As June drew to a close and we spent our last few days in Italy, we seemed to spend a considerable amount of time waiting in queues. It could be considered practice, for the popular London sport of forming a line and waiting in it!
Florence has some beautiful and inspiring sights, the Renaissance buildings & palaces, the splendid basilica, the Ponte Vecchio… but some of the best known things are in the galleries – specifically the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Galleria degli Uffizi.
We went to the the Accademia late morning, due to cancellation of our cooking class (highly disappointed about that!) The wait in the line was about two and half hours long, so we took it in turns to go for wanders around the area. We also met a lovely American girl, traveling around Italy on her own and we chatted away as the line slowly inched it’s way closer to the portal into a different world of medieval art and the Accademia’s most famous resident – Michelangelo’s David. There’s no denying that David is the attraction for the Accademia. It was full of beautiful art, to be sure, but Michelangelo’s skill and mastery is displayed in it’s 8 foot glory and that’s where everybody heads.
Before David, however, there was an interesting exhibition about love & marriage in medieval art – how it was depicted, the role of women and how the artworks reflected popular thought on how they should behave. Popular women depicted were Judith (biblical character who chopped off the head of Holofernes) and Lucretia, who was raped and after confessing this to her father & brothers, stabbed herself. It was horribly fascinating, thinking of how women were treated & expected to behave in medieval & Renaissance times. That women would look at the heavy symbolism and iconography in churches and paintings and realise how little their thoughts & feelings mattered in society. But then, unless you were rich or had a powerful, well-connected family, not many men had much to say about their rights & wishes.
One such man, who grumbled, argued and fought (occasionally) through his career about how he felt controlled by powerful men is Michelangelo. He started the statue of David when he was 26, and finished three years later. And it is extraordinary. While not an unusual subject for the time, David is portrayed as a young man, before his battle with Goliath. Far off in the depths of my high school art class, I remember a teacher commenting that Michelangelo had the hots for the young model that modelled for David – and you can see the care and love that is given to this statue. However, given Michelangelo’s preference for the ‘Divine art’ of sculpture (called divine because it mimics the act of the Creation of man) it may be his love of sculpture that made it’s mark on the 8 foot of marble. David is slightly out of proportion, his head & upper body larger than his lower half, and his hands are massive, with the veins bulging, suggesting that he is poised, ready to unleash the killing stones. After spending some time circling round the pedestal, fighting through the crowds of people and gazing up, everything else in the gallery seemed a little lacklustre. Beautiful and strange were the hundreds of religious iconography of the Virgin and Child, or Christ on the cross. As I have found throughout my travels, my high school learning on the history of art came back, and I was able to recognise the change in styles from Byzantium to early medieval, to gothic. But the star was David, and the unfinished blocks of marble that Michelangelo had worked on for the tomb of Pope Julius. These showed the marks of the tools he used, the way he was picturing the physical image trapped inside the block of stone, the way a soul is embedded within a human body. What a wonderful way to view an artwork, as something that exists before the artist releases it, it just needs the skill of the sculptor to find the subject within.