Perimetri Perduti

Exploring the events before, during and after the 1966 catastrophe, the book features watercolour studies by the artist alongside texts from invited authors. The project was presented in The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh & Palazzo Lanfredini, Florence.

Your next chance to see the book surrounded by accompanying material: the Italian Cultural Institute, Edinburgh | March 23 – 9 April 2018

After a prolonged period of intense rain during the first days of November 1966, two Valdarno dams burst south of Florence. During the early hours of 4th November an enormous weight of water was propelled at great speed towards Florence, as the river Arno spilled over, rushing to fill every nook and crevice. Mud, oil, fuel and filthy water spread and rose—to 22 feet (6.7 m) in Santa Croce—covering almost 7000 acres. By the evening of that very same day the waters began to recede, leaving behind some 600,000 tons of mud and debris—a ton of mud for each inhabitant—and utter devastation to the city and its people. The legacy of the flood lives on today.

Cass first visited Florence in late 2010, on a Royal Scottish Academy scholarship. He has returned regularly since 2010, and states that his artistic response to the city has gradually evolved. Inspired by artist James Hogg's letters written from Florence during November 1966 (published by S.A.C.I.) his Florence in flood artworks are as much an attempt to introduce a new topic to his practice—to his audience—as they are explorative responses to the history of this catastrophic and globally significant weather event. The works that make this long-term project can only be seen within the pages of the (above) book, thus making it a form of exhibition in book form.

The project links a past event with the present, describing the contemporary significance of the flood. Florence—an artist’s mecca—brought to its knees, made vulnerable. Vulnerable to extremes in weather, but also as a result of man. The artworks included in the project present an irony too, describing a stark contrast between the perceived image of the city (pristine and thriving) yet demonstrating the reality of its susceptibility: the catastrophic and unnecessary damage one event wreaked.

A combination of records-of and responses-to the catastrophe of November 1966, Cass’s thoughtful and moving pieces are all the more powerful in that they are made by someone who was not yet born when the flood-waters hit Florence.
— Julia Race, Director of The British Institute of Florence

Perimetri Perduti officially launched on the 50th anniversary of the flood—4th November 2016—in the headquarters of the British Institute of Florence (in Palazzo Lanfredini overlooking the Arno river) accompanied by a selection of flood paintings. The exhibition ran for the whole of November 2016. The book was then presented in The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, in January 2017. Paintings & supporting materials were exhibited, and talks given by Edinburgh's Lord Provost, and Royal Scottish Academy Academician George Donald.

In a single night in November 1966 the birthplace of the Renaissance was reduced to a sea of mud as the Arno burst its banks, engulfed some of the most famous and historic buildings and sights in Europe and took the lives of over 100 people.

And yet, as I discovered when I came to write a novel partly set during this extraordinary period, the event is now largely forgotten outside Florence itself, overshadowed in the public imagination by the dreadful aqua alta in Venice at the same time. The city, its stalwart people, and the thousands of ‘mud angels’ who flocked to Florence to help the city recover deserve better. During many visits to the city while I was writing The Flood I was astonished to see how the disaster continues be visible on the face of the twenty first century city, from the signs in the street marking the level of the water down to more subtle effects, among them the restoration of the damaged masterpieces in the Brancacci Chapel to remove the prudish additions of earlier centuries.

Four years on from working on that book David Cass’s evocative paintings took me straight back to that terrible night in November 1966, a timely reminder of the fragility of beauty against the elements of nature, and the defiant human spirit that swept away the mud and restored Florence to glory. I hope they find a place in the heart of the city fifty years on from the events that inspired them.
— David Hewson, Author
The time Cass has spent in the welcoming city of Florence has given him a powerful sense of the tragedy that they created, of the fragility of Florence’s beauty, of the ghost of those days of destruction that underlies the city’s present well being. In his drawings and paintings, often executed on paper intended for another ephemeral purpose, he conveys the random meaninglessness of that destruction. And he suggests that the memory of the floods has become an integral element of the city’s history – a suggestion more memorable for being made with apparent objectivity.

Relatively speaking, Cass is a newcomer to the city but for that very reason he comes to it freshly and with a heightened consciousness. His work makes it clear that he has thought about Florence, and felt for it, with especial tenderness. His ‘recollections’ of those days of devastation are all the more vivid for being imagined.
— Giles Waterfield, Author & Historian

Original Watercolours by Cass Exhibited in Palazzo Lanfredini, Florence.


The project as a whole aims to illustrate the events up to and during the inundation on November 4th 1966, to describe the aftermath and destruction, and to touch upon the what if? What if this happens again: a fear that engulfed Florence during severe rain in late January 2014, and again in November 2016 as this book was being launched. A fear shared by other Italian towns, and in other locations around Europe, that have endured flooding. Historically Florence has suffered a major flood once a century. As documented in the press 'the situation has actually got worse than in 1966', according to Raffaello Nardi, who heads up a special commission responsible for safeguarding the Arno river basin. This potential risk prompts concern, in part, because of the importance of this city, what it means to the world of art and culture (both currently and historically), the irreplaceable items, objects, artefacts and architectural features its walls contain. Not to mention the intangible, the belief—thanks to the rich catalogue of those that have come before—that Florence is a (if not the) mecca of the art world. Florence exists not only for those that live there, holiday there, study there, but also in the collective memory and imagination.

Why else did the world come together in saving Florence? 'Mud Angels' travelled on their own steam, from all over the world to help in the rescue effort, others sent much-needed funds. First hand accounts from 'Mud Angels' feature in Perimetri Perduti. Cimabue’s Cross had lost over 70 percent of its paint. Donatello’s Penitent Mary Magdalene was stained with thick brown oil. Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise lost half of their golden panels. Twenty-seven thousand square feet of frescoes in Florence’s central churches and museums were damaged.

During the course of this project Cass curated four events exploring the flood. In SACI gallery, Florence (in collaboration with artist Stephen Kavanagh); a solo exhibition in The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh; an exhibition on the banks of the river Arno in Palazzo Lanfredini; and a temporary display and presentation in The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh. These events set out to raise awareness and gauge how the project might be received—both inside the city and outside—and the results were positive. Public engagement has been high, as audiences absorb the sheer scale of the flood and its impact on art history, archiving and preservation. In the face of global extremes witnessed in recent months, Cass' flood project is of clear contemporary significance. The paintings that make up this collection received Winsor & Newton's top watercolour award in 2016.

Perimetri Perduti features texts from invited authors with a connection to Florence: Robert Clark, Patricia Emison, David Hewson, Candia McWilliam & Giles Waterfield. The book also features first-hand accounts from 'Mud Angels' who travelled to Florence to help clean and salvage. 

UNESCO Fundraising Stamp "Save the Monuments of Florence and Venice"

Remaining Book Sales by Donation Only:

The artist wishes for the artworks that constitute this series be kept within the pages of the book, and so the great majority of these paintings cannot be viewed online. The book in its current form is therefore a kind of mini-exhibition. A small run of a limited edition was printed: only a few remain. If you would like to own a copy please follow the below link.


Anthony Alioto, Vienna | Nick & Vivian Bannerman, Scottish Borders | Lesley Knox, Edinburgh | Ray & Sal Landon, County Durham | Simon & Angie Lewin, Edinburgh | Susan Mackie & Pascal Bernard, Paris | Clare Mackie, Brighton | Candia McWilliam, Edinburgh | Claire O’Connor, Somerville, MA | Daniel Rawling, London | Kirsi Sutherland, Edinburgh | Giles Waterfield, London | David & Susie Wolfenden, Scottish Borders | Collection Simon Paul: a Private Art Collection in Memory of Simon MacFadyen | Sandie Walker-Hepburn of Powder Grey: Interiors & Lifestyle (Scottish Borders)

Thanks to all those who have contributed to this ongoing project, and particularly the British Institute of Florence (chiefly its supportive and enthusiastic director Julia Race and her team). The book title is the brain-child of Glasgow based artist Giovanni Giacoia: