We’ve been in Florence for over two weeks, and I have yet to say anything about the high culture of Florence and greater Italia. I don’t want folks to get the impression that it’s been nothing but eating, shopping, mangling the Italian language and watching the snow fall. In Florence we’ve visited the Accademia, the Museo del Opera del Duomo, the monastery at San Marco, Piazzale Michelangelo, Ognissanti Church, San Miniato Church, the Palazzo Strozzi and IKEA, and have been much edified. We were able to see Michelangelo’s David as well as his sculptures of the Slaves without interference from throngs milling about with headsets. In Florence it is commonplace to pass by the two very impressive copies of the David in the course of a normal walkabout, but the original is always breathtaking, especially in its texture and its immensity. How this sort of work could be done with hammer and chisel is beyond my comprehension. Just as interesting to me are Michelangelo’s Slaves that line the corridor leading to the David. To see these forms emerging from the rock gets the philosopher in me all excited, in a strictly (neo)Platonic sense, of course. The miracle of modern technology (and Lois’ general sense of derring-do) has resulted in the following clandestine and vietato (forbidden) photos of David and his entourage. Mum’s the word.
A Florence museum that is often overlooked is the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. It is wonderful. This is where many of the sculptures and reliefs that once decorated the outside (and inside) of Florence’s great cathedral (Duomo) have been moved, often in order to protect them from the elements, the automobile exhaust, and renovation projects. There are two exquisite choir lofts facing each other high on opposite walls of a room in this Museum, one sculpted by Donatello, the other by della Robbia (who is more famous for his beautiful work in ceramic reliefs). One choir loft is decorated with joyful angels and the other with children singing and playing a variety of musical instruments — just the place to make music. Aside from his lovely Pieta in St. Peters, Michelangelo sculpted a second Pieta when he was in his 80’s, and it completely and suddenly fills one’s field of vision at the top of a flight of stairs in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Michelangelo sculpted himself into the scene in the role of Nicodemus helping the two Marys take Jesus from the cross. It’s not as beautiful as his first Pieta, because he left it unfinished after finding a flaw in the marble and hammered off Jesus’ left leg in a rage, as if our savior hadn’t already been through enough. Michelangelo possessed what Italians called terribilita’. Unlike the David or Michelangelo’s other Pieta, both of which are shielded from the public after having been attacked by folks who apparently had a touch of Michelangelo’s terribilita’ as well, this Pieta (also called the Deposition) has no barriers whatsoever, and visitors can get as close as they’d like. It is an amazing work, even after having been vandalized by the artist. This is my photo of the scene one sees at the top of the stairs:
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is filled with Donatellos, none more astonshing and moving than this sculpture in wood of Mary Magdelene:
Lois has been having a difficult time locating a suitable hair dryer and was able to identify keenly with Mary.
At the same museum we were also treated to a look at John the Baptist’s index finger. We’ve seen his arm on another trip to Italy. Apparently Salome had not only had asked for his head, but she must have pretty much ordered up a total dismemberment.
St. John the Baptist’s digit is the vertical object in the window of the reliquary. Art appreciation is not for sissies.
There is only so much high culture one can endure in one sitting before one just has to go out and watch a rowdy, bawdy Italian football spectacle. So off we go for some rejuvenation, and I’ll once more take up the cause of the noble arts when I return.