By Corinna Lotz
These notes are taken from Hilde Lotz Bauer’s memoirs, dictated in the 1990s. They are in a notebook entitled “Erinnerungen H. Lotz II Florenz”.
She moved from Rome to Florence in the autumn of 1939 at the same time as her first husband, Bernhard Degenhart, left for Vienna. There he took up a post at the Albertina Museum, renowned for its enormous collection of old master drawings.
I recall the moment when, on the last day we spent together, having worked all through the night, I gazed over this beloved city as the sun rose. I became aware that an important part of my life was now over.
I moved to Florence, where I had the chance to earn a living. One of my commissions was taking photos of hundreds of drawings in the Gabinetto dei Disegni in the Uffizi. For this I used my wooden 13 x 18 or 9 x 12 cameras. An especially kind custodian helped me by placing one page after another on the tripod, which I set up on a small balcony.
The German Art Historical Institute in Florence, located on the second floor of a palace in Piazza Santo Spirito, was directed by Friedrich Kriegbaum. It was a kind of focal point for German and other foreign art historians. The Institute let me use the dark room located in their building’s attic. I was delighted to receive a commission from a German art historical publisher for a book about Florence – in particular about its architecture. Kriegbaum was to write the text.
We young people often met in a small trattoria in Via Maggio and went on small expeditions. Depending on our financial situation, some better restaurants were also tracked down – even as far away as Bologna. During these months, Wolfgang Lotz and I had become close. Eventually, Alice von Platen offered us a small flat at the top of the Torre de' Ramaglianti in the Borgo San Jacopo. I’ve forgotten how many hundred steps we had to climb up to reach the roof terrace. A wonderful panorama of the city of Florence, the Arno valley and surrounding hills spread out below. Every evening the military last post sounded out from the fortress.
A small walk led between “our” high tower and an adjacent lower one. The scent of blossoming jasmine filled the air in this passage. In the smaller tower was a room with a shower and a toilet. We also had a small kitchen where a charcoal-fuelled open stove was built into the wall. It transpired that only Wolfgang could get the fire going, while I waved a chicken feather fan to encourage the flames.
Working for the Florence book I used my big camera (13 x 18) and tripod, as well as a Linhof 9 x 12. Various colleagues, amongst them Professor Valentina, an art historian in the USA, commissioned jobs for cash – fürs liebe Geld.
Kriegbaum outlined his concept for portraying Florence: no persons or traffic should appear in my photos. In his view, architecture outlived human beings and their vehicles: ‘Die Architektur lebt länger als der Mensch’.
I began to study and note down light effects; how light falls on streets and squares. When I showed Kriegbaum the first results, he gave me a fright with his comment that they were good photos, but “it was not Florence”.
We hailed a legno (open carriage) and he drew my attention again and again to the way in which the old walled city, though situated between gentle hills, stands on a flat plain, formerly the river Arno’s flood plain. The beauty of this “first Florence” lay in the noble proportions of its cube-shaped buildings. With practice, I succeeded in revealing the structure of these surfaces. I managed to take more than 100 shots completely free of any traffic, something that would be totally impossible today.
26 April 2020