Day 10: Wednesday, June 5: The Vatican

Antje and Pope Francis (and a lot of people in between) on the piazza S. Pietro during the regular Wednesday papal address to the public.
Here we go! The Vatican Museums (by prior reservation only)
“Cell phone in case” with cuneiform writing, in the prehistoric art museum
The Vatican’s copy (from 50 AD) of the Apoxyomenos, or “The Scraper,” by Lysippus
The Apollo Belvedere
The River God (Artno?), in the Belvedere Court, where the Renaissance popes proudly displayed their most famous ancient Roman finds in the open
The Laocoon, the most famous Renaissance find of them all, sold to Pope Julius II when it was found in 1506. Most recent scholarship says it was created in the 1st C AD, not the 1st C BCE. Must-read: Lessing’s essay about the sculpture.
Detail of the Laocoon’s suffering as he is dragged to his death in the ocean by the serpents of Poseidon. Hellenism at its most expressive (even if created by Greek sculptors for a Roman patron).
The Belvedere Hermes Psychopompos (formerly known as Antinous, Hadrian’s favorite, 2nd C AD.
The Belvedere Torso, the subject of Rilke’s sonnet “Archaic Torso of Apollo:” “You must change your life.”
The Belvedere Torso. Michelangelo allegedly refused to complete the fragment, as was the norm in the Renaissance and Baroque.
The Todi Mars, an amazin Etruscan Bronze
Detail of the Todi Mars
And a little Etruscan lion, lyin’ around.
Exekias’ Achilles and Ajax Playing at Dice, one of the most famous Greek black-figure vases
The Room of the Maps, a corridor in the Vatican museums that really shows how packed it was EVERYWHERE.
More throngs, here in the Museo Pio-Clementino
Raphael’s Philosophy / School of Athens in the “Raphael Rooms” (Stanza della Segnatura)
Detail from the School of Athens, allegedly a stealth portrait of Michelangelo
Detail from the School of Athens, with the man looking out at us allegedly Raphael’s self-portrait.
Raphael, Theology / The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament (opposite of the School of Athens)
And a little surprise Matisse (in the museum’s modern art collection)
Dali in the modern art collection of the Vatican Museum
Fernando Botero, The Trip to the Ecumenical Council (1972)
Francis Bacon, sketch for the Velazquez Pope series, at the Vatican Museums
The Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo (secretly shot from the hip)
Details of the Sistine chapel ceiling (center: God separating light from darkness)
Detail of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling: Adam and Eve seduced by the serpent, and cast out from Eden
Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (Sistine Chapel)
Sistine Chapel Ceiling, the Sybil of Cumae (center)
Sistine Chapel Ceiling, the Sybil of Delphi
The Lybian Sybil (Michelangelo’s twistiest Sybil) and pendentive (corner painting) in the Sistine chapel ceiling. The dark patch at the bottom of pendentive triangle shows the darkened colors of the ceiling before restoration in the 1990s.
The Sleeping Ariadne, in her niche, now off the regular path through the Museo Pio Clementino (during our special 2-minute visit)
Antje in awe with the Sleeping Ariadne (2nd century AD Roman copy of a lost Greek original)
Face to face with the most important work of art to play a role in George Eliot’s novels
The niche and the candelabras have been with the Ariadne since she came back to the Vatican from the Louve in the 1810s.
The Vatican’s copy of Silenus with the infant Dionysus, the Roman copy of a Greek sculpture that reminds me most of my dad (cf. the Uffizi museum’s copy later on).
Details of putti playing with a crocodile on a 1st AD sculpture representing the River Nile
Wounded / Dying Amazon, Polykleitos type (there are multiple types; long story)
Wounded Amazon, Kresilas type
Caesar Augustus as triumphant warrior — a Roman statue without a Greek original!
Augustus’ famous and elaborate cuirass
A replica of the Augustus sculpture, painted as it would have been in Roman times (“polychromy”)
Roman verism: an ultra-realistic depiction of an old Roman woman
Another Raphael Madonna, the Madonna of Foligno (ca. 1511).
Raphael’s shot at a Twisted Sybil, in the Transfiguration (unfinished, 1520)
A replica of Cristofano Allori’s Judith and Holofernes (baroque). See also: the Dresden copy (attributed to Allori) and the alleged Pitti Palace original (1570-73)
Caravaggio’s Deposition, with the stone slab for Christ coming out into our space as viewers
Detail from Caravaggio’s deposition, with the wound in Christ’s side.
Orazio Gentileschi (Artemsia’s father): Judith with the Head of Holofernes (after the fact). 1611-1612
Il Sassoferrato, Madonna with Child (1650), for people who want their Madonnas even sweeter than Raphael’s
At St. Peter’s Basilica, long view of the nave
Michelangelo’s Pieta, in St. Peter’s Basicila
View of the cupola at St. Peter’s, in all its baroque glory
Bernini’s Baldaccino. All bronze, allegedly from the ceiling coffers of the Pantheon.
Famous tomb of Fabio Chigi, Pope Alexander VI, with Death Under a Blanket by Bernini
Antje Illuminated in the nave of St. Peter’s
The whole length of the nave at St. Peter’s

Today was dedicated to going to EVERYTHING Vatican, both expected and unexpected. We spent some time after breakfast getting caught up on journaling and posting photos, and then we set out with the plan of seeing St. Peter‘s Basilica in the morning, then taking an early lunch break, and going to the Vatican museums with our skip-the-line online tickets at the designated time at noon. That didn‘t quite work out—we got to the piazza of St. Peter‘s and realized that every Wednesday when the pope is „home“ he gives a little bulletin at 10 am. So we didn‘t get to go into the cathedral, but instead got to see the pope (VERY far away) telling people about his recent visit to Romania. We didn‘t stay for the many translations (into French, German, English, Spanish, and Portuguese, I believe), but we CAN now say we saw the pope speak. 

We then made our way through the phalanx of „official tourist guides“ (aka scammers) who sell people tickets in addition to their Vatican Museum tickets for the „special tour“ of St. Peter‘s (which can of course be visited WITHOUT any tickets) and walked a little bit back into the Prati, the quarter north of the Vatican area where our guest house is, met with a police marching band (undoubtedly parading toward the Vatican in connection with the pope‘s Wednesday update), and eventually found an outdoor cafe where I finally had my first Italian caffe latte, and where we had some croissants and a cookie (instead of lunch) and watched the busy people at the street corners. The architecture in this late 19th century neighborhood is distinctly Roman (with the roof gardens at the top of the apartment buildings, some pseudo-antique features, and beautiful yellows and oranges for stucco colors) but the layout is like that of Paris, so it all felt vaguely familiar. We hung out until about 11, then made our way over to the Vatican and were waved in, with ALL THOSE OTHER PEOPLE, at 11:30. I had been warned about the throng (hence the on-line tickets) but wow, was it crowded. The logistics challenge for this much traffic in a museum is enormous; the solution is basically the Disney approach: give the masses a specific one-directional path with a few possible detours and do extra ingress control at the very crowded areas. It was always a relief to be in a courtyard or one of the rare less traveled places in between phases of choc-a-bloc traffic. The doors were usually a challenge as tour groups and individuals filed through in a never-ending stream. (Well, it ends every day at 6 when the museum closes, I suppose.) The Sistine Chapel was of course the most crowded of all locations, and the constant shouting by guards to be silent and not take pictures (pretty pointless on both counts) made it about the least sacred-feeling religious space I have been to. All that aside, it was breathtaking to see some of the most famous masterpieces of Western art, many of which were surprises because I have typically not memorized where certain works are, and would then be stunned to see a favorite from an art history class—especially among the 100 Vatican highlights that are marked (for the fast track, I suppose) there were of course many old friends. 

There is no possibility to give a short account of this visit for an aspiring art historian with an ambition to remember things (this is after all part of my research), so here goes with the long version, which might turn into an even longer version once I go back to add more museum history, which is of course part of what I need to take into account. The Parcours started with the museum of Egyptian and ancient Mesopotamian art, which we only glanced at cursorily—but we were intrigued by a little cuneiform tablet in a “sleeve” that looked for all the world like a smartphone in a case. (Mark thought it looked more like a candy bar with a wrapper.) Then came the collection of all things Etruscan, including the Greek vases from the Etruscan tombs that (as I learned in the museum) were thought to be “Etruscan” until Winckelmann made the connection to Ancient Greece. We now know that virtually all of them were exports from Greece and it’s our great good fortune the Etruscans liked Greek art so much—almost all those beautiful black-figure and red-figure vases in the world’s museums are from those tombs. The Vatican does own some of the all-stars, and we did get to see a super-famous vase of Achilles and Ajax playing at dice, by Ezekias. But they also had the fabulous “home-made” Etruscan bronze art, including the famous Todi Mars, which is really quite beautiful—and also much smaller than I thought, maybe 4 feet tall. 

We left the Etruscans behind for the prized collection of classical statues that the popes started to assemble in the early 16th century, and that people have come to see and write rhapsodic poetry and art history about ever since then. The first stop was one of the Roman copies of the Apoxymenos, the “scraper” by Praxiteles, and then what used be the Belvedere statue court, with several pieces still exactly where they were in the 1510s, when the court was built for these new finds from Ancient Rome and the display was first set up. The throngs were super thick, because every tour guide takes his or her group to the Laocoon, which is of course amazing. Its history, including where it was found in the early 1500s, and the most recent discoveries about when the three sculptors that created it actually lived and worked are super fascinating, but I just can’t go into all of that. Whether it’s a Hellenistic original or Roman commission of a copy of that work, but created by Greek sculptors, the expression of pain on Laocoon’s face is amazing. Note to self: I need to read Lessing’s essay on the Laocoon! But there was also the representation of the Nile, and the Apollo Belvedere—just nuts to see all of this. One of the niches (I believe the one that now has an 18th century Perseus with the head of the Medusa by Canova) used to have the Sleeping Ariadne in it in the 16th century, when it was still known as the Cleopatra, above a fountain. And of course this is the statue about which I know more than any other in the Vatican Museum, and which I basically came to see more than any other work, both for my own gratification and as part of my research—it plays a central role in a scene in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, with the heroine of the novel standing by it, but not looking at it, and because of that, I had written a paper on its entire history last semester. So I knew that it was later moved from the courtyard into a room called the Cleopatra Room, and was then moved to where it is now. But the Vatican museum website, which I had consulted several times, didn’t actually spell out where that was, and so I was confused. I wasn’t seeing it, even though I was in the Museo Pio-Clementino, where I knew it was supposed to be. But for the moment, I let it be because I wasn’t 100% sure where it should be, and moved on. So we went past a whole bunch of additional ancient sculpture, including the Belvedere Torso–the “Archaic Torso” of Rilke’s poem! And so many other poems! Michelangelo loved this piece (more long stories) and I can totally see why—the muscles, the twisted body, the idea that posture can speak all on its own—it’s all there. Then through a tapestry-covered corridor and a another one with large map frescoes on the walls—all with sumptuous ceilings and the works. Every pope had to add a few more gems. 

Eventually, we ended up with the Renaissance artists—specifically, Raphael’s Stanze (a series of chambers) for Sixtus, of which I again only knew the most famous highlight, namely the School of Philosophy (aka the School of Athens) and of Theology (or the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament)in the Stanza della Segnatura. Mark had to endure my whole mini lecture about Plato and Aristotle at the center (also the vanishing point for the perspectivally rendered buildings) of the School of Athens, and the “hidden” possible portraits of Michelangelo, Raphael himself, and Leonardo-as-Plato. The Parcours should have led by the chapel of Nicholas V, with frescoes by Fra Angelico, but I didn’t see a detour or a pathway that indicated this, so I assume it is closed to the public.  Instead we were in for a surprise, because as “filler” in the former rooms of the Borgia popes, some still lavishly decorated, the Vatican opted to display its modern art. I fully expected this to be kitschy Christian art of no particular artistic value, but I was sorely mistaken—and I had ignored that some 20th-century artists were quite religious and/or some curator’s taste overrode possible issues of irreligiosity. So there were a Munch, three Dalis, a very funny Botero with a fat little cardinal in a huge green garden, some Chagall pieces and the designs for Matisse’s chapel in Vence in France. One day, I need to see that chapel. Matisse’s simple line drawings and cutouts blow me away every time. Even an early sketch from Francis Bacon’s Velazquez Pope series was there—that really surprised me. 

Then we arrived, with throngs of people including those who used a shortcut to basically see just this one site among all of the thousands of artworks, at the Sistine Chapel, where we were regularly yelled at, as I’ve already mentioned. While I was giving Mark another mini lecture on the two halves of the ceiling frescoes and the difference in time and style between them. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to see this before the restoration, so dark as to be almost not visible, and I really loved the bright colors, trusting the restorers to get it right. Mark shot several forbidden photos from the hip and was never once caught, so I now have several Sybils and even a couple of images from the Last Judgment. I will have to read up on some more of the comments by women writers, but Eliot didn’t like all that masculine muscularity. Generally, Michelangelo was appreciated much more as a sculptor than a painter in the 19th century, and of course, the whole question of whether he was really always a sculptor, even when he painted, and whether that was why these women thought he was “wrong” or whether it has to do with his obviously male models for his figures is something I have to find out more about from guidebooks and the like. 

Once we were out of the Sistine Chapel, I knew that “only” several specialized museums were ahead, including the gallery of paintings, and I became worried about where to find “my” Ariadne. I asked several times about her whereabouts and was directed back to the Pio-Clementino, and only the last guide said she was in the Sala d’Animales, and that he was not sure whether she was visible from our path. We went back there and saw that a small group of tourists with a guide was in the Sala, past the ropes, but we could not see the Ariadne. There was a second room that we could see the group wander around in, but neither the left nor right side was visible. At this point, I began to get really upset, partly because I was already pretty tired and partly because I became increasingly sure that this is where the Ariadne was. One of the tourists got close enough to ask; he was a young American and said he had no idea why they were getting this special tour. When Mark showed him the image of the Ariadne on the phone (while I was trying to wipe away my tears and not make a scene), he actually had to walk back and look to see whether the sculpture was in the room he had just come from, that was how much he cared (he gave us a thumbs up, which added to my frustration). When the group returned to the path after an eternity, we asked their guide, who said that no one could get in without a special tour, and she didn‘t know how people got those tours, but that they were $300. That didn‘t exactly make me feel better, and I was getting very weepy but tried to keep my act together. I explained that I had come especially to see the Ariadne, and that I had no idea based on the website that she couldn‘t be seen; what could I do? Actually, I only explained part of it; Mark explained the rest because I was on the verge of losing it, and at the same time, the guide explained to the guard what was going on. The guard listened carefully and told me to hang on while he called his boss. Whoever that boss was actually came and joined us; they discussed more things in Italian, and then told me that the area was off limits but that they would give us TWO MINUTES, and only for her. So Mark and I went through the room with the animal sculptures and into the room where she was, in her niche on the left. I looked as hard as I could in two minutes (which is ridiculous since I can’t really imprint things on my retina) and Mark took 29 photos. I truly have no idea what else was in the room, for example across from the Ariadne, but I was so grateful I got to see her. After all that time I spent learning about her last semester, including the complicated history of her plaster casts and her shifting exhibit space, I would have been heartbroken had I not gotten to see her! But the memory will be about standing there with her, not about what I could actually see in this short time. So I am glad I do have photos from new angles that I didn’t see before.

Once I had recovered (now from tears of joy) we still went to see another gallery of Roman statues, busts, and sarcophagi, including some impressive veristic pieces, including an old woman with a very sunken face. There was also a Nile that looked familiar, with putti/Cupids playing with a crocodile, and a copy of a sculpture I discovered in my Greek sculpture class last spring—Silenus cradling the baby Dionysus. That one reminds me so powerfully of my dad—something in the pose (not to mention the beard!) and the rapt attention to the baby he is holding. And other incredibly famous pieces: two wounded amazons and the Augustus of Primaporta with his cuirass are key. There was also a polychromous version of the Augustus that was interesting to see. Always still hard for me to think of these in color, although I know that was how they were displayed. 

Then we wrapped up our visit in the gallery of paintings from the Middle Ages through to the late Renaissance, the Pinacoteca—and again, there was too much! There were several pieces by Giotto, a few Raphaels (as always, more appreciated by Eliot than by me, but while the Madonnas didn‘t rock my socks off, an Ascension of Christ had another Michelangelesque twisted female figure—Raphael trying to do the Sybil-like figura serpentinata, and not quite getting there. There was one lone Bellini to complete the Bellini / Mantegna exhibition, and a couple of Judiths with the head of Holofernes for my collection of women chopping off heads, one by Cristofano Allori and one by Artemisia Gentileschi’s father. I also got to see the deposition by Caravaggio and I made a point of looking at another presumed Eliot favorite, a Madonna by Sassoferato, a baroque artist whom I had never heard of–even more sickly-sweet than Raphael. But then we called it quits—we spent 5 hours in the museum, although we did also take 30 minute break with coffee and cake in the courtyard cafe. That was of course not nearly enough time, but more than many people spend. 

For good measure, we went from the Vatican Museums back to St. Peter and lined up to go inside (no entry fee,  but metal detectors that cause a fairly fast-moving line to form). We walked around the enormous space, a kind of huge cavern encrusted with gold and with important sculptures everywhere. We dutifully wandered around with hundreds of others, looked at the enormous baldacchino and the statue of the pope with Death under a cloth at the bottom, both by Bernini. And of course at the Pieta by Michelangelo. There would have been so much more to see, but it is just overkill, and of course not really my thing at all. But the Pieta in its remote corner is beautiful, and all that gold was very glittery in the evening sun. 

We then went home for a little rest, and I actually took a shower because I had gotten very warm at the museum among all those crowds of people. We barely had time to do a first run-through of the hundreds of photos Mark took today, and then we were off again, meeting our friend Rebecca (grad student in archeology in New York) and her boyfriend Chris (who is also an archeologist and art historian and teaches in the UK) for dinner. It just so happened that she was in Rome at the same time we were (she is leaving for a dig in Sicily this Friday), and he is in Rome this entire academic year, I believe. We had our first truly lovely dinner (pasta and pizza) and a great time talking about art, asking questions about the engineering of the Pantheon etc. and getting lots of advice about Rome, Florence, and good secondary sources for me to look at. We wrapped up the day with TOTALLY FANTASTIC gelato (after a lot of mediocre gelato so far), since Rebecca is a fabulous gelato connoisseur, and then said good bye about 10:30 and finally went home. 

THAT WAS A LONG DAY. I still feel I need to extra days to process it. 

Day 11: Thursday June 6: From Rome to Florence

The hallway of the building where our vacation rental was located.
The “backyard” of the apartment building with its 16th-century (?) stairs to nowhere.
Antje on a bridge across the Arno
The view of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio from inside the courtyard (designed by Michelozzo)
The press goes bonkers at the sight of this man, the new owner of the football club La Fiorentina
The facade (19th century) of the Cathedral of Florence, with the bell tower (14th century) next to it. Italian terms: the duomo and its campanile.
The view of Florence from uphill, on the Piazzale Michelangelo, on the south side of the Arno (the Oltrarno side of the city)
Also on that hillside: San Miniato al Monte
Selfie Shot opportunity at San Miniato
Sunset over Florence and the Arno
The Arno just after sunset, with the Ponte Vecchio.
One of the remaining segments of the city walls from the 1330s on the Oltrarno side of Florence

Sadly, I didn‘t sleep quite enough (Mark did ok, thankfully), but at this point, I think it‘s less menopause than excitement. I just can‘t sleep with all these ideas and things to do in Rome and Florence running through my head. So I thought and wrote and played some spider solitaire in the wee hours of the morning, and then finally got up around 7. We got ourselves packed up and said goodbye to our lovely room—it was perfect in terms of a location, and we were really happy, even though we DID have to shower sitting down because the contraption to hold the shower head didn’t work. Some things you just take as they are. I am glad that we ARE going to be back in Rome at the end of our time in Italy and will have a bit more leeway to explore it a little more.

We took the metro for the first time to get to the Tiburtina train / bus station, and since it was only a little after 8 am when we left, it wasn‘t that crowded yet, and we got there without a hitch. First time we had to use public transportation, since everything was so close by we had been walking everywhere. We were early for our bus and just hung out at the bus station with some coffee and pastries until our Flixbus to Florence arrived. It takes 3 hours, but for E 9.99 each way, that was pretty cool. The fast trains get you there in 1.5 hours, but they are much pricier, and we actually DID get to see the gorgeous landscapes of the northern Campagna, Umbria, and then Tuscany, looking up the hills at little towns, fortifications, and the occasional Roman thing as we drove by poppies blooming in vineyards and wheat fields and by the occasional sandstone or even marble quarry. 

The bus arrived early at the bus station near the outskirts (Villa Costanza) and we maneuvered the tram fairly well, although it took us a while to figure out what the actual name of our station was, since the Tram station confusingly does not share the name of the train station Santa Maria Novella where we were supposed to get out (Allemani is the relevant Tram stop). The rest of our way to the apartment was a long long walk (a bus would have been only marginally faster, but as is typical for us, we were too cheap to get a taxi). This gave us a first glimpse of the city, but coming from a very traffic-heavy area at the train station and then walking along bumpy sidewalks with heavy luggage made us not very appreciative—Mark probably even less so than me, because he kept pulling the suitcase, waving aside my offers to take a turn. I was especially annoyed with the cars everywhere, having gotten the impression that more of Florence was low traffic/pedestrian than it is. Even the long walk along the Arno from the modern bridge the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci to the Ponte Santa Trinita, with the other bridges in the background did not cheer us up. But then we walked through the via de Bardi and I was already excited, because that is where Eliot imagines Romola to live (Chapter 5 of Romola), and I was on familiar ground. But we were pretty wiped out by the time we got to 119 via San Niccolò, where our apartment is. We had a bit of a hard time communication via the HomeAway app with the apartment hosts, because there was always such a time lag between our questions and their answers, but eventually, Pamela, who is probably the woman who cleans the apartment (and who in retrospect is probably the owner’s housekeeper as well), came to let us in and give us our keys. 

I have to say that the apartment blows me away, even though it is the opposite of a „room with a view“ since its only tiny window looks out into a cavernous courtyard from underneath a sort of loggia with groin vaults overhead and columns supporting it before you even get to the open sky. It’s also a bit of damp. We could be very upset about this, like Lucy Honeychurch and Charlotte Bartlett in A Room with a View. But what we have amply makes up for it: a teeny apartment off a 16th-century courtyard in a building that used to be a minor Florentine palace, undoubtedly depressing in the winter but in the heat of the summer lovely and cool—and dark when it gets light outside around 4 am, since we are nearing midsummer. There are brick arches everywhere and a wooden ceiling with crossbeams. Behind the house, there is a wild little unused back yard with very old steps to nowhere. (It turned out to be basically abut on the bottom end of the Giardino Bardini, the gardens above the Palazzo Bardini-Mozzi, which we visited the following week.) In the apartment, brand new appliances including an induction oven, a half-size dishwasher, and wifi—incongruous but convenient. Every time we walk out, I cannot believe that we step out into a courtyard with columns and groin vaults above our door. I am sure some tourists find the set-up too small or too „run down,“ with the courtyard clearly having some dampness to it and with a few hiccups (I can’t make the espresso machine steam my milk! So our main frustration was not finding some sort of guide or overview with basic instructions for various appliances and oddities like light switches in strange locations. But otherwise, we were ecstatic to be in a historic building. I unpacked and started some laundry, and then we set out on our first exploratory peek at Florence. 

We‘ll go over all this ground again multiple times, but our first walk took us out of this area (San Niccolò) across the Ponte Vecchio with its little shops that used to be homes for female hermits. This is a total tourist magnet and was just teeming with many hundreds of the tens of thousands of tourists that come to see Florence in June. On the other side, we walked directly to the Palazzo Vecchio, and took in the space for the first time—the unusual tower, off center and too far up front along the line of crenellations, which I had read so much about. The huge outside piazza with too many statues to focus on, but of course especially the copies of the David, the Hercules and Cacus (which may be the original still, since nobody likes it) and the bronze Perseus by Cellini in the triangle formation that John Shearman writes about. We have to go back and look again, of course, but for now, we went into the Michelozzo courtyard (I am pretty sure the crazy ornamented columns were not his fault) and then ran into some tremendous excitement that we couldn‘t understand. 

A huge throng of reporters and photographers started to follow an older man with police escort from the streets into the palazzo. Mark took pictures, of course, but we had not the faintest idea what we were seeing, and asking about us didn‘t get us much farther (only in the evening, with quite a bit of googling, did I finally figure it out and the excitement made SOME sense, given the Italian soccer fandom: the famous soccer club La Fiorentina just changed owners, and an Italian-American billionaire named Rocco Commisso bought it. We apparently witnessed the moment right after the news broke; why that happened at the Palazzo Vecchio, I am not sure (it IS the active town hall, though, so I assume he met with city officials), but the Italians were clearly super excited, while tourists like us were just baffled about a celebrity that didn‘t mean anything to us. 🙂

While we were in this area, I got us reservations to the Uffizi for Saturday morning, and then we walked to Duomo and tried to find out what we had to do about reservations for the Duomo climb, but that can‘t happen until tomorrow. Instead, we walked around the piazza where the baptistery and cathedral are being besieged by tourists, and I had to think about Eliot‘s complaint about the ugly unfinished facade of the Cathedral, which is of course no longer unfinished, but thus also a late 19th-century add-on, stylistically sort-of matched to the campanile with the white, green and red marble, which I can appreciate but in a way, I would have liked to see the non-facade that the Duomo had for most of its life and that people always complained about. Thankfully, a whole bunch of other churches we are seeing are without their facades, so I can still imagine what that looks like. 

We then walked to the Piazza della Republicca, a square has a huge late 19th-century neoclassical addition on its West end with coffered barrel vaults that is at least stylistically aligned with the rest of the architecture, and which, to Mark‘s excitement, has an apple store in its left wing. But what I was thinking about, of course, was that the piazza used to be the Mercato Vecchio (hugely important in Romola as a prime early Renaissance „everyday site“ for local color) and even more so, the Roman founding point of Florence, the umbilicus or mundus where the two major EW/NS roads (the cardo and the decumanus) meet and where the Roman-era forum was located. Since the Roman-era origins of Florence have all but disappeared underneath the medieval, Renaissance and then Baroque layers of downtown Florence (outside of the archeological museums and excavation areas and some stuff on the outskirts) this was really interesting to think about. 

We then headed back toward the river through a fairly medieval, crooked and windy portion of the downtown, and then made our way back to our own quarter and the nearby supermarket (Conad), which has the expensive deli stuff up front but normally priced things in the back. We took home food for a couple of dinners and breakfasts, and while I put things away and made us a salad, Mark dealt with the slightly damp laundry from the washer+dryer combo (those things really do not do well at drying). We had a lovely salad with a whole-wheat croissant and some cheese and prosciutto, and while I managed to make myself a coffee in the fancy Mio coffee maker, I found out that I couldn’t get the steam to work for my milk and was a little disappointed. 

It was almost 8 pm now and we headed back out, following a tip from Rebecca to go up to the piazzale Michelangelo on top of the hill behind our street. Less than 10 minutes from where we are, it is a plaza from which throngs of tourists watch the sunset every night. I didn’t like the crowds, but the view of Florence across the river from up high was spectacular. We walked by San Miniato al Monte, which is a beautiful Romanesque church with the classic black and white decor, like the baptistery, and the Italo-Byzantine image above the door glinted as the low sun hit it. A group was taking photos  in Renaissance costumes, while a bride and groom were photographed by their photographer (onlookers pointed out that this was probably a “fake wedding”—apparently Asian tourists stage western weddings in “unforgettable locations” like this and get them professionally photographed, even if they are already married?) Mark later caught a great shot of the bride taking a selfie with San Miniato in the background. Selfies all over! We walked a little further along the road toward the Boboli gardens, but we’ll get more walks there later, so it was just to enjoy the gorgeous views. Eventually, we joined the crowds at the piazzale again and dutifully took sunset photos along with everyone else. The crowds still annoy the crap out of me, and I cannot wait for some early morning times where things are just a little quieter. There will be little of that, I know. 

We were home by about 10:30 and spent a couple of hours catching up on blogs and photographs. So much to process all the time. I don’t even know when to do all the thinking I need to do about the difference between spaces today and spaces that 19th-century women travelers would have experienced. So I need to start pacing myself a little more. I am glad we have 7 days here. But there is so much to see and to do. They will be crammed full!

Day 12: June 7. Florence: Duomo Part 1, San Giovanni neighborhood, and a first shot at Oltrarno

Piazza della Signoria, with view of the portal to the Palazzo Vecchio (with the replica of Michelangelo’s David and Banidinelli’s Hercules and Cacus) from behind Cellini’s Perseus
The centerpiece of the mosaic of the Last Judgment at the Baptistery in Florence
The Romanesque/Gothic interior of the Baptistery
The remnants of the Romanesque floor mosaic beneath today’s floor of the Baptistery (visible through a grate)
The Campanile (belltower) of the Cathedral designed by Giotto and de Cambio, with replicas of the reliefs by Andrea Pisano
View of the roof above the nave and the cupola of the Duomo from the Campanile
On the way back down from the Campanile climb
The cloisters at the monastery of San Marco, designed by Michelozzo, ca. 1445
The Crucifixion by Fra Angelico in the Chapter House of the Monastery of San Marco
Detail from the Crucifixion by Fra Angelico: the three Maries under the Cross
Fra Angelico’s Annunciation from the upstairs hallway in San Marco
Another hallway fresco: St. Dominic kneeling at the Cross
The Madonna with child and saints, the third hallway fresco in S. Marco
Cell 3 with the smaller Annunciation, with St. Peter Martyr in the background
A fresco uncovered below the floor of the monk’s cell (presumably part of the decor of the rooms below)
View of the San Marco hallway, with cells left and right.
View into the library of San Marco, designed by Michelozzo
The Last supper in the refectory of San Marco, by Ghirlandaio
The demonic cat from the Last Supper (a must)
Fra Angelico’s Tabernacle of the Linenweavers, now in the museum part of San Marco
Fra Angelico’s amazing angels (well, amazing to Ruskin) on the frame of the Tabernacle of the Linenweavers
The Funeral of St. Antoninus by Domenico Passignano, ca. 1589, in the Salviati chapel in the church of S. Marco
The Last Supper by Andrea Castagno at the refectory of S. Appolonia, a gem hidden from view until the 19th century, because it was a convent until Napoleon came along
A weird distorted go-pro image of an already weird, distorted staircase: the famous staircase by Michelangelo leading up to the Laurentian Library at San Lorenzo
The Laurentian library, design by Michelangelo
The “pews” with the catalog information (along the posts) for the scholars and monks, but now without illuminated manuscripts in the cubbyholes
The nave of S. Lorenzo, with its beautiful modular and classicizing design by Brunelleschi, untainted by Baroque overlay (except for the golden cupola stuff)
Bronzino’s VERY mannerist fresco of the Martydom of St. Lawrence, with all the muscle men
Fra Filippo Lippi, Annunciation, San Lorenzo
ALIEN in the statuary! (San Lorenzo, on the way to the New Sacristy)
Michelangelo’s Dawn and Day in the New Sacristy
Michelangelo’s Night
Reliquaries aka Steampunk Microwaves in the crypt of San Lorenzo
The crazy tabernacle of Orsanmichele by Andrea Orcagna, ca. 1350 (after the Black Plague)
Pillar with former grain shoot in Orsanmichele, from the time when it was a grain “silo” rather than a church.
“Our” courtyard with its sad palm tree
One of the many defensive towers that each important family in Florence had in the middle ages for self-defense (torre and borgo are the usual terms–this is the Borgo San Jacopo).
Porta San Frediano, one of the several city gates that is still standing (and in this case, still used for through traffic)

I was up too early again (sigh) but we officially got up around 7:00 and had some yogurt and tea (I made a big old mess trying to make coffee—this fancy Lavazza-Mio espresso maker is just not making friends with me) before we set out to go to the Duomo’s ticket office and get reservations for the Dome climb. The earliest we could get were on Monday, but that was great for us—we have 72-hour tickets that cover basically all of Florence’s museums (the “FirenzeCard,” a pretty slick way of funneling people through and, despite the expense of 85 euro per person, for us definitely worth it), but the dome climb is so popular they give you dates beyond that 3-day window. That’s really tough for people who can’t be in town for that long, but we have plenty of time—and we may even have to get the add-on FirenzeCard extension for another $28 a person for the stuff we just didn’t have time for. 

Then we got started on today’s round of museums by looking at the baptistery, which is under restoration and was actually much smaller on the inside than I thought. The Italo-Byzantine stuff on the ceiling was pretty (Eliot thought the enormous Christ was “awful” but I don’t think in the modern sense—more like “filling me with too much awe,”) but I know so little about it—intriguing to find out, though, that we could see some even older floor mosaics  through the grates in the floor. I like the shape of the baptistery and the “old-style” black and white coloration, but it’s hard to imagine, given the size of Florence now, that once upon a time every Florentine was baptized there. We went from there to the campanile and climbed its 421 stairs. That was fun, and I think that the stair climbing I was doing at home for exercise last winter and spring when the weather was too crappy to run really paid off. But Mark, who didn’t do that, also held his own! The campanile is beautiful and the view from up there is of course really impressive in all directions, including directly at the cupola, where the other tourists can look across at us from the other high place. What is it about always getting up to the highest point?  Mastery? Maximum 360 view? At any rate, it was fun, especially since I am recognizing at least some of the landmarks, if not nearly as many as I should by now. I was certainly excited to see San Marco from there, north of the Duomo in the “Medici hood” of the 15th century, the San Giovanni quarter, where the family had extra much influence, built their first palazzo (now Medici-Ricardo) and San Lorenzo as well as sponsoring a bunch of convents and monasteries, including of course San Marco. 

That was where we headed next, and as one of the spaces I have already studied and that I will be working on further for my masters’ thesis, I was especially excited. It is also a bit more of a specialized taste to look at Fra Angelico’s work, so while we were not alone, this was not a museum with the usual masses. It was, however, as beautiful as I expected and more so. The building was designed by Michelozzo, with two cloisters downstairs and simple monk’s cells upstairs, but also a library where the monks once illuminated manuscripts, and which has those beautiful well-proportioned arches and columns accented with pietra serena (a dark sandstone) that I love so much. And the frescoes that decorate the walls of many cells and some of the public areas—over 50 of them total—are by Fra Angelico and his workshop. I researched them and their 19th century reception pretty intensely last spring, because they a) became super popular starting in the Romantic period as people were discovering late medieval and early Renaissance sacred art as noteworthy and beautiful. This continued into the Victorian era, and Ruskin in particular went completely apeshit over Fra Angelico when he first discovered his art in the 1840s (later, he cooled down a little, but he was just raving about Fra Angelico’s angels and their wings, especially about the angels on the frame of the Tabernacle of the Linenweavers (Mark took pictures of the whole line-up of those angels for me). The hitch was that while Ruskin could see the frescoes at San Marco, women couldn’t see any but the ones in the cloister and the chapterhouse, where there is a huge crucifixion with saints and church fathers. George Eliot went and sent George Henry Lewes, her significant other, to see what she couldn’t, and then she built descriptions of paintings she couldn’t see into her novel Romola. That’s super exciting to me (I’ve already written a conference paper and a seminar paper about this) and seeing the frescoes as well as many altar pieces by Fra Angelico at San Marco was amazing. The most famous of the frescoes are the huge chapterhouse Crucifixion (which Eliot did see) and the big Annunciation in the hallway upstairs (which she didn’t) but I like the little frescoes in the cells as well (many of them are done by the workshop and repeat the same few motifs over and over for the contemplation of monks, novices, and visitors that stayed in those cells). The chapterhouse Crucifixion has been pretty recently restored and is beautiful. 

Many non-fresco paintings by Fra Angelico were also gathered here from elsewhere in Florence when the monastery became a museum in the 1860s, and when women were finally able to go see the works, and those were interesting to compare to the frescoes—even though they are tempera and not oil, they are much more detailed and the simplicity of the faces in the frescoes is traded for much more facial expression. Not to mention the fact that there is so much gold. Ruskin, Eliot, and also Anna Jameson saw a number of these altarpieces etc. elsewhere, because some were in the Uffizi in the 1800s, and others still in situ in various churches. It’s nice to have them all in one place instead. 

Again, I was surprised to discover some of the “extras”—in this case, some older frescoes that can be seen through the floor, in areas that must have been part of the ground floor and were covered up, and also the fact that the monk’s cells were open at the top to the rafters above. I am not sure that was always that way, but our apartment is actually set up the same way. I’d also forgotten of the beautiful Last Supper fresco with Cat by Ghirlandaio that’s there. And then, on the way out, we were suddenly in an area that was full of old carved stones from buildings that had been demolished, without any further documentation, as well as a room of fresco fragments from all over the place, which even had a decorated wood ceiling that was taken from some other building and preserved at San Marco. We also took a quick look at the church itself, which was very much baroqued-up after Fra Angelico’s time, with only one piece by him left (another Annunciation) and didn’t do much for me. But it did have an interesting fresco by ??? with an illusionistically interesting leg sticking out between two doors. Amazing stuff everywhere, and a will to preserve a lot of it that I do appreciate but that also makes Florence overwhelming. Every square inch is history. 

We, however, needed at least a little break from all that history and art, and just had a simple bistro thing (sort of a cross between a pizza and a pizza romana) across from San Marco, and then walked the 200 feet or so to the former convent of Sant’Appolonia, where a quiet bunch of nuns lived for centuries with gorgeous frescoes in their refectory and didn’t really think much of it. While San Marco was at least sort-of known and visited because Vasari wrote about Fra Angelico, these were not really discovered by the world until the early 19th century, when the convent was decommissioned. But now the beautifully restored Last Supper by Andrea Castagno is a famous fresco that predates Leonardo’s by about 50 years. It was impressive to see; quite large and with an interesting investment in making the perspective work right with people seated in the space, so they looked up from below at Christ and his disciples (with Judas on the other side of the table from everyone else, just in case we miss the names underneath). 

Since we were already in the “Medici neighborhood” we went across the (new/19th century) indoor/outdoor marketplace near San Lorenzo (super touristy)  and into all the different parts of San Lorenzo that can be toured. The church itself, along with the old sacristy, by Brunelleschi, the library with its crazy staircase (both by Michelangelo), and the New Sacristy, also by Michelangelo (along with the horrible Baroque Chapel of the Princes), and the crypt with some relics and treasures. Like San Marco, San Lorenzo is a sacred building complex commissioned by Cosimo de Medici in the first half of the 15th century, but with much more Medici stuff and an all-star team of artists and architects involved. I have to say that my favorite part were not the two famous sacristies/side chapels (the old and the new) and not even the library, but the church itself. The design is really simple classicizing designs, all lines and very much about long rather than high, all white offset with the pietra serena I love so much, and without all that curvy decorative overload of the baroque. The way later cupola painting is actually complete overload and jars badly with that design. The other works of art are just almost stand-alone, rather than integrated into an elaborate decorative / framing structure. I don’t know why I like this so much and can’t make friends with the late Renaissance and the Baroque drive to decorate everything with gold and swirlies, but in architecture, the Renaissance is just a clear preference for me. 

The highlights in San Lorenzo for paintings were the Bronzino fresco of a Martyrdom of St. Lawrence with the huge muscled Michelangelo-esque man in the corner and an Annunciation by Filippo Lippi. On the way to the New Sacristy, Mark found a fun statue of a beheaded guy with the alien from Alien sticking out the gullet, but of course the big-deal statues were the Michelangelo pieces in the New Sacristy, in particular the Night with her interesting posture and her weird boobs. In the crypt, we actually started to get a bit silly, because the treasure of San Lorenzo so many ridiculously sumptuous reliquary shrines, including two that looked for all the world like steampunk microwaves that toasted their saintly contents a bit too long. 

We were pretty much done with our art viewing at this point, but for good measure, we looked into Orsanmichele to see the CRAZY tabernacle by Andrea Orcagna made for the Daddi Madonna after the Black Plague hit Florence. I also showed Mark one of the columns where you can still see the grain shoot from when the church was a granary. Then we walked home and took a well-deserved nap. We had dinner at the apartment about 6:30 (pasta and salad; I am really making this work for us), and then we headed back out for an evening walk on OUR side of the Arno. We had fun discovering tons of the old family towers from the Middle Ages, all converted into apartments of once sort or another. We also walked by several churches we know we need to return to, including S. Maria del Carmine (with the Brancacci chapel), and another couple of city gates with parts of the wall on the west end of the old town with the last wall ring that was built. We turned back by the pseudo-gate called the Rondinello right by the Arno, and then made our way back via the Pitti Palace and through winding streets past a good gelateria, while also trying to look out for parts of the old passage that connected the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti in the 16th century. I have to admit that I didn‘t realize until Mark pointed it out to me that you see the traces of it above you, on the second or higher floors of various buildings and churches and also along the Ponte Vecchio. By the time we got home, it was already quite dark and we were ready to wrap up the day with showers and a last look at the day‘s photos. We are being busy tourists! 

Day 13: Saturday, June 8. Florence: Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio

Leonardo’s Annunciation
Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo
The “head of Alexander,” perhaps the only Greek Hellenistic original in the Uffizi collection, now with a prime spot in the Michelangelo/Raphael Room.
Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch
Raphael’s double portrait of Agnolo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi
And the back side of the portraits (not by Raphael)
The Niobid Room (with its original overkill decor and its Roman sculptures (with Renaissance/baroque “improvements”)
A Sleeping Hermaphrodite (only visible from the front)
Piero di Cosimo’s Liberation of Andromeda with its adorable monster
The Medici Venus looking askance at the Knife Scraper
Monster Dog (?) and Little Girl in Hugo Van der Goes’ famous Portinari altarpiece
Botticelli’s Venus (“on the half shell”)
Botticelli’s take on the Annunciation
Bronzino’s portrait of Eleonora of Toledo and her son–and above all, her beautiful, costly dress
Detail from the brocade-silk-embroidery dress of Bronzino’s Eleonora of Toledo
Me and my dad (or actually, Silenus with the infant Dionysus)
Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes
More on the beheading theme: Caravaggio’s Head of the Medusa on a decorative shield
Tintoretto’s take on Leda and the Swan
Detail of Tintoretto’s Leda: Cat and duck in tense conversation in the bottom right corner
The famous Venus of Urbino by Titian
The Medici Ariadne in “storage”–and my five minutes with her
Even though her head was created in modern times, I kind of like it–and the clearly visible snake bracelet on her arm.
In adoration of my second Reclining Ariadne
Funny little details on Piero di Cosimo’s Passion of Christ (the scene is presumably the Descent of Christ into Hell / The Harrowing of Hell), Palazzo Vecchio
More funny details in Piero’s Passion of Christ
Nice view of the entire Duomo & Campanile from the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio
View of the Arno from the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio
The view down onto the Piazza della Signoria, with the David straight below us.
Detail of Manna Raining from Heaven onto a very studly guy ogled by the woman by the column, in the chapel designed by Bronzino for Eleonora of Toledo
The ginormous Council Hall, with Vasari’s Medici propaganda paintings (presumably right over top of unfinished works by Michelangelo and Leonardo from the early 1500s.
The “wallpaper design”–the so-called grotesques of the Palazzo Vecchio–began to really fascinate us. What’s with the zombie bodies turning into decorative swirls?
Beneath the Palazzo Vecchio: Amphora “infill” from the old Roman theater beneath its foundations
The actual Gates of Paradise and the North Gates of the Baptistery (in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo)
Andrea Pisano’s rendering of “The Sculptor” from the Campanile (original, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo)
The crazy silver altar
Detail from the crazy silver altar (beheading of St. John the Baptist) in which Leonardo allegedly had a hand as a young apprentice
Michelangelo’s unfinished Pieta with St. Joseph of Arimithea
Contemplating the house where Galileo conducted some of his astronomical observations and discovered the moons of Jupiter)
Evening sky over the streets of Florence
The Arno after nightfall
Busker on the Ponte Vecchio after sunset

Today was split into two halves: The Uffizi museum in the morning and the Palazzo Vecchio with a few add-ons in the afternoon. 

We got up bright and early to get to the Uffizi by our reserved time, 8:30 am. Since it only opens at 8:15, we had a few quiet moments in some of the rooms, but otherwise, it was obviously quite busy and packed (hence the skip-the-line reservations with the FirenzeCard). While it’s not as vast as the multiple Vatican Museums, it is of course the next-largest thing, certainly from Roman times to the late Renaissance and a little bit into the Baroque, and has issued its own list of top 100 works, like the Vatican—a rivalry that has been going on for a long time. The Medici were of course not only huge patrons and commissioners of art work, but also fanatic and all-encompassing collectors, and so this is a totally overwhelming collection (plus, one of many). And like the Vatican museums, the modern Uffizi today is a mix of displays that were always there and always displayed in a certain way, and others that are very modern in terms of curation and presentation. 

First off, there are “Roman statues” by the mile in the main U-shaped second floor. These tend to have many, many Renaissance and baroque fixes, and often no good documentation to tell the non-expert what was really Roman, which is the problem with the pieces found in the Renaissance. The most famous of these are an all-star list, though: The Niobids, an entire statue group found in Rome, in their own crazy overdecorated “Niobe room” (I would really like to know how much of them is „real“); a Sleeping Hermaphrodite (which can only be seen from the front, a ridiculous decision because the whole point of this sculpture is that you see it from the back and think it is a female, and then get a surprise as you walk to the front and see both breasts and a penis); the Venus di Medici, which is in another crazy overdone round room done up in red velvet, looking askance at the crouching Knife-Sharpener while some other Roman dudes wrestle on the other side of her. There was also another copy of the Silenus with baby Dionysus that looks SO much like my dad and always makes me happy! 

There is also one sculpture fragment actually believed to be a Greek original from 2nd C BCE—the head of the Dying Alexander—a real rarity here and of course anywhere when it comes to Hellenistic sculptures. 

As far as the high Renaissance goes, the biggest hits were displayed in special rooms off to the side. The Leonardo da Vinci room was pretty amazing—there are so few completed paintings by him, but the Uffizi has the Annunciation, which is so different from Fra Angelico’s, as well as two other paintings, one completed only partly Leonardo’s, and the other the incomplete Adoration of the Magi. Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo is the prize piece in the Raphael/Michelangelo room—always fascinating to me that 19th c. Comments tend to be negative because the Virgin Mary is so masculine and the phalanx of naked guys in the background seems completely out of context. Still, I really like parts of that composition, and the crazy frame with the heads sticking out. 

Raphael is represented—what I remember is the Madonna of the Goldfinch (Eliot, huge Raphael fan that she was, mentions seeing it in the Uffizi), as well as his beautiful portraits of Agnolo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi, which we could also see from the back (where they have random mythological paintings by an unknown artist). It was nice to see these in a couple of very nicely lit, newly done rooms off to the side, rather than in the massively decorated Medicean settings of the original Uffizi decor. It helped that we had beat the crowd to those rooms and had it relatively quiet there. 

Beyond these gold-star pieces, some of my favorite discoveries / re-discoveries were: Piero di Cosimo‘s Liberation of Andromeda with its absolutely adorable monster is here (Reminder for Clash of the Titan fans: IT WAS NEVER A KRAKEN!). I also found another great monster (a dog?) in the Hugo Van der Goes altarpiece that ended up in Florence in 1483 and radically changed the way the Florentines painted once they studied the oil-painting technique he and the other Northern painters were using.  

Mark was excited to see the original „Venus on the Half-Shell“ by Botticelli, because that is of course a painting that shows up everywhere all the time, but I was glad to also see an Annunciation by him close up, just because it is so different from the one by Fra Angelico a generation earlier. There were of course also a handful of other Fra Angelicos, and also the famous Cimabue and Giotto altarpieces of the Madonna and child that I kept getting confused when I studied for my Renaissance exam—so similar to the untrained eye! These used to be at the Accademia dell’Arte in the 19th century, which is where George Eliot saw them. Now at the Uffizi, they are across from each other in a room to themselves, while the countless other altarpieces that look basically the same with the gold, the un-babyish baby, and the virgin with her tilted head continue for many rooms. It was just a best-hits of super-early Renaissance goldleaf and intense angry stares, but these really don’t get me excited. 

At the other end of the Renaissance (so about 1550-1600), the Mannerists are also well-represented, including a beautiful Bronzino portrait of Eleonora of Toledo (the wife of Duke Cosimo di Medici) that my friend Ashley presented on last semester, teaching me about the amazing fabric of her dress and where it came from. The dress is painted with so much loving attention to the detail of the fabric that it becomes more important than the faces of Eleonora and the child who is represented with her. And there was Artemisia Gentileschi’s amazing and violent Judith Beheading Holofernes, about which another tourist, a girl in her early 20s, gave an impromptu lecture for her friends before we geeked out about it together for a little. There was also another painting by her, a St. Catherine thought to be a self-portrait, that I didn’t know about before. Among the Caravaggios, the weird shield-shape head of the Medusa was definitely my favorite. The Venus of Urbino by Titian is here, along with a bunch of other Venuses that are not nearly as interesting, although one turns out to have a hidden cat, so that was fun to see. Speaking of hidden cats, we came across a Leda with the Swan by Tintoretto that turned out to have a secret cat in it, conversing with a duck, and Mark took a great photo of that. Otherwise, he collected a few more Annunciations for me from all across the Renaissance. I am just trying to see how different they are from each other sometimes! 

The museum tour ends with a teeny collection of Rembrandts and other Dutch artists, but by that time, I was getting a bit tired AND I was also a bit confused. Again, I was looking for an Ariadne that wasn’t in evidence. So here is the Ongoing Crazy Story of the Search for the Sleeping Ariadne, in this case, the  Medici Ariadne/Cleopatra (a “lesser Ariadne” by far, for many reasons, mostly because only a very small part of her is actually Roman, and who has been wandering around various collection). Eliot didn’t ever see her, but I had done research on her and still needed the comparison. I was SURE I knew where she was, based on Uffizi website information. But she was actually moved in January 2018 from her prime-time spot to make room for the Leonardo da Vinci display. So once I found the right guard who could actually tell me this, I thought there was nothing to be done. But the guard sent me on a trail that led me to the office of the Uffizi (a tautology if there ever was one) in a side street, which was, unbelievably, open on a Saturday. I explained to the friendly employee on duty that I was doing research on the Medici Ariadne and did not realize she was not on display. He made a 10-second phone call, and then he walked us across the street back into the first floor of the Uffizi building to an employee-only section and let me into a huge display room, and there she was, right in the center, waiting for the next time they pull her out of storage to display her! The guard sat down and waited, playing on his I-phone until we had seen and photographed her from all angles. I got to go really close up to see the workings of the marble (I could not see the seams between new and old!), and Mark did a beautiful job walking all around her with his camera. We walked out of the Uffizi just STUNNED. I cannot believe my luck.  

Once I had gotten over my encounter with the sublime, it was almost 12 noon, and we were both tired and hungry, and basically went to the nearest restaurant even though we were right by the Palazzo Vecchio and everything was tourist traps. But our pizza & salad were good and not crazy-expensive, either, and the restaurant had both shade and misting, which was already badly needed by this time. 

After lunch, we tackled the Palazzo Vecchio, which was really overload of what I think of ugly Vasari overkill, but there were also some interesting surprises. The highlight was clearly climbing the tower and looking at the city from above yet again—great views, and also a secret shot with the go-pro straight down unto the plaza. There was a surprise Piero di Cosimo in the museum portion —a Passion of Christ with little monster-demons at the entrance of hell in a scene that I assume is supposed to occur right after the Harrowing of Hell. Otherwise, the museum basically covered the public and sort-of-private Medici rooms and former senators’ rooms before the Medici moved to the Pitti Palace. ]

The rooms in the former halls of the priors were ridiculously overdone by Vasari and his artists and artisans, but I was amazed to discover the chapel of Eleonora of Toledo done by Bronzino, especially a scene of manna raining from heaven where I swear I could see a woman with a sideways glance, checking out the very nice shape of a man in a loincloth with a water jug. In a chapel? Eleonora, really. Many of the other rooms, designed by Vasari, had this weird and intriguing „wallpaper“ decoration in many of the rooms between larger frescoes, which I assume was partially inspired by Fourth-Style Roman wall painting, but I had never seen anything like it and am a bit curious about the style and the artist who did this. 

There was also a spot from which we looked directly down into the Hall of the Five Hundred, with its enormous Vasaris, and there was actually a lot of documentation all over the museum about the various traces of the Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo that is supposed to be below it still. 

The last part we visited was “the underneath” excavation exhibit with the remnants of the Roman theater that was underneath part of the palazzo, with brick arches and broken amphora that have been excavated since the late 19th century. Just fascinating. 

We have still not made it to the Cathedral itself, because the lines are always super long and we were too late in the day to still make it, but after a gelato break we did go to the Duomo museum, not expecting to see as much as we did there. Here, there are the REAL Gates of Paradise (we’d seen the copy cast on the doors of the baptistery and also the one at the Nelson-Atkins museum in Kansas!), as well as the original sculptures from the outside of the cathedral in the context of a reconstruction of the half-done Cathedral facade that went away in the 1550s  (I think). Likewise, there are the originals of Andrea Pisano‘s hexagonal reliefs for the Campanile, with the famous „studio of the sculptor“ representation. There was also lots of gold and silver, including the CRAZY silver altar (the „glitter bomb,“ as we immediately called it) with the beheading of St. John the Baptist in whose creation Leonardo presumably had a hand, when he was Verrocchio‘s student. I didn‘t realize that there was a Michelangelo Pieta at this Museum—it is the late, unfinished one with Joseph of Arimithea that George Eliot talks about. The unfinished parts are both haunting and really beautiful—reminded me of Ernst Barlach, and make you realize what it takes to get from blocks of marble to the incredible detail of the musculature that Michelangelo always brought out so well. 

When we were done with the Duomo museum, we were definitely done with museums for the day. We did some shopping on the way home, and I made us salad for dinner. The bread we bought was a disappointment (too hard and not salty enough—just not good bread for our taste), but everything else was good. Plus, we compensated by having another round of gelato when we went for an evening walk (we’ve had small gelato portions twice a day since we got here, and keep justifying it because we are getting about 10 miles of walking a day in). Our evening walk led us up the hill from the Ponte Vecchio toward Fort Belvedere through windy and sometimes steep streets; again, every square inch seems to turn out to be important history AND picturesque (like the random house we walked by that had to do with Galilei discovering the moons of Jupiter in 1609). As the night fell, we walked back through another city gate and down to the river and onto the Ponte Vecchio to people-watch, listening to a busker sing in Italian to his guitar, with everyone just hanging out with their selfie sticks. We walked home about 10, and were in bed about 11:30 after much-needed showers. 

Day 14: Sunday, June 9. Florence: Accademia, Santa Croce, and many smaller stops

The especially odd St. Mary Magdalen (usually hairy, here more veil-y?) in the convent church of S. Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi
Michelangelo’s David and his admirers
David’s hand with the rocks for his slingshot in it
Odoardo Borrani’s genre painting of women visiting the Accademia dell’Arte (when the altarpieces now at the Uffizi were still there in the 1860s)
The plaster cast collection at the Accademia
One of Michelangelo’s unfinished Prisoners for the tomb of Pope Julius
A crazy side altar that seemed to be too baroque for the Church of the Santissima Annunziata
The cloister of SS Annunziata
Andrea del Sarto’s fresco of the Madonna on the flight to Egypt, at SS Annunziata
Bronzino’s frescoes at SS Annunziata
The trompe l’oeuil monk at the loggia / entrance cloisters of SS Annunziata
Michelangelo’s very early relief sculpture of the Battle of the Centaurs and the Lapiths at Casa Buonarotti
Artemisia Gentileschi’s L’Inclinazione (Casa Buonarotti ceiling)
The Bargello, from the 1200s
Santa Croce, side aisle
A trodden-down marble grave plate, Santa Croce
Giotto’s fresco of St. Francis on his deathbed, Santa Croce
Galileo’s grave in S. Croce
The flood-damaged cross by Giotto at S. Croce
More sexy nudes in sacred contexts: Details from Bronzino’s Descent on the Cross, 1552
The beautiful Pazzi chapel at S. Croce
Antje “with no Baedeker” but with her cell phone (and a helpful flyer) in S. Croce
Armillary Sphere, 16th century (shows the orbit of planets and stars) at the Museo Galileo
A terracotta rendering of a fetus in the womb, from the anatomy collection, Museo Galilei
Photo op with sphere, Museo Galileo

Today was technically our last day for the Firenzecard, and wow, did we max it out (although we will get the 2-day extension on Tuesday to do some of the additional museums we haven’t seen yet and that I want to get to). We started around 8:30 again and walked around a bit in the eastern part of downtown, even checking out a random convent with fresco remnants on the way, as well as Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi, a super baroque convent church with the weirdest veiled (or hairy? hard to tell) statue of Magdalene in it. But otherwise just getting our bearings on the way to the Accademia dell’Arte, where we had reservations for 10 am. Because the David is there, it is very overrun, and of course it was fun to see him in all his glory in the famous cupola, even though I do think there is something absurd about a GIANT David, since he is supposed to be small. But when you have a 17-foot block of marble… I could say a lot about the various placements of the sculpture, but I think I’ll remember without writing it down, because I read so much about the David. (Michelangelo would have liked to see it at the center of the loggia de’Lanzi but he didn’t have any say about this; a committee did and it liked the spot right by the palazzo door.) It’s still hard to imagine anyone ever wanting to hoist it up the cathedral to the side of the cupola. Where it stands now, it is of course just worshipped in the round, but it was fun to see his butt and especially the giant hand hiding the rock he’ll put in the sling. 

Besides the David and some of the unfinished pieces by Michelangelo, including the awesome unfinished prisoners (“Awakening Slave” in particular) that were meant for the tomb of pope Julius, the Accademia actually doesn’t have that much to offer—some second-rate baroque, more of the gold altarpieces from the 13th and early 14th centuries, and a large collection of especially detailed plaster casts from the 18th century that were used as material to be copied by the artists-in-training. A lot of the things that George Eliot saw here were later moved to the Uffizi, including the famous Giotto and Cimabue Madonnas, so I was excited to see a painting dated ca. 1860-1870, by an artist named Odoardo Borrani, of the entrance to the plaster-cast room, which shows female visitors in the gallery with the placement in which Eliot would have seen them. I am glad that my focus re: the museum as a space for women to explore in the 19th century is about the Uffizi, because the Accademia doesn’t yield that much, but that painting will be hard not to talk about. 

After this relatively short visit, we went back to what I had already “bookmarked” as our next stop on the way to the Accademia—we backtracked to the BEAUTIFUL plaza of the Santissima Annunziata, with arches and slender columns in gray stone (pietra serena) along the front, a design by Michelozzo, but finished by Alberti, which extends to the loggia on the right and to the left (the Ospedale degli Innocenti). Again, just as with the INSIDE of San Lorenzo and the library at San Marco, I just love this style and find it incredibly calming and balanced.  The baroque interior, though, was complete overkill (finished in 1664; even the Chapel to the Virgin on left, allegedly by Michelozzo seems to have lots of baroque overlay. So that was not to my liking at all—BUT the two cloisters frescoes with their frescoes!!! Wow. They are by a number of different artists, but some of them are by Andrea del Sarto (like the Madonna on the flight to Egypt in the Cloister of the dead) and also by Pontormo (in the entrance cloister)! Although in varying shape, really quite beautiful, fitting with the architecture really well. There is also some trompe l’oeuil fun with a painted monk looking down into the courtyard from an upper window.

From there, we went to the Casa Buonarotti, which once belonged to Michelangelo, although he didn’t live there (he designed it, and then some of his progeny did. One of the more lavish rooms has a number of ceiling paintings after his design, but executed much later, and I was delighted to find that one, called L’Inclinazione, is by Artemisia Gentileschi. Mark’s comment was that the figure “looks more like a woman” than most he has seen, which makes total sense to me, since many painters never got to work off female models—while Artemisia presumably knew what, for example, boobs look like. ADD The battle of the centaurs and also the early Madonna with the chilled 

After the short visit there we went to the nearby apartment / business complex created from the former jail and former-former convent, Le Murate, which is now apparently a pretty hip and cool place, and has some really cool features that combines old and new features. We had a simple but excellent lunch (salad and yummy ravioli in cream sauce with mushrooms and prosciutto)  there at a restaurant called “Le Carceri” (The Jail), and then made our way past various family “castles” (the borgo) to Santa Croce, which is mostly just big. It actually feels bigger than the Duomo, partly because people can walk around much more freely and see much more. 

I had Mark take a photo of me with the all the altar gold behind me demonstrating that I was there “with no Baedeker” like Lucy Honeychurch from E.M. Forster’s Room with a View, but that I had an I-phone to orient myself, so that I didn’t have to “walk[ ] about disdainfully, unwilling to be enthusiastic over monuments of uncertain authorship or date.” Instead, I could disdain the bad second-rate baroque and admire the Giottos—although I am not sure which of the gravestones Ruskin singled out for praise, making Lucy trying to find it. I know the novel is beyond my period of study for the M.A., but it is a perfect little sketch of the innocent late Victorian (really Edwardian) lady tourist in Florence, and hilariously right about the way that the educated tourist (like me) is forever anxiously looking for the “right” things to admire, with whatever script for what is “right” in mind. Thus, we dutifully looked at the chapels to the side of the altar with the Giotto frescoes, and at the grave / memorial markers for Machiavelli, Dante, and Galilei (disinterred from the Medici Chapel of the Novices, where Duke Cosimo found a place for him, and buried in Santa Croce 90+ years after his death) but in a way, we found the old marble graveplates that are worn down by hundreds of years of people walking across them. Santa Croce is one of the churches which were majorly affected by the flood of 1966, especially visible on a horribly damaged Cimabue Crucifix, which now hangs REALLY high up. But there are also now restored art works that were damaged even more by the flood in 1966, including a beautiful Bronzino with two very beautiful girls practically hanging over the edge of the painting, which presumably was massively restored since it looks like it was painted yesterday. The Medici Chapel of the Novices was a pleasant surprise, since it was a super simple Michelozzo “modular” design of the kind I like so much, from about 1445

When we were done with Santa Croce, we decided to spend our last allocated museum visit for the day at the Museo Galileo, which is, unsurpringly, a display of the scientific collections of the Medici  — fun times for both of us, but especially for Mark, who admired the Armillary Sphere by Antonio Santucci (1588) as “one of the messiest things ever,” not to mention Galileo’s telescopes. Among the strangest things in the collection were the wax and TERRA-COTTA anatomy studies of babies about to be born in some wrong way or other, for obstetric training. Pretty horrifying but very precise. We admired some rare books from Florence’s libraries that would have corresponded to Leonardo’s collection of early print and manuscript books, and then wrapped up by taking an odd “science selfie” in an object obviously designed for the purpose. 

Then we headed home, stopped by the grocery store and had lovely salad and bread for dinner, which also gave us a chance to cool down. It was sunny and hot all day, and being in the museums and churches was always a blessing—and so was being in our cool apartment where the sun never shines. We were very excited to find nice fresh bread we liked—basically baguette—and I couldn’t help it and bought a pot of basil—for 1.98, that was an allowable luxury. 

After dinner, we went back out and explored the hill behind us (the one that has the Piazzale Michelangelo on it) a bit more, going a little further west, seeing the city walls from afar, as well the walls of the old fort near San Miniato al Monte from close up as we went all the way around this old complex (which is apparently not open on any side!). We finished the day with a lovely gelato on the way back into San Niccolò, and called it a night! 

Day 15: Monday, June 10: Florence: Bargello, Duomo Take 2, and San Miniato al Monte

Courtyard of the Bargello
Michelangelo’s early Virgin and Child ((?) relief
Donatello’s famous bronze David, made for the Medici courtyard
Detail of Donatello’s David, with the lascivious feathers of the helmet of Goliath going up his leg
A 16th-century “CASIO” in the Bargello “small stuff we also have” exhibit
A beautiful ivory diptych, about 10″ high, from the 5th century AD
Detail of an Italo-Byzantine micro mosaic of Christ Pantokrator (12th century) with tesserae of only about 1 square mm in size
The line for getting into the Duomo (all along the side of the cathedral)
Mosaic from the early Christian layer of the excavated foundations in the crypt under the Duomo
More crypt excavations: Fresco from the former apse of S. Reparata, the Romanesque church that stood here until the much bigger Duomo was built around 1300.
The interior of the Duomo
Paolo Uccello‘s fresco of an imagined equestrian statue of a Sir John Hawkwood, who helped the Florentines in military conflicts in the late 14th century.
Dante with images from the Divine Comedy and a Florence he never saw (Duomo and all), since he died in 1320, in exile.
The cupola fresco of the Last Judgment, designed and partly executed by Giorgio Vasari, from below
One of the Duomo’s stained-glass windows, which have survived since the 15th century.
The nave of the Duomo from the inside of the cupola
The cupola fresco close up: Cerberus
Brunelleschi’s herringbones, one of the engineering tricks to build a cupola bigger than any since the Pantheon, visible on both sides of his double wall (another trick, which created the room for the staircase we still use to go up to the top today).
The view down a curved support of the octagonal outside shell of the cupola, onto the nave of the Duomo (with the campanile to the left)
Spiral staircase for the last portion of the descent.
The pavement across the Ponte Vecchio with (temporary) gold leaf
San Miniato al Monte
The mosaic in the apse of San Miniato al Monte
Detail from the huge presbytery that occupies the apse of San Miniato
View down the nave of San Miniato, with the Roman columns and the beautiful black and white Romanesque decor, plus the little “add-on” Renaissance altar by Michelozzo
Marble decor and beautifully restored painted along the wooden roof beams at San Miniato
Another sunset beyond the Arno
The beautiful “zebra Gothic” façade of S. Maria Novella

We got up bright and early to be at the Bargello right as it opened, at 8:15. By this time, our 72-hour clock had almost run out on the FirenzeCard, but we were hoping to just get in before it expired. That worked and I have to admit that the Bargello was more impressive than I thought, since there are many additional sculptures that were once outside or otherwise didn’t find any room in the big museums. As the “government building” in the early early 13th century, before the decision to build the Palazzo della Signoria (i.e. the Palazzo Vecchio, which wasn’t “vecchio” = “old” then) and then later the police headquarters of Florence, it looks a lot like a very imposing and strong castle and has always been a public building—now the receptacle of public things from all over Florence. I was most excited to find both of the Donatello Davids there, and really impressed by how close we could get to inspect the bronze David he made for the Medici courtyard, with the feathers from the helmet of Goliath that sensuously creep up David’s leg all the way to his crotch. But there were also two early Michelangelos, and the unfinished tondo relief of the Madonna and child was quite beautiful. I am really intrigued by the unfinished pieces and the way you can see all the different ways he carved the marble (not that everyone else isn’t! But they weren’t into showing workmanship in the Renaissance, so only his incredible fame even while alive made people preserve his half-fine work and his sketches. 

But beyond the super famous things, there were so many more things to see, starting with the massive cube of the Bargello itself with its big square courtyard and the upstairs loggia, and the huge sculpture rooms. The collection of little things (watches, locks and keys, earthenware, jewelry, carved ivory…) intrigued Mark as well as me, but I was only truly awed at seeing some very early ivory tablets from the early Christian Era, especially at the detail and precision of the diptych of St. Paul, 5th century AD, with the two ivory panels together only about as large as the size of a regular-size sheet of paper. There was also a micro mosaic of Christ Pantokrator (from the 12th century) with tesserae only about a millimeter on each side. Not to mention the 17th-century Casio e-piano that Mark discovered. 🙂

We then did go for the tourist glutton-for-punishment thing and lined up for the Duomo, behind probably 500 other tourists. Since it is free, priority access doesn’t help at all, but we actually only had to wait in line for less than an hour, and chatted with an interesting (and obviously quite wealthy) young Australian couple with a very quiet 4-year-old. They were touring Italy for a month and then wrapping up with a Disney cruise that would take them to Barcelona. Wow. Actually, that conversation was probably more interesting than the interior of the Duomo itself, which is really just big and at the same time with little too see—a few select works (like the weird Dante portrait and the frescoes pretending to be equestrian statues that I had to learn about in Art History 102, one of them the British mercenary soldier Sir John Hawkwood, by Paolo Uccello) and a lot of roped–off space. The stained-glass windows were really too far off to be clearly visible except to Mark’s camera, and the Last Judgment in the cupola was really not that exciting from so far down below although Mark took an awesome shot of it looking straight up (more about the close-up views later). But luckily, they still let us into the crypt (although our tickets had technically still expired) and that was very cool! There were four different layers of excavation—one Roman, one early Christian, one Romanesque, and then the actual dome crypt from the 1300s. To see all those layers was really fascinating, especially the large swaths of early Christian mosaic floor, and the half-round of the apse of the Romanesque church, S. Reparata, that was torn down once the cathedral went up. There was even a bit of a fresco visible that was “refreshed” and stylistically updated really close to 1300, when the new cathedral was already going up around S. Reparata.

After we were done with our quick tour of the Dome and the Crypt, we found ourselves a little side street cafe where you could get tosta, which is basically a very dry and large panini, and we ate those on the street sitting on little stools in front of the shop, with hungry tourists eyeing our meal rather hungrily. We had just enough time to wander a bit East from the plaza by the dome, and check out a couple of sites from the outside that I wanted to at least see and decide on—the Palazzo Rucellai, which was built before the Palazzo Medici, and has the iconic Renaissance Florentine 3 tiers of huge sandstone blocks, and also Santa Maria Novella, another church with a beautiful Romanesque “zebra stripe façade,” which we’ll return to in a couple of days. Then it was time to line up again, but this time only for a short half hour, because we had reservations for the climb of the Cupola at a fixed time, 1:30 pm—they had to be made over 3 days in advance because there is such demand, but we had done that first thing we came to Florence. It took a bit until the young man who was checking people through the turnstile could get his boss to approve that we could go in, because of course our tickets had, again, technically expired, but in this case, that’s the norm. 

We were both very excited about the cupola, because we had read part of Brunelleschi’s Dome, in addition to what I knew from my classes on the Renaissance. With a diameter 144 feet (44 meters) the dome of the cathedral was the largest to be constructed since the Pantheon in Roman times, and without knowledge of how to make Roman-style concrete. When Brunelleschi started it in 1401, no one had the faintest idea how to build a dome that big, and there was quite a bit of guesswork as well as engineering brilliance. When you walk up, you walk up between the inner and the outer shell of the cupola, and although you can’t see much of the engineering secrets, you CAN see the herringbones once you get into the dome. The stairs were fun and Escher-sequel, and then the view from the top. We also got to walk both the balconies inside the cupola, right underneath the fresco, and Mark got a great shot of Cerberus, and of course the view down was awesome, even with the plexiglas we had to peek through. But if I try to imagine what it would have been like to work up there as a bricklayer/mason, on a suspended platform, no scaffolding below, I‘d rather have a railing and plexiglas. 

After our Duomo climb, we headed back toward the other side of the river, and weren‘t even quite done with the climbing. We went back to the river, across the Ponte Vecchio, which in honor of a fashion show that is starting here on June 11 had a huge roll of goldleaf-covered “runway” going across it, so that it was literally paved with gold (appropriate for the fashion show, the enormous tourist traffic, and the jewelry stores that famously line the bridge on both sides), and got a few supplies for a later dinner that we dropped off at home.  And then we went back up the hill to San Miniato al Monte—really only 10 minutes away—we are so close this area it is almost ridiculous—but it is a climb. 

If San Lorenzo was my favorite of the several Renaissance churches with the modular, geometric style and really simple lines of pietra serena (the less baroque overlay, the better), San Miniato is absolutely my favorite of the older, Romanesque churches. We had already admired its placement on the very top of the highest hill of the Oltrarno neighborhood south of the river and its black-and-white marble façade multiple times from near and far on our walks. But now we actually went in, and I was amazed at how gorgeous it was—it’s incredibly simple and just very serene—from the interior black and white and the gorgeous mosaic carpet (all from the 12th and 13th centuries) to the amazing color accents of the roof beams, from the little separate Renaissance altar (designed by Michelozzo) to the Italo-Byzantine Christ Pantokrator mosaic in the half-dome of the apse over a huge presbytery to the frescoes with their many Benedictine monks in white in the sacristy, beautifully restored, it is just amazing. But the biggest surprise came later, when I read up on an unresolved question in one of my guidebooks. Since this was really an early, pre-Renaissance church, I couldn’t figure out why it had these amazing columns supporting the apse that had classical columns complete with “leafy tops” (Corinthian capitals), because as much as I could tell that the altar was a Renaissance addition, it would simply not have been possible to “retrofit” those capitals on weight-bearing columns. Only the Blue Guide made me realize that this is because they were taken from Roman temples of the surrounding area (how they hauled them here, I have no idea). That was mind-boggling to me, especially given that it’s hard to see the faint Roman traces beneath Florence at all anywhere in the city. 

After this amazing visit to San Miniato and the minor ‘next-door’ church that is also on the hill, we walked back down to our apartment, stopping at a beautiful little rose garden half-way down. Then I made salad and pasta with pesto for a delicious dinner (I have to say I am really proud of myself for making us these fabulous Italian dinners every night have full-time and overtime tourism, and I have now mastered the LaVazza at least for espresso, although it must be actually defective when it comes to steaming milk, which makes me sad. And then we went out right before 9 pm for one more (marginal) sunset from the Ponte Vecchio and another gelato. We’ve been having gelato twice a day, which is a lot, but we always get the smallest portion (which in a good gelato shop gets us two flavors), and we have been walking an average of 10 miles a day, so I think it’s justifiable. 

Day 16: Tuesday, June 11: The Pitti Palace and Two Gardens

The early Renaissance façade of the Palazzo Pitti
A representative impression of the Palazzo Pitti “wallpaper style” hanging of paintings
Even the side corridors are choc-a-bloc with paintings (here: minor Dutch masters)
Even if you have to restore the image, you better leave the frame on the wall for people to stare at.
Crazy ceiling decor in the Palazzo Pitti
A visitor sketching Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola (aka della Sedia)
Fra Filippo Lippi, Tondo of the Madonna and Child
An alleged ORIGINAL “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” by Cristofano Allori (we had seen a copy in the Vatican Museum and an “attributed” version in Berlin. Apparently, there is another one in the British Royal collection that may be the “original”).
Another Artemisia Gentileschi version of Judith with the Head of Holofernes, this time after the fact rather than during the beheading.
Raphael’s “La Velata” portrait
Titian’s Magdalen with the hair strategically NOT covering her breasts
A 19th-century rendering of Susanna in the manner of the crouching Aphrodite (by Odoardo Fantacchiotti) that was very intriguingly displayed in front of the mirror. Double voyeurism, anyone?
One of the many “Old Florence” genre paintings, here with a female visitor kneeling at the altar of San Miniato al Monte. (Painter: Francesco Pezzini)
The classic “seduction motif” sculpture in the main Grotto at the Boboli Gardens
Tony Cragg sculpture in the Boboli Gardens
The view of the Torre de Gallo in the hills south of Florence, from the terrace of the porcelain museum at the Boboli Gardens
Main east-west axis of the Boboli Gardens. At the far end, a Tony Cragg complements the 16-th to 18th-century statues lining the walk.
The Peasant with His Barrel, the first of the Boboli Garden statues specifically created for the gardens in the 1550s. This is a copy, while the restored original (with its entire fascinating story) is in a special room in the museum itself.
There are also trees in the gardens. Proof.
Crazy inlaid marble floors in the “treasury” of the Palazzo Pitti
Putti for dinner? The most bizarre centerpiece for a table we’ve seen yet.
Some prince’s idea of a picnic basket and a toiletry travel kit (everything in silver)
A nautilus shell with a little added decor
The Baroque-era glorification of Lorenzo de’ Medici (in red and blue in the middle) as patron of all the arts, in the frescoed room that tells the story of Florence as “the new Athens” by Giovanni da San Giovanni.
The cloister at S. Spirito
Another demonic cat, from the Supper at Emmaus that is part of the triple food fest at the refectory of Santo Spirito
Pontormo’s Deposition, fenced off, the way visitors can see it now.
Pontormo’s Deposition, with its “empty middle” and overpowering sense of despair exuding from the characters’ faces and gestures, at S. Felicita
The fresco of the annunciation on the wall to the viewer’s right of the Deposition (“split” by a mini altar added later)
Caught between two statues at the Bardini Gardens, top terrace
The view down the terraces of the Bardini Gardens. Our vacation rental is in one of the houses visible at the bottom right.

We extended our Florence cards for an additional 48 hours (at 28 euro a piece, we’ll get our money’s worth out of that) and after a quick breakfast, went to see more paintings and some green outdoor stuff at the Pitti Palace, just before 9 am. It was pretty quiet all the way around, given that the tourist magnets are on the other side of the river and take everyone’s main energy. But there was a lot to see! 

The Pitti Palace is an enormous building that is externally fairly unified in look with its three tiers of sandstone and its beautiful courtyard, but since it was added on to many times after its original commission in the 15th century, and used by many different rulers from Duke Cosimo I in the 16th century to the end of the Medici family, and then by Napoleon and then by the Kings of Savoy, it is stylistically a complete hodgepodge in style on the inside. The Palace also houses a whole bunch of different museums (5 in total, 4 of which were open), plus the gardens. Thankfully, each room in the museum of most interest to us, the Galeria Palatina and the Appartementi Monumentale had an overview display that just told us when it was renovated by whom (typically late Renaissance, then baroque, then 18th century, and then once more after Napoleon left), and then separate laminated “menus” to pick up  with explanations of all the paintings in each room, wall by wall. 
Even just looking at the most relevant pieces for my purposes (including the good dozen Eliot rattles off as having seen here) was mind boggling, especially since this museum preserves the old-style “wallpaper display,” with paintings in two and three rows all over the walls plus the distracting decor, including frescoes and stucco above, some baroque, some 18th century neoclassical, some 19th-century neoclassical copy—and only one room still really preserved in the style of the Renaissance. This was a really interesting contrast to the Uffizi in that this is still all being displayed the way it would have been in the 19th century (and in some cases since the 18th), as obnoxious and distracting as the “look at everything we OWN because we are rich and powerful” approach to art display is. Great food for thought when it comes to the evolution of the modern museum, and the ways in which the Uffizi, but not the Pitti, has evolved. 
Unsurprisingly, then, the rooms were mostly unappealingly kitschy with their over-the-top mythologizing thematic frescoes above, stucco and other gee-gaws everywhere, and aggressive red and green wallpaper. And as Mark noted, there were none of the world’s most famous “everyone knows about them” pieces that he’s now gotten to see at the Vatican and the Uffizi and the Acaddemia, like the David and the Botticelli Venus. But some of the second-most famous artworks mixed in with the piles of third-tier stuff was truly impressive. Highlights for me (not unique in any way): A beautiful tondo of a Madonna and child by Fra Filippo Lippi, the most beautiful Lippi I have seen so far;  Caravaggio’s fat little Sleeping Cupid and a lot of cool Titian portraits, including a Magdalene with the long hair strategically distributed everywhere EXCEPT over her breasts. 
The room with the many Raphaels (the Sala di Saturno) was especially crazy, probably with 10 of them in total, many mentioned by Eliot in admiration.  Several smaller Madonnas and amazing portraits (I tend to like them way better than the sugary Madonnas), including one portrait I had never seen before, of a woman known as “La Velata.” And even though the crowds were not bad at all and the big tour groups few and far between, the tourists were interesting in their tourist ways; we even caught a guy sketching one of Raphael’s Madonnas, a tondo that a lot of people were admiring.  Rubens’s amazing Consequences of War is here was there, but it was so high up and in such a bad position vis a vis the windows that we could not get a good photo at all. That was a little sad, because it is a really intense Rubens piece, and of more interest to me than the portrait of him with his brothers, which was much easier to see. I did find another couple of Artemisia Gentileschi paintings, and her “Other Judith,” with the head of Holofernes already in her basket is good, but a bit tame in comparison with the Judith-in-action painting. And of course I was able to add more annunciations to my image collection. I am still not sure whether that is going to be of any use, but I can’t pass up the opportunity for Mark to collect them for me. 
In the second Pitti museum, upstairs, were the works by Florentine artists from the 18th to the late 19th century, which were of lesser interest to us, but there were a few genre scenes we really liked, for example a series of paintings set inside of San Miniato al Monte that were very recognizable as “Florentine,” of course. I also discovered a couple of more in the same manner by Odoardo Borrani, who had done the women visiting the Accademia, and also has a painting of a nun praying at Bernini’s St. Teresa in Rome, which is PERFECT for my purposes, especially if I write about St. Teresa next semester. He also has a medieval scene that we thought was set at the city gate to the east of us, the one leading to Pisa, that we went to the other day. The Florentine late realists and impressionists, the Machiaoli, were well represented here with contemporary portraits, landscapes, and historical paintings, but I know next to nothing about them (just as Eliot completely ignored them).  There was also a small collection by a female painter from the early 20th century that was very interesting—as well as a number of scattered female artists throughout—not much but at least they clearly made an effort!
Once we had quickly toured the second floor, we went down the imposing grand staircase back to the courtyard and had an unimaginative lunch at the cafe (a pizza and a Greek salad). Then we explored the Boboli gardens, even though it was quite hot (probably near 90, and humid). This pre-Versailles Renaissance / Baroque garden had everything you would imagine, including ridiculous grottoes created with upside-down coral to suggest “stalactites,” vast geometric designs, and shady walkways, but also some surprises: some pretty mossy but still mostly intact statues that have been there since the 1700s, and the statue of a peasant with a barrel near the entrance by the Roman gate of Florence that has actually recently been replaced by a replica, while the real piece is inside the Pitti palace, carefully restored, as the first statue to ever be commissioned specifically for the gardens in the 1550s, and unusual in that it was of a working man. And then there were many cleverly positioned monumental works by Tony Cragg, a well-known and highly lauded, recently knighted contemporary British sculptor (whom I did not know, embarassingly), to whom the Uffizi is hosting a special retrospective throughout the park. The message of the placement was very effective: here is a master of modern, abstract sculpture, and if you can see his columnar pieces with the Duomo behind it or at the end of a palatial garden walk, you see them as the work of today’s Michelangelo, basically. 
From the very southern edge of the park, where a palace building now houses a porcelain museum, we could see out into the hills and to what we determined was the Torre de Gallo, a view into the back country that we really haven’t had from anywhere else. Otherwise, our main goal while walking through the gardens was to keep in the shade in bowers and tree-lined alleys, because it was quite hot. But it was still nice to be among green things and see into the far distance and across all of Florence after all that indoor stuff. Eventually, though, we went back into the cool indoors, and “did” the last museum on our ticket, the “Treasure of the Dukes,” predictably all the gold and jewelry and other collectibles from ivory figurines to antique agate cups doctored up with Renaissance gold decor, all in yet more sumptuous, overdecorated rooms, including one with one of those crazy baroque illusionistic ceilings that seem to go far beyond the actual ceiling. Some things were very weird, like the roundel of putti set flat onto a marble table that we immediately christened “Babies for Dinner,” a “picnic basket” for princely traveling mostly consisting of silver dishes, the nautilus shells made into drinking cups with elaborate goldsmith work added to them, rainbow-colored jasper dishes and vases made entirely out of carved rock crystal. There was also the Salon of Giovanni da San Giovanni, an artist I had never heard of; he was not particularly good but I liked the “comic book” effect of the the enormous room, designed as a tribute to Lorenzo di Medici for a 1635 wedding of a Medici to the last heir of the Dukes of Urbino. The allegorical representation of the barbarians of the Middle Ages (as centaurs) kicking out art and knowledge, which are then brought back with the help of Lorenzo in Florence as the new Athens was told in multiple “panels” wall by wall, and the propaganda aspect was highly entertaining, with red-clad Lorenzo with his hero cape doing All the Things for the arts, including sitting in judgment on a bunch of sculptors, architects, and painters in my favorite panel, on the window side.
Eventually, though, we left and visited one more church on the Oltrarno side, Santo Spirito. This is another church with older roots and a (SIMPLE) baroque facade, but a beautiful interior designed by Brunelleschi, with a beautiful dome, where Mark shot from the hip, because we were not really supposed to take photos. It has Michelangelo’s possible early wooden cross in the sacristy, and a beautiful cloister, complete with very decayed frescoes, with an incredibly peaceful fountain and tree in the center. While a second cloister wasn’t open to from where we were, we could visit a chapterhouse and a newly restored refectory with a triple New Testament “food fest” for the monk’s cafeteria, as it were: the Wedding at Cana, the Last Supper, and the Supper at Emmaus (the latter including a cat—we do collect cats in paintings, just as a sideline). 
Then we walked by a church that we had noticed before when it was closed and when we could just see that the Vasari walkway from the Pitti to the Palazzo Vecchio led toward it. The name, Santa Felicita, had not rung any sort of bell, and we were just taking a quick peek at it all around; it seemed like just another Florentine Renaissance church after so many others. But (the first time I had seen this outside of Rome), someone threw money into a box to turn the spotlight on to illuminate the side chapel on the right at the entrance—and there it was! I had completely forgotten that this is the church where Pontormo’s Deposition is in situ, now lovingly restored and looking like it was painted yesterday. This is from the late Renaissance, a mannerist work that is very much post-Michelangelo, so I should not even be that excited about it, but since I had not just studied this in passing, but read this absolutely brilliant article by the famous John Shearman, the Renaissance art historian who explains better than anyone else why the art SPACE in which we see a painting is so important. That made this painting incredibly special to me, and I felt (and I often don’t) like I UNDERSTAND the painting and what impact it is supposed to have on me as I look at it. In this case, the composition, with a swirl of figures around an empty middle that is left behind because Christ has been taken down (literally from the cross and metaphorically as he is now dead) is incredibly powerful, as is the despair on the faces of the grieving as they look out at you, the viewer. It didn’t even bother me that we as modern viewers were actually kept out of the space where John Shearman says we should be standing (in the center of the chapel) by an iron gate that keeps us out of the chapel entirely. That actually makes total sense to me symbolically, too, because there is no way I can really get into that “Renaissance space”—as a modern human, as an atheist, and also as someone who cannot turn time back and recreate the chapel as it originally was, before a cupola replaced a vault with a lunette of God the father across from the deposition (as John Shearman found out as he researched the piece).  It was just amazing to see it and it made so many things about space really click. 
The Bardini Garden was our last stop, a much smaller but beautiful old garden straight up the hill (more uphill walking!) from the Via de Bardi on the way home (maxing out the FirenzeCard!) that was a lot of fun to ramble around in, because it is only very slightly restored, mostly with attention to the gardening itself. The statues and mosaics and a random grotto were all very low key, and that was a nice wrap-up to our day. We had another lovely dinner at home, worked on our photo/blog project, briefly went out for an evening walk (clouds & no sunset today, but all kinds of extra activity and glittery things because of that stupid fashion show, Pitti Uomo Imagine). We actually forewent our evening gelato because we didn’t walk by any appealing gelato places, and because we had gotten badly burned near the Pitti, where a marginal gelato with two flavors ended up costing 5 euro, when it’s normally between 2.50 and 3.00. I was so mad at myself for not asking about the prices first, as we usually do! We instead went home and had a cookie and fizzy lemonade, and worked on our blog logistics until almost midnight. The fear of having it all fall out of our heads if we don’t write it down (me) and sort the photos and upload them (Mark) is driving us! 

Day 17: Wednesday, June 12: Churches, Archeology and a Little Victorian Literature Fandom

The Spedale degli Innocenti, the Foundling Hospital, with its beautiful Brunelleschi design (and the “della Robbia babies” in the medallions (copies; the originals are inside)
View of the freshly renovated display rooms at the Spedale, with their prize possession (a Ghirlandaio altarpiece) beckoning the visitor at the very end, through the arch.
Detail from Ghirlandaio’s Adoration of the Magi at the Spedale. The man in black is allegedly a self-portrait of the artist.
Forence’s Archeological Museum, Top Hit # 1: The François Vase
Detail from the François Vase: Artemis as the ruler of the animals.
A rare painted marble sarcophagus with the paint still partly visible
An archaic Greek kouros from an Etruscan grave
The newly reconstructed walkway from the museum buildings (the former Palazzo Crocetto) and SS. Annunziata), used by the disabled sister of Cosimo III, who lived here in the 16th century, to get to Mass unseen. It now houses the gem and cameo collection of the Medici family.
1st or 2nd c AD Roman cameo depicting Dionysus and the sleeping Ariadne (being unveiled by a satyr, a common motif), in a Renaissance mount.
A cameo depicting Hercules peeing, probably a Renaissance fake rather than a Roman antique.
A beautiful Etruscan bronze, the “Little Idol”
Top Hit # 2: The chimera of Arezzo, a famous Etruscan bronze
Etruscan inscription on the front leg of the chimera
I got close! No alarms.
Gold florins from the 16th century: One of the hoards that is part of the coin collection housed in the Archeological Museum
An ancient Egyptian hippo
More ancient Egyptian art: The funky God Bes,
A Coptic portrait (encaustic) from the 4th C AD. This would have been painted on the inside a sarcophagus, underneath the mummy’s head.
The “extra stuff” in one of the off-limits courtyards at the Archeological Museum (which started as a loggia with outdoor displays of antiquities in the 1880s)
Interior of Santa Maria Novella
Masaccio’s Holy Trinity with its amazing spatial illusion of continuing the church space into a chapel.
Ghirlandaio’s amazing 3-sided, 4-tier fresco around the main altar, with its very Renaissance-Florence interiors
Detail of the fresco: Ghirlandaio’s birth of the Virgin Mary
Cloisters at S. Maria Novella, with grave plates and frescoes
The infamous 1966 flood went up to this marker at S. Maria Novella, and destroyed much art work.
Grave “marker” for Botticelli at the church of All Saints (Ognissanti)
The overkill baroque ceiling at Ognissanti (with illusionistic balconies)
On Elizabeth and Robert Browning’s balcony at the Casa Guidi.
The sofa from which (allegedly) the ailing EB greeted RB on his first visit to her home in London. Saved by their son Pen and now on display in the apartment the Brownings lived in in Florence, 1849-1861, now a private museum.
Antje by the city walls on our evening walk
And a shot of the Ponte Vecchio with all its shops. The arches in the middle are a 20th-century change, to give tourists a way to look out.

We began and ended the day with something that didn’t quite work out, but some of that that CAN be fixed in the last couple of days we have here—because of strange hours, we had to postpone a trip to the Protestant Cemetery, where lots of Victorian expats from England are buried, and my much-anticipated trip to S. Maria del Carmine and the Brancacci Chapel. And we found out that we have to completely forego a couple of other things that are simply not going to be open at the right time, including the Horne collection and the garden of the archeological museum. But otherwise, we had a great last “FirenzeCard” day with more museum and church visits. 
We began by a walk across the St. Ambrogio market (a real market & flea market for real people, rather than for tourists) and the city gate directly to the East of it (unspectacular). After a useless detour to the Protestant Cemetery (open 3-6 pm only) and wanderinb by a few other things on the East side of the old town, we finally did make our first real stop at the Spedale degli Innocenti, the Foundling hospital, which took in unwanted babies from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Famous for its beautiful design by Brunelleschi and for its medallions in ceramics by Lucca della Robbia, it’s been recently remodeled and is now a somewhat spare but really modern museum, with a handful of major paintings, including their prize Ghirlandaio, an Adoration of the Magi with a self-portrait, but also a large Piero di Cosimo Madonna Enthroned with Saints, so that I finally got to see one of his large religious pieces in person. We especially enjoyed the cafe at the top with its fairly close view of the cupola of the duomo with just roofs around us; a bit pricey but very quiet.  
We then spent a couple of riveting hours at the archeological museum, which blew us completely out of the water—we spent almost 3 hours there. First of all, we found out that one could only go up to the third floor at designated times, and so we went up there first, together with another American couple, who were rather excited about SOMETHING. When I found out from talking to them what they were excited about, I immediately got it: They had come to see the François Vase, a really famous huge early Greek vase, in many pieces, from an Etruscan room. Turned out that she was a professor of art history from a small liberal arts college near DC, specializing in Mesopotamian art, but like me teaching everything under the sun, so she was very excited to see it. So was I, and some of the details were really mindboggling, like an Artemis as ruler over the animals on one of the handles, but what was even more exciting were several large Etruscan bronzes, including a beautiful figure called “The Little Idol, the late Arringatore (or Orator) with distinctly Roman features, a famous head of a youth, and especially the chimera/lion of Arezzo, which my friend Chris had told me to visit for him. There were no alarms or cases for these bronzes, so I had an incredibly close look! We looked at a lot of other finds from Etruscan tombs, which are mind-boggling—especially, as in the Vatican, the many black- and red-figure vases, and even a beautiful Archaic kouros or youth. But then, beyond the Etruscan section, there was MORE. There was an entire Egyptian collection that was still very 19th century but as impressive as, say, the one on Berlin’s Museum Island, with papyri, sarcophagi, mummies, wall frescoes, statues, and the works—Mark’s favorite was a funky-looking stone god, Bes, and mine was a gorgeous, individualized and well-preserved Coptic icon painting from inside a sarcophagus (4th c ad) that looked like Frieda Kahlo. There was a courtyard full of antique debris—basically an outdoor shed for what they couldn’t display—as well as some Roman art. But then there was also the Medici gemstone collection, newly displayed (as of 2018) inside a reconstructed 17th-century Medici walkway from this building to next-door SS Annunziata, from when this was the Palazzo Crocetto and a sister of Cosimo III lived here. It was probably 100-150 feet long and had beautiful display cases with good documentation for both cameos and intaglios, which were backlit and accompanied by a positive. I read that there were 432 different pieces on display, almost all Hellenistic or Roman (Republican to late Imperial), although many in Renaissance mounds with gold and jewels. Two favorites were Hercules Peeing, which was actually either Roman Republic or a 15th century “fake,” and, especially for me, an Ariadne and Dionysos from the 1st/2nd c AD with a 16th-century mound. Then there was a coin collection with gold hoards from Florence as well as ancient Rome and Greece—some of them pea sized coins like we had never seen before. 

After this impressive museum, we badly needed lunch, but had to walk around a bit until we found something to our liking—a little street cafe with a daily menu—I had gnocchi with zucchini cream and Mark had pasta with tomato sauce, with bubbly water, for a total of 16 euro including service charge, so that was very nice after our expensive coffee and pastry in the morning. Then, we headed to the west side of town and toured Santa Maria Novella. I really like the old black-and-white “chessboard” churches, and this one was no exception—and apparently of all the Gothic churches, it’s the most important one in Tuscany (says the Blue Guide). It has a beautiful facade (Alberti) and the classic stripy gothic arches inside. But inside, there is also the Holy Trinity by Masaccio with its amazing spatial use of linear perspective, and a big crucifix by Giotto. The side chapels had lots of frescoes in varying states of restoration and decay, with the Filippino Lippi chapel probably in best shape, apart from the freshly restored enormous four-story Ghirlandaio frescoes surrounding the (19th-century) altar. I had admired this in the textbooks before, but the size was pretty overwhelming, with the beautiful birth of the virgin in a Tuscan palazzo on the bottom right of the left-hand wall, and the many built-in  portraits and the lowest level (presumably so that the portrayed could admire themselves?). Unfortunately, the famous giraffe was too far up to get a good shot, and I was a little upset that we couldn’t see it better. 
Apart from the church itself, there is the Spanish chapel (former chapter hall), which had arresting art by a fresco painter I had never heard of (Andrea di Bonaiuto), and more frescoes in the two big cloisters outside. Many showed the impact of time and the 1966 flood really well (there was actually a floor room marker in the cloister where the flood had reached to at this church, which is fairly close to the river). But the cloisters were again very beautiful and full of grave plates moved from the floor to the walls.  Then we went to the church of the Ognissanti, one of those baroqued-up 13th-century churches, where we saw the grave plates for Botticelli and for amerigo Vespucci. This church was trying a little hard for the tourist, with very lit up crucifix (again by Giotto) and Gregorian chants from the sound system. But it did have a rococo illustionistic ceiling complete with trompe l’oeuil balconies that was kind of fun. The “cafeteria”/cenacolo with a Last Supper by Ghirlandaio wasn’t open at this time, but at least I knew that. What I didn’t remember was that we had to be at the next church, S. Maria del Carmine, before 4 pm to be let in, even though it was open until 5 pm. We showed up at 4:30 to closed doors, and I was very upset—we’ll be back Friday, but then we’ll have to actually pay extra for tickets. Meh. 
Our last stop for the day was really small, but also cute—the apartment at Casa Guidi where Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning and their son Pen lived from 1847 until EBB died in 1861. Pen later bought the building and slowly but surely funds were raised to restore the rooms to look like they did when the Brownings lived there, with as many original pieces as had been in Pen’s possession, including a couple of family paintings. I am not really a big enough super fan (although I love EBB’s poetry, and some of RB’s too) to be worthy, but I stood on ebb’s balcony and admired the sofa from which she first greeted Browning in London. It was a very sweet ending to the day. The apartment is open for visitors 3x a week from 3–6, but EBB fans must be getting rare. According to the guest book that I signed, we were the first visitors for the day. 
We then went back to the apartment, with the usual grocery stop. After another dinner of pasta (carbonara) and salad that I was fairly proud of, we took a little walk, meaning to explore the nearby Fort Belvedere, but that was closed. So we walked to the San Niccolò tower, then to the Palazzo Vecchio to people watch, and lastly back across the Ponte Vecchio to make sure the sun went down with us watching. Then home and off to bed! 

Day 18: Thursday, June 13: Fiesole and another little bit of Victorian Literature Fandom

The view of Florence from Fiesole (3 miles north of town)
The church at the Franciscan Monastery at Fiesole
The restoration work at the teeny “cathedral” in downtown Fiesole
Black and white Gothic decor in the Cathedral
A partly excavated Roman insula in downtown Fiesole, with Mark’s mini self-portrait
Lunch with Roman columns, at the museum cafe of the “Archeological Area” of Fiesole
Remnants of the Roman amphitheater
Lizard hanging out on amphitheater steps
Beautiful bowl with octopus at the museum adjacent to the archeological area
Water fountain with lion in the outskirts of Fiesole
The monastery church of the Dominican monastery where Fra Angelico lived and died
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s grave, designed by Frederic Leighton, at the protestant cemetery of Florence
Detail of Leighton’s design
View of the terraces of the Bardini Gardens and the Palazzo Mozzi-Bardini (center) from across the Ponte alle Grazie
Evening view of Florence
Evening view of Florence with Fiesole in the distance (the tall tower of the Fiesole Cathedral is visible in the “dip” between two hills on the horizon)
Egret enjoying the Arno at nightfall
Another sunset with the Arno–and the Ponte Vecchio

This was our day to explore the outskirts of Florence. We had settled on Fiesole, in the hills north of Florence, for two main reasons. Number One: everyone in the 19th century, including George Eliot, went there to see the view of Florence from afar—it’s of course also where the tourist party goes in Forster’s Room with a View. And even in the Renaissance, the wealthy went there to be away from town in the country, and the Medici had a villa there; in fact, even today, it is apparently the most expensive and fancy out-of-town suburb in the region in terms of real estate and per-capita income of the 15,000 or so inhabitants. Number Two: Our archeologist friends Rebecca and Chris had pointed out that it is THE place to go to see any archeological excavations in the region. Not to mention that it is really very close by (5 km from downtown) and easy to reach by bus from the Northeast edge of downtown.  

So we took off around 9 am and walked toward what used to be the big fort on the East side of town, the fortezza, now the site where many bus and tram lines cross. We found our bus (# 7) and got tickets to get there and back (which cost us a grand 6 euro for the 4 trips. It took about 20 minutes in a pretty crowded bus, but then only about 10 people getting off at the final bus stop in Fiesole were tourists (in fact, they were a Maymester group of 8 or so from Indiana University-South Bend), so it was very quiet and not touristy up there. We went to a tiny Franciscan monastery & church up the hill, and wandered around for a bit, mostly enjoying the fantastic view of all of Florence from high above in the hills. We then stopped in the teeny „cathedral“ in town, with some beautiful black-and-white arches under the altar and some restorers actively working on the frescoes behind the altar, and checked out a minor excavation of a Roman insula in the middle of town, before we went to the archeological area proper. 

We started our time there with a lovely, simple lunch at the lovely museum cafe with tables in the garden overlooking the Roman theater below. Ravioli and Risotto and a lovely Tiramisu for dessert—a perfect start into the afternoon! 

The excavation area was very cool to wander around in. Although there were Etruscans settled there long before then, Fiesole was founded by Romans around the same time as Florence was, and for a long time about the same size. But Florence conquered Fiesole in the 14th century and basically incorporated it. The Etruscans (sadly) didn‘t have tombs here, but there are remnants of a wall and a temple, which the Romans repurposed for their own temple, so that‘s a bit of a mix. The other Roman ruins, a theater and a bath, are fairly well-preserved, although parts had undergone a good bit of willful 19th-century reconstruction. It was fun to wander around and especially see the baths close-up, with a part-original, part-reconstructed portion of the thermal system and floor. In the museum that goes with the area, there were also some remnants of the wall reliefs and of statues from the bath and theater area, as well as some other finds from Etruscan and Roman times. Some were precisely dated, but others came from older collections that basically showed no provenance. So there was nothing really spectacular here, although the museum was an interesting finale to exploring the archeological area. Our favorite piece was a clay bowl of Etruscan rather than Greek origin with a beautiful image of an octopus in it. 

We then wandered around a bit more, trying to find Fiesole‘s Villa Medici, a church that I had read about, and the Dominican monastery where Fra Angelico had lived, which was on the way back down from Fiesole. Some of the directions were a bit confusing, but ultimately, that didn‘t matter, because the walking paths were so amazing—walls on either side of it, then suddenly open vistas of Florence or of the hills to its north that we were in, with terraced gardens full of olive trees and old villas (the Villa Medici included, but we couldn‘t see it very well behind its tall walls), and just lots of gorgeous green landscape. So this was quite wonderful, and it didn‘t matter that the church I had read about was in a locked-up complex and could only be visited by appointment, and that the church of the Dominican monastery where Fra Angelico had lived was closed until 4 pm, and we weren‘t going to wait that long. We took a photo from the cemetery and that was good enough—and since the bus we had to catch went right by it, we didn‘t even walk back up to Fiesole. 

We took the bus to as close to the Protestant Cemetery as we could and then walked there, so we were there just after 3 pm. This visit was another bit of Barrett-Browning fandom, although I made a point to visit a bunch of other graves based on the map that the helpful British nun/beguine (??) who was staffing the little guard house gave us: EBB, of course (with her grave designed by Frederick Leighton), and right next to her William Holman Hunt‘s first wife, Fanny, who died here in 1866 in childbirth, and for whom he sculpted a very coffin-y looking gravestone. And then several Trollopes (Theodosia and Frances) and Trollope servants, the poet Walter Savage Landor and a whole passel of Landors, and also Arthur Hugh Clough, whose name I remembered vaguely in connection with Oxford, and who, like EBB, died in 1861 in Florence, but of Malaria, having only been there for a short time. On the way out, though, I had the brilliant idea of asking the friendly woman at the gate, who seemed to know quite a bit about „her“  cemetery about a virtually unknown writer I had been doing research on, and for whom I didn‘t have a death date, although I did know that she had lived with her mother and sister in Florence in the late 19th century, Sara Georgina Godkin (she wrote a cheap little book on San Marco in the 1880s that I came across when researching the first women who wrote about the site after it became a museum). The name didn‘t ring a bell with her, but out of the blue, she said, „Let me check on my computer“—when I didn‘t think the little guardhouse stuffed with 3-ring binders could not possibly have such a newfangled object in it. She pulled up all three of them with death dates, because they were buried in another cemetery that started to „host“ Protestants, Allori Cemetery. And she printed them out for me! I won‘t have time to go see the graves, but what I really wanted, namely the actual death date for Georgina, I now had. We ended up talking about various British and American women who were able to do unusual things in Florence, and I could have spent a lot more time asking her about her research—she helped an art historian named Mary Richardson to research a black American sculptor named Edmonia Lewis, a friend of Frederick Douglass’, who worked in Florence and Rome and apparently sculpted a Cleopatra who is in the Smithsonian (and whom I am sure I‘ll come across in one of the books about British and American expat women I have sitting at home). But there were other people waiting for her to answer some questions, so we headed out and walked home, stopping for some fresh rolls and lettuce at the small shops along the way that were not for tourists.  

We were very sticky and sweaty when we came home, and although I really dislike our little room air conditioner, which is both noisy and always in the way, it was wonderful to have it on while I was fixing our last meal (salad, an omelet, the rolls we had just bought with cheese and ham). We looked at today’s crop of images and started on the blog, but also wanted to make sure we went out for a last evening walk. We were going to go back up the hill to near the San Miniato / piazzale area, but it was blocked off for another stupid fashion-related event. We didn’t fight the body guards that blocked us, but we watched a very irate older man on a bicycle really get upset, and one of the guards physically turning his bike around. I thought it was going to come to blows, but there was just a whole lot of arguing and gesticulating. So we went down to the river instead, to the only little park-like area, which is accessible only from near the bridge by the San Niccolò gate, and which was set up to be like a beach, with a bar, some imported sand, beach volleyball, and a radio station providing music. But there was also a little walkway through mowed weeds and reeds to the next bridge, and we walked down and watched an egret under the Ponte Alle Grazie, although we didn’t see the heron that we’d seen in the same area a couple of nights earlier. Then we walked along the Arno toward the Ponte Vecchio to watch the sun set, and had a last Florentine gelato. Mark has figured out his favorite flavor combo (dark chocolate aka Fondente and amarena cherry), but I am still trying out things and haven’t settled on anything. We’ll keep trying out some more Roman gelato starting tomorrow! 

We were home around 9:30 and the shower that evening was WONDERFUL—we had been so sticky for hours—but what with photos and blogging, I wasn’t in bed until after midnight! It’s been helping with sleeping between midnight and 6 am, so I think it’s actually not all bad to stay up a little longer.  

Day 19: Friday, June 14: A few more churches and departure for Rome

A tour of our Florence vacation rental on the Via S Niccolò.: Entrance to the 17th-century (??) building where our Florence vacation rental was. Heavy wooden doors with electric door locks.
Door # 2 / Gate with the hallway leading to all apartments. Also locked.
The hallway of looking toward the exit to Via S Niccolò. The windows to the right look onto “our” courtyard.
Our courtyard in Florence. Our vacation rental was behind the window to the right.
The view of the secret back garden of the house, overgrown and unused. The stairs led nowhere, but they were clearly from the 18th century or older. The Bardini Gardens that we visited a few days ago are basically right behind us up the hill.
Street art # 1: the “underwater version” of the portraits of the duke of Montrefeltro and his wife, Battista Sforza by Piero della Francesca, which we saw at the Uffizi (without the goggles).
Street Art # 2: the underwater version of the Girl with the Pearl Earring, in a charming Florentine setting in the via de ‘Bardi, where George Eliot imagined the heroine of her novel Romola to live.
One more sample family tower, or borgo, of the many dozens in Florence. In the middle ages, every wealthy family had their own little “castle” built around these towers, and they all fought, mafia-style.
The Brancacci Chapel at S. Maria del Carmine, with the famous frescoes by Masaccio and Masolino depicting the life of St. Peter. The top scene, Tribute Money, is probably the most famous of these.
The amazing Expulsion from Paradise by Masaccio. He was about 22 when he painted this in the 1420s, and way ahead of his time in terms of style.
More Masaccio: St. Peter and the street beggars.
The Last Supper Cat of the Last Supper at the refectory of S. Maria del Carmine (by Allori, maybe?)
The unfinished facade of S. Frediano
S. Frediano’s cupola with lantern and another overdone cupola ceiling.
S. Frediano’s unusual doors that lead from chapel to chapel. There was no other church where we saw this feature, probably an 18th centuy design concept.
Another quick visit to see Pontormo’s beautiful deposition in its jail cell (chapel, that is).
Santi Apostoli.
An amazing terracotta altarpiece by Lucca della Robbia at S. Apostoli
The Ghirlandaio altarpiece (an Adoration of the Magi) of the Sassetti Chapel at S. Trinita, surrounded by frescoes that are also by Ghirlandaio.
The crypt at S. Trinita, with the creepy head of Christ stuck in the wall niche.
Via Tornabuoni. The little piece to the left in yellow was probably the actual Pension Suisse where George Eliot and George Henry Lewes stayed in 1860, right off the Santa Trinita bridge.

This was our last partial day in Florence, and we used it well! We had breakfast with an extra croissant/cornetto that I got at our trusty supermarket down the street as I was also taking our plastic and organic waste to the bins. I fixed us a lunch for the road for later that involved almost all of our remaining food, although we left a half jar of mustard, a little bit of honey, and a mini packet of cream cheese. We really did well having breakfast and dinner out of our mini kitchen, and I should really write a book about how to cook in makeshift arrangements, which I did in Rome and especially here in Florence. We packed and cleaned up a little (they better give us our deposit back! I do think it was cleaner than when we moved in (except for towels and sheets), dropped off our luggage at the owners of the apartment, and then set out for our last round of Florence streets and churches (and a few more family towers). 
First we walked by the house on the via de’Bardi where, according to a website of famous locations in Florence, Eliot imagined Romola and her father to live (No. 30-32). Turns out that in no. 28 next door, the famous us art historian John Pope Hennessy, who wrote the definitive biography of Fra Angelico (which I did not read) DID actually live and die (in the 1990s). He had a big marble plaque on the house (just like Fra Angelico at the monastery near Fiesole) because apparently Florence made him an honorary citizen. But for good measure, there was also some cool street art—all over town, there are posters of famous portraits, xcept with diving masks and blue backgrounds, so we found a couple we liked on the via de’Bardi: the Girl with the Pearl Earring and the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza, as painted by Francesca) and his wife (we found them again later NOT facing each other). 
Then we made our way, finally, to to S. Maria del Carmine, where the  Brancacci Chapel is with its famous frescoes from the life of St. Peter by Masaccio and Masolino (the lower tier done over by Filippino Lippi). In my Italian Renaissance survey, I had learned a lot about Masaccio, who was only in his 20s when he painted these frescoes in the 1420s, and so far ahead of his time with the way he represented space and also human emotions, so I was very excited to finally see it, especially Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise and the Tribute Money. Although I was not excited to see I after our FirenzeCards expired because we were 15 minutes too late for entry the other day. Oh well, we did get our money’s with our of the card even without it, I am sure. And the frescoes were beautiful, although I have to find out why a broken column from a now-gone double gothic window was left standing underneath a classicizing pediment from the early Baroque. The rest of the church was not so exciting, but there was a quiet cloister and a refectory with a Last Supper fresco by Allori that seemed transferred from somewhere else. But it did have the traditional Last Supper Cat, so we took a photo of that, of course. 
We then stopped at several more churches, just because they were on our way from A to B, and each one had surprises to offer. On the Oltrarno side, a block from the Carmine, was S. Frediano in Cestello with its truly surprising architecture. It’s one of the no-facade churches but the inside was very high baroque. Much of it was done  There was a main cupola with lantern over the apse (unsurprising), but each side chapel along the nave had its own little cupola and they had doors from each to the next, and the chapels facing each other had symmetrical designs above the paintings on their back walls.
Then we made a second stop at S. Felicita with the Pontormo Deposition, which was a bit frustrating because a large group of Dutch students had to listen to one of their group stumble through his presentation on the painting, with Q &A, which took 20 minutes, during which they hogged the space completely. And all I wanted was a photo of the cast iron gate that keeps all visitors out of the space where John Shearmann says we should be. 🙂 
Then, once more across the river, we looked for the former pension Suisse on the via Tornabuoni (# 13), where George Eliot stayed in 1860, and which had clearly been on the side of a Palazzo right by the Ponte Santa Trinita, with the church S Trinita right on the other side. This is clearly prime real estate now, and hard to imagine as even the ritziest Swiss boarding house! Since we were right by it, we went into S. Trinita for good measure, and admired a beautiful Ghirlandaio altarpiece in oil and the frescoes all around it (also by Ghirlandaio) in one of the side chapels, the Sassetti chapel (apparently some of the very little that was left after a fire destroyed the early baroque decor, already a do-over of earlier elements of the church). The rest is from the 1770s and pretty annoying, again complete with illusionistic ceilings etc. But we also discovered a cute little early medieval church, Santi Apostoli, from the 11th century, with with a very simple nave, tucked into the very middle of a block, surrounded by alleys, but with a tiny campanile, and an impressive glazed terracotta Madonna by della Robbia.  
By now , we were pretty generous with our Euros to light up specific paintings or dark corners, like the crypt at Santa Trinita. Maybe to compensate the guards, especially the one who was trying to close up Santi Apostoli at noon with four tourists still milling around? Penance for shooting many forbidden photos from the hip? Mark certainly did that for me and I am very grateful! (Trinita really didn’t want us to take pictures, one of the few churches in Florence where it’s not allowed.) Anyway, we were glad we got to see these additional churches. But the question still remains how even a wealthy community like Florence during its peak period from 1400-1700 (give or take) could have supported so many churches per square mile! 
It was nearly 1 pm by the time we walked by Ponte Vecchio one more time (I am not going to miss that traffic on the streets directly along the river!!!!) and to our landlady’s building down the street from us, to retrieve our luggage from the concierge and have who I think is actually the woman’s maid show us our bus station. We got the briefest glimpse of the sumptuous high-ceilinged apartment in the historic palazzo at 99 via San Niccolò, and that was a far cry from our damp piano terre cave… but we did make it work, and I did have fun living in an old ramshackle building with a courtyard unbelievable entryways and a secret garden!. A little less damp would have been nice, not to mention being able to steam my milk for the espresso I finally learned to make! 
Getting back to the bus station at Via Costanza turned out to be long and hot—we had to wait forever for a bus, sit/stand in that for a long time with many people, then get to the right tram and again, stand in it with many people, with a couple of temporary delays on the way. Then we had to wait in the hot sun for the FlixBus (where we finally had our lunch). The bus was late coming in and then was stuck in a traffic jam for another hour on the way out of town. But we were back in the road to Rome! We finally got there with about an hour delay, and then took the bus to our last “home” in Italy, another guest house, roughly in the same quarter as the other one, but closer to the river, in a modern building (I would really like to know when it was built, it has that ultramodern futurist 20s feel, but might be much later). Our room is by far the most hotel-like and functional room we’ve had, with nothing broken or wobbly or inconvenient, but it is also utterly charmless, and has no view even as we are a stone’s throw from the Tiber. 
We basically threw our stuff in the room, washed our hands after the sticky afternoon, and then went out to find some dinner. We found a really nice restaurant with outdoor seating a few blocks south of us, and I had the best pizza I’ve had since we got here, plus a lovely all-greens side salad, while Mark had very good pasta Bolognese. We were stuffed enough that we forewent our usual gelato, even though the BEST gelateria of Rome was just right there (it did have about 20 people waiting in line, so that was partly why we postponed until tomorrow). We walked home along the banks of the river and wrapped up the day with showers and the usual photo selection session.