The better half and I had just had a wonderful, museum free 24 hours in the walled town of Lucca. It was a rejuvenating break for the better half, as the day I had planned in Florence on our return involved a lot of art ( And I mean a lot!). One cannot go to Florence and ignore the superb museums holding rooms after rooms of Renaissance paintings and sculptures. There are 72 museums in Florence, too much for even those tourists spending a month in the city. I had just one day to spare to visit as many museums as I could. (Before it got too much for the better half! Always an important thing to keep in mind)
The original plan was to do the Bargello (a small sculpture museum) and the Uffizi (Monster sized museum with room after room of paintings!) on the day we reached Florence, and the Accademia ( Just David and a few other Michelangelo sculptures) the next morning before leaving for Siena. I had reserved entry times for the Uffizi and the Accademia, so no time would be wasted in standing in ticket buying lines. (Always the best thing to do, I realised this after wasting hours in line in Paris despite holding a museum pass)
Unfortunately I hadn’t taken into account that it was off season, so the Bargello closed at 1.30.( After opening at 10.30! Ridiculous if you ask me!) So we decided to spend the time earmarked for the Bargello walking around Oltrarno (the other side of the river Arno). But first we decided to have a pastry and a coffee at one of the most expensive cafes in Florence, the Rivoire at the Piazza Republica. The way to reduce the damages to your wallet in such places is to order and have your coffee and pastry standing at the bar like the locals instead of sitting at the table. (Thanks again to Rick Steves for this tip!!) We had a superlative Tiramisu and a dark chocolate pastry with coffee, thanking our stars that the Bargello was closed. Extremely satiated we proceeded to cross the Ponte Vecchio into Oltrarno.
The Ponte Vecchio originally had butcher and tanner shops so that they could dump their waste straight into the river. As the city became affluent it got replaced by jewellery shops which stand even today lining both sides of this iconic bridge. We joined the mass of tourists in crossing the bridge into Oltrarno after taking a few photos from the centre of the bridge.(I realised that overcast skies are much better than featureless blue skies for photos!)
We walked around Oltrarno for about an hour passing by the Pitti Palace and Santo Spirito Church sadly having no time to visit either.( Not even we could do everything in Florence in 2 days!!) It is a much quieter area full of cafes and small hotels- it would have been a fun place to have dinner in better weather. But that would have to wait for our next trip to Florence!
We then doubled back along the route we had walked and collected our tickets to the Uffizi and the Accademia (I was again pleasantly surprised when they gave me tickets to the Accademia, which was for the next day). The exterior of the Uffizi is lined by statues of the Renaissance masters. (Maybe just to put a face to the name you read at the bottom of the paintings inside) We shuffled inside after the security check and started our tour of this vast museum.
To visit any huge museum, you need a good guide book so that you don’t get lost in the maze. As in the Louvre not even a whole week is sufficient to see all of the Uffizi so we relied on our Rick Steves guide to show us the highlights of this treasure trove of Renaissance art.
From here on I’m not going to write too much and just let the art do its talking. We first learnt how art progressed in the period from stacked figures of angels in the 1st painting below to the more realistic 3D arrangement of angels in the 2nd Painting.
As you go through the artwork of the period, you realise that most of it covers the same subjects in different styles. You will find multiple takes on the angel delivering the message to Mary that she will bear Jesus called the “Annunciation”. Its how the artist displays the same scene that dramatically changes the impact of the painting. The first one is by Simone Martini and it delivers the message in a 2D frame filled with symbolism.
The second is by the grand daddy, Leonardo da Vinci which shows us his knowledge of perspective in addition to the religious message. (I had to hunt for the Da Vinci one as it had changed location from the one mentioned in the guide!)
It is a mind boggling collection of art. The most concentrated room is the tribuna room which has superb statues and paintings filling an octagonal room which was meant to impress visiting dignitaries in the times of the Medicis.
The most famous painting in this gallery is the “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli which is in a room filled with detail rich Botticelli paintings each deserving its own post!! Sadly I don’t have the space or the knowledge to do that.
In addition to the beautiful paintings are the corridors with the gilded & painted ceilings and statues. It was already an hour into the museum and we just had another hour and a half till the museum closed, and I realised that like the Louvre I would have to come back again to give the museum its due time.
Even the not so famous pieces of art were really intricate and really beautiful making me wait, go off my itinerary and admire them. I don’t recollect the names of the sculptors of the statues below but they caught my eye! In these museums time really does fly.
The Uffizi also gives one of the best views over the Arno from one of its windows and it gave me a chance to capture this unique view at dusk.
There are also many Caravaggio paintings with his typical dark and foreboding style and colour palate. A stark difference from the other masters of the Renaissance with their bright colours and style.
The last item which I searched for was the only easel painting completed by Michelangelo called Doni Tondo which shows Baby Christ playing with Mary and Joseph with John the Baptist as a baby in the background with various nudes in the background. Its like a group of sculptures on a canvas, Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor and not a painter.( Even though he painted the whole Sistine Chapel!)
We had spent more than two and a half hours in the Uffizi and barely scratched the surface. Also the famous Vasari corridor is strangely open only to groups and not to individuals. So reassuring myself that I would be back again someday to spend more time at the Uffizi we left the museum. It was dark by now and it was raining. So we walked back to our hotel after waiting in the terrace of the Uffizi till the rain eased off. Dinner was a take away tortellini, chicken wings, margherita pizza with a small bottle of Chianti from Eataly a chain of gourmet supermarkets in Florence. We slept peacefully as it had been a long day with lots of sightseeing split over two cities.
Next morning we got ready early and had the great breakfast at the Konnubio cafe which was included as a part of the B&B charges. I have already praised it enough in my last post and it was equally good today. We then walked to the Accademia to enter the museum before it got very crowded. The first room after the entrance contains the original plaster cast for a statue in the open air gallery opposite the Palazzo Vecchio, “Rape of Sabine women” and some paintings by lesser Renaissance artists.
The Accademia is just a showcase built for Michelangelo’s “David” and a few incomplete statues called “The Prisoners”. Everyone knows about David, it’s the back story to Prisoners which is interesting. Michelangelo is as much a philosopher as an artist, his view was that he was liberating the statues from the marble block, hence the name “Prisoners”, they were meant for the tomb of a Pope but Michelangelo got bored and left them incomplete.
The arrangement of the museum is such that it showcases its main attraction – “David”. It has a long corridor lined by “Prisoners” and a Pieta by Michelangelo, which leads to “David” on its pedestal underneath a grand dome.
So in short all roads lead to the elephant in the room – David. We had seen lots of replicas of the statue so finally seeing the original was a relief of sorts. As we were there early and it was not packed as it is in summer, we got a lot of time to appreciate the statue from all angles.
We even went behind the statue to see the rear carved with as much care by Michelangelo as the front.
The Accademia also has a room full of plaster casts which were used by sculptors in training before starting on a block of marble. There was an informative video running which showed the process of making plaster casts and how they were used to make marble statues. The room has casts of statues which are distributed all over the world at present. Some of them are so beautiful and realistic that they looked like real people posing as statues ( there are some of those waiting outside museums to earn money by posing with tourists!)
Even supposedly inconsequential plaster casts looked so good that you had to wonder at the talent of the artists of Florence. So it is no surprise that they used to get commissions for statues from the rich people all over the world.
While all the crowd is at the feet of David there is a full room dedicated to the evolution of musical instruments which lies almost deserted. It has a model to show how a piano makes its sound, very interesting !
After visiting the lesser visited parts of the museum we returned to have a final look at David before we left the Accademia. By now it was much more crowded with huge tour groups and I was thankful that I had reserved this early entry time!
That concluded our quota of art for Florence. It had been both educational and tiring both physically and mentally!) and we had visited only 2 of the 72 museums in Florence. That was it for our time in Florence and we left for Siena after picking up our luggage from the B &B.
That is topic for another post, another time. I know this one is far too long for comfort but such magnificent art deserves a post of its own. Please forgive my indulgences.
Till next time,
PS – My thanks to the grammar Nazi, Shridhar Rao for correcting the errors in this post and making it a smoother read