The “Sistine Chapel” of Fossils

Yes, that’s how I described it on that Spring day in Florence when Dr. Elisabetta Cioppi threw open the door to her fossil collection. Well, not exactly her collection, but rather the invertebrate fossil collection that she oversees with her associate, Dr. Stefano Dominici, at the Florence Museum of Natural History. I referenced this trip in an earlier post (Italy and Fossils) when I spoke of my gratitude to these kind and wonderful people for permitting me to photograph objects from their collection.

Endless rows of old glass display cases with spindly, skinny wooden legs filled the rooms on the other side of the door. Each case was filled with small, opened boxes. Each box contained invertebrate fossils of varying sizes and shapes. And each box also contained an identification card with script beautifully hand written in pen and ink (whose own antiquity almost rivalled that of the fossils!). Like so much else in Florence, this assemblage, as well as the other sections of the Museum, is the result of centuries of collecting. Given that Leonardo da Vinci was known to study fossils (in the areas around Florence, in fact) and even the Roman historian, Livy, studied fossils from the Italian countryside, I could only wonder who might have once held these objects that I now had access to.

For those unfamiliar, as I was until more recently, most natural history museums seldom display more than a handful of invertebrate fossils. They generally don’t draw attention (and crowds) like dinosaurs do. That said, many incredible collections do exist in the back rooms. Indeed, that’s the case for museums of almost all types. (I’ve heard some great stories about the storage areas of the Metropolitan Museum in New York). Back to Florence – After a delightful visit and tour with Elisabetta and Stefano Cindy and I left to see Michelangelo’s “David” right down the street at the Accademia. It’s hard to describe a day in which viewing “David” was the second best event of that day!

Before leaving we arranged for me to come back the following day to photograph. Stefano asked if I had any specific needs. All I needed was a flat rock surface to place the fossils on and that it be close to a wall of windows that allowed indirect light in. The following image is the workspace I found the next day. The biggest ammonoids I’d ever seen – they became my background! I knew this was a very special event. And I knew that it would yield very special results.

With my exhibition finally under way at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca I have been able to return to work on the “Florence Fossil” images as I refer to them. And I am happy to say that they are as special and as beautiful as I had hoped. I think there may be an exhibition possible in Florence at some point. The test prints are looking very good. I hope to post the entire project very soon. In the meantime, here is a selection.

Oh, to be in Florence once againā€¦!

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