Mumbai Memoirs 8 – Experiencing Florence in Mumbai!
All the enchanting facts that spark my desire to visit these destinations, is due to all the travel related information that I have explored through print, online and television mediums. Visiting a foreign destination involves a lot of arrangements. It all begins with saving money, then scheduling travel dates, tedious paper work for VISA documents and finally cherry picking popular tourist destinations when you explore a country. It certainly is fun but can be overwhelming & a hectic drill for many. These days a virtual tour to any world destination is easily possible due to the vast audio visual information available on the internet. But besides few moments of happiness, we do not get a first hand real experience from such virtual experiences. Some time back I saw a YouTube news clip about an art restoration project that took place in the city of Florence, Italy. Here’s sharing the news clip link for you to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsOBIWOKbBc
The news clip reported about the 27 year-long, million dollars worth, restoration of the eastern entrance to the Battistero di San Giovanni (Florence Baptistry) which finally concluded and was opened for public display. After watching it, how I wish I could speed travel to Florence and experience it first hand, but I knew it was practically not possible to do so on an immediate basis. But just like a fairy would grant a wish by moving her magic wand, two weeks back a local newspaper reported that a full-scale replica of the Florentine door had arrived at Mumbai and was on public display! Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, which is a stone’s throw away from where I live, and its director, Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, unknowingly acted as my fairy! On 30th March 2014, the museum inaugurated an exhibition ‘The Florentine Renaissance- ‘The City as the Crucible of Culture’. Besides exhibiting eight panels of the north gate of the Florence Bapistry and display of contemporary photographs of the city of Florence, the main attraction of this exhibition is the 17 feet tall replica of the eastern gate which I had seen in the news clip on YouTube!! Last weekend, as I stood admiring the beauty of the gate, I was mesmerized with the golden shine of the 10 delicately sculpted panels that are mounted on the doors through the lost wax bronze casting technique.
Biblical stories from the Old Testaments serve as themes on the panels. The designer of the original gates was a Florentine sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti, who had mastered the technique of linear perspective in art. It took 27 years for Ghiberti to produce his architectural masterpiece which Michelangelo fondly referred as ‘Porta del Paradiso’ (meaning ‘The Gates of Paradise’)!! For centuries the door stood strong against the elements but in 1943, to help it survive the heavy bombings during the Second World War, the door was dismantled and hidden in a gallery. In 1948 the door went back to the Baptistry, but during the 1966 flood in Florence, water pulled away six panels from the frame, thus corrupting its beauty.
In 1990 the entire door was dismantled for total restoration and replaced with a copy. Since 2012 the restored door has been displayed at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (museum of the Florence Baptistry) and currently Mumbai is the proud host to the bronze replica of the door! An Italian organization, Guild of the Dome, which is dedicated to preserve global art, has organized the door’s first trip abroad by collaborating with the managing committee of the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum. After the exhibition concludes at Mumbai on 3rd June’14, the door will be exhibited at Delhi (India’s capital) and thereafter at New York.
In the 15th century, Florence experienced the best of the Renaissance period in Europe as artisans, merchants and political forces joined hands for uplifting the cultural standards of the city. Similarly Mumbai too experienced a Renaissance of its own, especially during the early nineteenth century where intellects, philanthropists and government bodies rendered their energies to create an artistic cityscape for Mumbai (formerly referred as Bombay). Continuing this legacy, it’s a delight to know that, even today, people associated with institutions like Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (as curators), Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation (as philanthropists) and Municipal Corporate of Greater Mumbai (as Government representatives) are taking initiatives to uplift the cultural standards of Mumbai city by bringing the ‘Gates of Paradise’ for Mumbaikar’s to see. Lorenzo Ghiberti’s self-portrait bust stands out from the middle of the door and seems to be silently admiring the Victorian architecture & beautiful artefacts that the museum exhibits.
The galleries, statues and artefacts displayed at the museum reflect a retrospective outlook of Mumbai, right from its ancient times. Formerly known as the Victoria and Albert Museum, when it opened for public in 1872, later in 1975 the museum was renamed as Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in honour of the man whose vision and commitment ensured its establishment. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage has helped restore the museum’s wealth for which it has earned The UNESCO 2005 Asia-Pacific Award of Excellence for Conservation. Located in the Veer Jijamata Udyan premise in Central Mumbai, the museum is a popular stop for every tourist visiting Mumbai. More about the museum at: http://bdlmuseum.org/
As I walked out of the museum, I wondered, like in the American movie ‘A Night at the Museum’, what if all the museum exhibits came to life at night!!?? I know it was a crazy idea that crossed my mind but if that happens fictitiously, then I am sure all the Indian characters in the museum would love to click a ‘selfie’ along with the Biblical characters in front of the Florentine gate, thus capturing Florence and Mumbai in one beautiful frame!