Fabulous Florence (Part 2)

Uffizi Gallery

How does one write about what is probably the most amazing small museum in the world?  You can get through the place in 2 hours (3 if you look at the non-Italian collection).  The exhibition rooms, recently renovated, give you enough space and light to see the pictures and, if you go off-season and early in the morning (the museum opens at 8:15) it’s not impossibly crowded.

Ponte Vecchio is suprisingly empty at 8 am

Ponte Vecchio is surprisingly empty at 8 am

It’s impossible to cover everything, so here are some of my particular favorites.

The two Madonnas in the first room, offer an interesting contrast in how art was starting to change even as early as the 14th C.  One Madonna, by the Sienese artist Duccio, is executed in the older expressionless style, although Mary has a ghost of a smile. In the Giotto Madonna, though, Mary is looking right at you.  The Renaissance goes Boink.

Nobody does women’s faces like Botticelli, and the Uffizi has several rooms full of them.

Filippo Lippi’s models for his Madonna and Child are believed to his girlfriend and his baby son.  (Lippi, a monk, wasn’t exactly supposed to be fathering children, but his art was so lovely the authorities looked the other way.)  That baby grew up to be Filippino Lippi, who also did some pretty spectacular Madonnas.

This portrait of the Holy Family was done by Luca Signorelli, an Umbrian artist who did most of his work on walls, instead of as moveable paintings, and who is therefore not as well known as he might be outside of Italy.   I love Joseph’s scarf in this painting. The Italian commentary notes that this design must have been in vogue at the time, because it appears in a number of paintings by different artists done around the same time.  Italian men and their scarves.

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Galleria degli Uffizi, Holy Family, Luca Signorelli (1490); Joseph’s distinctive scarf must have been in vogue at the time, since it appears in many paintings of this period

Leonardo da Vinci is represented by a wonderful Annunciation.  He is also believed to have assisted his teacher Verrocchio in his painting of John the Baptist.

Raphael is known for his portraits, but I was charmed by his depiction of John the Baptist as a leopard-skin wearing child.

The artist Bronzino did a lot of official portraits for his patron Duke Cosimo, but somehew even though he gets every detail of Eleonora’s sumptuous dress right he doesn’t forget to show a mother’s love for her son.

Galleria degli Uffizi: Eleanora di Toledo and Son - Bronzino, c. 1545

Galleria degli Uffizi: Eleanora di Toledo and Son – Bronzino, c. 1545

And I’ve always liked the portraits of Bartolomeo and Lucrezia Panciatichi.  Even though they are done individually you somehow get the sense that this is a happy couple.

Caravaggio is not well represented here (he did most of his work in Rome) but his painting of Abraham and Isaac is a masterwork.  The artist captures Abraham, knife already drawn, at the moment the angel tells him to stop.  Isaac is still terrified, and the little lamb whose face is next to Isaac’s hasn’t figured out that he’s next in line.

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Galleria degli Uffizi: The Sacrifice of Issac – Caravaggio, 1602.

The Uffizi also has a tipsy Bacchus, a painting whose influence is still being felt.

The Uffizi also has a fine collection of art by non-Italian artists, including a fascinating Madonna by Durer, an old Rabbi by Rembrandt, a rare naturalist painting by Velazquez (check out the masterful depiction of the glass) and a portrait of a bullfighter by Goya.

The caption to a Madonna by Flemish artist Hans Memling notes that the angel is handing baby Jesus an apple as a sign of his impending Crucifixion.  But it seems to me the angel has a rather devilish grin.  What do you think?

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Galleria degli Uffizi: Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Angels – Hans Memling, 1491

When the Uffizi was first opened, the collection of ancient Greek and Roman sanctuary was regarded as particularly noteworthy.  The statues are still there, but these days excite less tourist interest.  One exception, though, are the Niobe statues, executed in he 1st C BC, which take up a whole room on the main floor.

Niobe, according to a Greek myth, was a woman who somewhat foolishly boasted to another woman, Latona, that she was the better mother because she had 14 children, and Latona only had 2.  Unfortunately for Niobe, Latona’s children were Apollo and Artemis.  Insulted, Latona got her immortal children to kill all of Niobe’s all too human offspring, one by one by one.  When Niobe realized what was happening, she begged to be allowed to keep the last of her daughters, whom she tried to shield with her cape.  Nope – the Greek gods didn’t do redemption.

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Galleria degli Uffizi: Niobe trying to protect her youngest daughter (1st C BC): Niobe boasted to the goddess Latona, mother of Apollo and Diana, that she has 14 children while Latona had only 2; Latona arranged for the gods to kill all of them — Niobe pleaded in vain for them to spare her last surviving child. All the statues in this room were heavily damaged by a Mafia bomb blast in 1993, and restored in 2006.

This statue is particularly resonant for me because I saw it on my very first trip to Florence, in 1990.  This part of the gallery was out of service for many years due to a Mafia bombing in the early 1990s.  The Niobe room was badly damaged, and the statues needed significant restoration.  It’s nice to have them back, after so many years.

Pitti Palace

This palatial home of the later Medici is frustrating to visit.  The paintings are displayed on multiple levels and many rooms are poorly lit, which makes some of them difficult to see.  And unlike the Uffizi, where it seems every work is a masterpiece, the Pitti has far too many mediocre works.  There are some marvels, though, if you are patient.

Some of my particular favorites include:

  •  A Madonna feeding the infant Jesus by Artemisia Gentileschi, a remarkably gentle picture by an artist best known for her bloody depiction of Judith lopping off the head of Holofernes:

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    Palazzo Pitti, Palatine Gallery: Nursing Madonna, Artemisia Gentileschi (1609-1610); an unusually gentle image by a painter better known for her depiction of Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes

  • Sweet-faced Madonnas by Filippo Lippi and Raphael:
  • A portrait by Raphael of a woman believed to be his lover:

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    Palazzo Pitti, Palatine Gallery: Woman with Veil, Raphael; believed to be a portrait of the artist’s girlfriend, Margerita Luti

  • A rare triple portrait by Giorgione, The Three Ages of Man.
    Palazzo Pitti, Palatine Gallery:  The Three Ages (of man), Giorgione (1500-1)
    Palazzo Pitti, Palatine Gallery: The Three Ages (of man), Giorgione (1500-1)