Claims that one of Leonardo da Vinci’s workshops may have been found at the Santissima Annunziata Monastery in Florence are certainly intriguing. The claims seem based on three things: firstly, that many artists lived and worked at the monastery at the time Leonardo was in Florence; secondly, there are frescoes on the wall in a style not unlike Leonardo’s, including what appear to sketches for Leonardo’s Angel Gabriel; and thirdly, a so-called ‘secret room’ off one corner of the main room would have offered a plausibly discrete area for Leonardo to conduct his anatomical research – an area he could close off from prying eyes.
Art historians hope that the collection of five rooms – likely a combined residence and workshop – in a building just off the Piazza of the Santissima Annunziatain in central Florence, may shed some more light on the life of the Renaissance artist. And even if it is not the studio of Leonardo, the rooms may at least shed some light on what is was like to live in Florence as an artist in the 16th century.
The Italian institute of military geography – now a part owner and occupier of the building – may also be partly responsible for the discovery. Think about it – if you put together a collection of bright young visually literate people in a room to study (a group of people taught to analyse and question every aspect of their surroundings) and there are a bunch of old faded frescoes on the wall, sooner or later someone would surely wonder about the origin of the frescoes – especially if there are striking resemblances to the style of of one of Florence’s most famous artists.
But why would they remain undiscovered for so long? Surely those at the monastery would have some idea or at least curiosity about the frescoes? My guess is that there were more prosaic factors at work. It was and I believe still is a working monastery. It is an old building, and the thing about old buildings is that over time their functions change, requiring modifications to the building – new walls, relocation of doors and so on. Now suppose you suspected that there might be something historically special about the frescoes – can you imagine how quickly an historical preservation order would be slapped on the place? Wham! suddenly you can’t just knock a new doorway in or build a partition wall unless it was in keeping with the sixteenth century structure. Suddenly you can’t just lease out a couple of rooms to a local teaching institution – the security risk would be too great – as would the insurance costs! Best to keep it a little-known rumour within a small religious community, and perhaps occasionally sneak in to admire the brush work 🙂
Who knows what the truth may be – perhaps it was an artist who had studied under a student of Leonardo or just someone who admired that style. For now there is no proof that it is one of Leonardo’s studios, but there is certainly an exciting forensic art history assignment for some lucky group of researchers!
Today is the second anniversary of the Great Fire of Canberra – a time to reflect on how we have rebuilt and recovered from that event. By now those who weren’t there will have largely forgotten, perhaps occasionally recalling the colour of the sky that day, but otherwise forgetting that on that day Canberra became two groups of people.
After the smoke cleared, along with most of the garden, the house actually came off very lightly with only about $20,000 worth of damage – we were very lucky! The house was structurally sound and the wiring was okay. Considering the gas meter had melted off the wall we were quite amazed – it is a lucky house indeed 🙂
While the damage to the house was quite superficial, the garden was back to scorched earth. We tried digging the baked clay afterwards, but realised all we had was effectively a big ceramic pot for a garden. Several truckloads of new top soil later and months of buying plants and planting and digging (- and weeding! – with the forest gone, the weeds were quick to colonise the landscape, and the result is that weed seeds are a constant companion on the wind).
But as winter turns to Spring, and Spring to Summer for the second year we notice two things: firstly our garden was in shock for the first year and little flowered or flourished. Now as we conclude the second year, the garden is finally getting established and things are beginning to take off.
The big tree did not survive, and its timber is now milled and drying in my shed – it is my intention to build our dining table this year from that tree – I’ll blog the process when it happens.
The hedge is starting to look hedge-like now, instead of a row of shrubs
And the claret ash tree is growing strongly. The only trouble is that it looks like we may have to move it as we read recently that these things grow 20-30 metres tall – so it is probably a bit close to the power lines for that kind of size.
The second thing we have noticed is that, like the transition from winter to Spring, the suburb is sprouting houses from the bare blocks that were left in the wake of the devastation. And there is a very positive feel to the suburb as the place became a neighbourhood, rather than a collection of houses. We actually know the neighbours – for the first time in our lives. This sentiment is also being expressed at the level of the city as a new forward-looking plan has been proposed for a friendlier Canberra with lakeside coffee shops and family-friendly parks. Canberra is genuinely developing a heart.
In Weston Creek the sense of community is strong and as the new houses are nearing completion, and we see people all around rebuilding their lives – some of them from scratch – we are seeing a community emerge like a breath of fresh air. It is a wonderfully positive environment to be in.
Each year at this time we have a dinner to celebrate our good fortune and to reflect on what it means to survive a natural disaster – made all the more poignant this year with the Boxing Day Tsunnami in SE Asia and the bushfires in South Australia.
So here’s a glass to good fortune and another to absent friends
Continuing my series of photos from the band’s tour to Beijing Nov/Dec 2004, I thought I’d post these…
On 4 December it dawned foggy in Beijing. We took the opportunity to visit the Ancient Observatory. It resides on part of the Beijing City Wall and is topped by several armillary spheres and azimuth instruments in bronze, built by the Jesuits in the 17th century.
A surreal sight in modern Beijing
The observatory dates back to Kublai Khan’s days when it was situated north of its present location. The Chinese have a long tradition of astrology and consequently have long been keen observers of the heavens.
Ancient carving depicting a comet
The present observatory was built in 1442 (the 7th year of the Zhengtong reign of the Ming dynasty) to facilitate both astrological purposes and seafaring navigation (the book 1421 discusses the remarkable accuracy of Chinese navigation of the period.)
Armillary sphere – 1439
The Jesuits were present in the capital from 1601 when Fr Matteo Ricci’s group was allowed to work with Chinese scientists. But the most remarkable of the Jesuits was a Flemish priest called Fr Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688) who arrived in Beijing in 1659 as a special advisor to the Qing court to assist in the delicate task of correcting the Chinese calendar.
Shortly after Verbiest arrived in Peking the Jesuits were accused of teaching a false religion and were imprisoned and tortured, pending execution. But in a dramatic reversal of fortune, an earthquake destroyed the part of the palace chosen for the execution, and seen as an omen, the sentence was not carried out and the Jesuits were released. The emperor Kang Hsi later ordered a public debate to ascertain the relative merits of Christian and Moslem astronomy. The debate involved three tests: to determine the shadow of a fixed gnomon, to predict the position of the planets at a fixed time and to predict the exact time of a lunar eclipse which had been expected about that time. The challenge was between the Chinese Moslem, Yang, and the Christian, Verbiest. The Heavens would be the judge. Verbiest had the superior astronomical data and won convincingly – securing him the immediate appointment as chair of the Board of Mathematics.
Of the eight bronze instruments on display six were designed and constructed under Verbiest’s supervision. They were built between 1669 and 1673.
Azimuth theodolite (1715) for measuring azimuth and altitude of celestial bodies
Sextant (1673) for measuring angular distance between stars and angular diameter of the sun and moon – one of Verbiest’s instruments.
Altazimuth (1673) for measuring azimuths of celestial bodies – Verbiest
Ecliptic Armilla (1673) – another of Verbiest’s instruments – for measuring ecliptic longitude differences and latitude of celestial bodies.
Each of the instruments are supported on fantastic bronze dragons and delicate traceries:
And here is a view of the observatory museum situated at the base of the observatory. Inside are bronze and brass navigation instruments, model clypsedra (water clocks) and some ancient pottery depicting celestial events.
The museum also houses the ancient seismograph for registering the occurrence and direction of earthquakes. It was invented in 132AD by Zheng Heng of the Bast Han dynasty.
All in all this was one of the best museums we visited in Beijing – a real gem and well worth a visit!
Well, I reckon it’s pretty much done now – today I painted the cupboard doors white and added matched wooden handles throughout. Someone said to me “why white? – won’t it get dirty very quickly?”
I guess there are three reasons I chose white – the first is that it lightens up an otherwise fairly dark shed, the second is that most woodworking tasks produce dust, rather than dirt, so after the dust has been swept clear there is not much to stain the benches. And I have a formica bench top where I’m most likely to make a greasy mess – and that can just be wiped down with meths. The third reason is that it’s easier to see stuff – like that washer I just dropped.
Anyhow, after the cupboards were painted (five coats – I’m not a good painter) and the handles fitted, I finished adding the tools to the pegboard, added some clips near the door to hold firestaffs and stilts and other circus stuff, and generally put stuff away. I really like the feel of the shed now – it is a good place to work – plenty of room and easy access to the most-used tools. So my goal has been accomplished – in seven days rather than the ten I had planned on!
And for comparison – here is the before photo!
Quite a difference eh? And the total cost was around AU$200.00 – yup two hundred dollars 🙂
That’s around US$150.00. The main cost was the pegboard and the large cupboard which I bought secondhand. I did have some white melamine chipboard I had bought quite a while ago – the remnants of shop fittings from a store that was closing down. The rest was a re-arrangement of existing shed furniture, some paint and some handles I picked up at a swapmeet/car boot sale a few years ago.
If you have any queries about the project or would like details of any specific item, leave a comment or send me an email.
Once I had sourced some more pegboard (AU$46.50 for a half sheet) and about 8m of 42x19mm pine, I set about installing the second pegboard above the new cupboard unit for the automotive tools – socket set etc – it will certainly be the detail bits that will take the time, but that can be done in slow time. Anyhow the sheet fitted perfectly by standing it on the cupboard and it reached perfectly up to the top shed frame member. So I cut the pine to length and screwed through the pine and pegboard into the shed wall frame timber, making a strong hold for the pegboard. I also installed bolts at the halfway point on the vertical to help to reduce flexing of the pegboard. And here is the result:
Now, remember I said I was going to add a cupboard? Well, I still had some melamine chipboard left so I set to work on the wall cupboard to extend the others at the end of the shed. I began by ripping the pegboard to width (about 350mm), then cut two identical pieces for the sides 550mm to give a height that would match the existing cupboards. Then I cut three identical width pieces for the top, bottom and shelf. The shelf I only made 300mm wide as I wanted it inset from the front, the top and bottom are 350mm x 500mm (the width of the cupboard).
Laying one side on its face edge, I mated the top to it holding it in place with a corner clamp while I doweled the side to the top, then added two screws. With the top and side forming an ‘L’ I mated the other side to the top and doweled an screwed it into place. Turning the U-shape structure onto the rear edges I lined up the shelf so that its top is 300mm from the bottom to give a pleasing proportion, not far off the Golden Section made famous by the renaissance artist Alberti. I attached the shelf the same way, and then put the structure back on its face to line up and attach the bottom.
Finally, I added a couple of pieces of 42x19mm pine beneath the top at the rear, to provide an attachment surface to hang the cupboard on the wall.
Moment of truth time and I hefted the thing into place and it fitted … er … almost! You see, there is a wall support running into where the back of the cupboard should meet the wall. So I de-hefted it gently to the floor where I measured and sawed a slot for the wall member.
This time it fitted perfectly. With the cupboard held against the wall, I used the cordless drill to make a dowel hole through the side into the adjacent cupboard, and then, still supporting the cupboard I reached up a dowel, and pressed it into place, then used a small hammer to drive it home. With the cupboard now stabilised, I screwed the top attachment surface to the wall beam, and added another dowel insert into the adjacent cupboard for added stability.
It still needs doors, but it is now in place:
And here is a closer view of the cupboard:
So that completes the work for Day six. Tomorrow I still need to make cupboard doors, and paint the brown cupboard doors to match. That should pull the whole thing together visually.
Getting there at last!