Copyright Ben Rimmer
Florence was the first city of the Renaissance. It was from the heart of that city that the flowering of arts and literature took shape and spread throughout Europe. It is the city where Leonard da Vinci and Michelangelo did some of their best work. It is no surprise, then, that art is built into the very foundations of the city. Such is the case with the Ponte Santa Trinita and the four statues of the seasons that have watched over it since 1608. One of these statues, pictured above in a photo by Ben Rimmer, was Primavera, or Spring by Pietro Francavilla. Summer and Autumn were created by Giovanni Caccini and Winter by Taddeo Landini. The sculptures have lived a perilous existence, due in part to the location of the Ponte Santa Trinita itself.
The Ponte Santa Trinita, Italian for “Holy Trinity Bridge,” spans the Arno river and was built in 1567. The bridge is itself is a work of art, involving three flattened ellipses and making it the oldest elliptical bridge in the world. The four statues were commissioned to celebrate the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo II de’ Medici’s wedding to Maria Magdalena of Austria. World War II proved almost lethal to the four statues. In August 1944, Allied forces pressed deeper into Italy. As the Germany army retreated, four of the five bridges spanning the Arno were destroyed. Only the Ponte Vecchio was spared. Art critic Emilio Lavagnini said the destruction of Ponte Santa Trinita was the most important piece of architecture destroyed by the war in Italy.
Restoring the bridge and the damaged statues took years after the close of the war in 1945. Piece after piece of the bridge and statues were dredged from the river. Architect Riccardo Gizdulich studied had handmade chisels produced to construct the bridge in much the same way Bartolomeo Ammanati had constructed it in 1569. Stone from the same quarry was used to piece the bridge together. Art historian Bernard Berenson raised money abroad for the construction, though the bulk of the project was paid for by the Italian government. Primavera was headless for many years. It was rumored that an American GI had stolen it. It was not until 1961 that her head was found in the Arno and put back in its rightful place. Let’s hope she keeps it for at least another 400 years.
It has been a busy week here as my documentary “Dixie” moves through the editing process. I have had time to take in the Winter Olympics, though. There is snow piled a foot and a half high outside my window as I write this, so you can probably guess that I enjoy winter sports. The winter games are a particular treat when they roll around every four years. In honor of the 2014 Olympics, here are 14 things you didn’t know about the Winter Olympics.
I. The predecessor to the Winter Olympics were the Nordic Games, an international winter sporting event held eight times between 1901 and 1926 in Sweden and Norway.
II. The Nordic Games were the brainchild of Victor Gustaf Balck, a Swedish military officer and the “Father of Swedish Sports.” He also had a fantastic handlebar mustache. I know a lot of you are into those these days.
III. The man responsible for the first Winter Olympics was an Italian count, Eugenio Brunetta d’Usseaux. As Secretary of the International Olympic Committee, he pushed for a winter program to be added to the 1908 Olympics. He managed to get a winter sports week added to the games in 1916, but these were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I. The count never lived to see the first Winter Olympics in 1924. He died in France in 1919.
IV. The first Olympics in 1924, held in Chamonix, France were not Olympics at all. The games, called International Winter Sports Week, were held by the French Olympic Committee . They were retroactively named as the first Winter Olympics.
V. The last medal of the 1924 Winter Olympics was awarded in 1974. American skier Anders Haugen was given a bronze medal when an error in the score of the original bronze medalist was discovered.
VI. Equestrian skijoring was demonstrated in the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The event features a horse guided by a rider pulling a skier, sans poles, holding onto a tow rope.
VII. Skijoring is not the only winter event sent to the land of defunct sports. Sled dog racing was demonstrated in the 1932 Lake Placid, New York games.
VIII. The man responsible for bringing the 1932 Winter Olympics to Lake Placid was Godfrey Dewey. Dewey was the son of Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. Melvil also founded the Lake Placid Ski Club in 1895.
IX. American Eddie Eagan is the only athlete to win a gold medal at both a Summer and Winter Olympics in different events. Eagan won a gold in boxing during the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium and won gold again as a bobsledder during the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.
X. The 1936 Winter Olympics, hosted by Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany, awarded the largest medals ever for any Olympics. Medals were 100 millimeters in diameter, 4 millimeters thick, and weighed 324 grams.
XI. All three Axis Powers of World War II were awarded Winter Olympics during the war. The 1940 games were to be hosted by Japan, but were canceled after the Japanese invasion of China. In spring of 1939, the IOC gave the games to Germany, but Germany’s invasion of Poland put an end to those plans and the games were canceled. The 1944 games, scheduled for Italy, were canceled in 1941 due to World War II.
XII. The 1976 games had trouble finding a host site, as well. The games were originally awarded to Denver, Colorado in 1970. Colorado voters, worried about the cost and environmental impact of the games, rejected a $5 million bond to fund the games. The games were then given to Whistler, British Columbia. Whistler, too, declined to host. The games were eventually held in Innsbruck, Austria.
XIII. Taiwan is the only country to ever boycott a Winter Olympics. The island nation sat out the 1980 games when the IOC declared the country must compete as Chinese Taipei in international sporting events.
XIV. Warm weather at this year’s Sochi games have been a topic of much discussion. These games are not the first to deal with unseasonably warm weather. The 1924 opening ceremonies in St. Moritz, Switerland were held in a blizzard. Later in the week, temperatures as high as 77 degrees caused cancellation of one event. In 1964, The Austrian army carried 20,000 ice bricks to Innsbruck for the luge and bobsled runs due to a lack of snow.