Prato. 12/20/18

I feel better today so I rejoin the rest of our little group for a trip to Prato and possibly Pistoia. Prato is a walled city so parking is pretty impossible. We drive around and around in and out of the old city. Finally after another full parking lot we find a space on the street. We wonder if we are parking in an allowed space. (Later in the day…Yes! Our car is still there when we return and there is no ticket on it!)

People are scurrying about buying their Christmas presents and there is something going on in Duomo Piazza. We never do figure out what. The Prato Cathedral is unusual in that it as an outdoor pulpit hanging off an outside corner of the church.

Prato Cathedral with unusual outside pulpit designed in part by Donatello
closer look at the pulpit

We decide to take a look at the Museum of the Cathedral first. It closes at 1PM while the church is open all day. After paying our ticket fee it seems that we have a personal Italian watcher to make sure we do not touch anything. He asks us in Italian whether we speak Italian and John says, a little. This is a mistake. Now he wants to talk to us continually about paintings that we are really not interested in. Plus he is talking so fast that we cannot fathom his Italian.

In the vaults underneath the cathedral where the museum resides there are several interesting mid to late 14th century frescoes.

Next to a window we find a small St. Anthony the Abbot holding a torch and accompanied by his devil-pig
This fresco over a sarcophagus shows the regard that Jesus, Mary (?), and St. John the Evangelist have for the deceased
In the vaults we also see “The Stoning of Saint Stephen (l.) and The Madonna with Saint Stephen and Saint Lorenzo” by Pietro and Antonio di Miniato, 1420. St. Stephen was martyred by stoning is often seen with rocks on his head

In the next room we see the original sculptured pulpit from the outside of the church. Donatello and his students executed the low-relief panels which were brought inside in the 1960’s to keep them from being further weather damaged. Although a priest might be preaching gloom and doom the little figures on the pulpit are happily dancing about.

Original panels from the outdoor pulpit with happy dancing little figures (1434-38)
Panel attributed solely to Donatello

Our watcher keeps wanting to steer us into 17th century paintings and we keep trying to be polite. We are more interested in earlier art.

One item which is very important to the Prato Cathedral is the so-called “girdle of Thomas” handed down to the Apostle Thomas from the Virgin Mary. There is a marble box, casket dedicated to the belt.

Marble carving of the BVM handing the belt to Thomas
Side panel of the belt being handed to a Marist priest

Here are a couple of other outstanding works from the Museum of the Cathedral.

Madonna and Child (1365) birds are often a sign of the Resurrection. I love the smiles in this painting!
Altar panel with the Funeral of Saint Jerome, Filippo Lippi, 1453

Annunciation, 15th century. I can’t help but thinking that if Mary stood up she would bang her head!

Done with the museum we bid our watcher arrevederci and head up to the church. It is one of the most ancient churches in the city, built in the Romanesque style, and was already in existence in the 10th century. Although modified over time there are still a great many early frescoes.

The church, dedicated to St. Stephen, has three aisles and the striping so prevelant in this part of Tuscany.

One of the first things I see is a lovely Annunciation fresco by Agnolo Gaddi, an artist who worked in the 14th century and 15th centuries.

Here is another lovely annunciation. In the upper corner God is with an angel and has another small person in his hand. Is this Jesus? Mary appears taken aback as she looks up from her reading.

There are several chapels isurrounding the main altar with frescoes explaining the stories of various martyrs. This is a rather blood-thirsty array. With the exception of St. Stephen who was killed by stoning, all the other saints have had their heads cut off.

The stoning of St. Stephen, Paolo Uccello, 1435-36
Here is John the Baptist being beheaded, Filippo Lippi, 1452. The faces painted by Lippi have a very Botticelli look to them.
John the Baptist’s head being presented to Salome

The next chapel is dedicated to St. Margaret who, it is said, was swallowed by a dragon but was spit out unharmed. Also she refused to give up her Christian faith and miraculously survived many tortures before being beheaded. In the same chapel is the story of St. James the Greater who was beheaded by a sword.

St. Margaret of Antioch being beheaded, 15th century, unknown Florentine artist
St. James the Greater being beheaded by a sword

Luckily the beheadings have not dampened our appetites and we leave the church in search of lunch. John’s roommate from MIT, Barry, has suggested a place we might find a good lunch in Prato, Baghino. I see that it has gotten 5 stars on Google. We did not have a 5 star lunch. In fact my dish was THE WORST of the entire trip. It all started off well enough with some delicous hush puppy type breads.

Yum, a nice selection of breads and hush puppy type fritters
Our favorite crostini – fegato (chicken livers)
Oh no, what is this that I ordered? It was listed as Ravioli Baghino, a specialty of the house. Under the green slime is a large ravioli. It was horrible. Also pictured are Sarah’s tepid gnocchetti with Gorgonzola, and some beans in oil. John had seppie with chard and polenta (not pictured)

Sarah had some vin santo with cookies and shared the cookies with us but there was no saving this lunch!

After my horrid lunch we go to the Palazzo Praetorio Museum which was opened in 2013 in a building built in the 14th and 15th century that served as the City Hall for Prato. I am still feeling not so good and am really tired. I know we went here because I have some pictures of beautiful altarpieces but I really do not remember it much.

Madonna and Child altarpiece with Saints Catherine, Benedict, John Gualberto, and Agatha by Lorenzo Monaco 1424
Another Madonna and Child with Saints, Mariotto di Nardo, late 14th to early 15th century

As tired as we are from all the walking, viewing, and eating awful food, we decide not to try to do Pistoia today. That will have to wait for another trip. We are departing Lucca in the morning to head to Florence with a side trip to Fiesole. No one is hungry for dinner. We spend our time packing in the evening.

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