Synopses & Reviews
This dramatic, beautifully written account of the flood that ravaged Florence, Italy, in 1966 weaves heartbreaking tales of the disaster and stories of the heroic global efforts to save the citys treasures against the historic background of Florences glorious art.
On November 4, 1966, Florence, one of the worlds most historic cities and the repository of perhaps its greatest art, was struck by a monumental calamity. A low-pressure system had been stalled over Italy for six weeks and on the previous day it had begun to rain again. Nineteen inches fell in twenty-four hours, more than half of the annual total. By two oclock in the morning twenty-thousand cubic feet of water per second was moving towards Florence. Soon manhole covers in Santa Croce were exploding into the air as jets of water began shooting out of the now overwhelmed sewer system. Cellars, vaults, and strong-rooms were filling with water. Night watchmen on the Ponte Vecchio alerted the bridges jewelers and goldsmiths to come quickly to rescue their wares. By then the water was moving at forty miles per hour at a height of twenty-four feet. At 7:26 a.m. all of Florences electric civic clocks came to a stop. The Piazza Santa Croce was under twenty-two feet of water. Beneath the surface, twelve feet of mud, sewage, debris, and oil sludge were starting to ooze and settle into the cellars and crypts and room after room above them. Six-hundred-thousand tons of it would smother, clot, and encrust the city.
Dark Water brings the flood and its aftermath to life through the voices of witnesses past and present. Two young American artists wade heedlessly through the inundated city carrying their baby in order to witness its devastated beauty: the Ponte Vecchio buried in debris and Ghibertis panels from the doors of the Florence Baptistery, lying heaped in yard-deep mud; the swamped Uffizi Gallery; and, in the city libraries, one billion pages of Renaissance and antique books, soaked in mire. A Life magazine photographer, stowing away on an army helicopter, arrives to capture a drama that, he felt, “could only be told by Dante” amid the flooded tombs of Machiavelli and Michelangelo in Giotto and Vasaris Santa Croce. A British student, one of thousands of “mud angels” who rushed to Florence to save its art, spends a month scraping mud and mold from Cimabues magnificent and neglected Crocifisso as intrigues and infighting among international art experts and connoisseurs swirl around him. And during the fortieth anniversary commemorations of 2006 the author asks himself why art matters so very much to us, and how beauty seems to somehow save the world even in the face of overwhelming disaster.
"The Arno River flood that deluged Florence, Italy, in 1966 killing 33 people and damaging 14,000 works of art and countless books and antiques frames this meditation on the relationship between art and life. Clark (River of the West) embarks first on a leisurely history of Florence's intertwined experience of great floods and great art, through the perceptions of Dante, Leonardo, E.M. Forster and other writers and artists. The world's rapt concern for Florence's cultural treasures contrasts sharply with its neglect of the city's inhabitants, Clark argues, offering his impressionistic account of the 1966 disaster as seen through the eyes of artists, photographers, volunteer 'mud angels' who swarmed the city to help rescue its waterlogged art and Communist militants who organized relief for poor neighborhoods. He then follows the decades-long and rancorously debated restoration projects, especially the controversial rehabilitation of Cimabue's 13th-century Crucifix, seeing in them a metaphor for artistic beauty as an endless work-in-progress. Clark's study is sometimes unfocused, but by building up layers of atmospheric chiaroscuro the drying city, he notes, lay 'lacquered in tints of warm earth and azzuro sky... like pigments just brushed on and still moist' he achieves an evocative portrait of Florence as its own greatest masterpiece." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A miraculous book, a passionate inquiry into the spirit that sustains the beauty of art and its more vexing sibling, religion. Dark Water is a mystery story and a memoir, set in a city of incomparable riches and dark fascinations. Clark's masterwork of quest literature deftly combines investigative journalism, meticulous history, and, best of all, a cast of indelible characters whose lives move through Florence and its floods with novelistic power and suspense." Patricia Hampl, author of The Florist's Daughter
"Lovers of Florence/Firenze will fall into Dark Water headfirst. This is an engrossing, layered, and intelligent voyage into the history of artists' relationships to the capricious river Arno. Robert Clark deepens our knowledge of this most poetic of cities, with an unstinting and loving examination of the politics and love brought to bear on the flood of 1966 and the ongoing reverberations that persist. A formidable accomplishment." Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun
"A wonderfully intimate evocation both of the geniuses that created Florence's masterpieces and the teams of art experts and 'mud angels' who rescued them. Anyone visiting Florence after reading Dark Water will find the city all the more precious and miraculous." Ross King, author of Brunelleschi's Dome
On November 4, 1966, the city of Florence was inundated by the waters of the Arno River. Beyond the human and economic cost, the flood destroyed or damaged hundreds of works from the Western world's greatest collections of art and sent shock waves around the world. Thousands came and millions were raised to help with the rescue and restoration efforts.
Dark Water brings the flood and its aftermath to life through the voices of witnesses past and present. Two young American artists carrying their baby wade through the flooded city witnessing the Ponte Vecchio buried in debris, the swamped Uffizi Gallery, and, in libraries, one billion pages of books soaked in mire and oil. A Life magazine photographer arrives by helicopter to capture the drama amid the flooded tombs of Machiavelli and Michelangelo. A British student spends a month scraping mud and mold from masterworks as infighting among international art experts and connoisseurs erupts around him.
Combining a thousand-year historical scope with intimate detail, Dark Water is a chronicle of natural disaster and human genius and their lasting effects on one of the world's most beloved cities.
About the Author
Robert Clark is the author of the novels In the Deep Midwinter, Mr. White’s Confession, and Love Among the Ruins as well as the nonfiction books My Grandfather’s House, River of the West, and The Solace of Food: A Life of James Beard.