Monday, November 21, 2005

Firenze - Day 20

We have allowed just this one day, as Venice is our primary goal for the second Italian week. The Uffizi gallery is first on the list, and leaves us with the same feeling as the Vatican Museum: a display of temporal power, but with far too much religious tat. However, the more ancient pieces of statuary are great, Botticelli's Venus glows at us, and there are a couple of Canaletto's little masterpieces tucked away in a side gallery. The buildings themselves are glorious, as is their context, and having seen the copy of Michelangelo's David in the piazza outside, we don't bother with the real thing.

On to the Ponte Vecchio - the bridge over the wide and dirty Arno, where gold and silversmiths have had stalls for hundreds of years - and are still, to judge from the prices, paying off the original mortgages. Up to the Boboli Gardens the long way, via the side streets and the Roman gate at the top. This is well worth it, as the gardens have vistas, fountains, statues and well tended paths. And the ticket gives us entrance to exhibitions at the Pitti Palace, so we walk over the hill and in the back door. The Palace was very forbidding from the side streets we had originally passed it on: built to be defended against all comers. But the Boboli Gardens are, effectively, the private back yard of the Palace, and this back-garden aspect of the Palace is still formal but welcoming. And once inside, the Mythologia e Erotica exhibition is staged in a series of sumptuously painted rooms.

When you start to multiply the number of Palaces, the number of painted rooms in each, and divide this by the number of artists required, it really is no wonder that the Renaissance threw up so many gifted people. The combination of an arms race in palatial outfitting, and the fact that these were private establishments outside the death grip of Mother Church (the other major artistic patron), virtually guaranteed results.

Not that these were without their obsessions of the time: Leda and the Swan loomed strangely large in the exhibition. The signature of babies breaking out of eggs, you see. But it has to be said that mediaeval erotica is very restrained - lots of heavy allegorical allusions but practically no explicitness. Mother Church might not have approved of the exhibits, but she would surely be pleased with the extent to which the artists had internalised her messages.

Deciding against another Duomo climb (Florence's magnificent Saint Maria del Fiore cathedral has a renowned dome by Brunelleschi) on the grounds that the Boboli was higher and was a bloody long way to have walked, we amble back via this cathedral and the shopping streets. The church has a superb facade, of white, red and green marble, used in a large mosiac to stunning effect. Tesellated and inlaid columns everywhere outside, but very austere inside.

The shops entrance us: the number and variety, plus the specialisation. Florence is a city to come back to: we regret not allowing more time.

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