The Florentine is publishing a book by Professor Robert Hatfield (Rab) about the location, based on his study of the archives, of Leonardo da Vinci's Battle of Anghiari. Contessa Simonetta Brandolini D'Adda, founder of Friends of Florence, is funding the book. Friends of Florence, and Simonetta, have probably contributed and done more for art in Florence, than any individual or entity since the Renaissance. They have funded the restoration of dozens of sculptures and paintings, most notably, the David, contributing millions of dollars, as well as documenting every project with magnificent books and films for education and training.
Two times a year, Simonetta arranges special visits for these 'friends'. In the past, they have included cocktails with the David himself in the Academia, private viewings in the Uffizi, Bargello, dinners in castles, etc.
This trip was a 'theme' trip on Leonardo. The 'friends' started in Florence, went on to Milan for a private viewing of The Last Supper, and off to Paris.
Because of our collaboration on Rab's book, I was invited to join the group for a day in Florence. An honor and privilege which I will never get over. We started the day in the Palazzo Vecchio with the scholars who are on the committee for searching for this 'missing' Leonardo. This is another story, which we have discussed many times in The Florentine (look for Up close and Personal: Rab Hatfield and Maurizio Seracini).
Then to a laboratory where three sculptures from the Baptistry are being restored. Magnificent sculptures by Rusticci. To see them that close and hear from the restorers how they do their work, the decisions they have to make, the precaution, etc, is fascinating and almost sacred.
Lunch at a villa outside Florence, an Italian board member of Friends of Florence, who has the most amazing and thoughtful art collection of masters, as well as Italian contemporary art, incredible gardens, wine by Frescobaldi.....a life I could get used to.
I had to miss the visit to the Bargello to get a little work done before meeting at the Uffizi for the evening, after closing hours. We were taken to a room which is never open to the public, where the drawings are stored. The lovely curator of this 'vault' was dressed to the 'nines' in formal black and an emerald and diamond necklace that took my breath away.....I quickly understood this was an 'important state occasion.' (Fortunately, I was dressed in black, too......of course, I always am, but minus the diamonds and emeralds.)
She then puts on her white gloves as she tells us what she is about to show us, and how few people have seen what we will see. Then she opens a portfolio and takes out a drawing by Leonardo....to gasps of shock and awe. I found out by the art historians in the room, that this is the most famous drawing, because it was the only landscape. Very detailed, in pencil, and very fresh, as though it had been drawn a few days, or minutes before. Gary Radke, who was the professor leading the entire 5 day trip, said he often uses slides of that drawing but had never seen the original and was shocked by how different they were.
This sense of 'aliveness' not of the subjects that were drawn, but of the process of drawing itself- you could feel the hand making the strokes only deepened as we saw 4 or 5 more drawings. There were 'studies' of drapery exhibiting the mastery of light and dark, architecture, and then there was the drawing of a woman (or angel...or nymph...something not of this world), that brought me to my knees.
We left the room, to see the 3 Leonardo paintings in the museum. Even though I have been in this gallery many times, being there with just 30 people, no time limit, and without the sensors so that we could look closely at each painting, was a very different experience. And we saw in oil, several of the 'studies' from the drawings!!
The group consisted of very knowledgeable and sophisticated American contributors (and me), who had the means and interest to do and see everything in the world. Not one person there was unaffected by what we had seen.....'been there, done that' could never be used to describe the day.
It would appear that dinner would have to be anti-climactic, but instead it was a perfect completion. We went to the cafeteria of the Uffizi which had been dramatically transformed. One long, long table for 30 people, lit by candlelight, flowers, tuxedoed waiters with white gloves, on the second floor with one wall of windows looking onto the Duomo and towers of Palazzo Vecchio at night. Wine by Antinori, short interludes of opera performances, great food, exciting conversation. At the stroke of midnight, I did my Cinderella number and floated back on my carriage (bicycle) to call my prince and recount my day.
At the end of our phone call, Tony said, "Wednesday you were with the movie stars, Thursday with Leonardo, what are you going to do tomorrow?" I said, I'm getting back to earth, and going to work. Little did I know.