In Rome the Vatican had a huge collection of classic Rome sculpture – which are either busts of people (head shots) or full figure –mostly naked. But of course the nakedness doesn’t sit well with the values of the church so some Pope at some time commissioned little brass fig leaves to be discreetly placed on most of the pieces.
Here in Florence we have art everywhere. And a good portion of it is also naked. Then there is the David – which I’ll tell you more about later – but by the end of the day Jess exclaimed: I am so over naked people! Hence the title of this blog post!!
Our tour was to last for 7 hours though it lasted about 9 hours so it was a very long day and everyone’s feet and back hurt by the end of it – if not before!! And our brains…. They were so full of information and thought.
We met our guide and she immediately started us on the history of Florence. The main figures of course are the Medici family (Italians say the “c” followed by the “I” as “ch” so it is the “Med-ee-ch-ee” family) . It was hard to keep up with the names of different men from different generations who made their mark on Florentine history. The two I remember though are Cosimo and Lorenzo the Magnificent – generations apart.
Cosimo reinstated the Medici family as a ruling family after there had been a short time of Florence (a city-state-region) being a republic. The buildings which are seen today as far as the political buildings and family palace are a mark of his vision. Lorenzo the Magnificent though had the idea of unifying all the city-states of Italy into one nation (under his rule of course). Lorenzo the Magnificent was the man who saw the artistic nature of Michelangelo and gave him his head start.
The Medici family were not the traditional royal family with a ‘right’ to rule, but instead had wealth and connections, making way for them to be the ruling family. They initially started as merchants and as successful merchants they opened a bank. As successful bankers they became the bankers/money men to the Vatican. This then gave them connections, which of course led to more success. Though to be fair, I don’t think many people just become successful become of connections – they have to have some nous! The connection with the Pope enabled Cosimo to come back into power and then there was a grandson or two who actually became Popes themselves.
Our first visit on our tour was the Uffizi Gallery (an art gallery) where we saw the changes of art from period to period and from art teacher to student. We saw changes in perspective and form of the human body, in symbolism, in paint colours and techniques.
When we were in Turkey we saw frescoes painted on cave churches and our guide pointed out to us the different symbols that always indicated certain people. It was the same in these great paintings too. Mary is always painted (as I’m sure you’ll recognise) a blue robe and generally with a red dress underneath. John the Baptist with an animal fur and walking stick. Each of the Apostles who wrote the gospels have a different symbol you will find them holding, or somewhere near them. These symbolic ways of representing people was a bit like reading a book – the word “Mary” always says Mary. The lady in the blue with the red underneath, often holding the baby, always says, “Mary”. Though the rich people who asked the artists to paint could probably read, the paintings generally were then placed in public places (like churches) so the everyday person – who couldn’t read – could understand the Bible stories.
One of the things that is glaringly obvious in all this religious art work is that the figures from the Bible have been Europeonised – not only that but they are painted in the same type of clothes of the day. This was to help the everyday people connect with the Bible figures.
What we saw today really typifies the Renaissance. For the Middle Ages (some people may call them the Dark Ages) the thinking, technology, architecture, and art remained the same as it had been for a long time – since the Roman era and in some areas they had lost skills. Then people started asking questions like, “Why always do it that way?” People started trying new things, thinking about things differently. This is what brought the Renaissance – a new way of thinking about life.
Not all of this was necessarily good though it did bring about a lot of beautiful arts. On our trip we have been confronted with the way the church used the political set up of Roman government to establish itself as a power, the abuse and manipulation that this thinking has led to, the wealth of the church, how church doctrine has been mixed with mythology and political thoughts and how that has moved the people away from the simple truths the apostles taught. We are left questioning things of today – the things that we see as normal today are built on this history.
There was painting after painting and there is no way that I can represent (or even remember) the information that was shared with us. We are left with impressions and memories that are sometimes hard to put into words – and the fact that no photos could be taken adds to the difficulty.
We had a great lunch where we were able to taste a few more traditional Italian dishes. And then we headed off for the Academia Gallery which is where Michelangelo’s David is.
To be honest we weren’t sure what we felt about visiting a statue of a naked man but we were in Florence and it had to be done. (talk about rationalising your values!!) As it turned out it was actually worth seeing. David – by Michelangelo is known as ‘perfect in form’ but as we found out this is not about his physical features, or even the proportions of the sculpture – it is about the life-ness given to the statue.
Our guide asked us to observe what David was doing. We looked at his hands and what he was holding, we looked at his face and tried to guess what he was thinking. If we could guess what he was thinking, then maybe we could guess what part of the story Michelangelo captured. Interesting…I had just presumed it was David and a sling.
Once you started asking these questions all sorts of thoughts came to your mind. Was he anxious about the battle? (the Bible would say though that he had trust in God which implies no anxiety) Was he looking at his brothers in disdain wondering why no-one else was defending their God’s name? Was he squaring Goliath up giving him a glare before he flung his stones? (this is unlikely as he was looking straight ahead, and if he was looking at Goliath he would be looking up!) Was he worried about finishing Goliath off and looking for the sword? Was he wondering about what his future now held? All of these thoughts came from us looking at his expression. This from a block of marble. As we walked around the statue we could observe other things that helped us decide which part of the story Michelangelo had captured. (You’ll have to come over yourself and check him out to decide for yourselves! I’m not telling!!) So perfect in form has nothing to do with the body – but rather the cleverness of Michelangelo and how he could carve expression.
We all agreed that the hands appear bigger than what you would think proportion would be – his feet were also very large. But the thing that amazes us, and it is what puts Michelangelo in a class all by himself, is that he carved this without using a model. He just faced the marble, probably did some sketches, and then he chiselled away. He also did it himself where other sculpturers of the day used apprentices/workers to do the tough job of working with marble. He certainly was a gifted artist.
But he was also eccentric. He argued with everyone – always arguing with the Pope, often put something in his art to have a dig at either the Pope or simply just to have the last word. He seems to be arrogant and egotistical. He lacked social graces and apparently only bathed 3 times in his life!! (and he lived till 89 thereabouts!!) Today I guess we like our gifted people to be a bit more well rounded!!
By this time in the day it was getting late so we did a quick walk to get our bearings with some of the other features of Florence, which we will check out tomorrow. We saw the Medici palace, where Michelangelo lived at 9 years of age as he started his art apprenticeships. It was also a place where the Medici’s controlled the business in and out of the city walls.
We left our guide, found a place for dinner and then caught up with David again (though this time he was a bit of a fake!!)