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Welcome to our April Newsletter!

Friday 29th April 2016

Welcome to our April Newsletter! Rain, hail and snow – all thrown down from above as I drove through Leicestershire and Rutland a few nights ago – will warm Spring breezes ever arrive, I wonder? Never mind, here at CICERONI we are now well on with our preparations for the 2017 brochure and we have released full details of several of next year’s visits on our website, as follows: Sound the Trumpet: The Valletta Baroque Festival will see us return to Malta, 14 – 21 January for a celebration of Bach, Handel, Lully, Rameau, Vivaldi and many others. Next year’s Festival will feature some of Europe’s best period instrument groups such as The Dunedin Consort, The Sixteen and the remarkable Le Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. Led by Malta’s most experienced guide, Glorianne Mizzi, supported by Stephen Brook, we can look forward to wonderful music and warm winter sunshine. Patricians & Painters: Venice for Connoisseurs is one of our most popular visits and next year’s version, 6 – 11 March, sees an expanded itinerary with some new private visits included. The emphasis on this visit has always been on private access – St Mark’s Basilica at night, some of the city’s most distinguished palaces and historic collections that are not only off the beaten track, but are difficult to access. Based in a very comfortable hotel on the Grand Canal, mid way between the Rialto Bridge and the newly refurbished Accademia Picture Gallery, we are perfectly placed to take advantage of what Jan Morris memorably called “a positive ecstasy” as we discover a Venice you may not know existed? Spring in Galicia: Camellias & Caminos was first suggested to me as a possible tour by one of our distinguished horticultural hosts in Ireland (Lord Rosse of Birr Castle Demesne) and what a gem it turned out to be when we took a group there for the first time a few weeks ago. All those who participated (including Lord Rosse) were simply amazed by what we saw, not to mention the generous hospitality we were given by the owners. Equally impressive was the introduction we were given to Santiago de Compostela and the Camino (the renowned pilgrimage to the shrine of St James) by one of Galicia’s most experienced and personable guides, Manuel Ruzo, who has agreed to help lead our tour next year, 16 – 22 March. The Other Lakes: Iseo & Garda with Brescia & Bergamo will be one of next year’s new visits, 18 - 22 April. Having visited Lakes Como and Maggiore for many years, James Hill has devised a splendid itinerary set on Lake Iseo as we explore two wonderful towns full of art, Brescia and Bergamo, and the surrounding countryside. This is northern Italy at its most sophisticated and also, uncrowded. A good hotel, excellent local food and wine and all at an unhurried pace – perhaps a Spring tonic to banish the winter gloom? Otium! The Villas and Gardens of Florence is a feast for the eye, the mind and the soul, 2 - 6 May. In the hills surrounding Florence the Medici family revived the ancient habit of retreating from the city (the life of negotium) to the country for rest (what the Romans called otium). Noted garden historian, Caroline Holmes, will guide our group round not only the most important of the Medici family villas and their gardens, but will also introduce participants to the privileged world of the Anglo-American community of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These wealthy expatriates (Bernard Berenson and Harold Acton being the most famous) bought, restored and created a remarkable series of properties, the most important of which we shall visit, frequently privately, and on occasion where we shall lunch, such as at world renowned Villa Gamberia. Finally, earlier this week we held a wonderful Study Day at Deene Park, Northamptonshire. Deene is not only a fine historic house, seat of the Earls of Cardigan, it is a family home and Robert and Charlotte Brundenell made us all most welcome. One participant kindly emailed with her impressions of the day: “Thank you so much for a magical day. The charm of Deene Park and Mr and Mrs Brudenell made a wonderful day out for us. To have lunch surrounded by the Ferneley paintings was an unbelievable joy in itself…” We will repeat the Deene Study Day later this year on Tuesday, September 13 and there are a few places left. All best wishes for the coming Bank Holiday weekend. Tom

Welcome to our March Newsletter!

Thursday 24th March 2016

You will doubtless be aware that just now London has a number of wonderful exhibitions to tempt us all? My favourite is the Royal Academy’s recently opened In the Age of Giorgione (until 5 June), an unprecedented opportunity to explore the mysterious personality of Giorgione and those painters who were his sources and contemporaries. Giorgione’s was a short life (1476/8 - 1510) and verifiable biographical details are scant. We do know that he was carried off by an outbreak of plague, his death allowing Titian to take the leading place amongst the younger generation who had matured under the tutelage and influence of Venice’s then greatest painter, Giovanni Bellini. We also know he was trained by Bellini and both Leonardo and Vasari regarded him as one of the founders of modern painting – an extraordinarily generous estimation, given that both men were true Tuscans, traditional despisers of all things Venetian! Giorgione (Big George!) specialised in small paintings in oils, a technique then gaining in popularity, the subjects of which were usually mysterious and evocative. He seems to have avoided large scale altarpieces (the exception being the Virgin and Child with Saints painted for the cathedral in his home town of Castelfranco), instead concentrating on works commissioned by private patrons. With almost no documents surviving, deciding which paintings he painted is a very tricky undertaking. Indeed, “Giorgione Studies” is one of the most perilous areas in modern art history. Thus, the Royal Academy has been very clever in choosing to highlight the artist within his contemporary milieu, rather than to brave the almost impossible task of a retrospective based on his known and disputed works, as attempted by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna in 2004, an exhibition some of you may remember we included on one of our visits to that city. That said, do not go to the RA’s exhibition expecting to see all of the paintings generally accepted as being wholly or largely by Giorgione – some of these, such as La Tempesta in Venice’s Accademia, are too precious to be allowed to leave their long-standing homes. However, the organisers HAVE managed to borrow some truly stellar pictures (some certainly, some probably) by Giorgione, plus many others by those who surrounded him, most notably Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Sebastiano del Piombo, Lorenzo Lotto and Durer, who was resident in Venice in 1506/07. For example, heaven knows how the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin was persuaded to loan its Giorgione portrait of a young man, known as the Giustiniani Portrait but who cares, as it is a true show-stopper, dominating the room devoted to Portraits. Other sections are given over to Landscape and our own National Gallery has lent its magical Il Tramonto, which is just as well as this is perhaps the weakest section of the exhibition. Amongst the Devotional works, one of the two paintings attributed to Giorgione, a Virgin and Child in a Landscape lent by the Hermitage in St Petersburg rings alarm bells. If by him, it is surely an early work showing “promise” but having seen it many times in the Hermitage and now in London, I remain unconvinced! That said, the stars of this section are mostly by a youthful Titian, ably demonstrating his rapidly maturing style in the four paintings included. It is a joy to be able to see his early work Jacopo Pesaro Being Presented by Pope Alexander VI to St Peter, normally resident in Antwerp, and once in the collection of Charles I, as detailed above. Finally, the section on Allegorical Portraits has at its core one of Giorgione’s undisputed masterpieces, his La Vecchia, a penetrating, yet mysterious interrogation of an old woman, lent from Venice – an absolute coup on the part of the organisers, for whom three loud cheers! The journey to Piccadilly is worth it alone for this one painting. If you have as yet not made any plans to visit this exhibition, we have organised a Study Day to coincide with it. Giorgione’s Venice: An Enigma Explored will take place on Wednesday, 27 April and will be led by one of our leading historians of renaissance painting, Dr Paula Nuttall. We have some places available. Later this year, Paula will also lead a visit for us to Venice from 6 – 10 October, An Anniversary Celebration: Giovanni Bellini in Venice. Coinciding with the 500th anniversary of Bellini’s death, it will certainly complement the themes introduced in the RA’s exhibition, all of which can be explored in greater detail and comfort, including visits to churches such as San Zaccaria where you can see the famous Bellini altarpiece. In recent weeks we have had a number of cancellations for our two visits Sussex Explored: The Glyndebourne Festival. For the first visit, 12 – 16 July, we now have five places and for the second visit, 1 – 5 August, we have two places available. Please note that of the three operas featured in our two visits, Glyndebourne have sold all seats for both Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict across the entire season. So, if you have left it too late to book directly, our visits might just be the perfect way to enjoy what should be a remarkable series of operas paired with some wonderful houses and gardens. The above image from a recent production of The Marriage of Figaro is reproduced courtesy of The Glyndebourne Festival and Alistair Muir. END OF AN ERA! Many of you will have visited Dublin with CICERONI over the years and THE horticultural highlight would undoubtedly have been a visit to The Dillon Garden? Very sadly, I have to report that Val and Helen Dillon recently decided that it is time to move to a smaller property and their house and garden will be launched on the market in a few weeks time. For me it marks a watershed as this is the gaden where I have learned more about the art and craft of gardening than anywhere else. This means that our Georgian Ireland: Dublin and the Irish Country House visit this 13 – 17 June, on which we have four places, could give you the ideal opportunity to visit this iconic garden before it is sold. That said, Helen will co-lead our Forty Shades of Green: The Gardens of Ireland visit, July 24 – 29, together with another famous Irish gardener, Jimi Blake, and myself. Though technically full, we no longer have a waiting list for this visit, so do think about putting your name down as it is usually the case that cancellations come in for most of our visits – as has happened with the two Glyndebourne visits mentioned above. The range of gardens included is exceptional, such as Helen\'s and Mount Stewart. Finally, having returned from our first visit to Galicia a few days ago (a great success, with some wonderful gardens seen in warm and sunny conditions, so please look out for details of next year’s visit, to be published shortly on our website), I was looking forward to spending this Easter weekend in our garden, full of Hellebores just now, as seen in the accompanying photograph - a specimen sourced some years ago from the renowned Ashwood Nurseries near Stourbridge. Alas, it seems the weather forecast is not in alignment with my plans. Never mind; wherever you are over the coming days, I hope the rain falls elsewhere, hopefully on the plains of Spain! All best wishes for the coming holiday weekend. Tom

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