Category Archives: Florence Sights

A Bad Day for Santa Croce

A Spanish tourist was just killed by a falling stone fragment inside Florence’s Santa Croce Basilica. How could this happen?

Santa Croce is one of the major sights in Florence. The interior is warmly lit and surprisingly peaceful, considering the number of visitors.

People pause to pay their respects at the tombs of the great and good:





Rossini, and many others I feel like I should know.

Santa Croce is said to be the largest Franciscan church in the world, with beautiful Giotto frescoes honoring the humble monk from Assisi. 

St. Francis is believed to have actually founded this church. 

And now, it’s closed while the authorities investigate why an unsuspecting tourist was killed by a chunk of falling stone.

No tourists will be gazing up at the beautiful ceilings for awhile. The faithful will have to light their candles and murmur their prayers elsewhere in the city.

Italy has artistic treasures everywhere, but it seems there is never enough money to properly take care of them, or to accommodate the number of visitors lining up to see them. 

In 1966, the Arno River overflowed its banks, flooding much of Florence. Damage to Santa Croce took years and years to repair. There are still high water marks in the building, and some of the artworks can’t be completely restored. I hope Santa Croce can be made safe again.

No doubt lots of ink will be used as the investigation goes forward. One article about it is at:

St. Jerome and His Lion: More Sightings


I’m always on the lookout for images of St. Jerome and his lion. Legend has it that when the saint retreated to the wilderness to study and pray, he came upon a lion with a thorn in its paw.  St. Jerome didn’t run or climb a tree.  He stopped and removed the thorn. From that day forward, the grateful lion stayed by his side. The fresco above is from a ceiling in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Bronzino, painted it between 1540 and 1565.

Pala Tezi, Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci, known as Il Perugino, 1500

Pala Tezi, Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci, known as Il Perugino, 1500

A more primitive, but still endearing, lion is in the painting above, from the Galleria Nazionale of Umbria in the town of Perugia.

Detail from Il Perugino painting above

Detail from Il Perugino painting above

The artist painted the lion and the saint sitting peacefully together in a simple landscape, in front of the cave that Jerome may have lived in.

San Girolamo Penitente, Il Perugino, 1512

San Girolamo Penitente, Il Perugino, 1512

Another painting by Perugino shows the saint in contemplation of the Virgin and child, accompanied by other saints.  In humble adoration, he’s set his cardinal’s red hat on the ground–and who is lurking beside him?

San Girolamo Penitente, Il Perugino, 1512

San Girolamo Penitente, Il Perugino, 1512

In turn, Jerome’s faithful lion gazes adoringly at him.  Isn’t this what we all love to have our pets do?

Detail from Il Perugino painting above

Detail from Il Perugino painting above

The lion’s face is distinctly human.  How many of us humanize our pets? It’s an ancient impulse.

St. Jerome, Pintoricchio, around 1495

St. Jerome, Pintoricchio, around 1495

The same museum in Perugia has another painting of the saint in the same pose–also with his cardinal’s red hat set humbly on the ground. It’s by Bernardino di Betto, known as il Pintoricchio.

The friendly lion is guarding the hat–and St. Jerome.  Who wouldn’t like to have a tame lion riding shotgun all the way through life? Jerome’s lion always had his back.

In medieval times, retreating to the wilderness to meditate was a radical action. Jerome would not have been the first man eaten by a lion in the wilderness. At a time when nature was frightening, St. Jerome was revered for being at one with nature. In our times, retreating to the wilderness still has its risks, but it’s becoming more and more an expensive luxury. Our wildernesses are shrinking and human over-development is routing wild animals from their age-old homes.


I treasure any wildlife sightings, like this fox right outside my window.  And I’ll keep looking for glimpses of St. Jerome and his lion.

My previous post about St. Jerome and his lion is at

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!

How Brunelleschi Gave Us Perspective

Filippo Brunelleschi, the genius who figured out how to build the spectacular octagonal dome of the Florence Cathedral, is often credited with inventing linear perspective around 1420.  Actually, his great rival Lorenzo Ghiberti would beg to differ.  So would the Arab mathemetician known as Alhazen, who lived around 965-1040.  A copy of Alhazen’s work on the subject, with notes by Ghiberti, is in the Vatican Library.  The ancient Greeks and Romans had the knowledge too, but it was lost in the Middle Ages.  So Brunelleschi’s work was really more of a rediscovery.

What exactly is linear perspective?  It is the technique of making an image in two dimensions–a flat surface–appear to be in three dimensions, with depth.  As a not-very-good, self-taught painter, I’m always looking for ways to make my paintings less bad.  Awhile ago, I bought a kit that promised to help me:

Linear Perspective Kit

Linear Perspective Kit

The kit consists of various frames and grids.  If I had the patience to actually work with the kit, I could create more realistic paintings by establishing a vanishing point, a horizon line, and accurate diagonals.  While writing about Filippo Brunelleschi, I realized that the illustration on the cover of my kit depicts the master’s famous demonstration of linear perspective.  The building shown on the cover is the Baptistery of Florence.

Florence Baptistery

Florence Baptistery

The hexagonal building stands directly across from the Florence Duomo. Brunelleschi stood in the doorway of the still-unfinished cathedral.  Using the rediscovered calculations and techniques of perspective, he painted a very accurate picture of the Baptistery.  (We could take a photo, but there were no cameras in his day). Then he poked a hole in the canvas and looked through the back of the canvas at a mirror.  When he quickly moved the mirror away, the viewer could see how accurate the painting was.  Very quickly, every Renaissance painter worth his salt began using the technique.  It was part of the new realism that swept the art world after centuries of art that was much more symbolic than realistic.

The Baptistery was constructed sometime between 1059 and 1128.  Right up into the 19th century, this was the place every Florentine Catholic was baptized. In about 1400, new doors were needed.  The city fathers held a competition for the plum job of creating bronze doors for this very important building.  Brunelleschi was 21 at the time; Ghiberti was barely 20.  The younger pup won.  Ghiberti ended up working on these doors, plus a subsequent set, for pretty much the rest of his life.  It took him 20 years to finish the first set of doors and 25 more years for the next set.

Brunelleschi was disappointed; this may have been one reason he turned his talents to architecture and design.  Personally, I think he was lucky he lost this competition. It enabled him to enter and win the one for the cathedral dome.  Both men became famous and had illustrious, well-paid careers.  But today, it is hard to fully appreciate Ghiberti’s work even when standing right in front of the doors.  We’ve lost our taste for intricate bronze reliefs.  Brunelleschi, on the other hand, got to spend 16 years on a complex project in the open air of Florence, while everyone in the city discussed and admired his work.  Today, every visitor can admire the Duomo from countless vantage points in and around the city.

The most famous image of Brunelleschi is a large statue that shows him gazing up at the crowning achievement of his life, the dome of the cathedral.

Photo by Richardfabi, released to public domain

Photo by Richardfabi, released to public domain

Leonardo da Vinci remarked, “Perspective is the rein and rudder of painting.”  Now, maybe I had better get that kit off the shelf and get to work painting.

Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe!