18 July 2013

Just a short note today. I think Dave and I are both suffering tourist and sightseeing fatigue just a bit. But we have spent a great deal of time today in the stunning Uffizi Gallery.

One of the world’s most important museums, the Uffizi Gallery was one of the first in Europe to emerge in accordance with the modern idea of a museum, that is to say as a systematically organised exhibition space designed for public viewing. Two centuries before it was officially opened in 1765, the Gallery was in fact open to visitors on request… Artists such as Leonardo and Michelangelo gathered here “for beauty, for work and for recreation”…

The origins of the Uffizi date back to 1560, when at the request of the Medici duke Cosimo I (1519-1574), [Giorgio] Vasari designed a grand palazzo with two wings… which house the Magistrature, or the administrative and judicial offices — Uffizi — of the duchy of Tuscany… But it is to Cosimo’s son, Francesco I (1541-1587) that we owe the first real nucleus of the Gallery… Around 1581 he transformed the top floor of the Uffizi into a gallery, a place for “walking, with paintings, statues and other precious things”….

So it’s been around for a while. On most (if not all) of the exhibits the accompanying information stated when the item became part of the gallery’s collections. Many of them have been with the gallery since the 1700s. Mind boggling.

Photos are not allowed in most of the gallery, although I did sneak a couple when I saw other people doing the same — just one painting, and one working drawing:

This painting is at the end of the Third Corridor on the second floor. But it’s not mentioned in my guidebook (so it clearly isn’t important, and I can’t tell you its title or author.)

This working drawing is one of many on display on the first floor and, again, I neglected to take note of the artist.

We had reserved tickets online, which worked well. There is no extra cost involved, but it gives you the benefit of not having to wait in line. Show up at Porta 3 ten minutes before your allocated entry time (and not before!), pick up your tickets (zero queue when we were there at 0920), then walk to the next door and straight in. Simple.

Whilst things weren’t too crowded at the beginning, it did get a little cosy closer to lunchtime; and it is particularly challenging to move if you find yourself entrapped in a guided tour. There was a Japanese one that we kept intercepting and having to extract ourselves from. The tour groups make it nigh on impossible to read the information about the key works, as they block access for independent visitors a lot of time time. However, if you are patient (not one of my strong points!) you eventually get a look-in.

As someone completely ignorant of art and ancient history, a lot of the value of the collection is wasted on me. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find it fascinating as an uninformed spectator. The works from the late 1200s through to the late 1500s were all religious in nature: I have seen enough Madonna and Childs to last a lifetime! There are also more grotesque offerings, like several versions of Judith beheading Holofernes (Old Testament?), and severed heads of Medusa.

Really, the only works that I recognised were those of Botticelli — probably because they are frequently used in marketing material for the Uffizi Gallery. The Birth of Venus (1484) and 1.72 m by 2.78 m in size; and Primavera (1482) and 2 m by 3.1 m in size, sit in the gallery side by side. Pretty impressive. An interesting titbit: in the Primavera Botticelli has included nearly 200 botanical species, accurately copied from nature.

The most fascinating paintings, for me, were the few still lifes that depicted — in minute detail and gorgeous light — fruits and vegetables along with bugs. Superb, and usually from the 1700s. There were also a large number of exquisite portraits — of various members of the Medici family and quite a few self-portraits of notable artists, like Rembrandt.

Strolling amongst the splendour I was trying to contextualise the amount of time and money involved in creating just one of these masterpieces — I can’t, really. That the nobility who commissioned them owned so many luxuries in a time when the rest of the population were primarily subsistence peasants really does set a benchmark of difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. And so much of that show of power and influence devoted to religiosity. Hmm. No wonder the Reformation happened!

Tomorrow is a one-train day: Venice, here we come.

As an end-note, another vignette of Italian life: Carabinieri, or military police, keeping an eye on the dodgy tourists. (Why there are military police all over the place — as opposed to Polizia, civilian police — I’m not sure. They’re all armed, too.)


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