Randolph's Florentine Adventures

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), Florence, Italy

This is the text from a presentation given by Art & Anne Boccieri and Pinky Blackwell on March 14, 2004, to the Randolph Caldecott Society:

Gwen had read Randolph’s letters from Italy and knowing that Pinky and Ted Blackwell would be traveling there last year, asked them to look for some of the hotels he had stayed in. They located the Hotel de la Ville, which had been reopened in 1960 and can be found at the web site: www.hoteldelaville.it. They also located Via dei Servi in which is located Le Botteghe di Donatello, a ristorante and pizzaria. The rooms were probably above the restaurant. The third place Pinky located was Casa Paoli, 12 Lung’Arno della Zecca Vecchia

Randolph Caldecott was quite the traveler, for business, pleasure and his health. Before Christmas of 1876, Caldecott went to the Riviera and North Italy for his health. This was 56 years after the steam locomotive between Liverpool and Manchester started running, marking the birth of the railway age. The use of railways rapidly spread throughout Europe and much of the world. In 1883, the Orient Express made its inaugural run, the first European transcontinental express train. On the 10th of April, 1877, Caldecott recounts a harrowing train experience to Mrs. Green.

By April 15, 1877 he was settled in the Hotel d’Europe in Rappallo. He again wrote to Mrs. Green.

 By the 20th of April, 1877, he had moved on to Santa Margherita, on the Italian Riviera. From there, he wrote to his friend from banking days in Manchester.

 During these travels, he sent four letters, which were published in the Graphic Newspaper in March and April of 1877. According to Henry Blackburn’s book, Randolph Caldecott: His Early Art Career, the letters included “…about sixty illustrations containing upwards of three hundred figures, different studies of life and character…”.  Mr. Blackburn observed that beyond entertaining the readers of the Graphic, within the drawings could be seen Caldecott’s potential as an artist, a potential that would never be reached. Caldecott also painted some landscapes of the Mediterranean shore in oils and watercolors. While traveling along the Riviera and through northern Italy, he sent letters to friends and business acquaintances. One such letter reminded me of this passage in A Room with a View, written by E.M. Forster published in 1908.

The letter that reminded me of that passage was written in 1879  to his friend, William—Etches, who was a year his junior. Caldecott, soon after turning 33 years of age, had written from the Hotel de la Ville in Florence, “I’m getting an old fogy now, Will! People put their daughters and nieces under my charge for walks in romantic valleys or for prowls on promenades to view fireworks. Bye the bye, we had a lot of fine girls at Mentone. If I had had out a 1/2   dozen smart young fellows I could have married them all comfortably. There was 1 batch of 5 girls, 1/2 Dutch and 1/2 English. Mother a widow-money-3 of them very good looking-Uncle to give them away-a Baronet. Mentone quite smelt of Baronets before I left-I’ve got to hunt up the grave of one’s first wife here. I had not decided which to make up to when I was called for and hurried away to Rome by 2 ladies. There I abode for about 18 days, and then gave them the slip, coming here where the air is purer and more exhilarating than at Rome this time of the year. Still, we had a time at Rome. Some people that I know arrived at this hotel yesterday-wherever one goes one is sure to be dropped on by someone.”

During Caldecott’s travels along the Italian Riviera, his pencil captured a group of peasant girls visiting with one another by the grape vines in one of the 28 drawings done for Mrs.Comyns Carr‘s book entitled North Italian Folk published in 1878. Another of the drawings is of a festival. All of these drawings were hand colored for the books.

According to Blackburn, Caldecott traveled for his health, but still produced a lot of works and that Caldecott found so much for his pencil to capture that spoke to his sense of humor that it is a wonder he had time for more serious work. 

Although Caldecott did paint watercolor landscapes, he did not think himself accomplished enough to accept commissions for them. Many of his commissions were “pen and ink drawings that were photographed on wood and engraved in facsimile.”

Caldecott seemed to have had quite a good time when he was traveling as a bachelor, but on March 18, 1880
 Caldecott married Marian Harriet Brind, when he was 34 years old. After their marriage, he and Marion traveled to Europe. Blackburn notes that Caldecott’s earlier travels had been for assignments, but that later he was able to spend the colder months in warmer areas. In 1881, he wrote from Casa Paoli, 12 Lung de la Zucca Vecchia, Florence to Mrs. Ewing, in which he expresses distress at being overcommitted and draws two sketches- one of them in Florence and one of fleeting time.

By the 11th of December, a letter to his friend Clough, show that they have moved on to 6 Via de’Servi.

He relates to Clough, “Here we are! Settled until April, I hope. Rooms in Brazilian vice-consulate, where they do for us nicely—not cheap. There are plenty of people whom we know and are knowing here—and artists exist of various skill. There are men who can sculp lace, flounces, frippery, and eyelashes in marble-also socks falling round a juvenile leg. Yes, sir!”

Another letter discusses their previous accommodations at12 Lung’Arno della Zecca Vecchia and their social life.

There were many places for the Caldecotts to go to see the wonderful works of other artists. The Uffizzi Gallery held many works of sculpture and paintings that would, most likely have been of interest, since Caldecott worked in many mediums. Outside of the Uffizzi, in the loggia, were sculptures by Greek sculptors, copies of famous sculptures and the sculptures of two lions that the lions at the foot of our bridge were copied from.

You can visit the Uffizzi and see the things the Caldecotts saw by going to the web site www.arca.net/uffizi. This sight contains many links that will take you to travel information, on-line purchasing of Italian products and sights.

Part of the social activities Marion and Randolph engaged in included visits to the local pastry shops, such as the Gilli. The Gilli was opened in 1733 and was still advertising when Pinky and Ted went to Florence last year. Located on the Piazza della Republica, the advertisement states: “In Florence center there is Gilli cafe since more than 200 years. Thanks to its original spaces of that period, and its crystal chandeliers, you-can feel a liberty-atmosphere of other times.  Famous for its cocktails, its pastry and chocolate makings, Gilli café today has a famous wines menu and one of the most various choice of whisky in the town. Gilli café is happy to give magic moments to stay together."

The photo of the window of a pastry shop located behind the Cathedral is typical of shops throughout Italy.

Another shop Caldecott might have stopped in is the Zuffanelli which was opened in 1842 and was also advertising at the time of Pinky’s visit. This lovely shop on the Via dei Lamberti, has walls of drawers in walnut and the ancient pillar of 14th century, which is the last one of the Loggia of Orsanmichele Church. It has sold fashions for women for four generations and may have outfitted Marion.

At every turn in Florence the Caldecotts would have seen works of art- sculptures by Michelangelo, the Medici Chapels, the bell tower designed by Giotto in 1334, the wonderful bas-reliefs on the doors of the Baptistry by Ghiberti, which Michelangelo defined as fit to be the “gate of paradise.

If Caldecott could have foreseen the future, he would have seen himself resting in St. Augustine, a town that would have reminded him of his Florentine adventures with the lions at the foot of the bridge and the red tile roofs throughout the town and the cedars overhead.

We would like to thank Gwen for generously sharing her precious books to help prepare this presentation and now Art and Pinky and I would like to share some treats that Randolph and Marion might have tasted in the pastry shops in and around Florence. One is a cookie typical of the region of Tuscany, one a Torte di Mele, an apple cake make with leftover course country bread.  The third is a Crostata di Marmellata. We made you a copy of the recipes in case you feel inspired. The  Torte and the Crostata were made for us by Chef Michael McMillan at Opus 39 on Cordova Street. We hope you enjoy or as Mama Boccieri used to say “Mangia”.

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PagesWritten by Allan C. Reichert
Randolph Caldecott Society of America
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