Sunday, November 06, 2005

Florence

Arrived in Florence on Friday, and while there certainly is nothing wrong with the town, it seems to mainly be a support system for its museums that honor Florence as the hub of the Renaissance.

One nice thing about traveling during the off-season is that sites that are normally packed are more managable. There is a reservation system in Florence where you can call ahead and reserve a time to enter their more popular museums, and thus bypass long lines to buy tickets. Which is a good idea, but they charge you 3 euros for the service. When it is crowded, 3 euros is a bargain, but otherwise, forget it. I called and made reservations, but when I got to the Uffizi and the Accademy, I saw that there wasn't any line and just bought a normal ticket.

So I saw Botticelli's "Birth of Venus." Similar to seeing Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, you realize that it's a good painting, but not so good to explain its status as an icon. I really think such status rests on the fact that both paintings are fairly simple and can be appreciated immediately as images rather than as works of art. In other words, there's not much more to be gained by seeing the actual artworks that you won't get from a good photo in an artbook. So they are infinitely reproducable in addition to being immediately accessible. You "get" them instantly. You don't need to spend any time contemplating them, Mona Lisa's famous enigmatic smile notwithstanding.

Not so with Michaelangelo's statue of David. My mother has metioned in this journal that when she saw it, she cried. While the statue didn't move me to tears, it is moving. We all know what it looks like. But the one thing that is never reproduced is the uncertain look in David's eyes. Seen from the front, David is looking to his left and seems to have either a calm or blank expression. But when you walk to his left and see him face forward, the expression changes. It is one (to my eyes) of doubt, of sadness. Granted, this might be my born in the late 20th century/interest in psychological complexity reading, but I spent time studying the face, and I can't see it any other way. It is not the face beautified by being God's instrument in slaying Goliath, it is not the expression of Renaissance humanstic pride in Man, but the face of uncertainty. The contrast between the ideal male form and the sadness in his expression makes this statue heartbreaking.

But perhaps I'm projecting.

9 comments:

Iva said...

You didn't think that Venus was breath-takingly beautiful? I loved the combination of her exquisite beauty and the innocence of her stance, using her hair to shield her body. And did you see the Madonna painted by Filippo Lippi? She is also just breath taking.
David did indeed move me to tears...I think part of it was just to look upon it with my own eyes. But, I think, that if I were to go back to Florence and see it again, I would cry again.
What did you think of the Basilica there? And the doors of the Bapistry? Did you rub the nose of the boar in the marketplace? That is supposed to be like the coin thrown in the fountain of Trevi...it brings you back.
Love you,
Mom

the hanged man said...

I do think that Venus is beautiful, but I think you can get that (and I have) from a photo of the painting. I wasn't putting down the painting - I was trying to figure out why it has become such an icon whereas other equally good paintings have not.

The women drawn by Da Vinci are also breathtaking, but then again, anything drawn by Leonardo is breathtaking.

Speaking of David: did you see the only existing painting on canvas by Michaelangelo at the Uffizi? It was a circular painting of the Holy Family. Just astonishing.

I visited the Basilica today, and enjoyed it a great deal. Spent a lot of time studying the fresco on the dome. The old truism holds: scenes of Hell are always more interesting than scenes of Heaven.

I didn't know about rubbing the nose of the boar. I'll have to do that tomorrow - it's my final day in Florence.

Iva said...

Did you get to rubbing the boar's nose yet? I didn't know about this tradition either, it doesn't get the attention that the coin in the fountain gets...there is no song, "Three rubs of the boar's nose."
Anyway, this may be a silly question, but did you get to the jewelry stores there? I know that men are not as attracted to these as women are, but I know there are some on the Ponte Vecchio that I didn't get to see and, while my pocketbook was happy, my gold-loving psyche was not!
I loved Julie's comparison of David and Eric...she has a point there.
I love you,
Mom

Miss Stambaugh said...

Just getting back to this one...

"Not so with Michaelangelo's statue of David. My mother has metioned in this journal that when she saw it, she cried. While the statue didn't move me to tears, it is moving. We all know what it looks like. But the one thing that is never reproduced is the uncertain look in David's eyes. Seen from the front, David is looking to his left and seems to have either a calm or blank expression. But when you walk to his left and see him face forward, the expression changes. It is one (to my eyes) of doubt, of sadness. Granted, this might be my born in the late 20th century/interest in psychological complexity reading, but I spent time studying the face, and I can't see it any other way. It is not the face beautified by being God's instrument in slaying Goliath, it is not the expression of Renaissance humanstic pride in Man, but the face of uncertainty. The contrast between the ideal male form and the sadness in his expression makes this statue heartbreaking."

When you saw David changing as you walked around the sculpture is what I think is the most amazing thing about Michelangelo - his incredible grasp of good design. He was a master designer in every way. His skills as a craftsman and his knowledge of anatomy were above and beyond but I'm always blown away by his very modern use of design...2-D and 3-D. Like Pieta - see it from any angle and it's perfectly composed. Incredible.

A lot of his work reflected his life at the time. I always see Davis as a kind of concerned brave hero...sensitive - a reflection of how Michelangelo felt during this time in Florence. Also his homosexuality adds another level of complexity to his work. I think he was much more conservative about it than some of the other gay art stars...Leonardo, Caravaggio.

Moved to tears by art? Don't think that has ever happened to me. At least not yet and I've seen quite a bit of art. Something to look forward to? Or not.

Art history bloggin' with John. Bring it on.

the hanged man said...

Miss Stambaugh -
I had no idea you were so down with the Renaissance. Although now that I think about it, it makes sense, considering that not only are you an artist, but you have taught drawing.

Unfortunately, you can't see the Pieta from every angle. Someone attacked the statue with a hammer in the early 70's and it has been behind heavy glass since then. However, it is still a beautiful statue, one that reproductions don't do justice.

I was at the Medici Chapel the day before yesterday looking at the Michaelangelo sculptures there. You can walk around them, and even before reading your comment, I thought "there's no bad angle at all on these statues." They look great no matter where you stand.

What I didn't know until this trip is that Michaelangelo considered painting an inferior art to sculpture, because it was flat. There is no mass or volume to it. You can see in his paintings and frescoes how he tries to overcome this in how he composes and "lights" the human form. You are always well aware of the mass, of the fleshiness, of the human body in his paintings.

Miss Stambaugh said...

Well I've only seen photos of Pieta from different angles anyway...too bad it's under glass. I have to get my ass over there and see the real thing dernit.

Miss Stambaugh said...

Wasn't that guy (who smashed up the sculpture) a crazed thought-he-was-Christ type? I remember reading something. Find out some good gossip about that would you? I loved my grad school art history classes - I had a very outrageous and fun Renaissance professor who would spend weeks and weeks on just a piece or two. He was into discussing the particular culture of the time and place almost more than the art and knew so many wacked out stories (he lived in Italy every summer). I remember excellent stories of Caravaggio and his nutty adventures, what kind of food the artists in Northern Italy ate. We spent many classes discussing Artemisia Gentileschi and her father...her trial (rape) and all of the drama that surrounded it (never saw all of her Judith and Holofernes paintings in quite the same way after that class). I can't remember the title, but the textbook we used had a complete translation of the trial in the back. I also remember looking at many slides of Michelangelo's sculptures including the different versions of the Pieta. The later Pieta was damaged by Michelangelo himself and later repaired. I don't know why though...I should go look that up.

Miss Stambaugh said...

I had to continue this thread.

Moved to tears by art? It finally happened - watching a film - Rize. Incredible.

the hanged man said...

Miss Stambaugh -
What they said at St. Peter's was that the guy who broke Michaelangelo's Pieta was a frustrated artist who thought that the Pieta had dominated art for too long and was given too much respect. Perhaps they confused him with the guy who threw paint on Picasso's Guernica, who, as you know, now runs an art gallery. I can see why the tour guide at St. Peter's may not want to ascribe any religious motives to the man who damaged the Pieta.

I don't think they know why Michaelangelo damaged his later Pieta (which I also saw - it's in Florence). I think the prevailing theory is that he was unhappy with either a. the inferior block of marble he was using or b. he was unhappy with the work itself.

I also saw Michaelangelo's tomb. Sadly, none of the statues on the tomb are by the man himself.

Please enlighten me: was Artemisia G. really raped, or was the man put on trial for it an older lover and the trial was her father's way of punishing him? I've heard both versions. When the Met had that show several years ago comparing Artemisia and her father's work, they had the book that contains her trial transcripts. Her most famous paintings hang in Florence at the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace. I had seen them in the Met show, but it was a pleasant surprise to see them again.

"Rize" was playing in Spain, and I was tempted to go see it. I figured that even if it was dubbed, the movie is more about dancing than it is about words. Besides, if I could watch "Everwood" on tv, dubbed in Italian, I'm sure I could handle "Rize." But I didn't go. I'll have to check it out when I get back to the States.