: Dante vivo || White Silence




Click image to see Florence's florins, Europe's first euro,
with the lily on one side, St John the Baptist on the other

I wrote this essay twenty years ago. Now almost all these shops are shut due to rent gouging and an educational system that despises hand crafts, though Florence was built on these. Those shops still open are marked with an asterisk * those lost with X

August, when I wrote this is not the time to come to Florence, though all tourists do, when all shops are closed, all Florentines either at the seaside or in the mountains, for it is too hot here.

This is a guide to the non-tourist Florence, the city created by skilled artisans, women embroidering 'punto antico', 'drawn thread work', men binding books in leather and printed and marbled paper, a Florence that once was, and which is now almost lost. It will tell you how Florence works, it will give you the insider's Florence. This guide will take you down narrow historic streets, into the Straw Market, where you can find hand-loomed linens of designs that go back to Byzantium, back to BabylonX [but you can get these at Papiri in via del Consolo *] It will take you into the countryside where you can find blacksmiths hand-forging wrought iron. It will take you into old publishing houses printing books on Florence with woodblocks.° It will take you to the best artists' supplies shop in Florence.* It will take you across the Ponte Vecchio and show you where to buy corals° [Global warming did these in].X It will take you down the elegant via Tornabuoni and into the Erboristeria Inglese (www.officinadetornabuoni.com) where you can buy lavendar sachets, from Tuscan lavendar harvested from the countryside. It will take you into San Lorenzo Market and show you were to buy Montelupo hand-painted ceramics.* It will tell you where to buy Savonarola chairs, Dante chairs, and have them shipped home.X And on to Borgo La Croce where again you can buy hand-painted ceramics.X But not in August . . .

In August all that is left is the worst of global consumerism/tourism, nothing particularly Florentine, no flowers in the straw market, the flower market. Junk made for mass production elsewhere than in Florence, not about Florence. Apart from pornography on aprons. Avert your eyes! All that you will find that is beautiful are Chinese women with silken scarves to sell, Chinese men painting your name in exquisite pictographic water colour calligraphy,ˇX Chinese men and women making grasshoppers for you from green grasses,X and African men with their sculpture in wood and paint, while their womenfolk brighten the streets with their coloured clothing and turbans. Remember Marco Polo, remember the many Africans who appear in Florentine Renaissance paintings. Likewise, admire the coloured paisley skirts and headscarves of the gypsy mothers with their babies.X [Now, if they beg with their babies, they are imprisoned and the babies taken from them, so they leave them with grandmothers and send the money home from begging for their family's survival] Give them Becocci postcards, rather than money.

Florence is a rich city because it is a poor city. Its agriculture is carried out with difficulty, the soil being poor. The olive trees need rigorous pruning and weeding to bear well, and one smells the acrid smell of burning in the hills above Florence of the pruned olive branches. It took intelligence to survive here. There are few resources, apart from red clay to make bricks, tiles, the tiles of the Duomo roof, pots glazed with designs like those in Florentine manuscripts, Della Robbia ware, the simplest clay becoming great art, apart from the olives and lavender.

Florentine cooking likewise is simple, but with heavenly flavours and odours plucked from one's garden or even a window pot, - of basil, rosemary, rucola - and always olive oil, the purer the more green. For these you can shop in the Mercato Centrale by San Lorenzo. Likewise one's home can be made more pleasing with lavendar and rose petals from Tuscan gardens. Shop for these in the Erboristeria Inglese in via Tornabuoni, 19, in an old palace (why the number is not red). It's across the street from the Galleria Tornabuoni where my aunt's watercolours have been exhibited.X

In the addresses below sometimes a shop has a street number in red . These numbers are in a different sequence than the black residence numbers. When these shops are closed, with heavy iron shutters, very often there is no indication concerning them. All external signs are taxed heavily. So do not be surprised when you cannot find a shop again. Stationary shops are likely to open Monday afternoon after a long weekend, bakeries close Wednesday afternoon. Many shops, like churches, close from noon, or at least one, until four. Take a siesta during those hours, but wake early in Florence, with the swallows, to see the sights while it is still cool and uncrowded and beautiful. John Ruskin's Mornings in Florence.

Throwing a grand banquet in Florence? Take sacks of oranges, lemons, gather pine cones, and green branches of cypress and other evergreens, and make these into garlands and centre pieces. 

Wanting to buy Florentine ceramics? Expensive. Because of the skilled centuries-old craft that goes into them. I've found a good place, in the Mercato Centrale at via dell'Ariento, 4 red , 50123 Firenze, website www.lorenzaccio.it , e-mail, info@lorenzaccio.it , whose ware is from Montelupo. Another is out in the country, near Montelupo at Carmignano, via F. Coppi, 3/5, 59015 Carmignano (PO), and who participate in the Fierucola in Piazza Santissima Annunziata. The designs on these earthenware pots, painted by hand, are those also found in Florentine medieval manuscripts, of Psalters, of Dante's Commedia, go back to Roman frescoes, and are exquisite. Recall, with Della Robbia ware, that they took the red clay of the earth, our humanity, of Adam, Eve, then glazed it with blue and white, in Italian the words for heaven, the sky and blue echoing each other, celi, celeste, with the prayer of divinity, Mary, and her Son, Christ. And then there was Enzo's shop in Borgo La Croce.X

The Casa Editrice Giusti di Becocci Saverio makes the fine art postcards one once saw throughout Florence. Also the art calendars, art posters, even art mousemats. It is possible to buy these in bulk wholesale for church, museum and book shops abroad. They are at 19 Lago Liverani 12/3, 50141 Firenze (almost impossible to find, you get there taking the 28 bus from the station to the Don Minzoni school, then keep asking). I've helped repair a church in San Francisco with Becocci cards and posters, the young people learning how to frame them, - and learning Florentine art while doing so. What you paint you never forget. What you frame you never forget.

This detail from a Becocci postcard of a Ghirlandaio Last Supper fresco shows Byzantine, Babylonian designs woven into cloth. It also tells you of the best month to come to Florence, May, when cherries are ripe.

For fine fabrics visit Romano Romoli in the Casa dei Tessuti on Via dei Pecori, down from the Duomo, Campanile di Giotto and Baptistery and opposite the Piazza della Repubblica.

In the straw market, the Porcellino, you once could buy, along with Florentine drawn-thread work, similar hand-woven linen cloths at Stand Number Four, Francesco Mealli whom I highly recommended. In particular the very beautiful linen towels with a traditional Byzantine design, hand-woven in Farfa Sabina:

Asciugamano lino tessuto a mano set 2 pezzi (grande+ospite), colori: oro,celeste, bordeaux,naturale, grigio/
Hand towels linen hand woven, set of two pieces (large+guest), colours available: gold, pale blue, burgundy, natural, grey. Prezzo/Price= Euro: 39,00

He buys them from Gustavo Scipioni, via Montopoli, 13, I-02030 Farfa Sabina, from near Rome. These are with peacocks flanking vases, designs one sees in mosaics at Ravenna, at Murano, at Tabgha, rather than the wyverns on the above Last Supper tablecloth. The design signifies, in Jewish art, the Shekinah, the winged Cherubim flanking the Sacred Ark. For which see pilgrim.

In via dei Neri, 71, 73, 75 red, you once could buy Dante chairs, Savonarola chairs, from G. Cipriani, for just over a hundred euro. For instance to buy two at 110 euro each and ship them to Los Angeles for a further 145 euro would come to a total of 365 euro. These are folding chairs, crafted with curving wood. You take out the back, lift the slats in the middle of the seat and the whole chair folds up and can be placed in a flat box and easily shipped home. You see them grandly in every museum in Florence, in every church in Florence. We have four in our library. Just one of these present in a room spells out the whole Renaissance. Your guests will appreciate your making a small cushion. Fifteen minutes otherwise is the maximum time one can sit in them. Don't put off purchasing them for another year. Cipriani are the only sellers left of these in Florence and are soon retiring from the business. Then there will be none. We are describing a nearly-lost and most beautiful culture.X

Wooden chairs folding with lions' heads. The back is carved on the other side. I prefer the simpler one.

If you want to build a library can I recommend my son, Richard Holloway, 4821 Kingsessing Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19143. Then stock it with these chairs

I built my own library shelves but had a blacksmith in Settignano make the supporting lilycrosses. He is Mauro Romagnoli of Cagnacci Ferro Battuto, in via delle Fraschette, 5, 50135 Settignano, Firenze. We took the design from those in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, but simplified it somewhat.

- detail -

Then Bruno Vivoli made a similar one for me in brass. Following which Daniel-Claudiu Dumitrescu now makes them here using his grandfather's tools. 

I made the marbled paper. We'll come back to marbled paper, printed paper, later.

Bruno, born in Florence, out of work, at the Repubblica di San Procolo's Messa dei Poveri, is a skilled craftsman, making engravings. It took him four years to learn his skill. This is his engraving of Dante reading the Commedia to the city of Florence that he made for the City and the Book International Congress .

Another he has made is of the head of Christ from Giotto's Crucifixion in Santa Maria Novella. Yet another of Julian of Norwich. He recently studied at Il Bisonte and has printed his engraving of the Badia Madonna. I can print these out for you on the computer, and he can print them for you with ink on a press, numbering and signing it in an edition. To order, write to Julia Bolton Holloway


Born in 1941 in Florence, Bruno Vivoli studied engraving under Romano Calamai and Marcello Sacchi.

In 1965-1970, Vivoli worked in Australia; in 1972-1974 in New York, America.

He has participated in exhibitions at Santa Croce, San Frediano and, most recently, in the exhibition held this November, 2001, by the artists of the Repubblica di San Procolo, in honour of Fioretta Mazzei, in the English Cemetery’s Gatehouse, Piazzale Donatello 38, 50132 Florence.

Bruno Vivoli's engraving of Dante teaching the Commedia to Florence is used as the logo to the international congresses held in Florence, 2001, 2002, 2003, The City and the Book.

Petter Sammerud, from Norway, has printed Bruno Vivoli's engravings of the Madonna and Child at the Santa Reparata International School of Art, Via San Gallo, Florence.

Bruno Vivoli, Madonna and Child
Number 20 of a numbered series of 50, which Bruno Vivoli has signed. They sell for €100/$100 each. We have eight of these left. Contact Julia Bolton Holloway if you do not speak Italian. If you have Italian, Bruno Vivoli's cell phone number is 339 751 8080. Italy's international code is 0039
You've lost your glasses or need help with your camera. Just across from the Baptistry is Umberto Dei's little shop, via dei Pecori, 19 red, not quite the same as it was in this photograph. The proprietor speaks beautiful English, and is a true artisan, taking infinite care to get a prescription for glasses just right. But hurry. He is having to close. Rent had become too high.X

I'd like to recommend - if you are doing audio recordings for your computer - MusicStore, Via San Cresci, 53, 50013 Campi Bisenzio, Firenze, 055 8999803. They, too, take infinite pains to get things just right.

For artists' supplies, printer's ink, presses, and paper marbling supplies, one of the best shops in Florence is Rigacci, on via dei Servi, 71 red , 50121 Firenze, between the Santissima Annunziata and the Duomo, the Cathedral, of Florence. If you can paint at all, buy from them a small watercolour paintbox, two brushes, a small block of water colour paper, put water in a small shampoo bottle, and take this kit up to San Miniato and paint the city of Florence at your feet. A hint, wet all the sheet of paper in the block, do the washes first, then the details as it progressively dries, last of all the swallows against the Della Robbia blue sky. When you take a photograph you do not remember; when you paint a scene you will never forget it.

Fine gold-leafed picture-framing moulding can be bought wholesale in a shop which actually makes them near the Campo di Marte Station, on the road on the city centre side: Neroni Cornici, via Manelli 135AB. One can see the kilns and the wood they bring in, often recycled, for nothing in Italy is wasted. I've walked home to Piazzale Donatello's English Cemetery many times with long poles of moulding to turn into frames in our Bottega, our Workroom, next to our Biblioteca, our Library.*

But rather than buying gold leaf and gold size at such a store, these supplies are best found at a local  'Mesticheria', a hardware store/ironmonger shop. The gold leaf comes in beautiful little hand-made books, a strip of coloured tissue paper between each. 'Oro vero' is more expensive, may not be touched with human skin, 'oro falso' is easier to work with, cheaper, but may tarnish in time. Neither is too costly for a little gold goes a long way, being extremely malleable and ductile. Paintings with gold leaf are best seen by candlelight, as they once were in churches before electric lighting. The effect is splendid, glorious.*

What better way, if you are rich, to remember Florence with than a florin. These, with the lily of the Virgin on one side, St John the Baptist on the other, you can find in numismatic shops, of which one is Numismatica Fiorentina, Matteo Cavedoni, S.R.L. - Via dello Statuto 10 red, 50129 Firenze, phone 055.0510457, fax 055.0510498. With a Vow of Poverty I did not buy this coin, only scanned it!* What money I have goes for books for the Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei. For which I shamelessly beg. And to be an annual member of which it is only necessary to give a book.*

Now cross to the Ponte Vecchio. The Medici threw out the butcher shops that had been there, too smelly for them, as they walked above peoples' heads in the Vasarian Corridor from the Uffizi to the Pitti palaces, and they put in the goldsmiths in their place. U. Gherardi, Ponte Vecchio, 5 red ,* sells exquisite corals, pinks, reds, whites. These would come from Torre del Greco. Alas, today's pollution is making coral more and more rare in the ocean. But an elegant Florentine woman typically wore one strand of coral on an unbleached linen dress. I used to buy them for granddaughters as heirlooms. Likewise the hand-smocked dresses in the Por Santa Maria, just as you reach the Ponte Vecchio.* While Loretta Caponi's in via Tornabuoni is a dream, room after room of exquisite hand-sewn, hand embroidered items. Piazza Antinori 4 red .* Right by the Erboristeria Inglese.

One morning, the other side of the Arno (Oltrarno), I walked into Annibale Niccolai's shop to ask the prices of the wooden carved St Francis and Wolf low down in the window, and then to photograph them where he placed them on a table in front of one of his paintings. Annibale never repeats himself, each piece being unique. Once I remember an antiquarian had in his shop window a great Baroque piece of a woman saint in ecstasy, her nuns' garments swirling about her in clouds, and I so yearned to purchase the version Niccolai made of it, that exactly copied its style, its atmosphere, in miniature. He both carves and paints. His address was Piazza Pitti, 20 red.X 

I first photographed them from above, loving Francis' humility. 'No', he said, I had to sit down and take another.

Near the San Frediano Gate is the Antico Setificio Fiorentino, Via L. Bartolini, 4 (since 1786), where one walks first through courtyards with vats and bellows for dying silk, then through room after room filled with the hand-dyed,

hand-loomed silks, continuing medieval and Renaissance Florentine traditions, and perfumed delicately by the Santa Maria Novella erboristeria with cloves.

Highly recommended is the publication, Antico Setificio Fiorentino, ed. Patrizia Pietrogrande (Firenze: Le Lettere, 1999, ISBN 88 7166 485 X), filled with many more exquisite photographs.

Then there is James Rotherham, a brilliant young Yorkshire artist who briefly had his studio in the Santissima Annunziata, famous for Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sarto, etc., who seeks commissions in church art. This is a detail of his painting of the Prodigal Son:

I hoped to have James Rotherham and the Antico Setificio Fiorentino work with eachother as he could paint magnificent canvases of church art using their silks. James has now become a sculptor.

Once the San Lorenzo Market was filled with exquisite Florentine embroidery, 'ricami', drawn thread work, 'punto antico'. No more.

A splendid book on Il Punto Antico, with photographs of samples of the embroidery, created by the school in Borgo San Lorenzo of Maria Margheri Manetti is published by the Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, Palazzo Pucci, via dei Pucci, 4. She jokes about her work as 'agoturismo ', from 'agroturismo', having people stay in Tuscan farmhouses, here 'ago' meaning needle, meaning a therapeutic holiday learning to embroider. A page from her book is shown with the example of hand-loomed cloth from the Straw Market. Giannozzo Pucci's Libreria Editrice Fiorentina has many other fine books, with woodblock engravings, on Florence, on spirituality, on ecology.

Other bookshops or publishing houses: Libreria "Chiari" in piazza Salvemini 18,
http://www.libreriachiari.it/, which stocks Renato Stopani's books and many others on Florence; La Giuntina, via Manelli, 29 red, http://www.giuntina.it , info@giuntina.it, for Hebrew and Jewish books; Claudiana, Ognissanti, for Protestant books, also including a good selection of Hebrew books. And if you wanted to buy the facsimile of Savonarola's Breviary reproducing his handwritten comments in the margin of his printed book, this was from SISMEL http://www.sismel.it (click on the cock to enter). Imagine sitting in your Savonarola chair with this Breviary, this prayer book, in your hands. And then there was Centro Di, Lungarno Serristori 35, with splendid art books, and specializing in manuscript illumination studies.X Or go to the Casa di Dante and buy some of their editions of Dante in Italian and in English. Or there is the facsimile, published by Licosa, of Dante's Commedia illustrated by Botticelli. There is La Meta's facsimile, somewhat reduced in size from the original, of the Laurentian Library's Codex Amiatinus (the original needing two men to carry it). Gozzini, via Ricasoli 49, Gonnelli, via Ricasoli 14 red, and Ippogrifo, via della Vigna Nuova 5 red, are Florence's fine antiquarian bookshops. Le Lettere published Bruna dell'Agnese's translation into Italian of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh.X

One family in Florence has cornered the market on fine papers, marbled, printed, the Giannini. They are in Piazza Pitti. Italians claim they printed Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese. The head of the family, Enrico Giannini, now 'retired', was at via dei Velluti, 29 red , and taught his craft, e-mail: enricogiannini@inwind.it  The family has now separated into different shops, for instance, Il Papiro, which you can find everywhere, and whose fine marbled papers you can order in bulk from via di Scolivigne, 56, Int. 17, Grassina, Bagno a Ripoli, Firenze, e-mail: ilpapiro@ftbcc.it Yet another supplier is Tipografia ARNO, s.r.l., via Guelfa, 38 rosso, e-mail simone-arno@libero.it who made two of the papers below, Giannini's the first.

I can make these or our marbled paper up into portfolios of American or European letter paper size for precious files, with grosgrain ribbon ties. Order from Julia Bolton Holloway giving measurements.

By San Firenze, just before the Bargello, was a stationer's shop specializing in book-binding papers and supplies. Simply called 'Cancelleria', they will show you small sample books from which you could order sheets of paper, including the cream lining paper for covers one uses in book-binding. Same quality and far less expensive than Giannini and Il Papiro. But now gpne out of business.

In via del Parione, 35 red, 50123 Firenze, is Alberto Cozzi, in business since 1908, a family shop where they are all bookbinders. Another family member has S. Agostino, in via S. Agostino, 21 red, 50125 Firenze.

In May of each year the artisans show their skilled work in the very beautiful gardens of the Palazzo Corsini sul Prato. Do not neglect this or the Fierucola, described above, buying hand-crafted baskets you see being made there. Excellent to use for shipping home Montelupo ware and afterwards. While straw hats, the specialty of the Swiss living on the outskirts of Florence, can still be found in the stalls by the Palazzo Vecchio. These are most sensible in the summer sun of Florence for northerners. And pretty, too.

Shopping for food. The Mercato Centrale in the San Lorenzo Market area is the cheapest and the best, meat, fish, cheeses, wine, vegetables and fruit downstairs, looking like Della Robbias. Don't touch food in Italian markets unless they allow you to. They will pick good ones for you. (In self-serve supermarkets you put on disposable plastic gloves they supply to touch the fruit!) There was a good bakery across the street. Florentine breads are marvellous. 'Pane toscana', the simplest and best, Dante's bread without salt, with cheese and salami and fruit, becomes a banquet. Pecorino cheese, made from sheep's milk, is excellent. A 'Latteria' is where you buy milk, often combined with a bar. If you stand in the bar to drink your coffee, eat your brioche, for breakfast, it is far cheaper than sitting at a table covered with a table-cloth. For bars are where you buy breakfast. And where there are free toilets. Florence's best kept secret from tourists.

And then there is the Fierucola di Pane, held on some Saturdays and Sundays of the month in the Piazzas of Santo Spirito and the Santissima Annunziata, where breads and cheeses and organic produce and handcrafts are sold in this open street market. Plus there are other regular outdoor markets, one daily in the Piazza of Santo Spirito, another on Saturday mornings in Fiesole's main square.

And how to dress? Not shorts, and do wear sleeves. This way you can enter the churches, and not be bitten by mosquitoes, and not be sunburned and not look like a tourist. If there is a sudden downpour of rain Seneghalese will be at every street corner selling umbrellas for only 5 Euro. Comfortable shoes. The cobblestones are hard and the centre of historic Florence forbids cars, so one walks and walks. Attend Mass and in Italian. This website has the words of the Mass in both languages for you to download and bring with you, fine way to learn Italian. Cycling is lovely here. Cars being forbidden in the historic centre to try to save the art from the pollution. Good bicycle paths. And bicycles for rent. 

And if you want a selection of what I discuss here, come and visit us in the 'English Cemetery' in Piazzale Donatello, and its Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei. We used to have in stock hand-sewn handbags made from awning and chintz materials, lavendar and rose petal sachets, made by a mother with a daughter needing medical care, rosaries made by Alice Weithera in Nairobi, Kenya,x we still have Bruno Vivoli's prints, our hand marbled papers, my books, such as the Penguin Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh and Other Poems. All sold to directly benefit their makers, the 'English' Cemetery and the Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei, and nothing for my own profit. We can be found on weekdays at the Gatehouse of the 'English Cemetery', Piazzale Donatello 38, during the visiting hours, Mondays, 9:00-12:00, Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 3:00-6:00 summers, 2:00-5:00 winters.


Suggestions on Where to Stay in Florence:

My computer gurus have now changed their ancestral Liberty style villa into a stunning residence, complete with internet connections: http://www.residencemichelangiolo.it/(click on 'English Version' to enter their website from this initial page);

We used to house our City and Book conference guests in a most beautiful Renaissance garden-surrounded villa beloved by Galileo and formely run by nuns, called Villa Agape on Via Torre del Gallo 8/10x;

Our Swiss owners of this 'English' Cemetery have the Hotel Park Palace and bookings with them can be made at http://www.parkpalace.com

: Dante vivo || White Silence

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