A visit to Pisa

I imagine that if you mentioned five iconic monuments in Europe, the Leaning Tower would be one of them.  Recently (Nov. 2018), BBC World News reported that architects and scientists had declared that the Tower, its construction begun in 1173, was leaning less than it had done in the past 20 years.  It recalled my visit.

Apart from the impressive phenomenon of a campanile of this size leaning over as far as it does, I remember the reception doorway where you can buy (expensive) tickets to go clambering about the place.  It was almost a lopsided diamond shape with the lowest corner entirely worn down by centuries of visitors.  There was a plaque honouring scientific research done from the Tower by Galileo Galilei to illustrate theories on gravity.

Less known and spoken about by tourists, is the Baptistry, built from 1152 to 1363, near the Tower, at a time when, like Genoa and Venice, Pisa was becoming an important Mediterranean city.  The architecture is remarkable:  the lower part of the building is built in Romanesque style while the succeeding levels are Gothic, a design reflecting the great European transition in a single structure.  The interior is no less remarkable, with a memorable dome.


Nicola Pisano, regarded by many as the precursor to Italian Renaissance sculpture, sculpted the pulpit from 1255 to 1260.

The sacred figures in frames around the pulpit are chiseled in marble and are a clear departure from the childlike qualities of Romanesque sculpture, deeply moving scenes from the Bible.  I recall, perhaps not accurately, the words that Pisano wrote when he came to the end of the work:

                               I did not weep

                              When I had done these faces

                               So much of stone I had become

                               They wept.


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2019



BBC World News

David Abulafia : The Great Sea (Penguin Books, London.  2014)

Kenneth Clark:  Civilization



Tower – Sites.google.com

Tower door – the star.com.my

Baptistry – Wikipedia

Dome – Keith Simonian

Pulpit – Wikipedia






Cypress Trees

Cypress trees hex me.  The branches of other trees grab wildly at the air, doing their thing, but you don’t even see the branches of a cypress.  If they could speak, they’d say, What do you expect?  We were once fragments of gods and then we turned into trees.  We behave.

These gods … the ancient Greeks had cypress trees, which already had a sacred history before them.  These trees were  associated with Chronos.  The Romans preferred to link the trees to Saturn, the dour old task master at the outer reaches of the solar system.  But, in a lighter vein, and more accessible, cypresses were associated with Aphrodite and Athena, to mention but two.  Those who plant these trees in South African churchyards don’t consider this history.  For them, it’s probably the held formality of the trees.

Over the centuries artists made rich use of cypress trees to bring a solemn frame or background to their images.  The most somber of these is the late-19th-century artist Arnold Böcklin.  He did a series called The Isle of the Dead.

At the other end of the spectrum there is Star Night by Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) where cypress trees reach for a phantasmagorical night, probably the happiest painting of the century.  He and Böcklin were co-evals.

If you journey through Tuscany, it is probably the deep green clusters of cypress trees that give the landscape its character.  The coastal areas of the Mediterranean share this quality, something by no means only found in cemeteries.

Artist’s name lost

For me they are like a gathering of people that have morphed into quiet abstractions, beings in creaseless dress with muted ecstasy, waiting for eternity.

The other day I beheld a mechanical dinosaur next to two cypress trees and a man was rounding the velvet trees with a pair of trimmers.  I took a pic realizing that Claudie and I had morphed into these two trees.  I told you, cypress trees hex me.

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2019



Encyclopédie des Symboles



Wikipedia images: « Star Night » « Isle of the Dead »

Art work unknown

My graphic and photographs


In memory of Gert Wentzel (1948 – 2016)




Will will travel

I am a part of all that I have met

Ek is deel van alles wat ek ontmoet het

Je fais partie de tout ce que j’ai rencontré

Είμαι μέρος όλων αυτών που έχω γνωρίσει

Soy parte de todo lo que he contrado

Ich bin ein Teil von allem, was ich getroffen habe

나는 내가 만난 모든 것의 일부이다.

Sono parte di tullo quello che ho incontrato

Ik ben onderdeel van alles wat ik heb ontmoet

Namibia from space


I am a part of all that I have met; 

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ 

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades 

For ever and forever when I move. 

How dull it is to pause, to make an end, 

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use! 

From Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1833


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2017



The earth




Space Panorama NASA 1969





The Marble Arm – Pieta Bandini, Florence

Is this arm the greatest sculpture that I have seen?  I’m not even sure what the question means.  I speak of the arm of the depositioned Christ-figure in the Bandini Pieta by Michelangelo.  It was an early dusk when I wandered into the Duomo, the main cathedral in Florence.  I found myself amongst a tourist group, with their guide holding forth on Michelangelo’s Pieta.  Uninvited, I listened.

Bandini Pieta., Florence (1550)

He spoke of the dramatics concerning this group of figures in the last years of Michelangelo’s life.  Perhaps, for reasons of his own, Michelangelo had taken the group to pieces.  He was long past seventy at this stage.  It is reported that, despite his dissatisfaction with his benefactor, that he loved what he had done and sensing that he was not far from death, said, Why must I die now, when I have learnt to use the chisel? At a later stage, perhaps after his death, the group was brought together again, using metal links.

This group, one sees, is an irregular collection:  the figure supporting Christ on the right is out of proportion, clearly not Michelangelo’s work.  The remaining figures do not have the touch of the master.

But it is the arm of the deceased Christ that moves me, that arm dangling in death, in contrast with the flowing lines of the body.

       The marble arm

The arm hangs a little skew.  Each anatomical detail is there, lovingly brought from the marble.  For me, this figure portrays death more vividly than the famed Pieta in the Basilica at Rome.  The Pieta in St Peters is an image of sadness and peacefulness.  Both figures are attractive, almost untouched by suffering.  But the arm of the Florence Pieta is drained of life, broken by pain, tragically defeated.

Including himself in the Deposition scene

What strikes me too, is that the figure above Christ.  It is generally considered to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo.  To include himself in this deposition scene, probably because, originally, this group had been intended for his own grave, is a statement of intimacy that is beyond words.

            Da Volterra portrait of Michelangelo


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



Wikipedia Bandini Piëta



Marble group –  pinterest

The arm –  employees.oneonta.edu

Self-portrait –  florencewebguide.com

Da Volterra portrait of Michelangelo – travelsacrossitaly.com








St Peter Enthroned, Basilica, Rome

It is years since I saw St Peter’s foot in the Basilica of Rome.  The many things I saw have become a little vague in my memory, but this one remains graphic.

For a South African the baroque cathedrals of Europe may be a little overwhelming, probably because most of us have grown up with Protestant minimalism.  What has taken place with the bronze statue of St Peter Enthroned is perhaps an example of what we would find strange.

They speculate that this iconic statue is around seven hundred years old, fashioned by Arnolfo di Cambio.  It becomes part of any pilgrimage and pilgrims touch the right foot, the one a little off the pediment.  In these seven centuries the foot has been worn smooth.  The shape of the left foot shows some smoothing but not as much.  It is estimated that with the durability of bronze that only millions upon millions of hands would have had that effect.

      Pilgrim touches the foot

It left me emotional to see the pilgrims touching that foot. It felt a bit like humanity reaching again and again for something to reassure them, for something to believe in.  And the need wears what it touches smooth.  The passion does not relent.  In the Basilica of Rome, with the statue of St Peter, the worn bronze foot leaves us a profound image of that.

                   Longing that wears smooth

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



St Peters Basilica Info



St Peters Basilica







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