October 6 – afternoon
I arrived at the Uffizi at 3 — the appointed time for my entrance. I didn’t really have to spend the extra 4 euros to make an online reservation since the line was short but I guess I paid for peace of mind! I walked right in and puffed up the four flights of stairs to the top floor where all the biggies are.
This time at the Uffizi I actually decided to learn something so I plugged in Rick Steves again — he has quite a good commentary on a selection of the best works – mostly Renaissance. This time I was mainly interested in the rooms of 14th Century work. Two of the great masterpieces of the first half of the 14th Century are in the Uffizi — Giotto’s Madonna and Martini’s Annunciation. There really is nothing like seeing the originals!
Although the Renaissance guys get much better press since they got a handle on perspective, I am getting more and more into the 14th Century late Medieval paintings. Yes, they are flat and there’s a ton of gold but there is something very pure about them that the more florid realism of the Renaissance lacks. And as for later centuries – yikes! Florid doesn’t even begin to describe them. Not that I’m down on 16th + century art but right now I’m definitely in a medieval frame of mind.
Of the two biggies, my favorite by far is Martini’s Annunciation. Good old Rick Steves compares it rather scathingly with da Vinci’s Annunciation but it’s like comparing apples and oranges. I don’t think Martini was a lesser artist because he didn’t use perspective and realism like da Vinci did. Instead, Martini presents a very plain, easy to understand depiction of the annuniciation – when the angel Gabriel flutters down and gives Mary the good news about her future. As Rick says, she doesn’t look that pleased. I find it amusing how much commentary there is on what the perceived feelings of the various subjects are in the paintings. I’m not sure we can make such leaps of logic. Best, perhaps to just look at painting as it is and let the forms and composition make the point.
Here’s a picture I copied from the Internet:
Lots and lots of gold leaf – the altar piece is huge — make the work pretty much glow in the dark. I’m not even sure why I like the work but I think it has something to do with the way Mary’s body is positioned and how she’s just put down her book. She’s depicted as a rich lady of the period. Her face is idealized, sure, but still I think she looks enough like a real person to make us feel pretty empathetic towards her. I mean here she was hanging out on her comfy chair, reading her book and bang – her whole life changes. No wonder she shrinks away. There I go attributing modern sensibilities to old paintings just like Rick Steves. Oh well – it’s hard not to try to humanize the works and perhaps the reason why the work is still considered one of the major masterpieces of the 14th Century is because of Mary’s position and the look on her face.
Here’s da Vinci’s version which I confess I find a bit smarmy. I mean it’s good, obviously, but I don’t feel Mary’s reticence or the sense that something really really big has just happened. Mary looks much more sanguine and the angel looks kind of overdressed! But hey – look at the perspective!
After tripping out with Martini and Giotto for quite awhile, I continued through the rooms with Rick as my guide. Of course one of the main events in the Uffizi are the Botticelli’s which are as amazing as ever. They are in a very large room that, unlike pretty much all of the other rooms in the Uffizi, actually has a central row of benches. Of course when you sit down you can’t really see the paintings over the heads of the tourists but it was nice to take a moment to relax and listen to Rick do his spiel.
The Uffizi was not as crowded as I’ve seen it but it was still plenty crowded and still hot even in October. It makes me very glad I’m not here in the summer!
I enjoyed zipping through the rest of the rooms, pausing only to check out the paintings on the commentary. I learned a lot but my heart is still back in the 14th Century! I think I like it because it just doesn’t get the good press that the 15th and 16th century do and yet a great many very important developments that led to our modern world came out of the century.
Anyway, more history later.
After exiting the Uffizi, I wandered over to the Piazza del Duomo to see it glowing in the late afternoon sun. I don’t feel like going in this time. The beauty of this trip is that I don’t feel obliged to see anything I’ve seen before. I’m just picking and choosing. At the piazza – teeming with tourists of course but also very, very clean (mentioned in an earlier post), I broke down and bought a cold bottle of coke. I never drink coke – except in Europe after long hours of hot museum going. There really is nothing like those first gulps of pure sugar!
I spent the rest of the walk back to the hotel on the lookout for the perfect red leather bag. I haven’t quite found it yet. The closest I’ve come is one I saw in a outdoor stall but when the guy dropped the price 30 euros the minute I got close, I kind of wondered if the leather was real. He of course assured me it was but I don’t think it’s that hard to sew on a label! Today I’m going to keep up my search. I don’t want to pay a fortune; on the other hand, I would like a purse that bore some resemblance to real leather.
OK – time to get out again. I dropped back into the hotel after my tour this morning to the Palazzo Davanzatti – more about that later. It was raining when I crossed the Ponte Vecchio to the hotel and now the sun is shining and the sky is blue. So it’s time to get back out there into Renaissance Land…!