A Day for Hasan... (Melbourne/Florence)

Self-invented rituals are always a little ridiculous - no matter how deeply they might be felt.

But whenever I see Raphael's Madonna del Cardellino (Madonna of the Goldfinch) in the Uffizi Gallery here in Florence, I always think of Hasan Niyazi and his obsession with this picture. 

So, my bright idea for 6 April 2014 (Raphael's Birthday and our Day for Hasan) was to go to the vast gift shop at the Uffizi and buy a mousepad with the Madonna del Cardellino - thereby wrapping up Raphael, Technology and Hasan Niyazi in a neat package. (I still use a mouse and for me a mousepad seems dashingly high-tech.)

It didn't go well...

While the Uffizi offers a dazzling array of mousepads, they didn't have the model I required. Sure, I could have ordered one online (like you see above) and had it delivered. But that seemed somehow impure.

So, it was on to Plan B... I bought a  funny little tray. Then Alexandra Korey -  another friend of Hasan's - and I took it out to lunch.

Penseroso at Trattoria Marione in Florence.


Alexandra Korey and I with Raffaello Sanzio and Hasan Niyazi (in spirit).

But how do we explain Hasan's incredible devotion to the Madonna del Cardellino - and Raphael in general?

He had the Madonna del Cardellino right there in front of  him in his art cave - along with the youthful Raphael (?) Self-portrait, also from the Uffizi.



For Hasan, gestures like this were never casual. He constantly defined his own identity through images - and shared the latest permutations with others.  And every shift was intensely considered

 13 February 2013: "I also recently changed my profile images. The Madonna del Cardellino still does not seem impressed..."

23 February 2013, "Laserbeam Sam* has blended into the Madonna del Cardellino's drapery. I have taken the colour from my own image to perhaps show that I'd prefer the focus be the art, yet there's no ignoring the fact that much of this is about me - also , in a practical sense keeping my pic in colour made it look like a weird mashup." 

*"Laserbeam Sam" was one of Hasan's many nicknames for 
himself - playing off the fact that he used "Sam" rather 
than "Hasan" in his professional life as a physiotherapist.

"Yet there's no ignoring the fact that 
much of this is about me..."  

That's saying the very least! I didn't go to the Uffizi with Hasan - so we didn't see the Madonna del Cardellino together. This, he insisted, needed to be a private experience - and who was I to argue? (When we went to Rome, I waited for him under the portico of the Pantheon while he paid his respects at Raphael's tomb.)

When Hasan came to Florence, he knew that photography was strictly forbidden in the Uffizi Gallery.  So, on 16 August, - well in advance of his trip - he shared his latest creation,  "Ed let me send you this subtle mashup now; it may prevent me from being accused of taking a photo where I shouldn't have."

The Granducal decree forbidding building on the Rovinate site after the subsidence 
that nearly destroyed the Madonna del Cardellino, on 12 November 1547.

In Florence, Hasan and I visited the site of the Rovinate (The Ruined Houses) - where the Madonna del Cardellino was smashed into seventeen pieces by a landslide in 1547. 

 Raphael's Madonna del Cardellino after its 
splendid restoration in 2006.
Notwithstanding its tranquil grace and seeming surface perfection, the Madonna del Cardellino has suffered as much as a painting on panel can suffer without being reduced to sawdust and chips. And for Hasan, this was the key to its meaning.

An x-ray of the Madonna del Cardellino, showing the shattering 
of the wooden panel and its recomposition in the
 sixteenth century with long metal nails.

I will always be grateful that Hasan lived long enough to publish his Madonna del Cardellino entry on Three Pipe Problem - a foretaste of what we could have expected from Open Raphael Online. It appeared on 3 August 2013 (less than three months before his death).

The Divine Rebirth of Raphael's 
Madonna of the Goldfinch
Click on title above.

The title itself is startling. And this is the most boldly autobiographical of Hasan's many posts. In talking about the Madonna del Cardellino, he does not pretend for a minute that he is not talking about himself as well. In the first paragraph, he jumps right into his main theme:

Among all of Raphael's great works, his Madonna of the Goldfinch has a strong personal resonance. The wonderfully rich story of its creation, destruction and restoration is representative of all that is possible when talented individuals are dedicated to creating and maintaining an object of great beauty and cultural value.

"Creation, destruction and restoration" was the principal motif of Hasan's absurdly short life, along with "creating and maintaining ...great beauty and cultural value" against daunting odds.

Hasan endured the sort of miserable childhood that most of us only see in movies or read about in books. In later years, he shared haunting "lonely child" photos with his closest friends - silently begging us to ask tough questions so that he could put his experiences into words.

Hasan had epilepsy (that is what ultimately killed him) and those closest reacted as if the illness were a shameful secret and his own fault. Like many emotionally deprived children, he was made to feel both unloved and unlovable - an anguish that he bore until the very end of his life.

Few have needed to believe as deeply and desperately as Hasan in the transformational power of art and the abiding value of humane scholarship. In his teens, he began constructing his own world of  "great beauty and cultural value". For many long years, this world was strictly private  - and it was never easy for Hasan to believe that other people shared his interests and admired his accomplishments.

Patrizia Riitano, chief restorer of the Madonna del Cardellino.

Hasan cites the "divine rebirth" of the Madonna del Cardellino - but as he knew well, this didn't happen over night. For ten years (1999-2008), the picture was away from the Uffizi Gallery, undergoing restoration and study.  

The Madonna del Cardellino returns to its home in the Uffizi Gallery.

Hasan's own rebirth was no less labored - and he died before it was complete. He was just beginning to expand his horizons and even reconnect with his long-estranged family. He moved to a new apartment and threw himself into the absorbing task of rearranging the essential objects that defined  his life. 

 Click on title above

This is where Hasan posted his poignant appreciation of the Madonna del Cardellino.  And this is where Sharon Bishop (his partner of thirteen years) found his body barely three months later.

Hasan's night table.

Hasan's Calendar.

Hasan's Bookshelf


Almost exactly a year ago, two days before Raphael's last birthday, Hasan sent me this note:

Sent: Thu, Apr 4, 2013 3:50 am

Subject: 6 months on 

Ciao, Ed!

I am noting it has been a nice, round, 6 months since I embarked for Florence. Since my return, I can only say that I have a sense of  {?}ambition to do "more",  but there is so much that is missing or needs to be done, that I wonder if I were better off having no ambition at all.  But of course, I don't see these factors discouraging me any time soon, so in the interim, onwards and upwards. 

 Rome, 13 November 2012

And jumping back even farther, on 16 January 2012, Hasan sent me a semi-whimsical status report on Open Raphael Online:

This may give you a sense of the scale of my upcoming task - not to mention it may give you a giggle... I've made an openraphael bingo card so I can keep track of what I've done... this is how things stand at the moment! Of course remember the 52 scenes from the Loggia are not included, nor the drawings in the image below! I can assure you Ed, I intend to see it through, unless some very dire health calamity befalls me - which I hope does not!


  1. Ed:

    Thanks for the insights and images, especially concerning Hasan's childhood.
    I guess we will never know the whole story but it is remarkable that he was able to use the web and his tech savvy to create a network of friends all over the world.

    One thing though. When I say the picture of you two outside St. Peter's, I wonder why he never got to visit the Stanze.


    1. The Stanze? Just try to keep him away! And the evidence is at the top of Solmaz Niyazi's post (n. 7 on the Day for Hasan page) or else:


      In Rome, we also went to the Farnesina, the Pinacoteca Vaticana and (of course) Raphael's tomb at the Pantheon. Plus a couple of other stray Raphael frescoes. It was a very full day--popping down from Florence and back. But we had the wonderful Agnes Crawford to whisk us from place to place at record speed.

  2. "The wound is the place where the Light enters you" - Rumi

    Hasan was on a path to a higher calling, breaking barriers, disproving antiquated notions, and surprising anyone who dared to doubt him. Part of the impetus that drove him were probably the wounds of his past but above all else he managed to channel so much love and beauty to this world. It is impossible to ignore or forget the old photos and the facts he shared with us but just looking at the snapshot of the Open Raphael Project above is a testament to "all that is possible when talented individuals are dedicated to creating and maintaining an object of great beauty and cultural value."

    Thanks for this touching post.

    1. Thanks, Sedef! I wish that I had heard the Rumi quote many many years ago, but I cannot imagine a better time to learn it than now!

  3. Hi Ed. I have several emails that Hasan wrote about you, often saying that you filled the role of a mentor for him and provided "immense support." He always spoke (well, "wrote" since we never spoke in person) very highly of you in his emails to me.

    After reading what you wrote about "Madonna and the Goldfinch," I was reminded of part of an email that Hasan wrote to me in May of 2012:

    "ORO is going great, and I am remarkably lucky to have Dr Goldberg helping out - he does translations, proof reads entries and looks up obscure texts at the KHI in Florence. I even get help with Latin inscriptions from a classicist I know from Twitter. Hence, the quality of my entries at ORO has been raised even higher! The hardest pieces to cover are the ones that have heaps of literature - and "Madonna of the Goldfinch" is one of those. It is actually my favourite of his "Madonna and Child" images and I really wanted to cover it in an unprecedented level of detail, condensing many sources - which with Ed and [this classicist's] help, I was able to do."

    Thank you for helping Hasan to achieve some of his goals, especially since now we can see that he was working under a shorter timeline than he anticipated.

    1. Thanks, Monica! Hasan and I often discussed the "Madonna del Cardellino" but it is fascinating to hear what he was saying about our effort to someone to whom he was as close as you.

      One of my most vivid memories is discovering that Hasan didn't know "The Goldfinch Song" (Sto crescenno nu bello cardillo...), one of my absolute favorites. Then having to walk him through the lyrics in Neapolitan--before he had even started to learn standard Italian!


  4. Ed, you were closer to Hasan than anyone - he regarded you a Brother. Thank you for honoring him as you have. Your insight & perspective are wonderful, like peeking behind the curtain of the Great Oz!! Hasan was driven by forces that many did not realize. Appreciate you very much - respect. Monika

    1. Was I a surrogate "brother" or else, a rather cranky "father figure"? I suppose that it shifted from moment to moment. In any case, it was great to have Hasan here in Florence--far too briefly. And above all, to see Raphael with him in Rome. "Curtain of the Great Oz"? Oz = Australia?

  5. Good Job Ed, he really disliked his family and it shows in his family pics he shared with his friends.... you did a wonderful tribute for him he would be proud. Flo

    1. Thanks for your comment, Flo--but I don't agree with your conclusion! Family was desperately important to Hasan and he struggled to love his--against the odds--for his entire life. Hasan and I had a week together in Florence back in November 2012. When we were out and about in the city, I could see his eyes following the family groups that passed by. Especially in museums and other historic sites. He often talked about how much he looked forward to taking his young nephew to the National Gallery of Victoria--and in particular, showing him the "Ince Hall Madonna" (Van Eyck).

  6. So many things to love about this post, Ed. And so many revelations: I will never look at the Madonna del Cardellino in the same way again! And I had no idea that "Sam" was his professional moniker.

  7. Yes! When Hasan and I hadn't known each other for very long, he sent me an article about himself in the newsletter of the health center where he worked--which identified him as "Sam Niazi". That was a double "what the hell?"--with "Sam" and the missing "y" in his last name. With his patients, he said that the Aussiefied "Sam" was easier to manage.

    In regard to the last name "Niyazi", in his earlier days as a blogger, he wanted to stay under the radar with his artistic and cultural interests. (As you perhaps remember, it wasn't until rather late on that he began showing full-face photos of himself. That was before he went crazy with the selfies!)

    With extended search capability, he soon discovered that adding a "y" wasn't quite enough to stay out of sight. And then he made the sensational discovery that "Niyazi with a 'y'" was really his family's name back in Cyprus. This, of course, engendered several long discussions of "Niyazi, Blogging and Kismet"!

    The "Sam" thing had quite a long run in our jokes. And it engendered a deluge of selfies labeled, "Broadway Sam", "Borsalino Sam", "Uptown Sam"--and so on.

  8. I've never been able to understand why anyone would feel it necessary to alter their original name, never mind alter it in a way that doesn't even affect the pronunciation! Back in Cyprus, the original last name is Niyazi-with-a-y and it's the only one we've ever used in Canada.

    1. Strange things happen in the process of immigration... My family name is really "Gotoch" (with a guttural "ch" at the end) and "Goldberg" merely a whimsy of a bureaucrat at Ellis Island over a hundred years ago. The fact remains, however, that Hasan's discovery of his true "Niyazi-with-a-y" identity was immensely empowering for him--in demonstrating that he was on the right path. Hasan believed strongly in signs and symbols--an essential Turkish characteristic, according to him!

  9. The concept of creation, destruction and restoration was one I had never realized. I've always been curious as to why Hasan was so preoccupied with Raphael, however this now brings insight into that question. Thank you! Hasan's calls and emails were often distressing and I always wished I could do more to help him in concrete terms. However, I'm grateful to know that the things he confided in me were the same things he relayed to others and that he was able to find comfort in that. Considering the challenges and struggles he faced, the greatness he achieved is even more remarkable.

  10. In years to come, we will remember Hasan with a peculiar mixture of joy, gratitude, sorrow and frustration. Meanwhile, he will continue to tell his personal story in his own words in the thousands of e-mails that he shared with you and me and a few others. Hasan believed strongly in "drilling down to the truth"--in terms of scientific fact and also basic human honesty. And he left uncompromising --and highly specific--records of the obstacles he encountered in his life and his struggles to surmount them.