Thursday, August 20, 2015

Florence is worth all the hassles:The Italy Diaries, Part VI

Despite all the hassles of driving in Florence, this city was worth every bit of pain. (And there was pain.)It is without a doubt one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

For the most part we found ourselves returning to the places we loved rather than discovering new treasures in Florence—although we decided to skip the Uffizi this time. We’ve been there twice before and certainly haven’t exhausted it, but this time we just couldn’t deal with the long lines and the crowds.

We decided instead to revisit the Pitti Palace which is much more manageable. The Pitti Palace is a treasure trove of old masters; unfortunately, many of the paintings are hung so high on the wall, they’re impossible to see. Artemisia Gentileschi’s La Guiditta (fortunately hung at eye level) is one of my favorites, partly because it is by one of the very few women artists of the Italian Renaissance and because it’s a compelling, highly unusual take on a popular Renaissance /Baroque subject—the biblical story of Judith’s beheading of Holofernes. Usually there’s a grisly scene of Judith displaying Holofernes’ severed head dripping with blood. Here Holofernes’ head is not center stage but partially concealed in a basket. The focus is all on Judith.

For me, one of the great pleasures of travel in Italy is discovering painters I had never heard of but who are really, really good. There was so much artistic talent in Renaissance Italy and most of us have only heard of the most famous. Usually the ones who became famous are the ones who have pioneered a new style. The European tradition prizes innovation and those who are not trailblazers but who do wonderful work within established tradition are often forgotten. This time my "discoveries" included the frescoes of Allori in Santa Maria Novella and the portraits of Guistus Sustermann in the Pitti Palace
Portrait of Galileo in the Uffizzi

If there's a next time in Florence, I'll make sure to see the Susterman portraits in the Uffizi

facade of Santa Maria Novella

In addition to Santa Maria Novella, we revisited other beloved churches, including of course the Duomo. I could spend all day staring at the fa├žade of the Duomo, a confection of pink and white and green marble. The first time I saw the Duomo was on incredibly hot, hazy summer day. The second time was on a gray winter day--finally this time we saw the Duomo against the bright blue sky of a balmy October day.

Another church we had to see again was Santa Maria Del Carmine; the church’s Brancacci chapel contains a wondrous fresco cycle by Masaccio; his expulsion of Adam and Eve is one of the most haunting paintings I’ve ever seen.

I would love to spend a year in Florence taking it all in, but alas at this stage of life that is clearly not going to happen.

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