An article I was reading about the current exhibition at the V&A in London reminded me of a book I have by John Ruskin, which, in turn, reminded me of some photos I took during a trip to Tuscany. Returning to the 101 year old book and the 3 year old digital photos, it seemed only fair to bring them together and share them with you.

Here’s a brief excerpt to wet your appetite. If you ever travel to Florence, let me know and I’ll lend you the book.

Mornings in Florence by John Ruskin (1904)

Today, as early as you please, and at all events before doing anything else, let us go to Giotto’s own parish-church, Santa Maria Novella. If, walking from the Strozzi Palace, you look on your right for the ‘Way of the Beautiful Ladies,’ it will take you quickly there.


Do not let anything get in the way of acquaintance, sacristan, or chance sight, stop you in doing what I tell you. Walk straight up to the church, into the apse of it; – (you may let your eyes rest, as you walk, on the glow of its glass, only mind the step, half way;) – and lift the curtain; and go in behind the grand marble altar, giving anybody who follows you anything they want, to hold their tongues or go away.


You know, most probably, already, that the frescoes on each side of you are Ghirlandajo’s. You have been told they are fine, and if you know anything of painting, you know the portraits in them are so. Nevertheless, somehow, you don’t really enjoy these frescoes, nor come here often do you?

The reason of which is, that if you are a nice person, they are not nice enough for you; and if you are a vulgar person, not vulgar enough.

Well, now you must ask for the Sacristan, who is civil and nice enough; and get him to let you into the green cloister, and then into the less cloister opening out of it on the right, as you go down the steps; and you must ask for the tomb of the Marchesa Strozzi Rifoldi; and in the recess behind the Marchesa’s tomb – very close to the ground, and in excellent light, if the day is fine, – you will see two small frescos, only about four feet wide each, in odd-shaped bits of wall – quarters of circles; representing – that on the left, the Meeting of Joachim and Anna at the Golden Gate; and on the right, the Birth of the Virgin1.

No flourish of trumpets here, at any rate, you think! No gold on the gate; and, for the birth of the Virgin – is this all! Goodness! – nothing to be seen , whatever of bas-reliefs, nor fine dresses, nor graceful pourings out of water, nor processions of visitors?

No. But there’s one thing you can see, here, which you didn’t in Ghirlandajo’s fresco, unless you were very clever and looked hard for it – the Baby! And you are never likely to see a more true piece of Giotto’s work in this world.

If, however, you no longer have a single romantic bone in your body and you have no interest in holding the slightly yellowed pages of the original in your hand – unable to turn the pages due to the blisters on your mouse finger – you could simply download the whole thing from the Gutenberg project.

1. this image doesn’t appear to be the one Ruskin is describing as the details are slightly different, the general theme is the same though and it’s all I’ve been able to find so far – I’ll have to go back again!