Archive | August, 2012

Cortona Sagra della Bistecca – Beef Steak Festival

18 Aug

Ferragosto…an Italian word filled with celebration.

The Latin “Feriae Augusti” denoted the “August Rest” which was a month-long holiday period proclaimed in the 18th century by emperor Augustus. It was a time when people could relax after all the hard work associated with the harvest and the end of the year’s main agricultural work. It was also a time when nobility mixed with the workers.

Over time, the festival shortened to a few weeks and eventually became a one-day event, celebrated on August 15 each year. For Italians, this bank holiday combines elements of both ancient and Christian worlds, as August 15 also commemorates the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Cities throughout Italy celebrate this day with great festivals. If you happened to be  in Cortona, you no doubt enjoyed the annual Sagra della Bistecca, or beef steak festival, held in the normally quiet Parterre, or public garden pictured here.

For the festival, the quiet setting is transformed. An enormous grill, some 14-meters long, is erected. Locals don chef’s aprons, and with extra long forks, lovingly go about the work of grilling mouth-watering T-bone steaks, Italian sausages, and spareribs for the locals who have crowded the park to enjoy the celebration with family and friends.

Photo: “Classic Tuscan Homes”

Local wines and cheeses compliment the grilled meats and make for a perfect feast and day of relaxation. If interested, I’ve included a You Tube clip of the Cortona event:

Hmmm… grilled steaks for dinner tonight?



Mona Lisa Uncovered

1 Aug

Does the name Lisa Gherardini sound familiar? Well, it didn’t to me until I saw a news clip that caught my eye. Many experts believe that Lisa, the wife of Italian merchant Francesco del Giocondo, was the subject of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting, Mona Lisa. Now it seems that her bones may have been uncovered beneath the altar of the Convent of Saint Ursula in Florence, Italy.

The clipping intrigued me, mostly because I’m not sure I have ever wondered who Mona Lisa was. So, a bit of research uncovered some information I found very interesting:

  • Lisa was born in Florence, Italy, in 1479, and was the eldest of seven children.
  • In 1945, at the age of fifteen, she married Francesco del Giocondo, a successful merchant. Together they had five children. Two of their daughters became nuns, (which has to do with the location of the archaeological dig!)
  • In 1503, Francesco commissioned Leonardo DaVinci to paint a portrait of his wife, Lisa, age 24. It is believed it took him about four years to complete due to other projects. DaVinci, however, feeling the painting was unfinished, never delivered it to Francesco nor did he get paid for his work.
  •  The painting depicts Lisa as a fashionable woman as well as a faithful wife of her time, as shown through her right hand over her left.
  • The title of the painting, La Gioconda in Italian and La Joconde in French, refers to Lisa’s married name Giocondo, as well as the nickname La Jocund, meaning the merry one.
  • Monna Lisa was the original title. Monna is considered a contraction for Madonna, meaning Madam or My Lady.
  • After her husband died and Lisa’s health began to fail, daughter Marietta (a nun) cared for Lisa in the convent of Saint Ursula, where she is believed to be buried.
  • King Francis I of France acquired the painting in the 16th century and kept it in his chateau, The Fontainebleau. Many years later, it was hanging in Napoleon’s bedroom in the Tuileries. In 1797, it was moved to the Louvre where it became accessible to the masses for viewing.
  • On August 21, 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian carpenter who worked  at the Louvre, stole the painting from the wall of the Salon Carré. It was recovered 2 years later when he attempted to sell it to a Florentine antique dealer.
  • Mona Lisa is considered one of the most famous paintings in the world. About six million people visit the painting each year at the Louvre in Paris. It now hangs in the Salle de Etats, inventory number # 779. ( Great trivia!)
  • Mona Lisa is undated and unsigned.

For those who have had the joy of being in the Louvre, you might have been caught off guard by the size of the painting. For a portrait of its time, it was actually considered large. But for many today, including me, it’s hard not to be struck by the small size of perhaps the world’s most famous painting… 30 inches high by 20 7/8 inches wide (77cm by 53 cm). Nonetheless, her smile and eyes never fail to intrigue…and now we know about the hands!

As for unearthing the bones, click on the link for a great picture of the dig as well as an explanation.



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