Italy

Joan Eardley: 'Foreign Familiar' Curated by David Cass

I'm thrilled to be able to include Joan Eardley's 1948 Florence watercolour in Foreign / Familiar.

The works that form this exhibition are observations of the foreign ‘everyday’ through often overlooked architecture and city elements, and indeed scenarios that might not spring immediately to mind upon consideration of these locations. This is taken to a further extent in Eardley’s ‘Building, Palazzo Type’, for it was not only in Glasgow that the artist sought out derelict or dilapidated built-environment subjects. In this watercolour the noble proportions of a Florentine riverbank palazzo stand — quite unfamiliarly to the ancient structure — on unstable foundations, at a precarious angle, the rubble of restoration work all around, and with another isolated (spared) building standing exposed behind.

Joan Eardley:  Building, Palazzo Type  (1948) Gouache 49 x 42 cm

Joan Eardley: Building, Palazzo Type (1948) Gouache 49 x 42 cm

Eardley here is documenting the extreme restoration works necessitated by the devastation Florence endured at the end of the Second World War. The Germans had blown-up buildings along the river and each of the bridges that crossed it, except for Ponte Vecchio, which Officer Gerhard Wolf had ordered to be spared for personal reasons. Eardley’s watercolour depicts Piazza di Santa Maria Sopearno — along Lungarno Torrigiani and just behind Ponte Vecchio — and focusses on the still-standing Palazzo Tempi. This work therefore celebrates this steadfast ochre palazzo, one of many that line the riverbank, built some-time in the early fifteenth century and then restored three hundred years later to take the form that Eardley describes. Perhaps spared because of its close proximity to Ponte Vecchio, this beaming structure — owned by successive Florentine noble-families — has stood resolute throughout a turbulent history of siege, political struggle, war and repeated flooding*. Eardley’s painting presents this bastion as etched into that same history and memory, as familiar to the city’s inhabitants today as it would have been four hundred years ago.

*During the lifetime of Palazzo Tempi, Florence has endured seventeen small floods, sixteen large floods, and seven exceptional ones: most recently that of 1966, as seen in [Cass’s] Florence in flood project.

Florence Flood Aftermath

Inch by inch, the filthy floodwaters lowered, as daylight gradually left Florence on 4th November 1966. Oily black perimeter lines marked the water’s journey down façades: from a height of four adults in Santa Croce, each stage of this slow recession was charted in level horizontal lines of varying thicknesses. This process was repeated, unbelievably, over hundreds of acres. Clocks throughout the city sat stationary, reading 7:26 AM, when power in the city had been lost as the force of the inundation took hold that morning.

As toxic muddy diesel and oil-infused sludge settled on pavements and roads of deep clay as daylight broke the following morning, Florentines searched for lost family, friends, neighbours and pets, as upturned cars bleated from short-circuited horns. “Steel blinds were twisted like paper”, records artist James Hogg. Antique furniture lay strewn across streets. The Ponte Vecchio was in danger of collapsing, having been stripped to a near skeleton, like the carcass of a whale stretched out between two banks. 

The force of the inundation had been relentless as it pounded streets, ripping apart ground floors and basements, shopfronts, signs, generators, garages, cars. It tore the city apart from the ground up over the course of an entire day. The devastating and deadly force of black water. Had it not been Armed Forces Day on the 4th (a national holiday), the streets would surely have been busier as the tides entered the ancient city early in the morning. 

I've dedicated the last couple of years to researching and responding to this catastrophic historical event (drawing parallels with 'extremes' of today). Through this research I've come across all sorts of ephemera (newspaper articles and clippings, magazine features and appeals for help, short-run flood related publications...) but by far the best is these photographs. I purchased this set of prints on eBay.it last year, from a vendor who did not know the history or provenance of their lot. I've asked around and searched extensively for evidence of these images (by an unknown photographer) in other archives, with no results. If you know anything about these images please do get in touch. I'll be featuring a selection of these scanned prints in my book 'Perimetri Perduti' set for launch on November 4th this year: the 50th anniversary of the flood.

Permetri Perduti: Book Project Update

I am seeking text submissions from individuals to contribute to a book which aims to raise awareness; to describe the events of early November 1966; and to draw upon the past and present significance of the ‘Great Flood’.

Maybe you lived through the inundation or know someone who did. Maybe you travelled to Florence to help in the rescue effort. Maybe you have a relationship with Florence and wish to describe how the history of this catastrophic event shapes (shaped) your vision of the city. I would like to hear from you, whether you are a writer or not! All writing styles will be considered for inclusion: from descriptive texts to poetry.

Set to launch on the 50th anniversary of the flood (to the day), this is a book about a city transformed: boundaries and city-limits lost; the familiar rendered unfamiliar. Overspilled perimeters: the Valdarno dams burst and the Arno overflowed, the homes and lives of Florentines ferociously attacked. The flood irreversibly changed Florence, bringing the city - a mecca of the art world - to its knees. Read within the above document a blow-by-blow description by renowned author David Hewson, who kindly donated his time to this project.

Normal submissions are now closed. Thanks to the many artists and authors who sent texts! The project is ongoing, and if you have an experience you'd like to share, please email info@davidcass.co.uk.

FlashFlood

 

Basilica of San Frediano

Exaggerated Inundation in Lucca • Based on imagery of Lucca's 1996 flood • 9 x 14cm • Available for purchase

 

19th June 1996: Flash-flood in Lucca, Tuscany

I spend one day a week researching as part of my Florence in flood project - there's always new facts to discover (and new ephemera to source and purchase) relating to the November 1966 flood that's occupied my practice for the last couple of years. This research informs and supports my painted artworks. During this week's reading I came across news articles describing inundations in the province of Lucca in 1996 - somewhere I've visited regularly over the last few years. Caught completely off guard, the region endured severe flooding: one of the strongest flash-floods in history (in the Apuan Alps) according to EU MetStat. Several small villages in the foothills of the Appenines were literally ripped apart by the fierce floodwaters.

View archival news footage here

Read more here

Profili Sommersi (Faces of the Florence Flood of 1966)

As a whole, my artworks tend to avoid straight-forward depiction of the human form. Traces are often evident in my landscape work: evidence that man indeed exists in the environments I paint. However for this project (Florence and the flood of November 1966) I feel that I can't escape the great human tragedy that the city (and its surrounding area) endured. Partly inspired by iconic renaissance portraits (mostly from the Uffizi gallery, whose collection bore the brunt of the 1966 floodwaters), I've started work on a series of paintings of semi-submerged Florentines.

 

Sketch Based On: Portrait Of A Girl With Book, Agnolo Bronzino (1545) • Pencil + Gouache On Antique Paper (January 2016)

Above Sketch Based On: Portrait Of An Old Man, Filippino Lippi (1457 - 1504) • Pencil + Gouache On Watercolour Paper (January 2016)

Profile Sommersi (Working Title) • Watercolour, Acrylic & Gouache on Antique Postcard (2016)

 
 

David Hewson: Author of 'The Flood'

In collaboration with The British Institute Florence, I'm putting together an exhibition that looks at the history of Florence's 1966 Great Flood. I've been working on this project for around three years now, and hope that its climax will fall on the month and year that mark the 50th anniversary of this catastrophic event: November 2016. Below, internationally renowned author David Hewson (The Killing) describes his own critically acclaimed response to the flood, in relation to my project:

"In a single night in November 1966 the birthplace of the Renaissance was reduced to a sea of mud as the Arno burst its banks, engulfed some of the most famous and historic buildings and sights in Europe and took the lives of more than thirty people."

"And yet, as I discovered when I came to write a novel partly set during this extraordinary period, the event is now largely forgotten outside Florence itself, overshadowed in the public imagination by the dreadful aqua alta in Venice at the same time. The city, its stalwart people, and the thousands of angeli del fango who flocked to Florence to help the city recover deserve better. During many visits to the city while I was writing The Flood I was astonished to see how the disaster continues be visible on the face of the twenty first century city, from the signs in the street marking the level of the water down to more subtle effects, among them the restoration of the damaged masterpieces in the Brancacci Chapel to remove the prudish additions of earlier centuries."

Four years on from working on The Flood David Cass’s evocative paintings took me straight back to that terrible night in November 1966, a timely reminder of the fragility of beauty against the elements of nature, and the defiant human spirit that swept away the mud and restored Florence to glory. I hope they find a place in the heart of the city fifty years on from the events that inspired them.
— David Hewson

Find out more about David Hewson's The Flood by following this link

www.davidhewson.com