Towns / Cities Visited: 148
Countries Visited: 26
Steps Taken Today: 16,322
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,803,585
Indulging in a lazy Sunday morning sleep in, we rose a little later than normal before readying ourselves and catching the tram back into Florence. Unlike the previous day, the tram ride was far less jam packed, and far less eventful: a fact the three of us were all grateful for. Alighting, we wandered leisurely to the first of our two art centred destinations for the day; Galleria dell’Accademia. This art museum was founded in 1784 and houses a huge collection of artwork by Florentine artists, as well as a collection of musical instruments. More importantly though, it is home to one of the world’s most famous sculptures: the Statue of David by Michaelangelo. Luckily for us, on the first Sunday of every month entrance is free, and thus we hopped in line, along with the masses of others taking advantage of the offer, and soon found ourselves passing through strict security and being delivered into the heart of the museum.
Now, this place mainly holds works from between the 1300 and 1600’s, and if biblical art and buxom naked women interest you, then you are in the right place. I must give kudos to the custodians of this museum, as the paintings are extremely well restored and maintained, sporting bright colours you can scarcely believe were brushed onto the canvas centuries ago. As we moved through the first section of the museum, we marvelled at the art, if not finding a little amusement in the over the top drama the Renaissance seemed to thrive off. Take these two for example: firstly you have Jesus popping out of his tomb, and seemingly crushing a crossbow wielding soldier to death with the capstone, whilst another rather effeminate man sleeps peacefully in the background; and secondly you have a female saint holding a small model building whist standing on top of a king, flanked by two other saints, one of whom is, for reasons unknown to me, holding a sword by the blade like a pencil. Now I’m sure there is solid reasoning behind the imagery here, but when looking at them completely without context its strange to say the least.
Moving on into the Musical Instrument Museum, we stopped to gawk at the cases displaying a full cross-section of the strings family, along with a couple of rather obscure looking wind instruments, and a gathering of pianos. The paintings here, rather appropriately, mainly feature poofy wigged aristocrats posed with instruments, looking as though their musical prowess would be about as lack-lustre as their conversational skills.
Next, it was finally time to visit the main event, and as we walked into the expansive gallery which holds the Statue of David, it was hard to look at anything else. I guess because I had only ever seen the statue in photographs, and its niche backdrop makes it very hard to visually scale, I had no idea just how enormous this masterpiece actually is. For those of you who also don’t know, it is over 5 metres in height, and when you add the pedestal its stands atop, it really does loom over everyone below. The benefit of this being that it really doesn’t matter if you’re on the outskirts of the swarm buzzing at its base, you can get a good look at it regardless. The sheer detail of this marble monolith is breathtaking, and I could have traced the delicate angles of those perfectly proportioned hands with my eyes for hours. Every muscular ripple, and flexed tendon is thoughtfully carved and so realistic that it seems as though a giant was simply dipped in plaster and placed on display. Although the statue used to have his manhood modestly covered by a gilded fig leaf when he stood proudly outside Palazzo Vecchio until 1873 when he was moved here, his carefully crafted genitals are now on full display to the world. Quick side note to say that this is not the only artwork here to have been restored to its full frontal glory; in fact, there is a recently restored biblical painting from which the restoration team removed a fur coat from the image of Eve, which some rather prudish past generation added to it. You know, kind of like how so many old statues had their penises removed because the human form seemingly so offended the delicate sensibilities of some of the more hardcore Christians back in the day. If nothing else, you have to respect the fact that Michaelangelo must have spent at least a few days lovingly chiselling away at the giant penis on display here. As we walked onwards, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of how big a statue of Goliath would have needed to be had the artist decided to complete the biblical set.
Passing by yet more Catholic art, we eventually reached another of the galleries attractions; the Gipsoteca Bartolini. This gallery houses a massive collection of plaster casts by Lorenzo Bartolini, who was both a sculptor and a professor at the academy. The casts were originally displayed in order to provide inspiration and a place for emerging artists at the academy to study sculpting techniques. While the walls house a large array of busts, many of the sculptures on display on the floor were designed for tombs, and as such there are many death motifs, as well as a number of sculptures depicting the deceased in eternal slumber. Again, there is a fair smattering of tasteful nudity on display, but with many of the nail heads which support the plaster having rusted over times, many of the sculptures appear less like flawless beauties and more like they may be suffering from a case of the pox. Still, the movement and emotion the artist has managed to capture with his art is truly commendable.
After a quick visit to a gallery displaying a large collection of 14th century religious art, our visit was at an end, and we tumbled back out onto the street in search of food. Weaving through the streets a little off the main thoroughfare, we settled into a restaurant and ordered some pizzas, hoping for a quick feed before heading off once again. Now, Italian pizzas are always more sparsely topped than pizzas in say Australia or the USA, but I must say that the pizzas we received were bordering on comically lacking in ingredients: as though the pizza chef had less topped them than accidentally dropped one or two bits on the top of some dough. That being said, mediocre pizza is still generally better than most mediocre foods, and having eaten we continued our journey content, but certainly not impressed.
Meandering across the city, we passed Palazzo Vecchio, and the somewhat macabre statues which sit on display near it, then crossed the similarly named Ponte Vecchio; the old bridge which crosses the Arno River, the main waterway of Florence. Unlike most featureless bridges, this one is lined with shops, much like the bridges of old were centuries ago. I mean why waste space and good frontage just because there is a river below you right?
Emerging on the other side of the river, we completed the short walk to Palazzo Pitti. This grand residence was originally built in 1458, but became most well known after it was purchased by the Medici family in 1549 and became their chief residence when they shifted from Palazzo Vecchio. It briefly became a power base for Napoleon during the 18th century, and later became the palace of King Victor Emmanuel III who ruled a united Italy until his abdication in 1919. Despite its royal usage, it now sits as Florence’s largest museum complex, and houses art collections from generous outside donors, as well as a large collection donated by the former king to the people of Florence.
Now, much like the gallery we had just come from, Palazzo Pitti also offers free entry on the first Sunday of each month, and thus we got in line for an afternoon of free sightseeing. The line was lengthy but fast moving, and we were soon through security and amidst the sweeping inner courtyard, at the far end of which sits two grand statues and a fountain set in a small grotto. Beside this is the door which leads out to the sweeping gardens to the rear of the palace, but we decided to explore inside first.
Following the signs, we decided to check out the apartments first, but when we reached the entrance we were rather flummoxed to discover that they wanted a ticket for entry. Oh well, we thought, maybe only parts of the palace are free to visit. Moving onwards, we headed upstairs to the costume gallery, only to find that they wanted a ticket too. Hmm, this free entry was seeming a bit pointless by now. Finally, we managed to go into the art gallery unencumbered. Not only are the rooms here luxurious, although this is not surprising considering the types of people who once called this place home, but the art is truly stunning. From the frescoes on the ceilings, to the paintings gracing the walls, to the sculptured dotting the unfurnished space, I have to say I found it more enticing than the Galleria dell’Academia, not counting the Statue of David, of course. There was something about the emotions chiselled into the faces of the sculptures here that seemed much more lively, almost freezeframed, from the thoughtful pose of Victor Hugo, to the bashful smile of a young woman carved by 18th century Italian sculptor Adriano Cecioni, and the genuine happiness carved into the face of a mother holding her child by the same artist.
Completing the gallery, and finding that even the garden needed a ticket, we despondently walked out to the street. Wanting not to waste the visit, we decided to head over to the ticket office to at least see how much a ticket cost, only to find they were simply handing out free tickets to anyone who came in. Grabbing three and getting back in line for entry, albeit rather annoyed, our frustration grew when we were actually asked for a ticket as we entered the second time. Firstly, I can’t understand why you even need a ticket if its free, except maybe to track visitor numbers; secondly, I can’t understand why the staff at the entrance can’t just had out the free tickets, as opposed to having to go to the ticket office, especially when no transaction is required; thirdly, I don’t know why, if they weren’t going to do that, they didn’t at least have a sign explaining the situation; and lastly, I don’t know why we weren’t asked for a ticket the first time we entered, and directed to the ticket office then, as it would have saved much confusion and time. Anyway, rant over, we made our way back through the gates, only to discover that the garden entry closes at 2pm and thanks to the ticket debacle, we were too late to be allowed in. Sigh. We would have to settle for the few brief glimpses we could gain whilst visiting the rest of the palace.
Determined to salvage our visit at least a little, we went back to the costume exhibit, glided through with our tickets, and took some time to admire the collection of fashion on display. The outfits, just like the rooms which hold them, are often quite elaborate and at times garish, but others were elegant and timeless. Above all, they oozed an inexplicable Italianness which sung of the glamour of Italian haute couture.
Deciding to finish where we had hoped to begin, we trotted over to the apartments. Much like the art gallery area, the rooms sit relatively unfurnished, save for a few examples of ostentatious homewares, from gilded clocks, to giant ceramic vases, to plush chairs and their matching footstools. Still, it was the artwork which drew awe from us; room after room delivering evermore impressive paintings, not only on the walls, but on the ceilings, and even, at one point, a floor tiled with meticulously painted tiles. Tales of old were told, allegories warning those below to do good lest ill befall them, and amongst all that was beautiful sat possibly the creepiest painting of Cupid I have ever seen. Seriously, that thing is the stuff of nightmares. Anything which wasn’t painted seemed to either be gilded or made of marble or carved wood. It was luxury and wealth at its most obvious.
By the time we emerged for the second time, dusk was falling, and we decided to keep up tradition and buy a gelato to savour on the walk back to the tram. Much like the previous day’s passionfruit gelato, I found myself once again underwhelmed as my hopes of ending on a high were dashed by a flavourless scoop. Hopping on the tram home we found ourselves mainly surrounded by a US school group. As the doors closed at one of the stops, and the tram continued on, one of the students realised his phone was missing. After a quick look around, it became clear that it had, in fact, been stolen from his back pocket when a thief somehow managed to snatch it in the jostle of alighting. The victim took it surprisingly well though, and the fact his first response was ‘I’m glad it happened to me and not one of the girls’ spoke volumes about him as a person. If nothing else, it highlighted how important it is to keep a close eye on your personal belongings in busy places, especially as a tourist.
It had been a day surrounded by such beauty, and yet it had been dappled with disappointments, and it was with mixed feelings we walked home from the tram and settled in for the evening. As I lay in bed that night, allowing my brain to wander off on its usual adventures into the absurd and fantastical while I searched in vain for entrance into the Land of Nod, I found myself mentally wandering Palazzo Pitti. In my mind the halls were quiet, the chandeliers flickering with soft candlelight, and the art around me came alive. Off to the side, the mother and her child laughed. Victor Hugo stood up from his pensive thought, placing his quill down on the chair and wandering over to the window. Along the landscape on the wall dogs barked as they surrounded a wild boar on the hunt, and from above came the flapping of angel’s wings. The sound built as more and more paintings sprang to life. The shouts of the crowds below the balcony of Pontius Pilate, the thrashing of reins and the crunch of gravel under the wheels of a chariot, the screech of a demon as an angel snatches away the soul of a fallen soldier. Louder and louder, building to a crescendo until suddenly the giant vase shatters and I am alone in silence once again.