The Archeological Museum of Florence is huge. I cannot believe the size, it has (if I can recall correctly) three or four stories that span out a decent distance. I was shocked to see ceramics encased behind glass with masking tape, metal clamps, and some kind of glue to hold the pieces in place for secure drying—my draw dropped I think. One pot had a top portion completely wrapped in tape. When we got to the third floor I noticed a cartoon sticker stuck on one of the glass encasements, I think it was Hercules, and I thought—“why is this here?” So, what did I do? I attempted to peel it off, until one of the museum employees stopped me, and replaced the cartoon sticker to its original position (it was clearly graffiti in my mind, I was doing them a favor! …Except that I was touching an encasement, I guess). I was pretty upset that I got caught for doing this, I never get caught. And I never thought I would see her put the sticker back is what I think I am most shocked about (I mean really, she could have put in the trash—what is its purpose?!). So, what do I know about the Archeological Museum besides its expansive size, masking tape, and cartoon stickers? I know that the amount of artifacts they have is impressive. Especially the Etruscan artifacts like the masks and the tools, which vary so differently from Roman and Greek styles (the styles feed off each other, but are clearly different). The collection of this museum began by none other than the Medici family. The Medici’s had mostly Etruscan and Roman artifacts at the beginning of their collecting, but the collections expanded over the years Egyptian and Greek artifacts were added, and artifacts are still being added even today.
Inside Orsanmichele was rather surprising compared to many other interior structures we have visited. I was surprised by the amount of light introduced to the main floor with the pillars. The windows are wide and welcome the sun, and I think it can be attributed to the buildings original use as a grain house and market. The architectural style attributes to late gothic—with archway ceilings and interior pillars. Orsanmichele however, is not noted for its interior but its exterior tabernacles, which are all sculptures that demonstrate the different guilds of the city and their patron saints. There are a total of 14 tabernacles, and each guild had the duty of crafting their patron saint and tabernacle for the exterior. Artists of the sculptures include Donatello, Nanni di Banco, Ghiberti, Verrocchio, Giambologna, Lamberti, and Baccio da Montelupo. The collection of sculptures are vast here, and it was interesting to see the original guild master sculptures and compare them to the copies on the outside.
I should be more enthusiastic with the grand effort and inspiration these guild masters had to compose these works, to demonstrate their skill, compete, and feel the amazing height of completing a masterpiece, but I keep wandering toward the windows (these are words from my notebook). I drew the sculpture of St. Mark by Donatello in my sketchbook here.
The word Bargello translates from late Latin as “castle” or “tower”, the building itself was once a barracks, prison, palace, and now a museum to masterwork sculptures. I like how resourceful Italians seem to be with their buildings, and how interchangeable they allow the role functions (at least in the past). This Bargello is home to Donatello’s David, a wide array of Michelangelo’s early works, work by Giambologna, artists’ works of the Baroque period (Gian Lorenzo Bernini) and a great collection of Medieval armor and weaponry on the top floor. I found the furniture and chest cabinets interesting; care, detail, and time spent to make the furniture is much more complex than today. Being the daughter of a carpenter/folk artist, I see the value in adding a few details to a piece to make it stand out. These details are components of all the furniture of the wealthy classes of this time. I see value in observing this in history for the sake of interior design students, and students like myself who are interested in all things fine-craft and art related.
The Uffizi was probably my favorite gallery in Florence, and although it is popular already, its admiration is of worthy reason. The Medieval and early Renaissance altarpieces and wood panels are some of my favorite works, and thankfully the Uffizi is home to some of the most prized masterpieces of this period and style. Cimabue is noted for being one of the last artists of the Byzantine style, and as one of the first artists to slowly introduce perspective and more natural proportion—his masterpiece Madonna and Child Enthroned two Angels, St. Francis and Dominic is carefully considered in the center of one of the gallery rooms, rightfully stealing the attention of the thousands of visitors each week. When Vasari writes of Cimabue, he quickly turns his pen to Giotto, a pupil of Cimabue, and the leader of the new style of the century furthering perspectivo. When comparing a Giotto and Cimabue Madonna and child, one can quickly identify the differences in approach. Giotto uses the canopy over the Madonna to indicate space, as it appears to be going back into space, and the viewer looks at it as if from an angle. The figures faces are rendered with light and shadow, whereas Cimabue’s figures faces are relatively flat. The altarpiece by Simoni Martini and his brother-in-law, Lippo Memmi’s Annunciation reminisces the Byzantine age, but painted in the Sienese Gothic style of relatively flat surfaces and backgrounds, careful attention to line and detail, bold blocks of color, and striking applications of gold leaf—all typical elements of the school of Siena (recall the detail and the visually busy cathedral of Siena). I suppose what is so beautiful about Simoni Martini’s is the combination of small details with bold tempera-colors—yet the bold colors do not dominate; an allover softness exists in the work that delicately reflects the spirituality of the stories they depict. Another important artist of the Byzantine age includes Duccio di Buoninsegna, another Sienese-style father who was commissioned work for the Santa Maria Novella, the Duomo di Siena, and other churches and chapels of Tuscany. His style marked that of the Sienese Goth style. The compositions of the Sienese school included the same elements as the Byzantine tradition, with buildings and other objects as smaller than figures, or smaller than real-life. The main differences lie in the ornamental elements and detail; strictly Byzantine is bold, blocks of color and gold leaf, where Sienese is the same, except with more detail and soft elegant qualities to accompany the picture plane. These are stylistic components completely unique in history, and no other style, period, or replicas can compare.
The Palazzo Vecchio is a palace the commune and people decided to construct in 1299, a structure to represent security and pride for Florence. Let us not confuse the building though, as it has many names: the Palazzo del Popolo, Palazzo dei Priori, and the Palazzo Ducale, which are all attributed to its various uses over time. Duke Cosimo I de’Medici moved to the Pallazzo Pitti eventually, leaving the Palazzo Vecchio with its current name which means “the Old Palace”. Today, the structure remains a symbol of government. Several prominent designers contributed to the Palazzo, including Arnolfo di Cambio who was the chief designer of the building, with the assistance of Nicola Pisano (Pisano was Cambio’s teacher). Arnolfo di Cambio designed the Duomo of Siena, Santa Croce and the Santa Maria del Fiore. Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi, a pupil of Ghiberti, redesigned the courtyard with new columns of cylindrical and octagonal shapes, and intricate designs up and across the pillars (relatively uncommon to see on pillars during this time, until around the Rococo period of the 18th century). Leonardo da Vinci also played a role here, and was commissioned in 1503 to paint a battle scene of Florentine victory on an interior wall, but because of his experimental nature and tendencies, his materials “melted” off of the wall, and other paintings were introduced to replace his.
This town gave me goose bumps, and I see now where fairytales come from. This was a great day, too, the weather was glorious, the history fascinating, and the town so quiet and peaceful. Vasa, Dominic, Tony, JC, and I played soccer with a pine cone. We were covered in dirt afterword. Though we only had a little over 40 minutes in the town itself, this was just enough to explore each of the towns four corners. Civita di Bagnoreggio is a hilltown atop a plateau, surrounded full circle by a sinking valley and other rising hills around the valley. The hill itself is literally crumbling off due to a few heavy blows of earth quakes in the early 2000s, as well as rain and wind that truly have the stones rocking. A bridge connects Civita over the valley to the next town (some students were pretty afraid of this bridge, but there is something magnificent about walking a bridge that may not exist in some next years). Antonio, a fellow my family and I met on a train ride said that the literal translation of Civita di Bagnoregio means “the kings butt”—this being its title because of the geographic layout and another historical fact I can no longer recall. I wish I could have taken my family back there to see it, but we didn’t have enough time.
Siena is a beautiful town with a history of inhabitants dating back to 800-900 BC. It’s built with curving, winding streets up and down the hill it resides. The old brick walls that once kept the city from danger, now serve a primary purpose of keepings the city cool from hot summers. I think these are the aspects I was attracted to, I wanted to wander the streets freely and explore behind the smaller, less tourist-traversed vias, but this happened rather naturally as it is easy to get lost in a place with less flat ground (my first weeks in Firenze I could just look up to find a tower or the Duomo and know exactly where to go), Vasalisa and I got a little nervous as we tried to hastily meet back for class, and find our way back from one the churches we were just in—how the streets are like a maze! We decided to follow these tourists in front of us, hoping they were going in the same direction as we and toward the Piazza del Campo.
The Piazza is magnificent, it’s a beautiful square divided into nine sections, representing The Nine banking leaders of Siena—the Noveschi, who built the town to grandeur in the 13th and 14th centuries. I was intrigued by the famous Palio di Siena, the horse race that takes place twice a year in the Piazza. The square is filled with sand or dirt to protect the horses, and seating is arranged in the middle to make a track between the buildings and the middle. It would definitely be exciting to see this, until I learned tickets to the event can cost well over the hundreds. It’s definitely interesting how the cities and towns of Italy have such strong-lasting traditions that really bring together the entire community—this is a topic I often hear in my hometown—how can we bring the community together? Community is so deeply rooted in Italian culture along with tradition.
I love the small hill towns. When we first arrived in Siena, I knew I had to see more of these smaller, Medieval stone structures. Orvieto’s buildings are interestingly made out of tufa a volcanic stone that is soft when mined from underground, but hardens once it is exposed to the air. It is so soft when first mined that one can cut it with a knife, but hardens strong enough to last for the past hundreds of years. This was a building practice throughout the centuries up until after World War II, when the excavating discontinued. Orvieto is also home to the Duomo di Orvieto, a cathedral that inspired Giovanni Pisano’s façade design for the Duomo of Siena, and Arnolfo di Cambio’s Florence Cathedral, the Santa Maria Del Fiore. I can remember my professor from Millersville teaching Italian Renaissance saying that this is one of the ugliest façades he has ever seen (hoping to get a reaction from his students, you know, but I also know he was definitely serious)—after seeing this in person, I can agree with him. The animal sculptures appear almost hot-glued to the façade, like they don’t belong, not to mention their proportions are obscure—a lamb with a shrunken head and so forth. The frescos on the façade are colorful and beautiful in and of themselves (remastered to be sure as well), but there is so much going on already in detail that it is difficult for the eye to focus and read the frescos. Remembering his elaborate and evocative tale regarding the “hideousness” of this façade—I don’t think I would go that far in description—but I can’t help but smile.
Scavenger number 4, my group and I are champions by now at trekking across Firenze. It’s actually ironic that towards the end of this trip, we were asked about directions more than a few times (I was even approached by an Italian, speaking Italian on two occasions—which was a bit more difficult to respond—“lassu, sinistra!” ). I suppose we all look like we know where we are going now. I suppose I really enjoyed entering the Basillica di Santa Croce for this scavenger hunt. I had no idea the vastness of the now museum of the entire vicinity. I was actually downhearted that I hadn’t collected research about the place prior to our excursion, and so failed to make time to really observe the museum on a day prior. Basilica di Santa Croce translates as Church of the Cross, and its nickname is Tempio dell’Itale Glorie, or Temple of the Italian Glories, because it is the burial church for many great minds of Florence such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini and others. It is a church of the Franciscan order, with contributing designers such as Brunellschi, Vasari, and Niccolo Matas of the 19th century who designed the front façade. Matas was a Jewish architect, hence why there are a few more Jewish stars attributed to the structure than typical for a Catholic church. This façade is beautiful, and is indeed a masterpiece that built Matas repertoire to a higher status. Matas willed that he be buried in the church because of this, but the church would not allow it, so he was buried beyond the entrance doors. An impressive statue of Dante Alighieri stands below the front façade and steps. It is notable to see his statue or symbolisms around this part of town and nowhere else. I am ashamed that I have never read Dante’s Inferno, or any of his great writings and poems. He was a literary genius and Florence rightly takes pride in him here and across the city.