Monday, February 6, 2012

Florentine Fete

It only takes a little Michelangelo to make a big change in one's perception of Italian Renaissance art. Or of the subject of Art History in general. I must admit, my first two Art History classes were a bit discouraging. What with half the class being Art History majors, and having very minimal knowledge of the Italian Renaissance or the biblical characters and events the era generally depicts, I was feeling a bit unenthusiastic. You're probably thinking right now, "but you went to Italy, stupid." And you're right. I quickly recognized the error in my attitude, an enlightenment I must attribute to the amazing city of Florence, where I spent the majority of Friday with my Art History class.

It quickly became the single most interesting day of my life. Seriously. The art itself, the history, the stories, everything my professor said that day just completely captivated me. She's also one of the best professors I've had, she's SO enthusiastic about her work (and expresses it in weird, quirky ways, like stamping her foot and pulling her own hair) and seems to know just about everything about everything. She also snorts when she laughs. She's the greatest.

An illegal picture of Donatello's David, with our professor :)

As I was saying, this day was so intellectually stimulating in ways I've never experienced, and has created within me an interest to explore every detail of this amazing country. Which, realistically, would take a lifetime, considering what Beppe Severgini, an author we had to read for our Cultural History class, wrote: "They could put on five years' worth of exhibition in New York with what Florence's Uffizi has in the basement." This is incredibly true, it's overwhelming. Well, I haven't actually been to the Uffizi yet, but you get the idea.

Let me just say, before I get into the details of the day, that it was FRIGID. There are few times in my life when I've been as cold as I was on Friday. And there was wind. Lots of it. Thank goodness for my red leather gloves I treated myself to in one of Florence's many bustling markets :D

Our first stop after a croissant and cappuccino with the class was the Palazzo Davanzati, the 14th century home of the wealthy Davizzi family, almost perfectly preserved with its original style. I would like to say it was like stepping thousands of years into the past, but it was so elegant and foreign it was almost surreal. Trying to picture a family actually living there was an impossible task. Nevertheless, it was amazing. We entered into a foyer-like area in which trap doors are hidden in the ceiling to launch attacks on rival families who are trying to storm the palace. Then through the doors that are locked into the cement, another defense mechanism, is an open courtyard for sunlight and fresh rainwater to reach the family. How they lived in a house with the roof missing from the center of it in the winter, I have no idea. Then, there's just floors upon floors of incredible bedrooms, dining rooms and meeting rooms, with a kitchen on the top floor to control possible fires. Plus plenty of others whose uses are unknown. I could go on and on about all the other little details we learned about this palace but I shan't bore you with an absurdly long post, which is what it's turning out to be anyway. Also, pictures weren't allowed.

A brisk walk later, (and much contemplation over how our professor manages to successfully ride her bike with a puffy jacket down to her knees on) we were at our next destination, the Bargello, an old prison turned art museum. Here, we stood witness to Donatello's David, his androgynous and ironic Bronze David, and his statue of St. George. Then, we "popped down" to see Michelangelo's Bacchus, a sculpture of a realistically drunken god of wine he created at the old age of 21 (oh wait, how old am I?).

What really invoked in me a sense of wonder for this subject was when we saw the two bronze panel submissions by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi for the competition to create the doors of the Florence baptistery.

I couldn't take a picture of the competition panels, but these are the doors Ghiberti and Brunelleschi were competing to create.

Our class had read all about and looked at pictures of these famous works the week prior to the trip, but to see them in person a foot away from my face was an experience like none other. That was actually like looking back into time.

The courtyard of the Bargello.

Side Note: Just took a two hour long break in writing this post to have dinner with the entire family, Stella, Leno, Francesco, Natasha and Cosimo. It was the epitome of classic Italian family dinner...loud and chaotic, and Faith and I were along for the ride. We loved it.

Back to Florence. Final stop landed us at the Museo Dell'Opera del Duomo, where we viewed such famous works as Michelangelo's The Deposition, a pietà originally intended to decorate his tomb before he almost completely destroyed it in a fit of depression. Finally, Donatello's famously creepy wooden Mary Magdalene. And that's a wrap for Florence field trip #1 (you can look forward to 4 more...)

Donatello's Magdalene Penitent.

Once we were freed from our professor, it was time to see the rest that Florence had to offer, a.k.a. nightlife. Oh and delicious food and shopping and the Duomo. Me, Faith, Evan, Ari and Kyle ended up at a cute, delicious restaurant after wandering around while half following a map, half just exploring. The food was great, wine plentiful, and the waiter fixed our mistakes when we tried out our Italian on him and called me "blue eyes." It was just the break we needed from the arctic tundra outside.

Pasta with asparagus and shrimp.

Prosciutto and melon. (Photo cred: Ari)

After thawing out a bit, we decided to look around a nearby market. Before we knew it, our carnival masks were bought! Because yes, we are going to Viareggio, basically the next best thing to Venice, on Sunday for Carnivale. This is of course after our wine and cheese tasting field trip through the hills of Tuscany on Friday. I don't remember school in the states being this fun...

(Photo cred: Ari)

Then came a quick tour of the Duomo, which is sufficiently prettier on the outside than in, and the faint idea of gelato before a huge gust of icy wind quickly killed that plan.

Just pretend the scaffolding isn't there :)

This person wasn't the greatest picture taker, but I promise the Duomo is behind us...

The night consisted of some bar hopping with friends from UVa who are studying in Florence, our tourguides of the Florentine nightlife if you will. Although it was fun, I couldn't help but feel like I was right back at UVa, especially with the little opportunity we had for speaking Italian. Don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but when you're in Italy... I preferred being the "country bumpkins," the kids from the hills of Siena, and have our night in the big city be more of a treat than the norm. But that's just me.

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