Dark Water: Flood and Redemption in the City of Masterpieces

By Robert Clark

This dramatic, superbly written account of the flood that ravaged Florence, Italy, in 1966 weaves heartbreaking stories of the catastrophe and tales of the heroic international efforts to save lots of the city’s treasures opposed to the historical historical past of Florence’s wonderful art.

On November four, 1966, Florence, one of many world’s so much ancient towns and the repository of probably its maximum artwork, was once struck by means of a enormous calamity. A low-pressure process were stalled over Italy for 6 weeks and at the earlier day it had started to rain back. Nineteen inches fell in twenty-four hours, greater than half the yearly overall. by way of o’clock within the morning twenty-thousand cubic toes of water according to moment used to be relocating towards Florence. quickly manhole covers in Santa Croce have been exploding into the air as jets of water all started taking pictures out of the now crushed sewer approach. Cellars, vaults, and strong-rooms have been filling with water. evening watchmen at the Ponte Vecchio alerted the bridge’s jewelers and goldsmiths to return quick to rescue their wares. by way of then the water used to be relocating at 40 miles in step with hour at a top of twenty-four toes. At 7:26 a.m. all of Florence’s electrical civic clocks got here to a cease. The Piazza Santa Croce used to be below twenty-two ft of water. underneath the skin, twelve ft of dust, sewage, particles, and oil sludge have been commencing to ooze and settle into the cellars and crypts and room after room above them. Six-hundred-thousand lots of it will smother, clot, and encrust the city. 
Dark Water 
brings the flood and its aftermath to lifestyles in the course of the voices of witnesses previous and current. younger American artists wade heedlessly throughout the inundated urban sporting their child with a view to witness its devastated attractiveness: the Ponte Vecchio buried in particles and Ghiberti’s panels from the doorways of the Florence Baptistery, mendacity heaped in yard-deep dust; the swamped Uffizi Gallery; and, within the urban libraries, a thousand million pages of Renaissance and vintage books, soaked in mire. A Life magazine photographer, stowing away on a military helicopter, arrives to catch a drama that, he felt, “could merely learn through Dante” amid the flooded tombs of Machiavelli and Michelangelo in Giotto and Vasari’s Santa Croce. A British scholar, one in every of hundreds of thousands of “mud angels” who rushed to Florence to store its artwork, spends a month scraping dust and mould from Cimabue’s excellent and neglected Crocifisso as intrigues and infighting between overseas artwork specialists and connoisseurs swirl round him. and through the 40th anniversary commemorations of 2006 the writer asks himself why paintings issues so a great deal to us, and the way good looks turns out to someway shop the area even within the face of overwhelming disaster.

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Actually, the painter had stumbled on him sketching—so the tale goes—while shepherding sheep and were so inspired he’d persuaded the oldsters to enable him take the boy to Florence as an apprentice. yet they weren’t going to cartoon, now not but. First they have been going to mark the panel with chalk strains and compasses, inscribing circles, triangles, and arcs. The painter, Bencivieni di Pepo, had made a painted panel crucifix prior to for the church of San Domenico in Arezzo. He knew the foundations. The sq. of the go contained an equilateral triangle that can in flip be certain via a circle within which you may then interpose a superbly proportioned spread-eagled human physique, homo quadratus. yet after all this physique wouldn’t be completely proportioned: it might be bent, distended, ache in each limb, expression, and gesture, useless or close to useless. So Bencivieni made 3 issues in terms of the hands and foot of the go and, because the boy watched, started to mark out different circles after which from those, segments of arcs. these strains might verify the curve and leftward droop of the physique, the sag of the palms, the cave in and tilt of the pinnacle and neck: the precise importance and degree of the discomfort, the pity, and the horror. while all that used to be in position, Bencivieni might draw a determine in willow charcoal after which pass over it with a squirrel-hair brush dipped in a wash of ink. later on they'd lay down gold leaf and burnish it. you're alleged to burnish gold on a moist iciness day, so allow us to say it's February 1288, in a studio in Florence in the street known as Borgo Allegri. This painted pass will dangle over the excessive altar of the recent Franciscan church at the east part of town, in an effort to itself be named after the move, Santa Croce. So it'll need to be in particular appealing and for this reason gilded for the honour and glory of God. however it additionally wishes gold simply because should you combine the floor colors—white lead, cinnabar, lapis—with egg (use yolks from city hens: they’re paler) to make tempera and brush them stroke by means of tiny stroke over the gold, whatever occurs to them: the rivulets of blood seize fireplace; the pallid flesh turns out continuously to be no longer really chilly, to be loss of life simply now; the injuries refuse to shut. the complete portray turns into luminous and palpable. it isn't quite a bit obvious as seeing, pursuing after which laying carry of the viewer. Bencivieni di Pepo knew most of these issues: his artwork consisted of his understanding them. It used to be no longer an issue of proposal, by no means brain genius: a Christ used to be a Christ, a Madonna used to be a Madonna. the article used to be to lead them to good. He’d made many. while he started this crucifix he was once forty-seven years previous. He’d labored in Rome, Bologna, and Pisa. He’d designed mosaics for the Florence Baptistry 8 years past, and it used to be there—working in that the majority Byzantine of media—that his photographs grew to become much less jap, his faces much less hawklike and critical, the deep strains (almost carved like bas-relief ) changed through a softer stroke, extra rounded and modeled; our bodies now not set down on panels or tile yet incarnated, pulled nascent and respiring from their floor.

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