The centre of Firenze is small, easily covered on foot. End of September, beginning of October is a very pleasant time. Lots of tourists though, can’t imagine why… Even so, we could stop at a terrace here or there and enjoy the old town. The walk starts from the Duomo, then south towards the Orsanmichele church, then to the Uffizi and onward to the old bridge (ponte vecchio) over the Arno river, following the river a bit to the east, stopping at the Santa Croce and back through the old town. You can download the route to your smartphone: Firenze (KMZ) or Firenze (GPX). The KMZ is required for maps.me, which is really wonderful.
The main cathedral of Florence is a magnificent building. We often refer to is as the Duomo, although the crazy genius Brunelleschi constructed the dome a century after the main building had been completed. Anyway, this church dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore is superb, with the bell tower of Giotto to further complete the scene. And then there are the mosaics. But don’t think they are byzantine…they were conceived by Nicolò Barabino in the late 19th century…
The next stop is the Uffizi. A grand museum, but I will only discuss two works. Alessandro Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli painted this arrival of Venus on the shores of Cyprus around 1485. Late medieval painting shows mainly stiff and highly dressed persons in religious scenes. And then we have this. An elegant young woman, weight on het left leg, torso curved the other way and head again – what we call tribhanga in India (the three body sections forming an S). And what a lush landscape, and those flying attendants. Venus is virtually nude, what a departure from the ‘primitives’. And strkingly, she is so modern. Not the anorexic photo model, but no way the voluptious or chubby types we come across in a lot of later painting. She is well shaped, unlike Eve in Cranach. And that golden hair that is so long she can cover her pubic hair with it! While his contemporary Bellini had switched to oil painting and became a great master of it, Botticelli continued to use tempera. And he had a point to stick to the old and trusted medium, if you enlarge the picture you will see the colours are great and the general condition has deteriorated much less than most later old painting.
Tiziano Vecellio painted this ‘Venus of Urbino’ around 1534. Tiziano had perfected oil painting fully. The art was under control: cloth, tissue, skin, hands, hair. Such rendering of matter wasn’t possible with tempera or fresco, but then, if you enlarge the image fully you will see the craquelé and that doesn’t even start the question of change in colours. Apart from his incredible technique Tiziano also also overturned content and meaning in painting. Certainly, there were predecessors—the nude Venus of Botticelli and the reclining (Dresden) nude of Giorgione (that was partially done by Tiziano)—but this is not Venus, the title of the painting is a later masking of its original meaning. So is it porn, a pin-up? Laura Mulvey’s male gaze? Not quite, if we can believe Rona Goffin (Titian’s Women) and Daniel Arasse (The Woman in the Chest in: Take a Closer Look). By the way, sorry for the blueish line—it’s a reflection of some lamp in the museum… Anyway, scholars seem to agree that Tiziano created the foundation for eroticism in post-medieaval European art that influenced virtually all artists afterwards. Eroticism, not pornography. Is the woman a sexual object? Well, the model was probably a famous Venetian courtesan who was a friend of Tiziano. Courtesans are known to have wielded great power and often squeezed out their patrons like a lemon. The gaze of this lady is not the gaze of an object, but rather the contrary, she gazes at the onlooker with an air of superiority. She has no adornments, no jewelry besides a simple bracelet, and then there is that magnificent tresse. She doesn’t smile or frown, she stares, because she knows no insecurity and she says “You are my slave, because you cannot resist, you surrender”. Although she surely is not a Venus she is a goddess, the goddess.
In the Orsanmichele (Orto [garden] San Michele) church you find a sculpture of San Marco by Donatello, created 1411-13). The original was place on the southern side, where now a copy stands. Of course we also went to see Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia of Firenze (great very early renaissance painting collection) but I was disappointed. The idea of making the head oversized to compensate for the perspective didn’t do it for me. Donatello also made his Saint Mark (Orsanmichele’s church) in such a way that its optimal viewing is from below, but it looks more natural to me. Not that natural is neccesary or preferable…The story about this sculpture is funny. When the guys that commisioned the statue saw it they had all sorts of suggestions to Donatello to improve it. Donatello said he would do the needful but never touched the statue. When it was placed in the niche the viewpoint from below was looking so different and convincing that the commissioners were very pleased with the final result, not knowing Donatello had not changed anything. Anecdotes like these are rather silly. We all know this world is teeming with incompetent idiots. Fortunately there are a few people who really know what they are doing.
From Ponte Vecchio to the Santa Croce church is a short walk, and you will come through narrow streets with impressive buildings. And at every turn you may get a glimpse of the Duomo, so you know where you are.