101 Places in Italy : A Private Grand Tour by Francis Russell
|101 Places in Italy : A Private Grand Tour by Francis Russell|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: It's not a guide book but - as the subtitle says - a private grand tour of locations which are generally off the tourist map. It's a gem and highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: April 2014|
|Publisher: Wilmington Square Books|
Initially I struggled to describe this book. It's not a guide book: maps are intended only to give you a rough idea of where the towns, cities and villages are - even major rivers are not shown. There are no opening times of museums or other details which the visitor might need and whilst it's a tremendous help to the tourist there's a sense throughout the book of their being people who are best avoided if at all possible. November and February seem to be the best months for your visit in many cases. The 101 places you'll visit in the book are given no wider importance than the works of art within them. Finally I accepted that the subtitle of the book - A Private Grand Tour was the most appropriate.
This is an expanded edition of a book originally published in 2005 when there were just fifty two places to visit: Francis Russell was unable to restrict himself to the fifty which was first suggested. He is Deputy Chairman of Christie's and specialises in Old Master paintings. I've found him particularly good on the Renaissance, which is where I suspect his heart is to be found. Russell guides the traveller to the lesser-known masterpieces which are so often overlooked and to locations off the tourist maps. Occasionally I found short walks embedded in the text and it was these, as much as anything, which convinced me that this would be the book to take with me on Italian trips. It's easy enough to pick up the tourist guides if you need them - but this book is a gem. The book is substantial - the cover would withstand light rain and heavy handling and it's avialable on Kindle if that's more convenient.
Russell is an expert but he's still able to connect with the non-specialist without ever being patronising. He's superb on the mood of a location, the way that light plays its part. For the first time I understood why the Duomo in Pisa left me both underwhelmed and overwhelmed at the same time: later additions (distinguished in themselves) mean that it's not easy to concentrate on what is important. His brief background to the locations are interesting and to the point.
The images are superb. It's not just the choices that have been made, but the fact that they add to the text and carefully avoid the obvious. You won't find the tourist photograph of St Mark's In Venice but the Tetrarchs - a small picture but the detail is such that you can appreciate the quality. Rather than giving a large picture of a fresco which tells you little about the artist's skill, you're given a detail. There's such a one from Christ Among the Doctors by Il Pordenone in the Madonna di Campagna in Piacenza that's about the size of a commemorative postage stamp, but I've gone back to it several times. Images of buildings are clear and - as far as possible - uncluttered by people.
The book is not without its snags. There's almost too much to see in somewhere like Florence for the format to work well and I felt as though I was being marched around rather sharply - in contrast and just a few pages later I was in Pistoia and the tour was much more relaxing. I was disappointed with the index too. The entry for the Sistine Chapel takes you to Umbria and there's no mention of St Peters either despite their being covered in the text. They're minor points though and - on balance - ones which I would have no problems in accommodating. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If this book appeals then you might also enjoy The Smell of the Continent by Richard Mullen and James Munson and Barbarian in the Garden by Zbigniew Herbert.
You can read more book reviews or buy 101 Places in Italy : A Private Grand Tour by Francis Russell at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy 101 Places in Italy : A Private Grand Tour by Francis Russell at Amazon.com.
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