The Fortress of San Leo and Its Torture Chamber

As you approach the town of San Leo in Emilia-Romagna, its role as an impenetrable, menacing fortress town comes into view. San Leo’s massive stone fortress, which also served as a¬†palace and prison, was¬†designed by Sienese architect and military engineer Francesco di Giorgio Martini, whose early Renaissance fortifications dot the landscape of this area of central-eastern Italy known as Montefeltro. Continue reading The Fortress of San Leo and Its Torture Chamber

Italy at Home: Renaissance Rivals in Boston and Valentino Everywhere

No time or money to plan an Italy vacation right now? Here’s another installment of what we call “Italy at Home.” Here are two things you can put on your calendar.

If you’re in Boston, head to the Museum of Fine Arts where the show “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice” is underway. A recent review by Holland Cotter of the New York Times said “You can pretty much kiss goodbye, at least for now, the prospect of more exhibitions like [this one]. Transatlantic loans of the kind that make this show the breathtaker it is are a big drain on strapped museum budgets. Boston was lucky to partner with the Louvre on this project, but such masterpiece gatherings are likely to be rare in years to come.” The exhibit runs through August 16. Get your tickets now.

Another Italy-related show may be coming to a theater near you beginning March 18. Valentino: The Last Emperor, a documentary about legendary fashion designer Valentino Garavani played to huge audiences at various film festivals (Venice, Toronto) all last fall. Cinemas in New York will begin screenings on the 18th, followed by Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. You can follow the film on its own Facebook page to see if more dates are added.

Walking Via Giulia

Via Giulia, Rome

Rome’s famous Renaissance street, Via Giulia, is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year. And, the New York Times‘ Elisabeth Rosenthal provides the history and descriptions of the streets’ sites in her article A Stroll in Rome With a Papal Pedigree.

Usually an unharried street, Via Giulia is set to be quite busy this year with classical music concerts and open houses. For more information on the events and Via Giulia’s many churches and palazzi, visit viagiulia500.net (in Italian only at the time of this post).

Renaissance Florence According to Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

I was browsing a bookstore on the Upper East Side yesterday when I saw that one of the store employees had highlighted Salman Rushdie’s new work The Enchantress of Florence. Yes, the Nobel-prize winning author of Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses is now trying his hand at spinning a tale about Florence during the time of the Medici and combines this story with settings in India and the near East. Here’s a short clip from Michael Dirda’s review in The Washington Post (this review is also on Amazon.com):

Set during the 16th century, The Enchantress of Florence is altogether ramshackle as a novel — oddly structured, blithely mixing history and legend and distinctly minor compared to such masterworks as The Moor’s Last Sigh and Midnight’s Children — and it is really not a novel at all. It is a romance, and only a dry-hearted critic would dwell on the flaws in so delightful an homage to Renaissance magic and wonder.

In these languid, languorous pages, the Emperor Akbar the Great dreams his ideal mistress into existence, a Florentine orphan rises to become the military champion of Islam, and a black-eyed beauty casts a spell on every man who sees her. Other characters include Machiavelli and Botticelli, Amerigo Vespucci, Adm. Andrea Doria and Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a. Dracula), not to discount various Medicis and the principal members of the Mughal court of Sikri, India. The action itself covers half the known world: the seacoast of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the battlefields of the Middle East, Renaissance Italy and the newly discovered New World.

Yet whatever the locale, The Enchantress of Florence is bathed throughout in Mediterranean sunlight and Oriental sensuousness. Its atmosphere derives from the Italian Renaissance epic, especially Ariosto’s magic-filled Orlando Furioso, and from such latter-day reveries of Eastern splendor as Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (which features Marco Polo and Akbar’s grandfather Kublai Khan).

Here, then, is a gorgeous 16th century that never quite was, except in operas, masques and ballets.

Could this be the summer’s big beach read?