Monday, June 6, 2011

The City of Priceless Treasures - Florence, Italy

Steve and I left Venice on Friday morning and drove to Florence, stopping at a beach on the Adriatic Sea along to way. We didn't stay long, as it was windy and threatening to rain, but it was fun to say we've now seen the Adriatic! Neither of us had been there before.

Florence... now, this city is near and dear to my heart. I lived here for a summer five years ago, when I studied with Maureen Hyde at the Florence Academy of Art... and it was hard to be there by myself. However, I saw and did as much as I possibly could, going to class every morning and spending every afternoon and evening at the museums, churches, or historical sights. Now, to relive it with my husband is really a dream come true for me. I felt a bit like a tour guide as I showed him around this beautiful city. I can tell you where many of the most precious treasures of the Renaissance are to be found, from the most popular among tourists (like Michelangelo's David, housed in the Galleria dell' Accademia), to the lesser known but equally priceless (like the fresco of The Procession of the Magi, by Benozzo Gozzoli in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi). There is so much to see here - in the birthplace and mecca of the Renaissance! For example, we visited the church of Santa Croce. This beautiful church contains the tombs of an all-star Florentine lineup, including Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Dante. Florence is extremely proud of its historical heritiage, and boasts monuments to its heros all over the city.

As we learned on Saturday morning in our guided tour of the Accademia, the statue of David (1501-1504) alone represents a great deal for the city of Florence: political strength ("small but mighty"... although Michelangelo's David is hardly small at 17 feet tall!), the rebirth of Roman civilization and a new spirit of optimism after the Dark Ages, and in many ways, the beginning of modern art. Let me explain: Michelangelo didn't care about the historical accuracy of his David. His David had to look like this and only this. He is about 25 (not a teenager, as the biblical text describes), there is no head of Goliath at his feet, he is completely nude, and uncircumcised at that. After seeing the magnificent David, as well as the unfinished sculptures of slaves (which were supposed to be among the many sculptures to adorn the massive tomb of Pope Julius II), I am pretty much convinced that Michelangelo was the greatest artist who ever lived. He refused the help of assistants, but had a body of work that no artist will ever match or surpass. Even more remarkable is the fact that instead of carving his marble statues all the way around, as most sculptors would work, Michelangelo worked from front to back (very risky when working with an expensive block of Carrara marble!). This method backs up his own claim that instead of simply carving a statue, he was freeing the form. As he said of one work, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

Here are a few pictures from Florence. Friday night was lovely and magical for Steve and I; we climbed the steps to the Piazzale Michelangelo, a beautiful lookout on the other side of the Arno that gives you an incredible view of Renaissance Florence, complete with the Biblioteca, the Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge"), the Palazzo Vecchio ("Old Palace" - one of the older Medici homes), the Uffizi, and of course, the famous Duomo (cathedral) and Campanile (bell tower). Steve and I enjoyed some Chianti Classico, which is the only wine you should drink while in Florence, and I painted the beautiful scene before me.
My painting drew quite a spectacle among tourists, but so did the incredible sunset. It was glorious.

The light changes quickly out there. I didn't have time to paint the lovely orange flowers in the foreground, but I enjoyed every minute of my painting.

Chianti - the truest of Tuscan red wines. :-)

The beautiful Duomo and Campanile. Notice the colorful green and pink marble, charactaristic of Renaissance Tuscany.

My art supply store was closed. :-( Steve and I still managed to swing by this morning (Monday) before we left Florence. They have everything a girl could want! Okay, maybe not shoes...

A visit to the Boboli gardens produced this little plein air sketch. It was very relaxing, as I simply sat down on a park bench and enjoyed painting in the nice weather... which later turned to rain. Thankfully, we were visiting the Uffizi when it started pouring.

I am so glad that Steve and I reserved a tour for the Vasari Corridor. This corridor is seldom open to the public, but contains thousands of priceless works of art, including the largest collection of artist's self-portraits. Pictures were not allowed, but we did sneak this one of me (below), completely elated to be there!

The Vasari Corridor, designed by artist and author Georgio Vasari, was built for the Medici family in 1565 on the occasion of the royal wedding of Francis I to Joan of Austria. The purpose of the corridor was to separate the royal family from the common people as they passed from their old palace (the Palazzo Vecchio) to the new (the Pitti Palace, to which the Boboli Gardens are connected). The corridor crosses over the Ponte Vecchio. I found it interesting to hear that the reason the bridge only contains the shops of goldsmiths and jewelers is because the Medici didn't want to smell anything bad (like fish or meat) when they crossed over. Today, the bridge is still home to small shops of fine jewelry. Also, it wasn't until the 19th century that the corridor came to be used as a place for hanging paintings. The Medici did possess an enormous art collection, and thanks to the last Medici in the family line, Anna Maria Louisa (d. 1742), the works of art stayed in Florence and remain to this day.

I was astounded by the treasures there and grateful to see them with my own eyes, even though the tour went quickly. Among some of the highlights were self-portraits by Anthony Van Dyck, Joshua Reynolds, Jaques Louis David, John Everett Millais, Cecilia Beaux, Philip Alexius De Laszlo de Lombos, Henri Fantin Latour, and Anders Zorn (my favorite of the lineup!).

Anders Zorn - Self-Portrait - 1889

Currently, Steve and I are in Siena and will be here for two nights. We will finish our Italian tour with Rome and be back on June 11. I can't believe how fast it's going! More to come...



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