Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Museo Benozzo Gozzoli

We have recently returned from a family holiday in Tuscany, Italy. We went with extended family and hit all the popular tourist spots like the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell'Accademia which houses Michelangelo's David, in Florence. These big celebrity museums, although amazing, are quite hard going. Guidebooks recommend three to four hours for the Uffizi Gallery and you get to see more Renaissance art than you can possibly take on board and in our case possibly understand. With so much to look at, we soon reached saturation point with Renaissance art.

We could see how beautiful the paintings were but it was difficult to understand the context in which these paintings were originally made and hung. We didn't always "get it", and sadly it seemed that for many museums, their priority was to get people through the doors, along the visitor route, and safely out the other end without communicating the whys, whats and wherefores of the art works to your everyday visitor.

Apart from... the Museo Benozzo Gozzoli, a small local museum in the town where we were staying. For me, this museum "got it", understood how to talk to visitors, even English ones. It was a museum where we "got it" too, and made sense of all the other frescoes we had seen.

 The Museo Benozzo Gozzoli houses the frescoes from two 15th century chapels painted by a local man, Benozzo Gozzoli.

Benozzo Gozzoli

The two chapels being the Tabernacle of the Visitation,

...and the Tabernacle of the Madonna of the Cough.
Sounds a little like a Monty Python title, but this chapel was where mothers brought their sick children who were more often than not afflicted with whooping cough, rife in Tuscany.

Initially the frescoes in these two chapels had been rescued from further deterioration and displayed in a local library. The library wasn't up to the job, so locals rallied round and got a purpose-built museum built to house them. The paintings were restored and remounted as they would have originally been, on specially built full-size models. 

Which can be viewed from the ground,

...or from higher up.

You may be wondering why so much of the lower part of the frescoes are missing. This is due to the regular flooding of the River Elsa washing the paintings away. One of the reasons the frescoes were removed.

Models of the chapels helped us understand scale.

And if you were wondering what these chapels originally looked like and where they stood, there are photos.

In 1965 the removal of the frescoes from these chapels was deemed necessary and during the removal which involved strips of cotton, animal glue and hot water the original drawings under the paintings were revealed.

These drawings were done in a red earth pigment, the final part of the preparation before the painting began.

Underneath a fresco are many layers, stages of preparation. Firstly the stone walls are rendered with plaster made from water, lime and sand. Then outlines are drawn with charcoal. When the artist is happy with it, red pigment is applied and all the details filled out. Then the charcoal lines are brushed away with feathers. After that a new thin layer of plaster is applied to the drawing, only enough to cover the expected area to be worked on that day, as the surface to be painted needed to be damp. 

This explains why the Museo Benozzo Gozzoli contains paintings and the original drawings, originally separated from each other by 2mm of plaster.

There was a smaller scale model on display.

Decorated by kids, their version of the original.

We loved the Museo Benozzo Gozzoli. The passion that it had for saving, restoring and remounting the paintings was evident in the way they told their story. Rightly proud of their local heritage, showing it off and explaining it to visitors, drawing us in and helping us understand. 

The Museo Benozzo Gozzoli may be a little far for most readers of this blog to visit, but if you're ever in the area, we highly recommend it over all the big city, as my daughter would say "fancy pants", museums in the guidebooks.
Details on their website here.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Barbara Hepworth at Tate Britain: a Twitter Tour

On the strength of my post 'Tate Britain from the Floor', which you can see here, I was invited to do a Twitter Tour for the Barbara Hepworth exhibition at Tate Britain for the @tate_kids account.

So today I took over the @tate_kids account and tweeted our visit, a virtual tour of the exhibition, sharing our family's experiences. I say 'family', we also took a friend, nine year old charlie. So here's my tour, as you can see it's not my Twitter account, it's the Tate Kids, but it's all me.

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World is on at Tate Britain until 25th October 2015. Details on their website, here.
It is a paying exhibition and I have to thank Tate Britain for inviting us to see it.

Update: I made a mistake. I have to admit I'm not 42. In all the excitement, I knocked a few years off my age. Thanks to a lovely friend who felt she had to point this out.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Four kids go to the Horniman Museum

What to do in the summer holidays?
Especially when your mum is working. Well firstly, have friends over, prevents boredom and therefore lessens the potential for squabbling, then perhaps go out. So we organised for a friend each to come over and a trip to the Horniman Museum, where I was working that afternoon in the Discovery For All session in the Hands-on Base.

The Hands-on Base in the Horniman Museum is exactly what it says it is. A gallery full of objects to touch. I armed the kids with a camera and was intrigued to find out what they got up to, what they looked at and and what exactly captured their imagination.

They began with the 'Teeth' Discovery Box.

Silver teeth.

Fossilised teeth, a mammoth's.

Wooden teeth.

Photo opportunity teeth.
Everyone does this with the shark's jaw.

Next the 'Toys' Discovery Box.

Toys from recycled materials.

As a student I remember playing Mancala but have long since forgotten the rules.
However, another family hadn't forgotten and they taught my kids how to play. They sat and played Mancala for ages, two groups of visitors who hadn't met before. I love that! 

This wasn't their only opportunity to meet and interact with other visitors. The Puffer fish often draws people together.  

We learn from a family from Ecuador that in Spanish it is called a "balloon fish". "Cool!"

They swap the camera and take photos of each other.

 They listen,

...perform, on their own,


... dance,

...and wonder how long this snake would had been were the head and tail still attached.

  Of course a museum visit is not all about the objects.

"Mum, mum, I got to show you something."
"What's this doing here?"

They have expectations of what should be included in museum collections. And plastic halloween masks are not one of them.

The Hands-on Base is only open for the 'Discovery For All' sessions which are Sunday mornings and some afternoons in the school holidays.
Details on the Horniman Museum website, here.

Thanks to Miriam, Tom, Naomi and Roman for the photos and providing even more evidence that museums are not "boring".

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