Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Day of Medici

We began our first official day in Florence by climbing over 400 steps to the top of the dome. Yep, over 400.
After stepping out our door onto the perpetually busy via Calzaiuoli, we made the short two-minute stroll north to the Piazza del
Duomo. It is impossible to keep from standing in awe of this structure upon each and every visit, even in passing. The facade is dizzying with its volume of detail. With its twisting arched borders, numerous niches and complex green-white-pink striped color scheme, it is truly an astounding piece of architecture to behold. At the side of the nave's exterior is a small door which serves as the entrance to the cupola. We waited in a short line for just ten minutes before paying our €6 entrance fee to begin the epic climb. Actually, to be honest, it really wasn't as difficult as I remembered. The climb begins fairly straightforward, with the usual stairway up to the smaller side dome, which houses some original sculptures from the facade. You emerge into the upper balcony which follows the inner dome, a flurry of figures above you in the amazing fresco of the dome. Then the hike gets interesting, with twisting spiral staircases and eventually, a climb up stairs which literally follow the curve of the dome. The humid and stuffy climb in itself is an experience, but the commanding view of the city is more than worth the effort. The red tiled roofs flood for miles beneath you, the hills which rise above the valley on each side punctuated by the towers and domes scattered throughout. It is incredible the very expanse which Florence extends.
Reluctantly we descended the way we had come and traded the birds-eye for the ants-eye view beside the Duomo. We waited in another line in the sun to enter the interior of the Duomo. Admittedly, Florence's Duomo exterior and size may completely dwarf that of Siena, but without a doubt, the interior of Siena's duomo takes the aesthetic cake. What Florence's Duomo lacks in concentrated decoration, it makes up for in scale. Beauty can certainly be found in its simple, commanding, soaring columns and arches.
Next, we returned blinking onto the bright sunlit street, and flanked the Duomo to visit its museum. This was a sight my mom and I did not get around to, so I was looking forward to something entirely new. The chunks of stone tracery, columns, and statues from the original facade were very well displayed and preserved. The blueprints, trials and sketches for the design of the duomo, as well as wooden miniatures, were fascinating. However, the pieces which I looked forward to most were Michelangelo's last Pieta, and Donatello's Mary Magdelene. I was disapponted with neither.
The incomplete quality of the final Pieta was the aspect I loved most. Seeing michelangelo's very marks on the marble and the unfinished faces of Mary and Jesus gave such a sense of Michelangelo's presence. And seeing his own self portrait in the face of Nicodemus was potentially the greatest aspect.
Similarly, the roughness of Donatello's Mary Magdalene in wood gives her the haggard appearance the piece is known for. It is both a haunting and beautiful piece, in its own right.
After the Duomo museum, we made our way toward the Medici Chapels and the church of San Lorenzo. Every day, armies of vendors line the street beside San Lorenzo with white tents, the contents ranging from leather goods to golden trinkets. Though the San Lorenzo market was not our destination, the experience of walking the aisle between the rows of tents was an interesting one. Shortly we reached the front of The Medici Chapels, where we propped ourselves against a wall and ate our usual lunch. Afterwards, we forked over €6 to see the Medici Chapels. It's quite a unique structure, even on the exterior, with robust domes and pinnacles which come together to create an organized jumble. Inside, the door opens directly into the reliquary, which is simply a wide, low room with vaulted ceilings, the walls and marble floors lined with the tombs of the Medici. The more important members have upright marble tombs which stand near the walls, Lorenzo the Magnificent being in the largest and most centrally placed tomb. The columns which support the cryptlike room are abutted by displays of the Medici family relics. These relics are particularly fascinating, not only for their opulent and ornate design, but because they contain shards of bone from ancient Medicis. Often these bone fragments are unrecognizable, though at times one can just identify a finger here, a rib there. I personally find it both a little barbaric yet very fascinating.
The most worthwhile (yet not enough for the price) portion is the chapel itself. It's an extremely vertical room, made of only dark colored marble. It makes for a very impressive chamber, which is surprisingly well lit by its large number of high windows. I am glad that I was able to see this sight, though I wouldn't recommend it for the price tag, unless they dropped it by a couple €.
By contrast, my €8 Firenze shirt was an investment I was happy in, though we ultimately passed up the Baptistery, as it's a single room chamber with a €4 entrance fee. Its ceiling mosaic might be famous, but we decided against it.
Erik took a short nap at the apartment while I sketched beneath the vaults of the town hall beside the Palazzo Vecchio, a platform full of copies of famous sculptures including Perseus, Rape of the Sabines, and Hercules and the Centaur. The latter is what I chose to sketch, as it is masterfully executed, massive, and shows incredible motion. I wish I had noted the artist.
As I worked toward completion of my sketch, Erik returned from his rest and decided to join me in sketching. I must say he completed his best drawing to date, and he expressed an interest in sketching more later on. Maybe I can teach him a thing or two. :)
Our reservation at the Accademia drew near. As Florence is incredibly convenient even to walk, the trip on foot from Piazza Della Signoria to the Accademia takes no more than ten minutes. And this is a museum I am happy to pay €14 to get into, the extra €4 being for the reservation we willingly made beforehand to avoid waiting in a horrendous line. The Accademia houses a ton more art than I remembered. The entry room houses the original Rape of Sabines sculpture, and along the walls are hung great paintings from the Renaissance. Exploration of the rooms to the right will reward you with crisp and masterful 18th century sculpture, as well as an instrument museum. The center of the show is always David, however. And for good reason.
As if to amplify the utter perfection of Michelangelo's arguably finest work, his Prisoners sculptures line the hall which leads to David's chamber. These unfinished figures seem to writhe within the marble itself, their roughly-hewn bodies a testament to their creator's processes.
As much as I am in love with Bernini's work, I must give Michelangelo his dues on possibly the grandest sculpture in existence. Even for its supposed disporportion, I believe the David is as perfect as a sculpture can be. Even in a standing pose, David's balanced muscularly lean frame sways into fluid motion. He is powerful, confident, and relaxed. His massive right hand, with knuckles and veins bulging, rests calmly on his well-defined thigh, as his other drapes the sling over his shoulder in resolution. His facial features are unique in every way, yet follow the classic forms of male beauty. The only betrayal of David's confidence is revealed in the humanizing furrow in his brow.
We spent nearly two hours in one of the smallest museums I've been to. Anything less would be rushing.
After a few final glances, we left David in his eternal pose of triumph, and headed back to Piazza Della Signoria for dinner, and on the way saw a guy on a bicycle with a tree in his backpack. The waiter got my order wrong (chicken Bolognese) so Erik ate his tiny portion of lasagna before mine was even done. He's been disappointed with the portions here, so we are going to try to find some less-touristy places to eat in the following nights.
Later on, we gravitated toward a concert on our way back home, and sampled a bit of modern
Italian music. We then climbed to our rooftop terrace to enjoy some nonalcoholic beverages, but soon realized that we needed dessert. So we scurried downstairs, to a gelato shop a few doors down, where I got a nutella-whipped cream crepe, and Erik his staple tiramisu/caffe gelato. We scurried back upstairs to enjoy our desserts and watched the sky grow darker and the street lights grow brighter in the great city of art.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoying the vicarious thrills of revisiting Firenze and Siena with you, Collen. I am in love with Siena, and the view from the top of its Duomo. The David....think I spent 3 hours circling him, and thought that his furrowed brow only intimated his seriousness of purpose. His relaxed stance and everything else about the sculpture spoke to me of his utter certainty that he would not fail to land the blow.