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Dark Water: Art, Disaster, and Redemption in Florence Paperback – October 6, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The Arno River flood that deluged Florence, Italy, in 1966—killing 33 people and damaging 14,000 works of art and countless books and antiques—frames this meditation on the relationship between art and life. Clark (River of the West) embarks first on a leisurely history of Florence's intertwined experience of great floods and great art, through the perceptions of Dante, Leonardo, E.M. Forster and other writers and artists. The world's rapt concern for Florence's cultural treasures contrasts sharply with its neglect of the city's inhabitants, Clark argues, offering his impressionistic account of the 1966 disaster as seen through the eyes of artists, photographers, volunteer mud angels who swarmed the city to help rescue its waterlogged art and Communist militants who organized relief for poor neighborhoods. He then follows the decades-long and rancorously debated restoration projects, especially the controversial rehabilitation of Cimabue's 13th-century Crucifix, seeing in them a metaphor for artistic beauty as an endless work-in-progress. Clark's study is sometimes unfocused, but by building up layers of atmospheric chiaroscuro—the drying city, he notes, lay lacquered in tints of warm earth and azzuro sky... like pigments just brushed on and still moist—he achieves an evocative portrait of Florence as its own greatest masterpiece. (Oct. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Clark provides a unique twist on the horrific flood that ravaged Florence on November 4, 1966, killing 33 people, leaving countless numbers homeless, and damaging a huge number of priceless art treasures and rare books. Instead of merely recounting the devastation, he reaches back into the past, analyzing the historical dichotomy between Firenze, the city where natives live and work, and Florence, the art mecca students, scholars, and tourists flock to visit. Interweaving eyewitness accounts and experiences from those who lived through the deluge of 1966 and those who came to help with salvage and restoration projects, he paints a vivid portrait of a natural disaster with an array of sociological and cultural consequences. --Margaret Flanagan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Reviewers note: I served in the U.S. Navy in Italy in 1965-67 and had the opportunity to visit Florence multiple times including for New Year's 1967 a few weeks after the flood. Even then the aftermath-situation was dramatic especially in the low-lying Santa Croce quarter. Piazza della Signoria was by then pretty cleaned up and the Palazzo Vecchio's windows were illuminated top to bottom with candles. At the stroke of midnight Il Duomo's big bell boomed and echoed from Giotto's Campanile down the quiet streets. Florence lived on. An unforgettable experience.
This book is about much more than the 1966 disaster. In part, it even includes a look at Florence during WWII connecting the disparate artistic sensibilities of Mussolini, Hitler, and legendary art historians Bernard Berenson, and Frederick Hartt. To a greater extent, it relates a compelling, moment by moment, description of the flood with an emphasis on human interest--honestly, you'll feel like you're there. It introduces some of the complex issues of art restoration in ways that would make even my dog care about the subject. Finally, Dark Water is a very personal reflection. Clark introduces characters--the Arno itself becomes a living presence--who experience the flood firsthand, and he then weaves the common threads of their lives up to the present. He manages all of this by relating experiences; he is never didactic or pedantic.
I was so impressed by Dark Waters I went looking up all the reviews I could find to see if my opinion was shared. All the reviews are glowing, but none of them does the book justice (and my comments here are certainly inadequate). I would have been satisfied simply reading the facts and stories Clark relates. However, this was so much of joy to read that I found myself stopping and rereading portions just to savor his prose and his insight--for example, "But the art in an artwork might not be located precisely where you thought it was. Perhaps it was just as much in the damage and decay as it was in the intact original. Perhaps it was in the gaps--in contemplating and tending those insults and injuries--that we find ourselves, by compassion; by bandaging, however imperfectly, those wounds. Art may be a species of faith, the assurance of things hoped for. It contains nothing so much as our wish that we persist."
You will enjoy this.
What I was hoping and expecting from this book is a telling of the history of the flood and especially the art restoration that followed, with the thousands of volunteers from around the world. While the book does cover this, it doesn't get to the 1966 flood until about 120 pages into the book. Until then, the book briefly talks about the Arno here and there starting around the 1300s but mostly talks about art and artists in Florence over the centuries leading up to the flood. While it did give perhaps some useful background to some of the artworks that were the focus of the restoration after the flood, it rambled and meandered through the decades and centuries to the point that you begin to wonder if the book has been completely misrepresented.
I also found the writing style of the book to often be a bit too rich and melodramatic as if the author were trying a bit too hard to show that he could write in a creative way. Sometimes I felt that reading the book was a bit like listening to a person at a party telling an interesting story but in a self-indulgent way and where you wished they'd be a bit more focused and get on with it.
That said, I definitely found the sections dealing with WWII interesting as well as those sections actually about the flood and aftermath once he got to it. So my recommendation is that this should be an interesting book for you if you are generically interested in renaissance art and Florence and where the plot line of the flood just adds spice to the story. But if your interests are somewhat reversed and you are more interested in the drama of the flood and the unique response the world provided, and less interested in the 600 years of art in Florence prior to the flood, then I would agree with the other reviewer who recommends you consider skipping large chunks of the first 120 or so pages.