Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tour of the Piazza della Signora

8:30 am Went out last night with some ladies from the British Institute for pizza, pasta and wine. Guess the wine is catching up with me, as I slept badly and woke up groggy. Ruined the espresso, and can't seem to focus. It's embarrassing how little wine it takes to make me feel this way.

There's a man in the courtyard sweeping the leaves away again this morning The large golden tree is shedding leaves for the fall, so I'm sure he'll be there again tomorrow. Except it's Sunday tomorrow. The church bells ring frequently, but I haven't figured out the schedule. I think I just heard the 9:00 bells. Sometimes they ring on the 1/2 hour, and always at noon. Don't know where they are either, as there are so many churches around here.

No classes today and I don't feel like leaving town just yet, so I'm going to walk in a different direction today and see what I find. Was told last night about an open market ...

12:30 pm. But instead I went back to bed and slept another 2 hours ... til noon.. so much for the open market. Maybe it was the tough walk yesterday, maybe the wine, but it sure feels good to not have to do anything but treat myself well. And this time the coffee came out perfect.

The group at the B.I. is all ladies but one; all English but one (me); and all in their 20s and 30s but two (myself and Caroline). It's a quiet group and I'm usually the one to ask questions. This is the third part of a 3 month course which started with the early Renaissance, and I don't really know the history ... Other than remembering the Shakespearean plays and their Italian settings, I don't know much.

But back to my classmates. There's a tall couple who look very studious and bookish and who have lots of answers and astute comments (he is the only male in the class); there is Caroline who used to work at the B.I., came to live in Italy with her mother when she was 11 years old, and who has the brightest red/cerise hair I've ever seen close up; there is Monique, a beautiful statuesque brunette who's on 'sabbatical' from a job in London (finance, she said); there are a couple of cute-as-can-be blondes from England who often come in late. There's the twenty-something girl who lives in Africa and who is upset because her parents recently changed their minds about sending her and her brother to Paris for the weekend, "If they said they'd do it, they should do it." Her father, who's paid in American dollars, probably looked at the exchange rate and realized how expensive it would be. Some have been there for the entire course, and yet they are still very quiet and studious rather than talkative and social. Most have heads bent over notebooks, scribbling away at what we're told. In general, it hasn't been easy getting to know these people ... the English seem obtuse about talking about themselves (very polite of them) and there isn't really much time for chit-chat. It's only been a week, however and I'm hoping that an Australian shows up next week.

Friday was the first 'walk about' tour in the Piazza Signorina, a lovely, open space with restaurants around two sides, a loggia full of statues on one side, the Palazzo Vecchio with its huge belltower, Torre d'Arnolfo, and the edge of the Uffizi just outside, on the corner. A copy of Michelangelo's David (moved here in 1873 so that the original could be moved inside to shield it from the elements), is the only true renaissance sculpture here on the square. I learned that when Cosimo I came to power in 1512, he did not take a shine to the freedom, harmony and naturalism which Michelangelo's work represented. This was part of Republican Florence, and the Medicis had come back into power not for liberty, but with dictatorship on their minds. A new style was ushered in called Mannerism which replaced DaVinci and Michelangelo's philosophy of the artists' creativity and individual capabilities showing with more proscibed style, including brighter colors, twisted forms, dramatic light and virtuoso rather than natural expression. Cosimo hired the later artists to complete his work, and Michelangelo, in disgust, went back to Rome to work on the Sistine Chapel.

The statue of Hercules (1515) by Bardinelli, an abomination according to Michelangelo, was built to show the power of Cosimo. Even I could tell that it was flatter, uglier, and less graceful, standing next to the graceful David (1501-04). The fountain of Neptune (1550) was comissioned to demonstrate Cosimo's naval power, placing a likeness of Cosimo in the center. The beautiful block of carrera marble it was carved from was not quite large enough and so the arms of Neptune are somewhat drawn in to his body, to accommodate the size of the marble. Michelangelo, on hearing that the uncarved piece of marble had fallen into the river on the way to the scuptor's studio said, 'the marble would rather be at the bottom of the Arno, than to be carved by Ammannati' (this is the stuff of art historians who know the narrative) Also saw a beautiful Perseus holding Medusa's head (1545) by Cellini; The Rape of the Sabine Women (1581) and Hercules and the Centaur by Giambologna.

Then an explanation of Vasari's troubles in creating the great Uffizi (1560-86) on the banks of a river, and the corridor which became the Ponte Vecchio that Cosimo wanted to connect the government offices of the Vecchio offices on the Piazza with the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river. Quite an engineering feat.

We heard the story of how the beautiful Santa Trinita bridge was blown up by the Nazis and the Florentines came out and dove into the river hours after the bombing stopped to find the pieces of statuary for reconstruction. Original plans for the bridge were found and it was rebuilt exactly as it was before the war. Only one hand and a foot are missing from the statutes.

Last, we went into the Santa Felicia church which in the 2nd century was the settlement of an influx of christians from Armenia and Syria. Excavations of the site found tombs and columns from this earlier church even though another had been built on top of it

This is a great way for me to remember and reflect on some of what I've heard and seen. It may be tedious for you all to read ... I wish you could experience the smells and sounds around me as I hear this. Listening to tour guides talk is not my favorite thing about traveling, but there's so much history and gorgeous information here that in some ways the art is richer knowing the stories. The sheer expanse of time that's gone by since these works were made and the power that they still exude is the greatest part of the experience. Since arriving I've felt that the Italians are a patient people, though emotional, and living around this history and beauty may be one of the reasons why. They've been conquerors and they've been conquered, but the stone is still here.


blaine nell said...

Well the wine has not affected your writing. :)

Donna said...

Hey, Laurie--finally got to scrolling around yr blog. Brings up lots of memories--I once took a class on the High Renaissance in London, during a moment when i was contemplating getting an MA in Art History.
Brits don't usually like to talk about themselves--say for the first 6 months or so! wine may be the only door in...

Laurie said...

D-- thanks for the advice and I'm glad you got into the blog with your gmail. Yes, I'm afraid age and lack of drinking habits may keep me on the edge of this society. There are lectures and films, however, and Thursday get togethers, so I'm not hurting for social interaction. Generally loving it.

Blaine--thanks for the compliment. I'm still working my way through the first bottle. Too bad you're not here to help....

Phil Freyder said...

This sort of narrative is just what this vicarious traveler was hoping for.