Wednesday, September 24

Steve and Paula: Today we spent exploring much more of the art and architecture of Florence. We created a very ambition plan for day and with Freya's help, we were able to accomplish most of what we had hoped. Knowing that the Uffizi Gallery fills up quickly, we got an early start and decided to make this our first stop.

The Uffizi was originally the office for the Medici Family and contains works of art commissioned by the Medici's over the 300 years that they essentially ruled Florence. The museum's exhibits are arranged in chronological order starting with the 1300s in Italy, through the Renaissance, and moving into the 18th century. Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera are two of the best-known masterpieces in the Uffizi, and are spectacular. These were painted during the height of Botticelli's career, and are well-known for their brilliant colors and compositions. We also enjoyed other masterpieces by Raphael, Giotto and Michelangelo. The Uffizi is a wonderful museum, and is easy to understand and navigate. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Uffizi (even David agreed that this was something special!).

Our next stop was the Pitti Palace. We had visited the Boboli Gardens last week, but wanted to return today to see the Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments of the Medicis. We were not prepared for the huge collection of magnificent art contained in the Medici's private collection (there are over 1,000 paintings here, including the Madonna of the Chair by Raphael, and Mary Magdalene by Titian). The walls of the Palatine Gallery are literally filled with paintings and they hang today just as the Medicis had arranged them. The sheer number of paintings is overwhelming, and it's very difficult to focus on any one work or masterpiece. The apartments are exactly as they were left in the 1780s with the furniture, draperies, artwork and decorations all being original.

After a quick lunch, we met Freya at the Bargello Museum. The Bargello was Florence's original town hall from the 1200s. It was also a police station and a prison before becoming a museum. The Bargello is often overlooked by visitors to Florence because it focuses on sculptures rather than paintings. This is one of Freya's favorite museums, and we were definitely delighted by its treasures. The highlights of the Bargello include sculptures by Donatello (the first true Renaissance sculptor) and the bronze panels depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac submitted by Brunelleschi and Ghiberti in the competition to produce the third set of Baptistery doors. We especially enjoyed comparing and contrasting these panels, and hearing Freya's perspectives on why Ghiberti's submission was superior (we agreed!). Freya also told us several wonderful stories about the sculptures in the museum, especially Dontatello's David.

From the Bargello we walked to the Museum dell'Opera, which houses items removed for protection primarily from the exterior of the Duomo. This is a beautiful museum, and it contains several treasures including the original panels from Ghiberti's Baptistry doors. It was wonderful to be able to examine these panels up close, and it was amazing to see how Ghiberti created such a sense of depth on panels that actually were very thin. The dell'Opera also contains Michelangelo's last Pieta, which has a very interesting story attached to it. When the sculpture was almost finished, Michelangelo decided that he didn't like the work (or the block of marble that was being used), and he began to physically destroy it. The Pieta was eventually acquired by a collector who attempted to restore it, but it is obvious today where the damage was done. We also enjoyed seeing and learning about several sculptures (by Donatello and others), two singing galleries (created by Donatello and Luca della Robbia) that were removed in the 1600's, and several exhibits about the construction of Bruelleschi's dome.

Our next stop was the Santa Maria Novella, a Dominican church from the 1200s. The façade of the Santa Maria Novella is classic Renaissance architecture. Inside, the church feels large and open (similar to the Santa Croce), but has a warmer feeling to it. We enjoyed learning about The Trinity, a very famous fresco by Masaccio (considered to be the first true Renaissance painter, but not well known). In addition, there are wonderful frescoes behind the altar - these were painted by Ghirlandaio and cover the lives of John the Baptist (the patron saint of Florence) and the Virgin Mary. We learned that Michelangelo worked as an apprentice on these frescoes, and this was where he first learned this art form.

Freya then took us to a pharmacy actually created in the 1400's by the Dominican Monks to sell healing rose water. The pharmacy still operates today, and sells all kinds of healing products - it's housed in a beautiful building. Interestingly, the pharmacy looks out on a courtyard which is used in the training of Italian military police. When we arrived, a group of rookie recruits was practicing riot control methods using shields and batons. It was fun to watch, and very amusing to see among the original frescoes and buildings of the Dominican monks.

Our last stop with Freya was the church of San Lorenzo. This was the Medici's parish church, and contains beautiful pulpits created by Donatello, and a Mannerist-style fresco by Bronzino.

We then said goodbye to Freya, and walked to the Galleria del'Accademia. This museum was created specifically to house the original copy of Michelangelo's David, which had been damaged several times in its original location outside the Town Hall. It was fun to see David again, and its size and realistic qualities are truly impressive. Unfortunately, a major restoration effort began on September 1 (scheduled to continue into 2004), so we had to view David along with some scaffolding. We also enjoyed seeing Michelangelo's four prisoners, sculptures depicting muscular figures struggling to free themselves from stone.

Today was a great and very educational day for us all. With Freya's help, we learned a tremendous amount about specific works of art, the lives of Italian artists and several interesting dynamics about Florence's Renaissance movement. For example, Freya explained how Giorgio Vasari's book, Lives of the Artists, has had such a huge impact on how we view who the true Renaissance masters truly were. It is now believed that there were many other equally accomplished Renaissance artists outside of Florence, but Vasari wanted specifically to promote Florentine artists. It was also interesting to learn about how Renaissance artists operated. These artists all had large workshops, and the work was actually performed by groups of artists under the supervision of the lead artist (e.g. Raphael, Botticelli). However, in our minds we normally picture an individual artist as having produced their masterpieces independently.. Freya told us that there's even some controversy regarding whether Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel on his own.

UNESCO estimates that 45% of the world's greatest art resides in Italy, and that 60% of this art is here in Florence. Today was a wonderful opportunity for us to see and learn about much of this art.

Tomorrow, we are again planning to spend the day with Roberta to explore several towns in the Southern Tuscany, including Montalcino and Pienza.

Distance Walked: 5.75 miles












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