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52 Italian Places

We all know Italy. Or do we? The days when Dante, Raphael, the Medici and Brunelleschi were part of the mental furniture of anybody going there are over. Even art-history students tend to begin their studies with 1900 rather than the Renaissance, which cuts out most of what is usually considered important in Italy. The guide books ("Blue Guide", "Michelin", "Touring Club of Italy", etc.) cover everything most efficiently, but present a different problem: how to choose between everything? This small book (it fits in your back pocket) by Francis Russell is entirely subjective: one man's choice, but the choice of someone who is intensely knowledgeable. He first started travelling all over Italy as soon as he left school and has gone back again and again, touring from north to south, from Piedmont to Sicily.The Turinese publishers Umberto Allemandi e C. (publishers also of "The Art Newspaper") asked Francis to write not more than two pages each about 52 places he thinks are unmissable. The book is intended to give travellers, from students on their first visit to repeat visitors, a thread to follow, one that will lead them from the 11 things Francis likes best among the thousands of possibilities in Venice to the small hill town that boasts of a single masterpiece. Of course you will not agree with all his choices, which is why the book has blank pages at the back for your notes and your drawings (another forgotten skill, but one worth reviving, because it helps you remember much taking a photo). There is a photograph for every entry, a map with all the places marked, and a very succinct biographical index of the artists and architects mentioned.
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Francis Russell has been at Christie's since he left Oxford, specialising in Italian Old Master drawings and paintings. He prefers to travel on his own to avoid any distraction from the serious business of looking at works of art.

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