls of Florence. With great fanfare the condemned were marched through the city, then out the gates, where they met their deaths.

In this picture the swordsman is tasked with the job. Dante described the execution of counterfeiters, who were lowered head first into holes. Executioners filled the holes with sand, leaving the spectacle of exposed legs and feet flaying. Hanging ended the life of the Bonfire of Vanities preacher, Girolamo Savonarola. That was in 1498, just before his public burning in the Piazza della Signoria, and subsequent scattering of the firebrand monk’s ashes in the Arno River.

Tuscany was absorbed in the unified Italy in 1861, which at the time had the death penalty. But then, in 1889, Italians banned capital punishment up and down the boot. Not surprisingly, the fascists practiced capital punishment during their reign from 1926-1947. In the end, Benito Mussolini would be one of the executed, not surprisingly.

Today Florentines and people of other Tuscan cities and towns are celebrating Festa della Toscana. On this day in 1786 the Duchy of Tuscany became the world’s first country to remove death penalty from their laws. In Florence they are proud of that. Tuscan’s don’t get the day off if the holiday falls on a workday, but every year they observe the day in one form of celebrating or another.

To my friends in Florence, a heartfelt Happy Festa della Toscana.

Arrivederci San Lorenzo Market

Vendors' carts and awnings line the street across from Florence's Basilica San Lorenzo. Photo by Roy Scarbrough

Vendors’ carts and awnings line the street across from Florence’s Basilica San Lorenzo. Photo by Roy Scarbrough

The three bouquets someone attached to the barricades could stand as funerary offerings for the once-lively and historic marketplace. The city of Florence has cast out the money and souvenir exchangers from the vicinity of San Lorenzo Basilica steps.

Not everyone is sorry that the street merchants of the San Lorenzo Market have folded up their canvas awnings and wheeled their push carts away. Some folks are happy with the newly unobstructed views of one of the city’s principal Renaissance-era structures, Basilica San Lorenzo. The news has not been good for the vendors who have long operated a kind of flea market around the church. The city has now ordered them out.

Officially, the move is temporary. The city needs to reset the paving stones in the street and in the plaza as part of a redevelopment plan for the district.  These things take time, a lot of time in Italy. There’s no guarantee that vendors will be back, and even the mayor is talking like merchants are gone for good.

The marketplace has its own cultural history. The vendors have been saying they have been in the piazza since 1792. That was barely twenty years after workers completed the finishing touches on the church.

View from space: Google satellite view of merchant stalls against the old church.

View from space: Google satellite view of merchant stalls against the old church.

In the decades that poets Robert and Elizabeth Browning lived in Florence, Robert liked to browse through the old books in the market. In 1860, at one of the vendor’s stalls, Browning found a bound volume of official trial court records of the 1698 Franceschini murder case. This was a sordid affair involving a count who killed his unfaithful wife and in-laws, a story that became the basis of Robert’s best selling book, a long narrative poem, The Ring and the Book.

A tweet from Mayor Matteo Renzi last week shows the extent that some people welcome the ouster of the street merchants. “Basilica di San Lorenzo libertata dalle bancarelle'” the Mayor Tweeted. That is,  “Basilica San Lorenzo now liberated from the cart vendors.  We have liberated as promised the San Lorenzo area. One of the most beautiful places in the world. ” You’d expect that there was similar sentiments expressed over the end of the French occupation of 1494.

A quick check of more  #Firenze tweets shows some solidarity with the popular mayor. “What a beautiful sunny day it is in Florence. San Lorenzo without the push carts.” says another Italian language tweet.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed the buzz of the place.  I’ve watched the vendors in the mornings wheel their carts to the lanes surrounding the old church and its cloisters, then spread their white canvas awnings. And I’ve watched these fellows push their rigs home, down dark, half-lit, narrow streets at night, the wheels rattling over the paving stones.  The selfie I use for my Twitter avatar happens to be a picture I took while standing front of a cracked full-length mirror that one of the vendors had set out for his customers. So, there was something there that was part of my identity.

I’ve always found the vendors convivial. On the final day of my last visit to Florence, I bought two men’s wool scarves.  He told me his name is Eddie. I’m guessing it was really, Eduardo, but he wanted me to know him as Eddie. I liked him, and it seemed like he liked me. Eddie taught me how to tie them in the traditional Florentine fashion.  When it came time to pay, I was short of Euro. I tell I’ll come back for my purchase after visiting the ATM.  He says, no, take them now. You come back and pay me.”

Over the years I’ve purchased two Chinese-made wallets.  Functional wallets with a built-in coin purse in a style I think I might now have to have custom made. I’ve bought maybe three Italian-made woolen neck scarves, and a pair of sandals from an Italian manufacturer that claimed on its tag to supply the pope with footwear.

To be fair, none of these things I’ve purchased in the San Lorenzo market were produced by local craftsmen, which is part of the public’s complaint against these vendors.  While the marketplace has historic roots, its critics see it as lacking in complete authenticity. Robert Browning was English and the 17th Century murder trial documents he purchased came from Rome. Fair enough. Still,  there’s stuff there that people who live in the neighborhood can use. As far as I know, the San Lorenzo Market commotion never woke the Medici dead, and its reputed tackiness has never made any of them roll over in their tombs across the street.

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So what’s the big picture? Change happens. People adjust. Across town, for hundreds of years, butchers and tanners occupied the shops on the Ponte Vecchio. Their time to go came one day in 1593 when they were replaced by the goldsmiths on order of Duke Fernando de Medici, who disliked the odors from those establishments.

Who now misses the butchers?  Not many, but I think I would like to see them at work when crossing the Arno.  The jewelry I see in the Ponte Vecchio windows doesn’t interest me so much. When I see all the gold, and the high-Euro price tags, I try to remember the tanners and butchers.

Who drew Laughing Mona Lisa?

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“Laughing Mona Lisa” appears uncredited on back cover of a 1980’s out-of-print book.

Isn’t it a Pity?

Yes, it’s too bad when time shrouds the identity of  an artist with a level of anonymity of a paleolithic bison painter.  All I can say now is that I searched some more,  but did not find. Cerco, ma non trovo. 

The name I was looking for belongs to the creator of  “Laughing Mona Lisa,”  a piece of graphic art that was the subject of my last blog post.  Unfortunately, the artist’s identity appears to be something that’s now lost somewhere in the irretrievable history of 1970s southern California pop culture. The trail was older, longer, and more faint than I imagined.

Apparently, art blogger Robert A. Baron  went this way ahead of me. He got as far as tracing the image to a piece of wrapping paper from a Pier I Imports store in Redondo Beach, California .  The gift wrap was back in the 1970s.  Also during that decade, the graphic  circulated in the form of cocktail napkins, says Baron.

That just goes to show how wrong I was with my earlier assumption. My plan was to contact the store in Florence, Italy, where I purchased the T-shirt,  and then the wholesaler,  the manufacturer, and so on.  After all that, I thought,  maybe I would learn who created the series of images that regularly appears across my chest and stomach.

This much I do know now, the original graphic has changed a little over the decades.  So, it’s evolving in the public domain,  apparently adapting to contemporary contexts as it continues to be in play in form of T-shirts and who knows what else next.

One change in the graphic is in the framing of the panels.  Each shot was originally depicted  as one frame on a roll or reel of  35 mm film. That is, the panels were framed by strips of camera or projector sprocket holes running along the sides of each panel. Or, as they are called in the film industry: perforations,  perfs, for short.

The perfs reinforce the impression that the restrained smile on Leonardo’s model was a thing in motion, not fixed in a pose.  Alone, each panel would stand as a single cinematographic instant, frozen within a sequence of instances as this lady’s expression changes on its way toward uncontrolled laughter.  Leonardo’s original painting is one of those instances as well.

By the way, something like that could be said about the expressions of shock on the faces in Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” as the apostles react in the moment immediately following  Jesus saying, “One of you will betray me?”  Here is another frozen moment on its way to something else. First shock, then presumably horror.

While not as dramatic as the scene in the “Last Supper”, the expression in the Mona Lisa is presumably the initial reaction to the entertainment  Leonardo arranged for her long sitting.  Leonardo “surrounded his model with musicians, singers and buffoons to keep her in gentle gayety and so avoid the melancholy aspect we observe in most portraits,” says  Giorgio Vasari. Vasari is the 16th century Italian painter, architect and author of Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects.

Just “gentle gayety”?  Come on, Giorgio.  With buffoons in the room,  would not the punch lines, pratfalls  and slapstick produce some laughing out loud?

Mona Lisa appearing as captures on 35mm film.

Mona Lisa appearing as captured on 35mm film.

In 1980, years after the wrapping paper and cocktail napkins, the graphic appears again on the back cover of a slim edition of a now out-of-print collection of Mona Lisa parodies and Mona Lisa influenced artwork. That would be, Mona Lisas, by Mary Rose Storey, pictured above. “Laughing Mona Lisa” appears on the back cover.

This time the panels appear without the film perforations, so the graphic at this point is more in the style of comic book panels. This is  also how the drawing appears on my souvenir T-shirt.  The curious thing is that while other artwork is credited to the artists in Ms. Storey’s book, “Laughing Mona Lisa” remains uncredited on the back cover. It’s not even listed as “anonymous.”

So how do I leave this?

Ok, this helps. When I was a newspaper reporter, I sometimes wrote about hikers, climbers, or hunters and children getting themselves lost in some wilderness or another. There would be a big search operation with hundreds of volunteers and sometimes aircraft. Most of the time the people were found. Once or twice the individuals disappeared for good, sad to say.  In those cases, the last press release from the sheriff  read “search suspended.”   Suspended? Suspended until when?  I always had ask that.  Suspended pending further information, was always the answer.  No closure.

So, search suspended.  There’s nothing here of the magnitude of a missing person, of course. This little case does remains open and with no word on whether the artist is even alive after all this time.  I’d love to learn that he or she is alive and well, of course.

Meanwhile, if I’m going to have a conversation with the creator of a piece of graphics art that I like, it will be something else, and some another time, probably fairly soon.

Please stay tuned.

Seeing Mona Lisa Differently

I’m sorry. I don’t know this clever artist’s name.  It so often happens that way with all the graphic art that surround us. For the past 100 years or so we’ve been increasingly inundated with mechanically reproduced images.  This has relegated most of what we see to the realms of anonymity.
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In this case, I wear it.  I bought the t-shirt. Twelve Euros, I think.

The problem here is that without the name, there’s no way I can properly credit the artist whose unsigned work I’m discussing here. And without the name, it’s hard to express my gratitude for way this playful work of  t-shirt art has changed how I  look at the world’s most famous painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s  Mona Lisa.

Because it is customary to give credit where credit is due, at first opportunity I meant to return to shop in Florence where I bought the t-shirt and ask the lady to point me down the path to the artist. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile: Hey artist,  are you are out there?  Step up and let me know.  We’ll have an espresso.  I want you to know that I wear your shirt once a week.  That is, at work, in the packing house where other working people stop me all the time to ask me what it signifies. The lady who cleans the restrooms loves it and was the last to ask.

As I have told one or two of my co-workers in the packinghouse,  the truth is that Leonardo’s masterpiece is a painting I once literally turned my back on.  This was a long time ago. I was just 19.  I’m not fond of crowds then, nor am I now. I needed relief from the crowd-induced claustrophobia I was experiencing in the Louvre, where the painting hangs.  These people were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, speaking of that “mysterious smile”, that “enigmatic smile”, that smile they were seeing under their own reflections upon the bullet-proof glass. The experience was less than I had hoped.

And so the this is how it was for me back then, and how I left it for years, a smile fixed in recollection and behind glass  I nursed a sour grapes feeling that the painting was overrated.

Not too long ago, I bought this Mona Lisa-themed t-shirt as a souvenir in Italy. Artsy T-shirts are about the only kind of souvenir I will buy when I travel. They’re reasonably cheap light, and perfect for the kind of travel packing I do. When I buy a new t-shirt,  I throw out the one in my backpack that is the most worn.

shirtszAs I was saying,  this unidentified  graphic artist’s work changed how I see the Mona Lisa, or rather how I see the Mona Lisa when viewing computer screen reproductions of the Mona Lisa.

How so?

That’s the question I’ve been mulling over lately. I believe the answer lies in how the brain likes to process visual images artists create in the form of a painting or sculpture.  At some level the brain has to ask, is this a thing in motion or a thing at rest?

Michelangelo’s David is stationary, and that’s important because that David is captured in a moment of intense mental preparation for the kill. Also,   Donatello’s David, stands posed with one foot resting on Goliath’s severed head.  But then,  Bernini’s  David  appears with his the body awhirl in the act of  launching of the stone from the sling.

The same can be said of paintings. A still life is still life. The fruit is not supposed to be going anywhere. Jesus can hang lifeless on the cross in one painting, but and in another be carrying the cross to the hill.

As for the Mona Lisa.  It’s a portrait. Ordinarily, a portrait’s  subject is a figure that is not in motion. Leonardo’s model is posed, it should seem,  positioned at rest, seated in a chair that someone has set out in a lovely patio or loggia,  an outdoor room with a commanding view of the rocky landscape.

So, is she, or isn’t she? Stationary, that is.  I sure thought so for years and years after I turned my back on the painting to extract myself from the crowd. Because Leonardo was an excruciatingly slow painter,  Lisa del Giocondo would be sitting for long time indeed.

Being a painter who liked to take his sweet time,  clever Leonardo arranged for entertainment to amuse the lady during her long sitting. Giorgio Vasari tells us that Leonardo hired musicians and clowns to perform for the lady.

So with clowns, we can assume there was some slapstick, high jinks and jokes. And from that, can we not assume that Lisa also laughed?  Now,  if she laughed, would that smile have been a fixed, long-posed smile?

The art on my shirt has lead me to think otherwise and process the image as one frame in a motion picture.  This graphic presents the lady’s expression in a series of twelve consecutive frames that appear to represent a face in full animation.

That is,  from the mild amusement of, say,  Leonardo’s hired clown entering the loggia, followed by more schtick and buffoonery,  leading up to a final moment of some rollicking ROFLMAO-worthy pratfall.  I particularly like how the graphic artist has her falling out of the right edge of the final frame.

Brilliant.

So these days, I’m going with Leonardo’s subject being a subject in motion. His notebooks do attest to an abiding interest in the motion of birds and other animals. He liked to purchase caged birds just to release them and study their movements.

Like some other works of art from the past, this painting remains in continuous play in our times. Duchamps and Dali have painted spoofs of it. I don’t bemoan the appropriation of old works for present day tastes and amusement.  I like it, perhaps in way similar to the way Renaissance era people enjoyed seeing the works Romans and Greeks at play in their time and in their art.  I relish the past achieving a presence in the present, like how  Mona Lisa made an appearance in Batman comics.

And these days, as forensic archeologists pick at the bones in her grave,  I see do imagine a much-alive Lisa del Giocondo laughing. I so love to wear her laugh across my belly. Better that, I think,  than just a smile behind bullet-proof glass.

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Superhero Leonardo Da Vinci

In the beginning it looked like a bad sign to me.  I’m speaking of  the title of the new Starz fantasy thriller about Leonardo Da Vinci. “Da Vinci’s Demons,” is what they’re calling it.

Next, I see that the story opens with the Duke of Milan being assassinated on Palm Sunday, not on December 26 as history tells us.

I think, couldn’t they at least  get these two things right?

There’s always that temptation to pan a video or film drama that takes liberties with the history, or language or literature.

At some point there will be a line crossed where you feel like throwing something at the screen.  In this case, however,  my drink remained in my hand and it didn’t take long for the show to really grow on me. I want to see more of these episodes.

It’s best to make a few allowances. This show is, after all,  a TV show, and a kind of comic book superhero story. Enjoy, enjoy, I start telling myself. Leonardo is a Batman figure, but in spite of that, the narrative does gets more things right with the history than I should expect for this kind of fiction  Of course there’s fudging here and there.

“Da Vinci’s Demons”  presents breath-taking recreations of the streets and piazzas with the look of Florence in 1476. That alone is worth the price of admission. Note, these episodes do include graphic violence,  nudity,  profanity, but I say that’s something that serves the gritty period look grownups can enjoy.

In this series, Leonardo is going to become a batman-like character, just as Florence could  really use a superhero, just the Pope Sixtus IV plots to suppress knowledge in secret archives and stage a nasty coup d’état in the Florentine Republic. And this is just as the republic’s leaders are nurturing a modern secular culture, the reviving ancient wisdom. In other word the bad guys are threatening the golden age of the Renaissance.

Last week in Cannes, writer David S. Groyer told reporters that Batman was a “primary inspiration” for his shaping his Leonardo character into a Fifteenth Century Renaissance caped crusader. This is due in part to the bat-like wings on Leonardo’s flying machine drawings.

That, of course, should be no surprise to readers of these pages. We talked about how Batman creator Bob Kane was inspired by Leonardo’s drawings of glider wings back in 1939, and how decades later D.C. Comics published one edition of Batman Comics with a Renaissance era Batman era gliding around on wings Leonardo created for him. In that 1994 edition, a much-older Leonardo recruits and creates the batman, who is a young Lorenzo Di Medici.

So, in the Starz show, Leonardo is the superhero and Lorenzo is just Lorenzo, not yet Lorenzo the Magnificent, but whose Florentine Republic is in peril from Papal hegemony.

A diabolical Pope Sixtus IV moves to increase the number of Papal states in Italy and expand his authority to the self-governing principalities and republics. At this point Italy is hundreds of years away from becoming a unified country. So, that is roughly the history.

Here, in the opening episode of the series, the bloody and graphic assassination of the Duke of Milan is the first strike by the Vatican. We know from the history that the assassins do strike next in Florence, on Easter Sunday, 1478, but the Pazzi-Sixtus conspiracy is presumably a matter for subsequent episodes.

Part of what made this episode fun to watch was seeing where the writer and producers have managed to credibly incorporate details from the period into the plot, even if they do botch it elsewhere.

There’s a scene where Leonardo purchases several caged starlings from a vendor, and then has the birds released as he sketches their wing movements. Now, that serves the plot if he is going to build some kind of flying machine, but there’s more being offered here.

For those of us who like to geek out on this sort thing, there’s the satisfaction of saying to one’s self.,”Hey, that’s right. Leonardo always carried that little notebook.” And, “Yes, he loved animals and liked freeing caged birds.” One can enjoy seeing those kinds of details that one has read about, even if almost every other aspect of the Starz Leonardo character is quite different from the historical Leonardo.

And then there is the beautiful computer-generated scenery behind all the action. My favorite is a shot of the Piazza della Signoria, one of the most familiar settings in Florence with its towered Pallazo Vecchio across from the arcade of the Loggia dei Lanzi.

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There’s also a bawdy carnival scene in Florence Piazza del Duomo.  One might think that the plain-Jane facade of the cathedral does not look as it should, but then it wouldn’t have the look we’re now familiar, not in 1476. The those decorative faux Gothic flourishes were a creation of the 19th Century, unfortunately.  Starz got that one right. And yes, Florence’s mardi gras style carnivals were bawdy.

Elsewhere, this Leonardo strolls across the Ponte Vecchio, that famous bridge lined with the jewelry shops. In the background of the scene, a butcher hacks at a piece of meat on a block.  It’s gratifying to see they got that right too.  Butchers and tanners  did occupy the bridge before they were evicted by a later-day duke who was offended by the odor.

On the other hand, a shot of the exterior of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica, appears to be the newer  domed structure completed almost 115 years later.  This  image appears as a scene intro and needed to signal the change in setting from Florence to Rome. Who would recognize the old St. Peter’s these days?

Overall, I’m delighted to see this fascinating chapter of  history at play in popular culture. We really should be able to have a little fun with it in the form of a Batman comics or a Starz TV fantasy thriller.  Even if we don’t have a great bio-pic, it’s great to have the period-appropriate storytelling.

Although, the one thing I really wish they had done differently is the title: “Da Vinci’s Demons.” It gives some of us the fits when the town where Leonardo was born –Vinci — is passed off as his last name.

See, he’s either Leonardo, or Leonardo from Vinci, as he was known in nearby Florence, or Leonardo Da Firenze, as he was known in Milan. It’s never just Da Vinci, not properly so,  even if Dan Brown wrote a bad novel called “Da Vinci Code”.

What I would like to know is, why couldn’t it have been “Leonardo’s Demons”?  Is it a Dan Brown thing?  I know. I know. Dan Brown really sells.

How do you move a Michelangelo? Very Carefully.

I’m a fan of videos that show a famous painting being moved or under the working hands of restorers. We’re so used to seeing them hanging in a gallery, either “in person” or in photographs in Art History textbooks or web pages. The sight of these kinds of close encounters can be mesmerizing. I sometimes catch myself feeling a little envious of the technicians for having this kind of physical contact with one of civilization’s most iconic images. Once I unwittingly leaned a little too close to a painting for close inspection, and embarrassed myself by setting off an alarm.

Here, workers of the Uffizi Gallery  take down Michelangelo’s “Holy Family” from Room 25 to move it to more spacious and comfortable digs in the gallery. Since 1952 the painting has been displayed in room 25, quarters that have turned out to be rather cramped at times, a situation I recall was made worse by the presence of a busy doorway immediately to the left.

For more information about the move and other works in the new room, please see a fine article by bloggers Alexandra Korey and Hasan Niyazi http://www.arttrav.com/florence/doni-tondo-uffizi/