As dazzled as I was by the contents of in the Vatican museum, I didn’t truly realize how much I love art until we got to Florence. There, thanks to the Accademia, where the famous statue of David is housed, and the Uffizi Gallery, where there is everything else, I discovered that I could spend hours and hours just admiring the work of many centuries worth of great painters and sculptors. I have always believed that the fine arts (art, music and literature) are the foundation of human society–all human societies–and the entire city of Florence proves just how right I am. Whereas Rome grounds its visitors in the progression of humans through our remarkably similar daily lives, the art of Florence reveals the great broad cycles of our interests and priorities based on the subjects of the artists. Religion, humanism, realism, idealism–this is the cycle of civilization from the beginning of time to today. Where do we fall on that cycle? As the arts are cast aside by so many as irrelevant, one can only conclude that we are in a period of realism that will not be remembered by any past our own, few generations. Perhaps that is for the best.
Stop moralizing and get on with it, you say? Good call.
Let’s start with the Accademia. You think you know Michelangelo’s David? Think again. Until you are standing close enough to touch him, you cannot really grasp his beauty. First of all, he is a very handsome young man, and as my son would put it so delicately, he is ripped. Six pack abs? Yes. Muscular arms and shoulders? Yep. Prominent veins that imply heavy lifting? You bet. As a work of art he is unparalleled. People sit in his alcove and stare, or walk around to view him from every possible angle. No part of him is not perfection. Did he leave me a little flushed? Why, yes, he did.
In David’s shadow but of great interest are Michelangelo’s Prisoners. These unfinished sculptures reflect the artist’s comment that he is not creating but only freeing the figures from the marble. Though I would never compare myself to his talent, as a writer I understand. The characters have a life of their own, and I am merely the conduit for their revelation. That was the way this great master viewed his role in the process. Can you imagine that?
Let’s move on the Uffizi Gallery before I lose you altogether in my word count. Florence is the embodiment of the Italian Renaissance, and the Uffizi is its eternally beating heart. All those pictures that pop up in text books and documentaries–here they are (Except for the ones in the Louvre, of course). And guess what? They were not done by Michelangelo.
So we start in the 13th century and see that, while beautiful, these artists could only depict the world in 2-D. Things are pretty crowded from trying to fit everybody in the painting into the single plane of the picture. Look at Cimbue’s Maestra, c. 1280
And compare it to Lippi’s Madonna with Child and Saints, c. 1486
What is also interesting is how the subject changes. My husband, nice Jewish boy that he is, asked why there were so many pictures of Jesus, and the answer is that that’s what the patrons were paying for. Also everybody wanted to have themselves painted into a picture with Jesus–the rock star of the early Renaissance–sort of an early version of photo shopping. Look, for example, at Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi in which the wise men are all members of the Medici family, the great Florencian patrons of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, none of whom were present in Galilee when Jesus was an itinerant preacher. Go figure.
Move on to Botticelli’s other subjects and you see that he branched out to pay homage to that earlier great civilization of the arts, Greece.
Venus is a Roman name you say. Yes, I know that. Please do not undermine my point with your insistence on the absolute truth. We all know the Romans were just copying the Greeks anyway.
Ok, so you’ve had enough art. My husband said the same thing by the time we had been in the Uffitzi for 4 hours. Can I just leave you with two more artistic observations? One, I was able to put a name on the artist of two other famous paintings. Caravaggio did the Medusa
Caravaggio. I’ll never forget that name again.
The second observation. These guys were very appreciative very of the human body, and not all of them had a chaste eye. Look at these two paintings by Titian:
The Venus of Urbino
He had a love affair with these women, I think.
How can I talk about Florence and not mention its symbol, the Duomo? Did you ever see a cathedral that looks like a wedding cake? We walked into the plaza and there it stood, a total surprise:
Since I’m a little shy of 1000 words, let me say one last thing about Florence. When we asked for help finding a restaurant, we were directed by a very kind and beautiful young woman to her father’s Il Porcospino Trattoria. The food was delicious, the waiter loved southern football (did we like GA or GA Tech?), and the owner and his family sat at a nearby table to chat. We shared this wonderful experience with another American couple, Steve and Stephanie, from upstate New York. A great evening of food and camaraderie.
We loved Florence, too.