After a solid night’s sleep, I was up early to join a tour of the Accademia Gallery; I was truly looking forward to seeing the original David.
Plaster model of the Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1583)
An uncompleted Michelangelo sculpture of a slave, you can see how the person appears trapped in the marble. The Awakening of the Slave (1530-1534)
Perfection!! They keep the lights low to protect the art, which makes for disappointing pictures. This is Michelangelo’s David, perhaps the world’s most famous sculpture. Where earlier sculptures tended to be stiff and posed, the David is tense with anticipation as his entire body is preparing to spring into action. Michelangelo carved the masterpiece between 1501-1504, he began when he was only 26 years old. Previous sculptures of David portrayed him after he has killed Goliath, often holding Goliath’s head triumphantly in his hand. Michelangelo chose to show David preparing for the battle, one leg is back, preparing him move forcefully. His face is tense with concentration and self-confidence, the David came to symbolize liberty and the Florentine readiness to defend itself.
His head and right hand are disproportionately large, most likely because the statue was intended to be mounted near the top of the Duomo, so Michelangelo enhanced important features to make them visible from such a large distance. The sculpture was an instant sensation and Florence determined that it should be placed in the heart of Florence, the Piazza della Signoria, where a replica stands today.
An unfinished pieta, one of Michelangelo’s last sculptures, the Palestrina Pieta. (1555)
The Accademia Gallery was a little disappointing; the only really noteworthy work is the David. But, as soon as we left the Accademia, my guide and I headed to the Ufizzi Gallery where no one would be disappointed.
The Renaissance was a period of vibrant change, there are many points attributed with the birth of the Renaissance, but many converge on the year 1401 when Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Bruneleschi competed for the right to design the doors to the Florence Baptistery. The Renaissance was an explosion of scientific, artistic, philosophical, religious and political exploration. The art of the period began to explore realism, with the introduction of nature and perspective and lifelike settings and poses. While Dante introduced a new perspective on religious thought, language and poetry, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei and others were advancing all areas of scientific exploration, art became an entire industry with some of the greatest artists of all time contributing to the innovation explosion; Ghiberti and others also advanced architecture. The Renaissance embraced ideals of beauty, kindness, compassion and patriotism. It changed the world.
It was the thrill of a lifetime to visit the Galleria degli Uffizi Museum (The Ufizzi Gallery)
I was surprised this was the Ufizzi Gallery, we came back to my procession of Renaissance notables!
Prior to the Renaissance, painting was primarily done to tell a story, not as decoration or to capture what the subject looked like. Paintings were flat, one-dimensional, there was little sense of movement, images were wooden. During the Renaissance, art took on a new vibrancy and import. Figures began to show emotion, backgrounds began to fill in, often with views of nature, postures began to show movement. Here we see a typical pre-renaissance representation of the Madonna & child. There is little interaction between the mother and child, Mary is looking off into the distance, she almost seems oblivious to the child on her lap, her expression shows almost no emotion. The Baby Jesus is also looking off into the distance and holding his right hand up in blessing of his viewer; there is no background to place them in a specific setting. They are surrounded by six very wooden looking nearly identical angels. Everything is flat, there is no perspective, all the angels are the same size looking as if they are stacked on top of one another.
In this painting of Madonna and Child, note how perspective is beginning to pop out, the angels aren’t stacked on top of each other, but bunched together with some in front and some behind. The Madonna and the Baby Jesus are looking at each other and appear to interact with each other.
In this painting of the Annunciation by Simone Martini & Lippo Memmi (1333) we see movement in the Angel Gabriel as he leans in to deliver his message to Mary. We see Mary pulling away with a startled or frightened expression. Mary’s chair looks solid and it appears as if she’s sitting in it. The first Madonna image above almost gives the sense that Mary is floating above her chair.
Adoration of the Magi by Gentile de Fabriano (1423). Here we see Mary looking at the Baby Jesus who is reaching out to bless one of the kings, there is no bland gold or black background here; there’s a sense of real people behaving realistically, there is a lot going on in the background; the cow is watching with interest. Bystanders are involved, the dog and horses show movement. The Renaissance in art is unfolding as we watch.
Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi (1465), here we see a real looking mother interacting with her child and the child reaching out to the mother, the angel holding the Baby Jesus is looking at us with an impish grin, it looks as if he’s incredibly pleased to have the privilege of holding the Child. We also see some landscape beginning to emerge as Mary is placed in a real place and time.
Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piera Della Francesca (1465-1472); Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza. These were the ruling class; the duke has lost his right eye in a tournament so would allow only his profile to be painted. You may notice the strange shape of his nose; he had a classical ski-slope Italian nose, but with only one eye, he lost his ability to see to the left so he had a surgeon remove the top of his nose to increase visibility. The stiff profiles stand in stark contrast to the beautiful landscape behind them.
AT last we come to Boticelli; face it, the only real reason to visit the Ufizzi Gallery is to see the Botticellis. 🙂
Sandro Botticelli, original name Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi (1445, – May 17, 1510), (Boticelli means Little Barrel). A lot of Botticelli’s work was done by commission, so he painted subjects and themes his benefactor requested. Mythology and secular art were becoming popular in Medicean Florence, “Mythological figures had been used in earlier Renaissance secular art, but the complex culture of late Medicean Florence, which was simultaneously infused with the romantic sentiment of courtly love and with the humanist interest for Classical antiquity and its vanished artistic traditions, employed these mythological figures more fully and in more correctly antiquarian fashion. A new mythological language became current, inspired partly by Classical literature and sculpture and by descriptions of lost ancient paintings and partly by the Renaissance search for the full physical realization of the ideal human figure.” (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sandro-Botticelli)
Primavera by Sandro Botticelli (1482)
“One of the greatest of these mythological style paintings is Botticelli’s “Primavera” (Allegory of Spring) which was painted for Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de’Medici, cousin to Lorenzo the Magnificent. “On the right Zephyrus (the blue faced young man) chases Flora and fecundates her with a breath. Flora turns into Spring, the elegant woman scattering her flowers over the world. Venus, in the middle, represents the “Humanitas” (the benevolence), which protects men. On the left the three Graces dance and Mercury dissipates the clouds.
The Allegory of Spring is a very refined work of art. The naturalistic details of the meadow (there are hundreds of types of flowers), the skillful use of the color, the elegance of the figures and the poetry of the whole, have made this important and fascinating work celebrated all over the world.” … “Leaving out the many possible interpretations proposed by various experts, what is certain is the humanistic meaning of the work: Venus is the goodwill (the Humanitas), as she distinguishes the material (right) from the spiritual values (left). The Humanitas promotes the ideal of a positive man, confident in his abilities, and sensitive to the needs of others.” (http://www.uffizi.org/artworks/la-primavera-allegory-of-spring-by-sandro-botticelli/)
[The three graces are: Aglaea (Splendor), Euphrosyne (Mirth) and Thalia (Good Cheer)]
Botticelli has brought art to life, the painting has movement, relationship, a lush background, there is perspective and depth, the people look real. This is a revolution in the art world and Botticelli’s mythological paintings continue to be some of the most popular of paintings.
“The Birth of Venus is undoubtedly one of the world’s most famous and appreciated works of art. Painted by Sandro Botticelli between 1482 and 1485, it has become a landmark of XV century Italian painting, so rich in meaning and allegorical references to antiquity.
The theme comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a very important oeuvre of the Latin literature. Venus is portrayed naked on a shell on the seashore; on her left the winds blow gently caressing her hair with a shower of roses, on her right a handmaid (Ora) waits for the goddess to go closer to dress her shy body. The meadow is sprinkled with violets, symbol of modesty but often used for love potions.” (http://www.uffizi.org/artworks/the-birth-of-venus-by-sandro-botticelli/)
Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi (1476), while full of life, nature and interaction; this painting is beloved largely for the people he incorporated into it. In the lower right corner in the brown robe and looking back at us with a rather haughty expression is the master himself.
Others appearing in the painting are de Medici family & friends:
- Lorenzo the Magnificent
- Pico della Mirandola
- Gaspare Lami (a broker who footed the bill)
- Cosimo the Elder
- Piero the Gouty (Lorenzo’s father)
- Giuliano de Medici (Lorenzo’s younger brother, later murdered in the Pazzi Conspiracy)
- Giovanni de Medici (younger brother of Piero the Gouty)
- Filippo Strozzi
- Joannis Agiropulos
- Sandro Botticelli
- Lorenzo Tornabuoni
The Uffizi is breathtaking.
There are expansive views of lovely Florence from the rooftop restaurant at the top of the Gallery. Here is the Arno River.
Pont del Vecchio
The Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) from the roof top of the Uffizi Gallery; since I was the only one who signed up for this tour, it was private and my wonderful guide had time to take my picture.
Venus of Urbino by Tiziano Vecellio (better known as Titian) (1538)
“This work, completed in 1538 for the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo II Della Rovere, is very interesting for its many hidden meanings.
It was a gift from the Duke to his young wife. The painting represents the allegory of marriage and was a “teaching” model to Giulia Varano, the young wife of eroticism, fidelity and motherhood.
The evident eroticism of the painting, in fact, reminded the woman of the marital obligations she would have to fulfill to her husband. The erotic allegory is evident in the representation of Venus, the goddess of love, as a sensual and delectable woman staring at the viewer who could not ignore her beauty. The light and warm color of her body is in contrast to the dark background, bringing out her eroticism.
The dog at the feet of the woman is the symbol of marital fidelity while, in the background, the house maid looking down at the young girl as she rummages in a chest symbolizes motherhood.
The strong sensuality of this painting was therefore consistent with its private, domestic purpose, as a gift from husband to wife.
The pose of the nude is certainly a tribute to his friend-master Giorgione, who in 1510 had painted a very similar subject, the Sleeping Venus.
Thanks to the wise use of color and its contrasts, as well as the subtle meanings and allusions, Titian achieves the goal of representing the perfect Renaissance woman who, just like Venus, becomes the symbol of love, beauty and fertility.”
The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci. (1472-1475) “Leonardo’s early painting of the Annunciation owes much to the influence of his master, Andrea del Verrocchio. However, it is considered to be da Vinci’s first major work, a large painting executed by his own hand with, perhaps, the help of Verrocchio’s workshop. In fact the attribution to Leonardo was only presented in 1867 and the debates about the parts actually painted by him continued for a long time.” (http://www.italian-renaissance-art.com/Annunciation.html/)
“The Baptism of Christ is a famous painting made by Leonardo da Vinci’s master, Andrea del Verrochio at circa 1472 in his studio in Italy. The painting was completed by Verrochio in collaboration with his apprentice, Leonardo da Vinci who painted and finished the details of some parts of the painting, particularly the angel. The painting was an altarpiece commissioned by the monks of the San Salvi Church near Florence.” (https://www.leonardodavinci.net/the-baptism-of-christ.jsp)
“The Adoration of the Magi (1481) is an early painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo was given the commission by the Augustinian monks of San Donato a Scopeto in Florence, but departed for Milan the following year, leaving the painting unfinished. It has been in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 1670.
The Virgin Mary and Child are depicted in the foreground and form a triangular shape with the Magi kneeling in adoration. Behind them is a semicircle of accompanying figures, including what may be a self-portrait of the young Leonardo (on the far right). In the background on the left is the ruin of a pagan building, on which workmen can be seen, apparently repairing it. On the right are men on horseback fighting, and a sketch of a rocky landscape.” (https://www.leonardodavinci.net/the-adoration-of-the-magi.jsp)
The ruin in the background that is being repaired is said to symbolize the arrival of Jesus to repair the ruin of the culture and bring a new hope and a new way.
The Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo da Vinci
Medusa on a Wooden Shield by Leonardo da Vinci (believed to be a very early da Vinci)
The Sacrifice of Isaac by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1603)
Bacchus by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1596-1597)
Supper with the Lute Player by Gerard van Honthorst, also known as Gherardo Delle Notti (1619-1620)
The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, also known as Gherardo Delle Notti (1620)
Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi (1620)
Gentileschi “was an Italian painter, considered as one of the most accomplished and, most famous women painter, of the 17th century after Caravaggio. In an era when female painters were not easily accepted, she was the first female painter to become a member of the Accademia di Arti del Disegno in Florence.
Daughter of Caravaggio’s follower, Orazio, Gentileschi moved to Florence to escape the scandal in Rome after the lawsuit for rape she brought against the landscape painter Agostino Tassi. Of this dramatic case, concluding predictably with the humiliation of Artemisia, documentation does exist and today is often taken as a symbol of the violence women have had to endure for centuries.
Unfortunately, those events often seem to overshadow her achievements as an artist and for long was regarded as a curiosity. Fortunately, today her work is being reevaluated and considered one of the most progressive of her generation.
In her work, Artemisia seems to have transferred her experience to canvas. Her paintings often have strong, suffering women from myth and the Bible – victims, suicides, warriors. She particularly seems to have liked the Judith story, one of two paintings present at the Uffizi Gallery today.” (http://www.uffizi.org/artworks/judith-and-holofernes-by-artemisia-gentileschi/)
In the Old Testament book of Judith, Holofernes is an Assyrian general who has laid siege to a town in Israel called Bethulia, preventing the townspeople from any access to water. There was not enough water for even a single day in all of Bethulia. The people of the town petitioned their prince, Ozias, to surrender saying it was better to be captives to Holofernes than to die of thirst. They all went into the synagogue and cried and prayed unto the Lord for a long time. Ozias arose and asked the people to wait five more days, if help came, then they would glorify the Lord, if not, then they would surrender to Holofernes. When the widow, Judith, heard of the plan, she arose and arrayed herself in her finest jewels and precious clothes, when she had completed her prayers, she went down the hill to meet Holofernes and offered to show him a secret passage into Bethulia, she praised Nebuchadnezzar as the only king of Israel and thus convinced Holofernes that she had joined him in his battle against the Jews. He was enchanted by her beauty and invited her to drink with him. Holofernes became drunk and eventually fell into bed in a drunken stupor. While he was sleeping, she took his sword and cut off his head. She wrapped his head in the bed canopy and took it back to the town, the head was hung from the town walls. When the Assyrian leaders and generals learned that a woman had defeated Holofernes and cut off his head, they panicked and began to flee. When Israel saw the Assyrians fleeing, they went out and slew the fleeing armies. They, then, looted the Assyrian tents. Judith was celebrated by all Israel and all gave the glory to God.
My tour guide insisted this is the best painting in the museum because it is by a woman and because Gentileschi was raped and the rapist walked away without any consequences while Gentileshi’s reputation was destroyed. This painting was Gentileschi’s revenge and, by extension, a type of revenge for rape victims everywhere. I think Judith would find satisfaction in knowing that her story comforted and encouraged rape victims.
After my tour of the Uffizi Gallery was complete, I had time for just a couple more sites before my time in Florence would come to an end, so I decided to go to the Basilica of Santa Croce (the Sacred Heart). It is a monumental building that houses equally monumental works of art and history. That will be the subject of my next post.