Day 27 – Firenze
- Barb: Traffic
- Mike: David
- Jen: Arte
- Barb: Miniature stories
- Mike: Art aplenty
- Jen: Jester motif
Three or Four Words
- Barb: Freed from the stone
- Mike: Looking for St. Sebastian
- Jen: Rock hard abs
- Barb: Fresco cycles, medieval ivory carvings, carved capitals, illuminations: the graphic novels of the time.
- Mike: News flash: I am not a people person.
- Jen: Coup de toes must be the norm in Italy.
Today we returned to Florence to make use of our Friends of the Uffizi cards. We’ve not been visiting museums as much as we thought we would, and there was an important one we didn’t want to miss: the Galleria dell’Accademia, so we headed there first.
Our magic Friends card didn’t work precisely as we had hoped—we still had to wait in line, and in doing so were forced to breathe secondhand smoke, much from Accademia employees—but our wait was significantly shorter than it would have been without the magic Friends card.
Inside, the sea of Accademia visitors flowed directly to Michelangelo’s David. Picture-taking is no longer permitted in the Accademia. It once was because Barb has pictures of David from a previous visit. Though plenty of people flouted the rule, we did not, so you are on your own to find an image if you want one. I can offer you images of replicas and a joke.
A Brief History of David
The project began as a commission for a statue for the roofline of the Santa Maria del Fiore (yes, that’s Il Duomo). Agostino di Duccio, who may or may not have been working under Donatello’s instruction, began the sculpture of David but didn’t get very far before he left the project for reasons no longer known. Ten years later Antonio Rossellino was commissioned to take up where Agostino had left off, but that didn’t work out, either, and the stone was left neglected, out in the elements, for twenty-five years.
Now, a big piece of marble like that is a costly thing, so the powers that be—that would be the Operai—determined something needed to be done with that marble. Michelangelo, just twenty-six years old, convinced them he should be the one to do that something. On Monday, September 13, 1501, he started work on David. He completed it between January and June in 1504. I wonder if he would think it was finished, and then a few days later decide something needed tweaked or polished.
As the statue neared completion, the Operai had to decide what to do with it: It was clear that the massive size of the piece would prevent it from being installed on any roofline. After much deliberation, it was installed next to the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence’s town hall), where it stood for over 300 years before being granted a cushy retirement in the Accademia. Instead of representing a religious prophet, this David came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties. I find that interesting. I like it.
My View of David
I noted the extra-large hands, particularly the right one, the veins in the hand, the tendons in the neck, the furrowed brow, and other details observed and discussed by others. My favorite view was from the right side (David’s left), looking at his face and expression. People discuss the look they see on his face, in his eyes. Barb sees at least a hint of arrogance in those eyes. I see a hint of fear and trepidation, perhaps confusion or uncertainty.
Part of me thinks it’s fun to “read into” the statue, to give it a story: Some people claim that this is David before he slayed Goliath because had it been afterward, he would have been portrayed with Goliath’s head, as was done in earlier representations. As if that were a rule. I didn’t know this story until after I’d seen the statue, but it fits with the feeling I saw in David’s eyes, so I can get on board this idea.
Giving the statue such a story is all well and good provided we don’t lose sight of the fact that we’re making it up. While I think it’s valid that viewers bring their own perspective and understanding to a statue, painting, work of literature, etc., I think the artist’s story for the piece trumps all viewers’ stories. It’s always bothered me when a reviewer insists his/her ideas about a book or movie or whatever are right, particularly when the author/artist doesn’t address the idea or (let’s be honest) when I don’t agree. And I think these reviews are sometimes (often?) taken too seriously, given too much weight or value, often in the name of education. I wonder what story Michelangelo gave David. Is there any record of this?
On the back of the statue are itty-bitty wires and bits of paper marking cracks in the marble and sensing tiny vibrations and changes in the material. The health of David is being carefully monitored so interventions can be initiated before serious problems arise. This is an elite statue being given elite healthcare. There are other fine statues out there, statues that are, arguably, as good as this one, but they have not been given this elite status and treatment. Why? Dumb luck, I say.
Somewhere along the line Michelangelo and his work were plucked from the artist soup and given a spotlight, not unlike today’s celebrities. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve the attention and credit—I’m a fan—but for every celebrity we know, I wonder who else might be similarly worthy of our attention but not getting it because s/he never got out of the soup. Part of why you and I know David is because it has been singled out by others, promoted, and protected. Maybe there was once an even better sculpture that didn’t have extra large hands made by someone else, but we don’t know about it because it was left out in the weather and deteriorated. So while I enjoy David, I want to also give a nod to unknown sculptures and sculptors.
The hall leading up to David contains Michelangelo’s Quattro Prigioni, the Four Prisoners, sculpted between 1521 and 1523. They were intended to decorate the tomb of Pope Julius II, and I’m very curious as to why Michelangelo chose this theme for the Pope. Does anyone else think it an odd choice for a pope’s tomb?
Nonetheless, I love the sculptures, probably more than David. The statues appear incomplete. Whether they are or aren’t is up for debate, I understand, but I want to think they are exactly as Michelangelo intended, i.e., that they are as complete as he wanted them to be. As they are, these prisoners are struggling to free themselves from the rock. They’re imprisoned in the rock.
Michelangelo, like many sculptors, thought there were figures inside the rocks, and he just removed what wasn’t supposed to be there. He didn’t choose what was there; he merely exposed it. So this concept of prisoners trying to escape the rocks seems like something he would have tried to convey. Mind you, I don’t cotton to this concept. I mean, he set out to sculpt David; he didn’t just start chiseling and discover David there. But I think I understand the feeling that is at the root of this concept, so I won’t quibble. Much.
Now, sure, someone could sculpt four figures and call them Quattro Prigioni, but how much more interesting it is to have them crawling out of the rocks. It’s this idea behind the sculptures that I especially like, and why I like these more than David. The idea behind David is pretty straightforward and, well, you know…not so interesting.
Pugi and Spedale degli Innocenti
From the Accademia, we went to a bakery called “Pugi” for frittelle di riso (rice fritters), but, sigh, they only make those on the weekend. Or that’s what I think the woman said; she said it in Italian. We got some schiacciata instead (focaccia with olive oil and salt on top). It wasn’t as good as the schiacciata we got with Lexi from the Mercato Centrale, but it was far from bad.
We had lunch looking across the piazza at Spedale degli Innocenti. This “hospital” (spedale) opened in 1444 and was the first orphanage in Europe. There was a sort of lazy susan outside where mothers could anonymously place their babies, spin them inside, ring a bell, and have the child admitted to the orphanage. What a kind and generous service. Really. I think part of the building is still an orphanage today, but part is being renovated as a museum. Maybe it’s an effort to raise money for the orphanage. Or maybe I’m making all that up.
Brunelleschi designed the building, but apparently it didn’t make much of an impression on us because none of us took any pictures of it. Mike did take a picture of the rather frightening fountain statue in the piazza, though. Do you suppose they were trying to scare the children in the orphanage?
Santa Maria Novella
Next on the agenda was the church of Santa Maria Novella, one of Barb’s favorite places in Florence.
The altar is a sort of cathedral inside a cathedral.
We did another lap around Il Duomo, dawdling in front of Ghiberti’s 21-years-in-the-making bronze baptistry doors (well, replicas of them), identifying the stories depicted by each panel and noting details. Nope, that didn’t annoy the many people who also wanted to see the doors.
Mike was pretty museumed out by now, and I was, too (Barb’s museum appetite is seemingly insatiable), but I pushed to see a bit of the Bargello, which has “Italy’s finest collection of Renaissance sculpture,” because this was the Firenze Finale. We meandered through several rooms of sculptures and a room of ivory miniatures, another of Barb’s favorite things.
When the Bargello kicked us (and everyone else) out, we made our way to Lexi’s gelateria (the one near her apartment) and celebrated another long day of walking and sightseeing. It’s good gelato.