Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Day of Museums in Florence

The Galleria dell' Accademia is famous for Michelangelo's David, a towering marble statue that can be seen from the entrance of a long hall that houses it. It was brought inside several years ago when it finally occurred to authorities that it could suffer long-term damage from the elements. Today it sits enclosed by a thick, five foot high plexi-glass barrier after a disgruntled, hammer-weilding artist attacked it in 1991, inflicting only minor damage to the toes before he was arrested. Seen close up, the proportions seem wrong--the head is too large for the body and the hands are enormous, especially the right one. Michelangelo, the genius, planned for the statue to be seen from a distance and therefore deliberately altered the proportions so that the statue would look life-life. The exaggerated right hand seems appropriate; after all, David used it to slay Goliath. It's amazing that the artist was able to capture emotion in cold marble. Today, David is besieged by tourists, the numbers of which the museum authorities attempt to control--as witnessed by the long lines outside. We, wisely, had reserved tickets and went right in another door. As interesting as the famous David is, there are four large Michelangelo statues in marble called Freeing the Slaves. In each, a figure seems to emerge from the raw marble, creating an original and striking effect.
The other main attraction of the Accademia is a staggering number of creations done for churches: ornate alter pieces, frescoes, oil paintings and so on. They range from the 13th to 18th centuries. Most interesting are the early Renaissance works. The artists seemed fixated on a small number of themes: the Annunciation, the taking of Christ's body from the cross, the crucifixion, Mary surrounded by saints, and Madonna in various stilted poses. There are countless angels with wings and gold halos, some of which look like frisbees above the figures' heads; this is especially true in paintings done by some of the second line artists. It's appalling to think of the number of churches that must have been looted to gather so much church art in one place.
There is also a small collection of musical instruments and, to no one's surprise, the Stradivarius instruments are the stars of the show.
We played the part of the innocent and gullible tourists when we stopped for lunch in Piazza della Signoria, the famous square adjacent to the Ufizzi Gallery. We knew from the tour books that outdoor cafes in such popular, tourist-infested locations are expensive. Thirty euros ($39) poorer--for two slices  of bruschetta, a beer and a bottle of water--we had learned our lesson.
Becoming cultured is hard work. We showed up at the Uffizi at 3:00, our appointed time, collected our tickets and went in relatively hassle free, except that Cathy had to make a quick exit through the incoming masses to empty our water bottles. The security people allow bottles but no liquids. We left our cameras behind at the apartment because we knew that photos are not allowed; seeing someone taking a picture is about the only thing that kick starts the otherwise lethargic attendants into action. They spring from their tiny stools, screeching "No photo" at top volume and thrust their hands in front of the offending camera lens. Otherwise, all we could determine that they do is play video games on their phones or text. Some occasionally doze off.
Note to art thieves: choose 6:00 pm for your snatch and run because the majority of staff will be too absorbed with their phones or sleeping on the job to sound the alarm.
Notwithstanding the staff, the gallery is staggering. It has a collection of art works from the 13th to the 17th century, including most of the important Renaissance painters. I have no idea how many paintings there are in the Uffizi--but it's a huge number. Like the Borghesi in Rome, one needs to be in the position to live in the city for several weeks and visit the gallery many times, on each occasion taking in only one section or one room or one painter. Otherwise it's overwhelming, and after three hours we joined the others people who looked glassy-eyed and wearied by the attempt to take in so much "culture" in such a short time. A simple case of sensory overload which makes you feel like a philistine for not appreciating each and every work to the fullest. But it's impossible.
After three hours, we left--very happy to have had the opportunity but sorry to have missed so much. Among our favourites, we single out the room with several excellent Raphaels, another room full of beautiful Botticelli paintings including the famous Birth of Venus, and wonderful works by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Carravaggio.
We'll have an early night because tomorrow we're going on a day trip to the Cinque Terre. Hope to have some good photos to post tomorrow night.

Grilled seasonal vegetables at Trattoria la Burrasca. We had a very good dinner here, as shown by the following pictures.
Gnocchi with pesto sauce
Florentine steak with green peppercorn sauce. Steaks always come rare, and asking for it well done would result in a major eye-roll from the waiter and much snickering in the kitchen--and then it would come very rare anyway. After all, the chef knows better than you!

The small restaurant is near the huge covered market in Florence.

A view of the Duomo from a side street. The building is so tall that you cannot see its dome from  close by.

The campanile, a gothic bell tower on the Palazzo Vecchio, near the Uffizi Gallery.

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