San Pancrazio

This small church is dedicated to one of the youngest of the saints. Pancrazio was only 15 years old when he was martyred for refusing to take a sacrifice before the Roman gods. He even refused after being offered vast sums of money and promises of earthly glory by the emperor. Yet the boy remained loyal to his faith in Christ, a fidelity for which he was executed. His body was bought by a devout Roman woman of the patrician class, who had it brought to Florence and buried here, at a site on which Pancrazio’s later followers would build a church. Some say that on windy nights here at the church you can hear the voices of martyrs. And perhaps they have something to entreat the living about; around 150 years ago the Chiesa di San Pancrazio was deconsecrated and repurposed for other uses, first as a tobacco factory and later as an army depot. At least since the late 20th century the church has been returned to an edifying, if secular, purpose; today the building accommodates a museum to the Tuscan sculptor Marino Marini, who, although not himself born in Florence, made a significant contribution to the development of the city.
Marino Marini was born in the small Italian town of Pistoia and moved to Florence at the age of 17. Having already displayed considerable talents for painting and sculpture, Marini joined the local artistic academy. In 1929 Marino became a teacher in an art school in a modest town on the outskirts of Milan. At the same time, he took an active part in local exhibitions, displaying his early works such as ‘Icarus’, ‘Diver’ and ‘Boxer’, of which critics wrote: ‘Marini’s sculptures portray a kind of frozen dynamism, a moment of ecstasy. He has studied the ancients well. His language is masculine and at times brutal; he strives for synthesis, and the constraints of naturalism cannot hold him’. By the time the artist had reached his 50th year he was well and truly famous. Museums fiercely competed to secure his work and his attendance at exhibitions. However, neither glory nor extraordinary popularity would change his character or his way of life; like a real Tuscan he remained to the end reserved, ironic and withdrawn. The doors of his country house and workshop were open only to a few close friends. As Marini once confessed: ‘I’m constantly going out into town to judge how the work I'm doing matches the way people really live their lives. And when I get back to the studio, my work seems banal, so I scrap it and start over again. It rarely seems to me that what I do can capture the true vitality of what surrounds me on the street’.
Marini’s most famous sculpture is most probably his ‘Rider’, which recently sold at Christie’s for a record $7 million. The sculptor completed this work during the Second World War and sold it in 1949 to Peggy Guggenheim, the eccentric niece of the magnate Solomon Guggenheim. Peggy was an enthusiastic collector of contemporary art and knew personally almost all of the leading artists of the period. She adored ‘Rider’, and had the sculpture installed outside the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni where she lived in Venice on the Grand Canal. This decision caused quite a stir; Marini’s ‘Rider’ is cast with arms thrown open in a gesture of pure ecstasy, and in order to emphasise this sense of unbridled euphoria, the ‘Rider’ is depicted in a state of full erection. However, Peggy was not insensitive to local religious feelings; on those feast days when the local clergy sailed their gondolas up the Grand Canal, she would unscrew the offending organ from the ‘Rider’ and hide it indoors. One day she realised, to her horror, that she had lost the Rider’s proud member. She immediately telegraphed Marini: ‘Send me a new member immediately!’ Rumours quickly got out in Venice that somewhere she kept a whole collection of these spare parts for the ‘Rider’. As for Marini, delicious anecdotes such as these only helped to increase the interest around his work and bring more glory to the sculptor.
Near the Marini Museum there is another site popular with tourists: the Caffe Giacosa. According to local legend, Count Caimlo Negroni, known as a heavy drinker, asked his local barman Fosco Scraselli in 1919 to ‘fortify’ his favourite cocktail, the ‘Americano’, by replacing the soda with gin. The barman rose admirably to the challenge, even adding his own twist with a garnish of orange peel. The cocktail was soon so popular that the Negroni family founded its own distillery in Treviso, dedicated to the production of a prepared cocktail under the name: ‘Antico Negroni’. Today the famous café belongs to the designer Roberto Cavalli, who has attempted to restore the traditions of the establishment by restoring the interiors faithfully in the period style. Most importantly, the barmen, following Scraselli’s tradition, still mix a great Negroni.