Wednesday 20 October 2010


We spent the morning at the Opificio della Pietre Dure in Firenze, with our noses (literally) pressed up against Giotto's Croce from the Church of the Ognissanti, which has just emerged from a painstakingly detailed nine-year restoration project. Available for viewing, by prior arrangement, for one week only before it will be hoisted back up into position, we took the opportunity to study it from the distance of about two centimetres (if we wished)...and did so for several hours. Stunning!

For more information and pictures, have a look at
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...they do say there's an english text coming soon to the Opificio site, but given the nine years it's taken them to work on the Giotto, I think we should take 'soon' as a pretty relative term.

The place itself is pretty amazing. Arranged rather nonchalently, a couple of yards away from the Giotto, was an enormous and very beautiful Fra Angelico Madonna (normally to be found in San Marco), which had also just been restored. Nearby were panels with life-sized figures of various attendant saints, as well as several of the pradella panels, which were arguably the most beautiful of all. Vibrant, delicate...and oh so eminently pocketable (if it weren't for the CCTV signs dotted around the place!) I wasn't convinced that these smaller panels were also Fra Angelico (much of the detail looked much more like Perugino), but there was nobody much to ask....and in any event, whoever had painted them, they were unquestionably very, very fine.

And then, inevitably, lunch. Somewhere called Trattoria La Biritullera, way up in the north of the city (not far from the Opificio) and well away from the tourist area - a bit like the Florentine equivalent of St.John's Wood. Heavily Sardinian-influenced, the food was excellent: gnudi verde in butter and sage, and a light tomato sauce, and then a spendid dish of squid, accompanied by fresh tuna, lightly-grilled inside a wafer-thin wrapping of aubergine. Two bottles to windward (the first had insufficient personality for the Belforte palate, and so a second, with more going for it, was requested) and we emerged into afternoon sunshine (after the lightest dessert of delicate pastry, filled with apples and fig jam).

Fortunately, the walk was largely downhill back towards the centre of town, and the caf├ęs of Piazza Santa Maria Novella...where our previously-intended visit to the Bronzino exhibition at the Strozzi bit the dust. The combination of warm October sunshine, a decent espresso, and the opportunity to wander gently round SMN for half an hour or so was all too much, and the Bronzinos were consigned to another day. They're there and available until sometime in January, so there's no particular need to rush. Instead, the luxury of looking at a second Giotto Croce (how's that for a vertical tasting?) followed by heated discussion about the relative merits of the Ghirlandaio and Lippi frescos in the Tornabuoni and Strozzi chapels respectively (personally, I favour Ghirlandaio) took up the rest of the afternoon, before dozing gently through the return train journey back to Pisa.

Days don't get much better than that...

Tonight's Dinner:

Rabbit & Lemon Terrine.

Nodini di Vitello, in Sage & Wine Sauce; Celeriac roast in Duck fat.

Pears, baked in Marsala & Brown Sugar.