Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Uffizi and Beyond

I've downloaded and lost yesterday's photos, so this will be a literary blog, at least for now. Probably just as well, since photos are difficult to manage here.

The rain stopped and Florence emerged shiney and bright a couple of days ago. The skies were clear most of the day and when a few clouds did appear, they looked something like those seen in the paintings I've been soaking up.

Tuesday I became an Amici delle Uffizi, which means that for 60 euros I can visit any of the state museums (major ones include the Uffizi, Pitti, and Bargello, and there are about 20 others) for free for the rest of the year. Since single entrance is 8 euros, I'll surely get my money's worth. An American couple was in the office when I signed in and when I found out they were from Nevada (previously Calif). The woman at the desk smiled and remarked that most of their "Amici" Americans were from California. Museum supporters unite! I felt proud.

It's a long proceedure to get into the place. First the lines (although I get to skip them now) are usually long. Wednesday 11:30 wasn't too bad, but Tuesday 1:30 ... awful. Then there's a scanning machine for bags and people, then a turnstile to wait for, then 4 large flights of stairs, and finally, your ticket is taken. The museum is essentially 2 very long corridors with rooms off to one side, more or less chronologically organized and grouped by artist(s). In two visits I've managed to get through about 1/2 of one corridor, though I hope to revisit the Botticelli room some time when there aren't 100+ people in it looking at the Venus and Primavera with their tour guides. I've finally bought a little guide book, but I rather like just looking at the paintings and maybe only finding out who painted them and when rather than knowing too much about any individual cherub.

Though I'm taking a course in High Renaissance art, the 13th and 14th century art is what I'm loving just now at the Uffizi. The Annunciation paintings (where Mary is first hearing that she, a virgin, is pregnant) are amazing in that they have a formulaic positioning of the figures, but with variety of expression on her face and props around her. One by Filippo Lippi is a knock out as is another by Leonardo. Then the coming of perspective to the Adoration of the Magi by Fabriano looks like one of those pop out cards where each layer lays in front of the other. The characters practically jump off the panel. Ambrogio Lorenzetti, later Perugino, Lorenzo di Credi ... these are new names to me...

Florence is a city of tourists (at least here in the centro storico) and while they're not too obnoxious to me yet, think of Fisherman's Wharf in the summertime and you'll get the idea. Old Florence extends out maybe a 30 minute walk in any direction from the central piazza. You can take little side streets to get where you're going but if you go near the Ponte Vecchio (the goldsmith's bridge) or the Duomo, or the Uffizi, you're going to find crowds. I've gotten lost at least once a day taking an angled street that didn't end up where I thought it would.

Prices for food are high in this area, but if you shop around, you can get a delicious panini for 3 euros ($5) or a huge slice of pizza for 5 euros. Less if you're determined and get off the beaten track. Cappucino, standing at a bar for 1 euro, vs 3 euros if you sit and sip it while people watching..

The British Institute, where I'm taking a month long class in High Renaissance Art, is perfect for me. Classes are held across the river from the Center, in part of a building just on the other bank. The quintessential old English club feeling, 4 rooms of books stacked from floor to vaulted ceilings on Romas art and history, quiet rooms with magazines and newspapers, comfortable chairs, friendly receptionist, hushed and polite voices from Europe and America and Asia. A 90 minute lecture 3 times a week; tour 2 times a week; so far only an introduction and a discussion of the definition of artist from ancient Greek slave, to laborer, to guild member to free agent intellectual (via Leonardo and Varsi). There are about 20 in the class, mostly British, mostly young, college aged, a few of us retired folks, all friendly, if reserved (the definition of British).

The Institute also hosts films and lectures in the evening, and yesterday I heard a discussion abou ancient Roman history. What I didn't know is that Rome may have been founded pre-Romulus and Remus by Aneius (of the Aneid) who left Troy with his father and young son and washed up on the shores of Italy only to become the ancestor of Romulus and Remus. Strong archeological evidence seems to date Rome as a sophisticated civilization way before it was previously thought. Interesting lecture, about 200 people, wine after, good socializing. The theme of the film series is unfortunately War this month, so I didn't stay for The Longest Day, but may go to next weeks, The Great Dictator

Before class today I went to the Museo d'Opera which is difficult to find, but finally there behind the Duomo and which holds much of the statuary of the old church of San Lorenzo. I went because of the Nicodemus Pieta by Michaelangelo which was his last work. I will have to go back since photos are lost. Just to say that it has the majestyand sensitivity of a Michaelangelo, but not the delicacy of the St. Peter's Pieta ... more acceptance in Nicodemus' face, which is the face of Michaelangelo before he died at age 87.



Phil Freyder said...

Varsi being Giorgio Vasari ("The Lives of the Artists"), I presume.

larwest1 said...

High Renaissance Art! Very interesting for sure... Future students of yours should be bless to hear of the things you are experiencing here! Hope you will have an opportunity to lecture, or teach this subject to art students later... Enjoy

Laurie said...

Phil, yes Giogio Vasari is the master and main source around the British Institute. Since he knew the artists, he was a little biased, however, and it seems that Michelangelo was the artist supreme... too bad the later Medicis didn't agree.

Larry, I'm no where near being able to teach this stuff. It's way too esoteric, and the teachers here have the narrative and the stories that bring this stuff alive. Would take lots more than just a 4 week course to do that.

Phil Freyder said...

The course at the British Institute sounds at least as satisfying as an unctuous sweet gelato. Wish I were there (sigh!).