Friday, May 15, 2009

May 5


Today’s plan is to absorb more culture. Today we’ll focus on the secular Renaissance.
Kevin and I began the day with a walk over to “Florence by Bike” to check out the scooters we plan to rent for tomorrow’s outing to Siena. The scooters looked good (Honda 125’s) and more importantly, Florence by Bike appeared to be a well-run organization with both a retail shop specializing in bicycles and cycling accessories and a repair shop. We confirmed the reservation with the retail shop’s office; but before we left, Kevin and I had a look around. I saw a Colagno bike with full top-end Campagnolo Record components. I’m guessing it was a “special-edition” Colnago because it also had some “Ferrari” markings. The price? A measly €6,400!

After the Florence by Bike stop, we headed over to the train station. Along the way we passed by the Alineri scooter rental shop. Seeing that shop confirmed to me that we had made the right choice in going with Florence by Bike.

We don’t want to have a repeat of the experience of the ride from Naples to Florence (actually the Rome to Florence portion) so we purchased our train tickets for the Florence to Venice portion of the trip in advance. This time, we’re going to be travelling on one of the high-speed trains – with assigned seats.

Those chores done, Kevin and I headed back to the apartment to get Marg and Penny and head out for the first of our gallery visits.

We started at the Accademia – home of Michelangelo’s “David”.

Good thing we made reservations in advance – there was quite the lineup to get in. The funny thing was that they didn’t ask to see any confirmation of the reservations; nor did they appear to check our name against their list of reservations. We could just as easily have walked up and told someone that we had reservations – and skipped the line entirely.

David is symbolic of Renaissance optimism. He looks at his enemy with a gaze that says “I will be victorious”. Art is symbolism and David screams “symbolism”. The hands and head are the most predominant parts of the sculpture; David (as all men) will overcome their trails and tribulations by making use of their own heads and hands. As I mentioned earlier, David was moved from its original location outside the Palazio Vecchio in 1873 to this specially-designed area in the Accademia. The rotunda in which Davis stands is capped with a dome and the effect is one of a halo overhead. As you approach David, the hall is lined with unfinished pieces by Michelangelo – the “Prisoners”.

The prisoners are a series of statues that had been commissioned and started, but never completed. Michelangelo’s technique was to simply knock away all of the marble that was not the thing that God had imprisoned in the stone. These “prisoners” rise from the marble, caught in an eternal struggle to escape.

No photos were allowed in the Accademia.

Our next museum reservation was for 1400 at the Ufizzi gallery. We then made our way back down to the Piazza Signoria (adjacent to the Ufizzi) and once again found a spot at the loggia to spread out the flag, have a seat, and eat our lunch.

We got to the Ufizzi gallery a bit ahead of our reservation. This time, they wanted to see the reservation document. I didn’t have a printed version, but I’d been thinking ahead and had the email confirmation already pulled up on the little computer. All I had to do was flash my little screen and we were good to go.

In all respects, it was over whelming.

The walk through the museum starts with a climb up four flights of stairs. Once you reach the top, you move the rooms starting with pre-Renaissance and carrying on through the Renaissance and immediate post-Renaissance periods. In the pre-Renaissance period, (1200-1400) the world was “flat” and religious icons predominated. The people of the day had clear understanding of the imagery and the stories the art told were well known – the stories of the bible. This area of the museum is dominated by the work of Giotto, Martini and da Fabriano.

It was said that the Renaissance began in 1401 when Ghiberti was commissioned to work on the Baptistery doors. The next area of the Ufizzi gallery reflects the state of painting at the time. N the 1400s, painters were working out the mathematics of portraying depth and perspective on a flat surface. This was also the time when art for pure enjoyment began to be created. The Ufizzi gallery has the famous “Duke and Duchess of Urbino” by della Frencesca on display.

The Renaissance began to reach full bloom in the mid-1400s. Under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici (aka Lorenzo the Magnificient). Lorenzo drew into his circle the best and brightest of the day; among the members of that group was Sandro Botticelli. The only Botticelli work I had ever been familiar with was “Birth of Venus”. However, when I saw “Allegory of Spring” and “Adoration of the Magi”, I realized that I had also been familiar with them as well (but just never connected the dots to Botticelli). The Botticelli portion of the display closes with “Slander”. It depicts the end of the Florentine Renaissance brought about by the rise of Savonarola.

The work of Botticelli is followed by two religious works by da Vinci. Then, it’s on to the classical sculpture area of the museum for a glimpse of work by the ancient Greeks and the Roman copycats.

As the Renaissance flamed out in Florence, it blew north to Germany and influenced painters there – including Cranach whose “Martin Luther” and “Katherine von Bora” are on display. There followed more sculptures (Greek originals and Roman copies) – arranged chronologically from the time of Julius Caesar to the Emperor Constantine. Along the way, there is a fantastic view of the Ponte Vecchio and Arno River.

The Renaissance got back into gear under the patronage of Pope Leo X. Leo was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and was thirteen years old when his family took in the then-thirteen-year-old Michelangelo. This area of the museum contains the works of Titian and Raphael. It also contains the only easel painting ever completed by Michelangelo. Most consider that the Florentine Renaissance came to an end with the death of Raphael.

And it wasn’t over … it went on and on … and on. And, near the end, there is a wall with (almost unnoticed) three Rembrandt paintings that would be prominently featured in nearly any other gallery.
I told you it was overwhelming.

After the Ufizzi gallery, we headed back towards the apartment by way of the Mercato San Lorenzo. During the day, it’s wall-to-wall merchants working out of stalls and carts. It’s only in the evening that the “black” market – dealing in knock-offs – comes out of the shadows. Strangely enough, Marg managed to find a guy ready to sell a “Breitling” watch for €30. I took it. Penny and Marg bought themselves scarves and shawls. Florence is famous for its leather goods, and for a while, I thought Kevin was going to succumb to the lure of the leather jackets (or maybe a man-purse), but he held firm. I myself found it difficult to resist the lure of a leather travelling bag.

We came back to the apartment and recovered from our wanderings of the day. After our adventures, our little “Ufizzis” were tired.

For supper, we went to a seafood restaurant we’d found during our previous evening’s wanderings. Afterwards, we went for a walk and wound our way down to the Ponte Vecchio.

We stopped for gelato and strolled onto the bridge. At the centre of the span, there was a fellow playing guitar and singing. Overhead, the moon was near full; the evening was warm. It was as near perfect an ending to the day as you could expect.Well, almost the ending. After we got back to the apartment we played a bit of Euchre before heading off to bed.

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