It is no secret that Italy is home to some of the most impressive classical statues in the world. The Piazza della Signoria in Florence has an abundance of marble crafted male genitalia, all notably underendowed (I will get to the reason for that shortly). In my opinion, the true forte of the 16th century sculptors was fashioning a fine set of buttocks. Florentine artist Baccio Bandinelli excelled himself with the spectacular derrière of Hercules, poised to slay Cacus for stealing his cattle.
The work was commissioned to stand to the right of the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, to balance Michelangelo’s David on the left. At around five metres tall, they are both rather imposing figures, although David is probably more widely known. Many aspersions have been cast on the size of David’s appendage and much has been written on the subject. Historians have reasoned that large penises were associated with unappealing characteristics such as foolishness, lust and ugliness, whereas a small member belonged to a rational, intellectual and authoritative man. In 2005, two Florentine doctors argued another theory that the impending fight with Goliath has caused some shrinkage due to fear. The reasoning is irrelevant, the point is, David’s real assets are viewed from behind.
There is a young man on the left of the doorway to the Palazzo Vecchio sporting a modestly poised fig leaf but he doesn’t rate a mention in any literature I could find. He may represent Adam and, although he is smaller in stature than Hercules and David, he too has a pleasing posterior.
Across from the palazzo in the Loggia di Lanzi, Flemish sculptor, Giambologna, has continued the custom with his work, The Rape of the Sabine Women (I must clarify, at that time the term ‘rape’ referred to abduction or kidnapping not sexual assault).
There are many more superb examples in the Piazza della Signoria although I wasn’t really aware of it at the time, I shall have to return for more extensive research. At Villa Reale di Marlia, the adolescent god Apollino presented a youthful rear
but this one had seen better days. Perhaps the marble will shine again with a good clean.
It seems it wasn’t only human bottoms that were given such attention to detail as we found at the Colosseum.
I had read about the Parco di Mostri in Bomarzo before going to Italy and it sounded fascinating. The Park of Monsters is the creation of Prince Pier Francesco Orsini who, although living in a rather fabulous palace, had his share of bad luck. In 1552, he returned from a war in which his friend had been killed and he was taken prisoner and his thoughts turned to planning a special garden. Five years later, his beloved wife, Giulia Farnese Orsini, died. As an outlet for his sorrow, he pushed ahead with the project and for more than thirty years dedicated his life to finishing the garden. In 1579, he noted in his diary: “I can find relief only in my beloved forest, and I bless the money I have spent and still spend on this magic area”.
Six years later, Orsini died at the age of 62. Sadly, after his death, the garden was abandoned and swallowed up by the forest until 1951 when an estate agent, Giancarlo Bettini, stumbled across the hidden monsters when looking for land to buy. He bought the whole lot and proceeded to restore the garden for its intended purpose. A short stroll from the ticket office
we come to the entrance.
A pair of sphinxes await and each plinth bears an inscription; “He who does not go there with eyes wide open and lips sealed will not be able to admire the most wonderful marvels” and “You who enter here put your mind to it part by part and tell me if some many marvels were made by deceit or by design”.
A series of heads depicting the Gods are scattered around, peering from shrubbery when you least expect it.
Proteus Glaucus represents the Greek God of the Sea, Proteus, and Glaucus, the fisherman who became a Sea God after eating a magical herb. The globe and castle atop the head are symbols of the Orsini family.
The ruined mausoleum is intentionally half destroyed and fallen over and we passed an intriguing gate in a stone wall.
Hercules and Cacus are embroiled in a very one-sided fight.
Nearby, a stream soothes the tension as it tumbles over the rocks
while the winged stallion, Pegasus, oversees the flow.
There is a turtle with a fairy on its back, both looking in the same direction as Pegasus.
Not too far away, a whale emerges from the water.
Dedicated to all nymphs, the aptly named nymphaneum seems to be guarded by a lion with a ball under his paw.
In front of it, there is a dormant fountain with dolphins each end
with Jupiter and Venus standing by.
Seven obelisks topped with sculpted heads form the audience at the theatre,
not far from the leaning house. One of the first constructions of the garden, it is thought to have been built at the request of Giulia.
We pass statues of Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture and Neptune, Roman god of the sea.
An elephant carrying a castle appears, a symbol of strength and restraint, with a wounded or dead Roman soldier held in its trunk.
Another fight is raging around the corner, this time a dog, a lion and a wolf are battling with a dragon. Three against one just doesn’t seem fair.
The Mouth of Hell, the Orc, the Ogre, whichever name you choose, it is nonetheless disturbing. The inscription on the top lip translates as, “all thoughts fly”. There is a picnic bench inside, not a very inviting setting in which to dine.
The Etruscan bench has a very well preserved inscription, “You who have travelled the world wishing to see great and stupendous marvels, come here, where there are horrendous faces, elephants, lions, bears, orcs and dragons”. Who can argue with that?
Continuing up some steps,
we come to the Hippodrome Garden, the perimeter is decorated with large pinecones and acorns.
At the near end, there is a bench surmounted by a female figure with a bifurcated fish tail
while the three-headed dog, Cerberus stands guard nearby.
At the far end are two bears, one carrying the family coat of arms and the other, a Roman rose.
On the other side sits Echidna, the half-woman half-snake (mother of Cerberus) and Fury, the female winged creature with a dragon’s tail and claws with a pair of lions separating the two.
The Rotonda is a circular fountain at the top of a staircase leading to the Tempietto.
The ‘small temple’ was the last construction of the garden as a memorial to Giulia, a symbol of her constancy, having remained faithful to her husband when he was absent at war. The ceiling is decorated with lilies, symbol of the Farnese family and roses, symbol of the Orsini family. Giancarlo and Tina Bettini, who restored the garden in 1952, are buried in the Tempietto.
Stunned, shocked and amazed, with Palazzo Orsini in our sights, we returned to the car to seek lunch in Bomarzo.
After a couple of hours absorbing the exhibitions at the NGV, we made the most of the winter sunshine with a stroll through Kings Domain. Established in 1854, the mix of deciduous and evergreen trees, both native and non-native, in the 36 hectare parkland renders a beautiful autumn aesthetic.
Myriad memorial statues and sculptures are scattered throughout the Domain making for a very interesting amble. The Walker Fountain was donated in 1981 by former City of Melbourne Mayor, Ron Walker and his wife, Barbara. With 46 underwater lights and 144 individual streams of water, I imagine it would be a spectacular vision at night.
The parks namesake, King George V, is memorialised with a lofty bronze, granite and sandstone sculpture. Following his death in 1936, a public appeal was launched to secure funds for the memorial, however, World War II delayed the construction and it wasn’t unveiled until 1952. A statue of the late King in full Garter Robes, wearing the Imperial Crown and holding the ceremonial sceptre and orb, stands on the eastern side. Because the sun was in its descent, I have captured the western face and the statue representing Maternal Britannia holding a cross and olive branch in her hands, symbolic of love and peace. The two children represent the Dominions and Colonies under British rule, while a lion and unicorn holding armorial shields flank the base.
Arriving in Victoria in 1899, Russian immigrant Sidney Myer is probably best known for his successful retail businesses. He was also a violinist with a passion for music and initiated a series of free open air concerts in the Botanic Gardens with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1929. He had expressed a wish for these concerts to continue and, following his death in 1934, the Sidney Myer Charitable Trust funded the design and construction of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Opened in 1959 by prime minister Robert Menzies, the venue holds the record for the largest crowd ever at a concert event in Australia when 200,000 people attended the 1967 Seekers homecoming concert. Officially, there is fixed seating for around 2,000 people and the surrounding lawn area can accommodate a further 10,000.
On this day there was an audience of one, a slender young woman seemingly captivated by the music. Miraggio, also known as Seated Figure, by Pino Conte was donated by an anonymous ‘Lover of Italy’ in 1964 and was installed following re-landscaping of the site in 2001.
Through the trees, sleek glass edifices tower paradoxically with the elegant belvedere tower of Government House.
The Seeds of Friendship sculpture was installed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in 2015. Two hand-carved granite seed cones, a pine from Turkey and a casuarina from Australia, represent the fallen, the seeds of friendship and the future. The filigreed stainless steel wreath is designed for placing remembrance poppies of which a few knitted perennials are scattered around.
The Shrine of Remembrance is an astounding structure, originally built to honour the men and women of Victoria who served in World War I, it is now a memorial to all Australians who have served in any war. The design is the winning entry of a competition in 1922, won by two Melbourne returned-soldier architects, Philip Hudson and James Wardrop. Controversy ensued and the seven year construction finally began in 1927.
Other memorials have been added to the site since the opening in 1934, including the Second World War Memorial Forecourt. The carving atop the Cenotaph depicts six men in the uniforms of the Navy, Army and Air Force carrying a dead comrade draped in the Australian flag. At the base, the Eternal Flame, symbolising eternal life, was lit by Queen Elizabeth II at the dedication of the Forecourt in 1954.
Two replica statues, entitled “The Driver” and “Wipers” were relocated from the front of the State Library to the Shrine grounds in 1998. They commemorate the thousands of Australian lives lost during the fighting at Ypres (‘wipers’ was the way Australian and British servicemen pronounced Ypres during World War I).
We had both spent time inside the Shrine on previous occasions, a remarkable place to visit. Too soon to return cityside,
we continued our trajectory to the Royal Botanic Gardens. Entering the gate adjacent to the Melbourne Observatory,
we hadn’t gone far when, in true Melbourne style, the heavens opened in spectacular fashion. Leaving the lovely autumn hues to their dousing, we retreated to the comfort of a beverage on Southbank.
While exploring Werribee Park Estate, we wandered a little further to investigate Shadowfax Winery The rusted sheet metal exterior glowed in the late afternoon sun,
the unique architecture somehow blended with the surroundings.
Established in 1998, the unusual name was inspired by the magnificent silver-grey stallion ridden by Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. The wines are created from fruit sourced and hand-harvested from Shadowfax vineyards in the Macedon Ranges as well as those adjacent to the winery at Werribee.
Although the cellar door was busy with a large group pre-dinner, we were welcomed and enjoyed our own pre-dinner tasting.
Not able to take too much in my hand luggage, I did leave with a bottle of 2018 Minnow red, a delicious blend of Mataro, Grenache, Carignan and Mondeuse grown right there at Werribee.
Returning to the hotel, we spied an interesting sculpture and discovered the Werribee Park Sculpture Walk. Created in 2004 featuring works by Australia’s leading sculptors, there are thirty pieces installed along a trail from the rear of the mansion, through the gardens to the river. As daylight was fading, we only had time to see a small part of the display. Previous winners of the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award are homed here, including The Comrade’s Reward by William Eicholtz, winner in 2005. Described as a traditional 19th century garden sculpture with a camp twist on heroism, the solar powered lights shimmer after dark giving an impression of fireflies.
The monochrome steel ruin, Death of a white good by Alexander Knox, took the award in 2006.
Also from 2006, a commended work by Ian Burns & John Clark, Migration, is “concerned with the movement and relationship between the individual components and the mass they represent in formation”. (Sorry about the photo quality).
The inaugural winner in 2001, Hut by Karen Ward, is intriguing in its simplicity yet the symbolism is quite poignant. “Hut symbolises the house, the home, the shack, the cubby-house and the hermit’s retreat. It also alludes to the potential to dream that is inherent within all of these structures, yet dreaming is only made possible by the Hut’s inaccessibility.”
Leaving Steavenson Falls, we had hoped the rain would abate for our visit to Bruno’s Art & Sculpture Garden in Marysville. It didn’t. As we pulled into the car park, the gallery was obviously closed but we discovered an honesty box for the $10 entrance fee to the garden. Grab your umbrella and come for a walk while I tell you more.
Bruno Torfs was born in South America and moved to Europe with the family in his teens. After training as a sign writer, his talents evolved through many trips to foreign lands and he made the transition to a full time artist. Oil paintings and sculptures, reflecting scenes and faces of his journeys, were sold in exhibitions at the family home.
Bruno and his family moved to Australia and in 1996, found the perfect setting to create a permanent sculpture garden in the sub-alpine forests of Marysville. Hand crafted from clay and fired in a kiln onsite, there are now around a hundred and twenty pieces on display.
The path diverges in all directions through the forest and everywhere you look, there is another character waiting to delight.
On 7th February 2009, the bushfires of ‘Black Saturday’ raged through Marysville, claiming lives and decimating the township. Bruno’s home, gallery and gardens were completely destroyed. For two months, no-one was allowed in the town and when Bruno finally returned, he set about rebuilding his home and restoring his garden.
There are pictures on the website taken the day Bruno returned after the fires. Next to this installation, there is a heartbreaking photo of Bruno carrying all that remained of TheLady of Shallot from the stream.
Some figures emerge from the remnants of the woods, melding nature’s work with man’s.
Bruno’s courage and dedication has resulted in a wondrous fantasy land, an opportunity to escape for a while in a surreal environment.
As we left, the remains of Bruno’s 1960 BMW R27 motorbike jolted us back to reality with a reminder of the devastation wrought by the fires of Black Saturday.