Italy and Fossils

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci collected fossils? Renaissance man that he was, I guess it only makes sense. On a recent trip to Italy I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Elisabetta Cioppi, head of the Geology/Paleontology Department of Florence’s Museum of Natural History, who explained this fact to me and who continues research on the subject.

It was Dr. Cioppi and her associate, Dr. Stefano Dominici, who most graciously allowed me to photograph fossils from their invertebrate collection. With the origins of the Museum dating all the way back to the second half of the Fifteenth Century and the early Medicis. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I worked my way through the storage cabinets, if anything I was photographing had been picked up out of the rubble by Leonardo himself! The image above is from that body of work which I hope to have completed soon.

While that was a true high point of the trip, needless to say there were many other subjects to focus on. And I think that this touches on one of the beauties of exploring with a camera. I wondered before the trip what kind of images it would yield but couldn’t really answer that question until I returned home. Only then while pouring over my updated photo library did patterns and threads begin to emerge.

One major thread was my fascination with what I call street shrines. While I have seen them in other locations (from Latin America to the South Bronx) nowhere else can you find shrines , frescos, and sculptures like those throughout Italy.While some of them can be somewhat kitchy many left me wondering whose skilled hands created them. The dates attributed to them often suggest an old masters work. Whether stopped at a traffic light or entering the local bread shop there is always one nearby. Votive candles and flowers attest to  ongoing religious devotion by the locals. And these shrines can be found in all the main cities and, I am happy to say, in many of the small country towns.

“Amore mio” Cynthia and I spent our last week in the Umbrian countryside in a lovely old farmhouse on an olive grove estate that dates back to the 1700s. La Montagnola, family owned and run by Vittoria Iraci Borgia, became our home base for exploring the region and one that we hope to revisit over and over again. It’s a little piece of heaven (with the finest olive oil on the planet!!) It also gave us access to many towns from Assisi and Spello to Bettona, Torgiano, and many others – all full of these “street shrines.”

What follows is a view of Torgiano from La Montagnola and a brief selection of local “street shrines.”

As always, more images can be found at


4 thoughts on “Italy and Fossils

  1. Pingback: The “Sistine Chapel” of Fossils | artandfossils

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s