Tuesday, December 30, 2014


The very concept of a ‘new year,’ a ‘new beginning’ can bring out the best (and sometimes the worst) in people. It can also find us participating in bizarre activities in hopes of making the next year, the New Year, the best it can be. Here is a short glimpse into some of the amusing and often strange ways people around the world celebrate the ringing in of the new.

No surprise, our journey starts in Italy, where many, many New Year’s traditions abound. In the span of time, this country was, not so very long ago, not a unified nation but a conglomerate of City/States, each with their own distinctive dialects and traditions, individuality that still exists today. Yet some traditions have spread throughout the entirety of the land.

If you’re walking the streets in Italy at the stroke of midnight, beware of falling objects. It is an old Italian custom to throw old things out the window to symbolize readiness to accept the New Year.

Looking for some luck in the coming year? The Italians say wearing red underwear to ring in the New Year does just that. In other countries, it is believed red will bring love, while wearing yellow underwear fosters good luck.

In Romanian, farmers believe that on the cusp of the New Year, horses can talk. They also believe it’s a bad omen if you understand their words. Perhaps this might be cause for worry no matter what day of the year it is.

Stepping forward with your right foot at exactly 12:00 a.m. will literally and figuratively have you start off the new year on the right foot, or so it is believed in Argentina.

At the stroke of midnight, attempt to stuff 12 grapes in your mouth. If successful, Spaniards believe you can expect to achieve good luck in the coming year.

In El Salvador, they crack an egg into a glass bowl at midnight and leave it on the windowsill overnight. Whatever figure it has made in the morning will portend the fortune for the coming year.

Guatemalans grab 12 pennies at 12 a.m. and go outside. Throw the
pennies behind you while you face the opposite end of the street. They believe it will bring the participant money in the coming year.

Smart Russians incorporate alcohol into their festivities. Their tradition consists of writing a wish on a piece of paper, burning it, mixing the ashes in a glass of champagne, and drinking it before 12:01 a.m. Interesting.

Perhaps not as odd as some of the above, in Japan they ring all of their bells 108 times in alignment with the Buddhist belief that this brings cleanness. They also believe smiling as the New Year rings in will bring good luck.

In Switzerland, they celebrate the New Year by dropping ice cream on the floor. Seems like a waste of good ice cream.

Columbians carry their suitcases around with them all day in hopes of having a travel-filled year.

In Denmark they take out the anger of the old year by throwing plates against doors for good luck, while the Irish throw bread against the walls to rid homes of old spirits.

Americans have their own peculiarities. On New Year’s day they open all the doors and windows, letting out the old year and welcoming in the new. It’s also believed that seeing a red cardinal on New Year’s day is an omen for good luck in the coming year.

Whichever odd--or not so odd--way in which you welcome the New Year--wish and hope for a better coming year--believing it, believing it can always be better, is the most important.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


It began with his grandfather, the great Cosimo. It began with Cosimo’s love of spending money to enrich the city he loved so much. In his own words, he reveals such expenditures arose from a profound sense of civic duty, “All those things have given me the greatest satisfaction and contentment because they are not only for the honor of God but are likewise for my own remembrance.” (Taylor. F.H. (1948) The Taste of Angels; a History of Art Collecting from Rameses to Napoleon, pp 65-66). It was a duty passed to and expanded by his grandson.

The list of artists and philosophers under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici reads like a Who’s Who of the Italian Renaissance. Below are the most prominent as well as examples of their works.

In the realm of intellectualism, he expanded the library begun by his grandfather (a library now known as the Medici or Laurentian Library) by importing from the East great amounts of classical works. He financially supported a workshop to copy all books in his possession and to spread their content across all of Europe.

The Platonic Academy, led by Marsilio Ficino (under the patronage of Lorenzo), was a modern form of Plato’s Academy. Other members, and those who called Lorenzo patron, included Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Poliziano as well as Marsilio Ficino. The informal group supported the development of humanism and attempted to merge the ideas of Plato with Christianity.

Piero and Antonio del Pollaiolo, were two brothers of extraordinary artistic talent; they came under the wing of Il Magnifico at a fairly early age. It was by Lorenzo’s connections that they were able to establish their own studiolos. Both went on to produce magnificent works, works that furthered the evolution of art intrinsic to the Renaissance.

Battle of Nude Men (1465-1475, engraving)
Antonio del Pollaiolo
Justice (1470,
tempura on panel)
Piero del Pollaiolo
Antonio (1429-1498) was a goldsmith, engraver, painter, and sculptor. Like his brother, his work reveals classical influences as well as those rooted in the essence of human anatomy. Antonio’s work exhibits a far darker side than his brother’s, a strong brutality, especially in his metal-work and sculpture, where he achieved his greatest success.

There is to be found a greater sense of piety and serenity in Piero del Pollaiolo’s (1443-1496) work than in his brother’s. His works tend much more to the religious as well as female portraiture. Portrait of a Woman, Portrait of a Girl, Coronation of the Virgin as well as the Seven Virtues exhibit his softer nature.

The Last Supper
(1480; fresco)
Considered a member of the third generation in the many waves of the Florentine Renaissance, Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) was not only a master painter but one of the most prolific, creating a massive body of work in frescoes, altar pieces, and portraits. The trend of incorporating contemporary portraits within religious narratives was perfected under his brush. His studio contributed not only some of the greatest works of the age, but one of the greatest artists of the era as well.

Not only an artist under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known to the world as Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was also one of the powerful man’s closest and dearest friends. His body of work includes some of the greatest of the age, with The Birth of Venus and Primavera most widely known. By his hand we see the magnificent merging of the Gothic realism with the study of the antique.
Venus and Mars
(1485 tempura and oil on poplar)

Winged Boy with Dolphin
(1470 bronze)
Verrocchio (which in Italian means ‘true eye’), born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni (1435-1488), was one of the greatest maestri of the Renaissance. His artistic supremacy encompassed sculpture, painting, and goldsmith work. A place in his studio was a sought after and much envied place, a place where other great artists would come into the bright light of the Renaissance. One of the brightest being none other than Leonardo da Vinci.

Lorenzo called Leonardo friend as well as artist. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was educated by his father (though born out of wedlock) and brought to Verrocchio’s studio by the same man. But to call Leonardo merely an artist is a statement of great injustice. He was more, so very much more…a polymath,
La Scapigliata
(1508 Oil on canvas; unfinished)
a personal favorite; she cried with me;
da Vinci
painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, cartographer, writer, botanist, and geologist. His genius and monumental curiosity gave rise, quite rightly, to the term Renaissance Man.

Much time could be spent debating who was the greatest artist to come under the wing of the great Lorenzo…Leonardo or Michelangelo. The time would be better spent simply reveling in the magnificent works of both men.

Madonna and Child
(1501-1504, marble)
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564), like Leonardo, was a man of many talents. Poet, engineer, architect, painter, and sculptor, his creations still beautify the world. Though most known for his work on the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo considered himself, first and foremost, a sculptor. Lorenzo’s support of this talented man went beyond most others, giving Michelangelo a place in his home during the most trying times of a very traumatic life. In the words of biographer Paolo Giovi, Michelangelo was both ‘bizzarro e fantastico.’ Michelanglo’s body of work is among the most prolific and the most profound.

Through his generosity, intellectual curiosity, as well as his joy and admiration of artistic works, Lorenzo de’ Medici may be called, without question, one of the greatest forces behind the magnificence that was the Renaissance.