Thursday, April 26, 2007

Graduation Gift -- Italy (Part IV)

Following our adventures in Siena for the Palio, the three of us made our way down to Firenza, or Florence. For my husband and I, this was our second trip to Florence but we didn't stay in Fiesole as we did previously. Instead we had arranged to stay for a few days in a little pensione, Pensione Losanna, which I had found in some budget guide to Italy.

Now I have to say that it provided a very minimum standard of accommodation, but the owners were friendly people and everything was very clean. So we didn't mind too much, although the towels were a little threadbare. But it served our purpose and there was parking for our hired car available on the street, and this was not an easy thing to find in Florence. Of course, we didn't use our car to get around, since Florence is a wonderful city for walking everywhere.

Every day we walked into the centre of the city and visited the special palaces, churches, and museums for which Florence is renowned. In between, we found some charming out of the way places to eat. One of our favourites for dinner was a small family run trattoria which had no menu. On offer was whatever they decided, perhaps a choice of one or two primi piatti or first courses with the same limited choice for main course, or secondi piatti. Dessert was always macedonia or fruit salad.

As I've said before Florence was the centre of the Renaissance or Rinascimento in Italian. That wonderful creative period in history, where literature, philosophy, art, science, and politics flourished, began in Florence, especially under the patronage of the Medici family who had come to power there in the 14th century. Everywhere you look in Florence, on various buildings, you can see their distinctive coat of arms, a shield with the five balls in a circle, although the actual number of balls, or palle, varied over the years.

As an aside, my photo on the right is taken in the Piazza della Signoria. It's actually the Loggia at one end of the Piazza and I'm sure most of you will remember it from the scene of the fight and the stabbing in the film, Room with a View. You can see Cellini's wonderful bronze statue of Perseus holding up Medusa's head, sword in the other hand.

There are so many things in Florence I could tell you about. I've talked about the Duomo or Cathedral and the Baptistery before, so I won't bore you again with those places. Of course, I have to keep some things to talk about when I tell you about my trip to Florence, in 1997, when I came to study Italian at a language school for three weeks.

So this time, I've chosen two places, with the first being the Galleria dell'Accademia where Michelangelo's David resides. The museum was conceived at the end of the 17th century to house an art collection of 13th to 16th century Florentine paintings for students to study and copy. However, in 1873, the larger than life statue of David, which originally stood in the Piazza della Signoria, was moved to the Accademia to protect it from damage and pollution and it was replaced by a replica outdoors.

After you enter the building, before you come to the David, standing under its specially built rotunda, you pass through a tapestry lined gallery which displays 7 other sculptures of Michelangelo, most of which are unfinished.

I can't tell you how moving it is to see these half finished statues. The figures look as if they are struggling to be free of the marble blocks. How Michelangelo could have stood before a block of marble, then gradually unveiled the figures within by laboriously chipping away with his chisel, sometimes for years at a time, has never ceased to amaze me. Somehow, for me, they are almost more impressive than the David, with which we are all so familiar. However, this huge statue, commissioned by the city of Florence, made Michelangelo the foremost sculptor of his time, while still in his twenties.

These statues are the reason why so many tourists line up outside the building and wait patiently to enter. But, of course, the painting collection is superb, with examples from Botticelli, Fra Bartolomeo, Ghirlandaio and Lippi. So after the long wait, don't just see the Michelangelos and leave, as so many do.

One other delightful museum which we visited was the Bargello. Built in 1255 as the city's town hall, it is a remarkably beautiful building which, after being a prison, was renovated in 1865 to become one of Italy's first national museums. It houses an outstanding collection of Florentine Renaissance sculpture with rooms displaying spectacular bronzes of Donatello, Cellini and Giambologna. In the Bargello, resides the beautiful bronze David by Donatello, almost effeminate in its aspect and almost as well known as Michelangelo's David. Also housed there are some wonderful examples of the glazed terracotta works of the della Robbia family, in fact two rooms full, and in the Sala delle armi, an equally wonderful collection of armaments and armour.

The wonderful thing about this museum is the building itself. Austere and square and boxy on the outside, it has this beautiful open air inner courtyard with loggia and balcony and soaring stone staircase by which you access the upper floors. I doubt you could find a more perfect setting to display this priceless collection of Renaissance sculpture and it remains one of my favourite museums of Italy.

Next time I post about this trip, come with me to Assissi, where we spent a week, making it our centre for the hill towns of Umbria.


Janice Thomson said...

Oh Jmb this is so wonderful to read. I can't imagine standing in front of a work of Michelangelo or Botticelli or Lippi...think I would faint from the sheer wonder of their paintings. :) ...and the sculptures...and the architecture...I will settle for living life vicariously through your eyes-so don't forget even the smallest detail LOL...I look forward to the next post with bated breath...

jmb said...

Hi Janice,
It is indeed a great experience to see these works that have been merely names for so long. I have been most fortunate to have travelled so extensively and seen them and the wonderful buildings too.

I'll tell you something funny though. In the Uffizzi gallery there is a famous Botticelli madonna which has been restored. I saw it before and after and the after seemed somehow too gaudy, as if painted with acrylic paint. I know that it is now the way it originally looked, but somehow I liked the old faded one better. Sacrilege, I know.

Ian Lidster said...

When I first saw 'David' way back in 1968 (just two years after the disastrous Arno flooding)I realized I had never seen genuine artistic beauty before. I gasped as I entered the gallery. Thank you for taking me back.


jmb said...

Hi Ian,
I know many people criticize this work (the hands are out of proportion, etc) but it's quite overwhelming really when you see it for the first time. The hugeness of the undertaking by this artist makes one feel humble. And the Sistine Chapel on top of all the statues all over Italy.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Great post again, jmb. I love Florence and you have made me remember it. I agree with you about those other statues of Michelangelo's and I, too, adore the Bargello, both as a building and as a museum. Thank you for reminding me of the beauty of a city I have always loved. Can't wait for Assissi post - I have never been there!

jmb said...


I just love the history of that period in Florence. The Bargello is special, but, as so many buildings there are, it was hard to choose. I don't want to talk about every single one I ever visited there. Everyone would be long gone.


Sienna said...

One of my favorite cities, Florence! Firenze...that is just how I felt...overwhelmed, must have looked a sight, chin hanging down, going oh and aahh...

I arrived in Florence one late autumn afternoon, got some beautiful pics up on Piazza Michelango, overlooking Florence and the River Arno.

It is such a wonderful place to walk around, I find it amazing such a beautiful little city with such rich history can affect my emotions so much, the whole place is a work of art, and the people were adorable....beautiful blog JMB, just such wonderful memories.

There is another blogger, Spider Girl off to Italy in 2 weeks, she has a little apartment in central just makes my heart ache for Italy...a happy ache :)


jmb said...

Hi Sienna,

For me, historically speaking, Firenza is the perfect place. There is so much to see, and it's beautiful. We had lunch at Piazza Michelangelo one beautiful day. I wish I had a digital camera when I was there, well in 1984 they didn't exist and 1997, my next trip there they were still very rare.
I have checked Spider Girl's blog when I saw she mentioned in a comment that she was off to Italy.

It's such a long way for you to go.

Mary said...

JMB - who needs a guide book when we've got your blog? Excellent description of Florence, Mary