16 April 2014
I lined up outside Galleria dell’Academia this morning at 7:45am to get in to see Michelangelo’s David. There were already a good 20-30 people in front of me when I arrived and to pass the time I got talking to a Filipino woman in line behind me after she ignored a phone call for more than a minute (apparently from work).
It didn’t take us long to get in after the usual security checks (although lots of people with reserved tickets arrived close opening time and went in befrer us!). After browsing some of the side galleries for a while, we came into the main gallery that housed some of Michelangelo’s unfinished works and of course David. Even the works that were still half in marble looked as if they were trying to break free.
David itself was truly larger than life. Of course I learnt in school that he was over 2m in height, carved out of a single piece of marble etc. But the many pictures and replicas I had seen since then do not do it justice. Every fibre of his body was teeming with life. We did a few fill cicles of the statue and you could clearly see the veins on his neck, hands, feet, forearms; the muscles across his torso, legs, back. There was gracefully drapped slingshot over his right shoulder and you could even see the pebbles in his hand.
Given that David used to be a public work in the Piazza Signoria, he would have been an imposing and beautiful sight to behold. We weren’t allowed to take pictures but we did manage sneak in a few whilst looking bemused at the huffed up security guards who ran around in circles telling people “no photo!”. My friend did get caught once. But it was definitely worth that shot.
The rest of the gallery was impressive too of course. Although David is the centrepiece, there were room after room of works that still burst off the canvas even after hundreds of years. I had been wondering about the technique of the pre-rensissance 2D artists and there was a short film on this exact topic. First a sketch is made of the desired work, which is then laid on wood and small pin pricks are made through the sketch, leaving small dots on the wood that make an outline of the picture. Now this is traced to form the full picture followed by a lot of work on shading, applying gold leaf, plotting the halos for important figures, painting and finishing. The short film only did a small A3 size sample, so I can only imagine how long the epic works took!
After the gallery, I went to the Pitti Palace to check out the five museums within and the Boboli Gardens attached to the gardens while my friend went to do his own thing. As I learnt on the walking tour on my first day here in Florence, the Pitti Palace was built by the Pitti family to outdo the Medici family, but instead they bankrupted themselves and had to sell the Palazzo to the Medicis. The oldest part of the palazzo can be dated back to 1458, and has since then not only seen more 200 years of the Medici dynasty, but also served as the palace of Napoleon and the new government of a united Italy in the 19th century.
After entering the archway into the grand courtyard, I started with the Galleria Palatina which included a glimpse into the reception rooms, grand hallways, salons and private quarters of the historical figures who lived in this residence. We weren’t allowed photos once again here (which is bizzare!) so of course that means that I only have a couple, but reflect only a small degree of the opulence and extravagance in which these people lived. Every surface was painted, carved or gilded, every piece of further made from the finest materials and inlaid with gems, ivory or covered in silks. Once you entered into the private quarters, the painted walls receded to just painted ceilings but only because these walls were instead covered with embroidered lampas silk.
The Galleria d’arte Moderna contained within the complex was not MONA material, but instead it was a departure from the renaissance era art that decorated the building and its focus on religious figures, stories and allergories. This gallery was a chronological progression into the 19th century, containing some stunning portraits and landscapes, both of which we had seen very little of in the Churches of Florence.
The Galleria del Costume showcased a diverse collection of Italian couture, and most were from the 20th century starting from the 20s and 30s given that they were from modern female collectors, designers and socialites. There were dresses, hats, jewelry, gowns and suits, some simple.and elegant, others far more flamboyant and ridiculous. My favorite section of this Gallery was the section which housed the precious restored fragments of the burial outfits of the Medici family members buried in the 16th century: Cosimo I, his wife Eleonora di Toledo and one of their sons. The bodies had been exhumed a few times over the centuries so the decision was made to conserve these rare pieces. On the more complete ones such as the son’s doublet, you can definitely tell that it used to be a rich red. An exhibition like this was more valuable than many of the other pieces combined as it brought to life the people who made this amazing palace thrive.
The weather was pretty stunning, so I decided to take a quick break from the indoors and head out to the Boboli gardens which had been beckoning from every window since the beginning of my visit. The gardens are 45,000m² with work beginning in the mid 16th century for Elenora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo, both of whom I had learnt about in the clothing gallery.
I wandered for at least an hour around the lush grounds with intricate sculptured details at every turn. Climbing upwards, I reached the Porcelain museum set amongst a blooming rose garden. The surroundings were lovely but porcelain really isn’t my thing, so I didn’t stay very long and instead made my way to one of the central lawns around a fountain with views over the palazzo and the city. The last few days has been quite hectic, so sitting on those lawns for such a great chance to breathe and recharge for the last museum in the complex.
The Museo degli Argenti was set in the most sumptuously decorated rooms that I had seen in the complex. The largest room that we were allowed into was so elaborate that I had to sit down to take it all in. The figures were all drawn in a way that made it look like they were leaping off the walls, especially in the corners when they were very close to actual sculptures.
Given that I had paid €23 for my two entry tickets into complex (the gardens and palace were separate, go figure), I wanted to see every single thing. So I went back into the Boboli and climbed the ascent to the entry into the Bardini gardens, the playground if another wealthy Florentine family. These were definitely less grand, but there was a terrace with an expansive view over Florence and an archway covered in flowers. On a lawn next to the terrace, I set down my things and had a wonderful nap in the sun.
The rest of the day passed quickly as I wandered the streets further away from the hordes of tourists in an area filled with graffiti, €1 shops and small delis. I was meeting my friend for yet another appertivo, but I was tempted by the many sandwiches on offer near these ancient archways. In the area, I also found many craftsmen at work their worksops, fixing furniture or shaping wood. In an city as old as this, I guess there is a lot of work for people specialising in restoration or generally making beautiful things.
So after another bellybusting apertivo, there ends our Florentine adventure. Tomorrow morning I take a 5:50am train to Rome tto see what that city brings. I think my hostel is in an residential area so that should be interesting to compare to the craziness of the city centre!