The advent of Christmas in Italy is marked by the enormous quantities of special cakes available in food stores.
Most well-known is the Milanese panettone, a tall, roundish cake studded with raisins and, usually, candied orange peel. There are a couple of legends associated with the beginnings of panettone. One tells of how the cook at a luxurious banquet in the Sforza household burnt the dessert but fortunately a lowly scullery boy had put together this odd and delicious cake which became the hit of the evening. Another tale is of a falconer who invented the cake to woo his lady love. In both stories the cake became so popular that from the Middle Ages it became the symbol of families gathering together to celebrate Christmas.
From Verona comes pandoro, a tall, star-shaped cake with a consistency similar to brioche. Pandoro, in its present form, dates to the late 1800s, but its precursors go back further, probably to Venice in the 1200s. Siena produces panforte, a flat mixture of nuts and dried fruit held together by a little dough. The Sienese cakes also has very early origins, deriving from a primitive focaccia made with flour, honey and fruit.
Modern (industrial) versions of all the cakes can come with chocolate, custard, alcohol and all sorts of – to purists – bizarre and unacceptable additions. Whatever one’s preference, however, the season would not be the same without one of the cakes eaten for dessert, or at breakfast, or as a snack.
From December 22 to January 5 MOMA will be screening ten Italian films from the 50s and 60s. A few of the films are well-known, such as the ever-popular La Dolce Vita. Others are not as commonly seen in the US – or in Italy. Some of the foremost Italian directors (Visconti, Germi, Monicelli, Risi) of the era are represented in the series. Fans of Anna Magnani can see her in two films: Bellissima and Risate di gioia.
The Metropolitan Museum is hosting a charming exhibition featuring Renaissance Venetian art from the museum’s collections. The works – mostly religious in nature – of artists such as Giovanni Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio are part of a show that focuses on the transition in Venice from the Gothic style to that of the Renaissance.
Another exhibition celebrates Perino del Vaga, a sixteenth century artist who trained with Raphael. Perino’s works are in the Mannerist style of the late Renaissance. He was a court artist for Andrea Doria in Genova and later for Pope Paul III in Rome. Two newly discovered works are featured: the painting of the “Holy Family with St. John the Baptist” and the beautiful drawing of “Jupiter and Juno reclining on a Marriage Bed.”
The website “Archivi della moda del Novecento” is a valuable source of information for those interested in Italian fashion. It contains bibliographies, audiovisual material, information on exhibits and collections, historical summaries and wonderful pictures. The site is not only a great tool for scholars but also lots of fun for non-specialists to explore.