The past few days have flown by! Adjusting to life here was pretty fast and easy. We've all been a little more tired than usual, but that could also have to do with the fact that we walk between 9-12 miles a day. We've been to so many places and seen so many beautiful pieces of art. Kate has already done an amazing job talking about the Uffici, Palazzo Vecchio, Cappele Medicee, and Donatello's Davids at the Bargello, but we're joining to travel back to talk about a few other important statues in the Bargello, plus my visit to Michelangelo's house, the incredible Medici private library and the San Lorenzo.
Michelangelo's Bust of Brutus
The bust of Brutus has a surprisingly intricate cultural meaning. It was commissioned by a man named Donato Giannotti. Giannotti was a Roman exile, and he settled in Florence. However, his new city had one problem (in his mind at least): the Medici family. The bust was meant to be a gift for his friend Cardinal Ridolfi. It was to symbolize their mutual political ideals. Giannotti chose the historical figure Brutus because he had killed a tyrant of his time. It also had another meaning during the time period that it was made. It's an allusion to the then-recent murder of Duke Alessandra by his cousin Lorenzo. Lorenzo was also nicknamed the "Tuscon Brutus". "Coinincidence? I think not!" (Bernie Kropp, The Incredibles)
Florence Triumphant Over Pisa, Pietro Francavilla
The next statue was created after a giant battle between Florence and Pisa over power. It portrays the battle in an unusual form: a wrestling match. Even more unusually, the match is between a woman (Florence) and a man (Pisa). The decision to have the fight be between the two genders was a deliberate one. There could be a few different angles that Francavilla could have been aiming for.
One is the idea that women are physically weaker than men, and yet a woman was able to rise up and defeat a man in a test of strength. While this way of showing that idea is pretty cool, the thought behind this idea is actually untrue. Florence had a much stronger military than Pisa. This is a classic example of history being rewritten by the winners. While Florence was not weaker, the use of having a woman representation in a sculpture portrays the idea that they are.
Another angle is the idea that women are often portrayed as more morally sound than the average man. This would imply that Florence's morals were string as well. It would support the belief that Florence was justified in killing so many Pisians.
A third angle is the woman origin story is pretty common, back then and now as well. After all, Mulan is a classic Disney story and it's the epitome of a woman origin story. These angles are all valid and give an interesting view of a statue that originally may have been unusual. For not only is it unlikely for a woman and man to be fighting, it's even more improbable for the woman to win. This statue would have been controversial, which may be another reason why Francavilla decided to design it this way. All in all, the statue was one of the most interesting things for me to analyze in the Bargello.
The Competition Panels
Lorenzo Ghilberti and Brunelleschi were each asked to each design a panel. This panel would be used to determine who created the Baptistery doors; the Baptistery is part of the Duomo complex. The panels depict the biblical scene of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac.
For those of you who don't know or need a refresher of this story, here's a quick summary. Abraham and his wife Sara were desperate for an heir. They were both older and no longer able to have children. God blessed them with a healthy son and they named him Isaac. After Isaac had grown, God asked them to return their gift; meaning he wished Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in God's name. They were heartbroken but resolved to follow God's word. Just as Abraham was about to kill Isaac, an angel appeared and steadied his hand. The angel told him that his faith in God was strong and for that he would be rewarded. Isaac's life was once again given to Abraham and Sara.
Both panels are done very well, but when they are compared side by side, it is obvious that Lorenzo Ghilberti won. First, we'll compare the structure of the pieces. Ghilberti's panel is 3-D. Some of the figures are closer to the viewer while Isaac and Abraham are farther on the distance. Brunelleschi's is very flat in comparison. They all appear to be on the same plane. In his defense, that was common back then. But Ghilberti had something new and exciting and better. Next, the narrative each panel tells. In Brunelleschi's, he chose the moment when the angel steadied the hand of Abraham. The climax of the story has been completed and the story is wrapping up. Another part is that there are two followers in each piece. In Brunelleschi's, the followers are farther down the hill they're standing on and they're oblivious. One is looking at his feet, the other at the animal they brought with them. This just comes off as kinda confusing. If this huge dramatic scene is happening above them, how can they miss it? It kinda downplays the whole story. In Ghilberti's panel, he chose a much more tense moment. He depicts Abraham with his arm raised and Isaac straining and twisting to get away. Isaac's neck is exposed and he's looking at his father in terror. The angel of God is a face in the corner, watching but not yet making his move. In this one, the followers are in the corner and behind a giant rock. They can see nothing of what is going on. The story is better told and more interesting. The panels of judges could see this, and Ghilberti won. He went on to spend the next twenty plus years of his life designing and creating the rest of the panels for the Baptistery doors. On the other hand, Brunelleschi said "Forget it", gave up sculpting for a bit, and instead designed the dome of the Duomo. Which is HUGE for architecture. But more on that later.
Michelangelo Buonarroti's House
During some free time, a group of us decided to go check out Michelangelo's house. I was expecting to see what his house looked like when he owned it: where the different rooms were, what his furniture looked like, etc. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that it was full of art and artifacts that the Buonarroti family had gathered during their lifetimes and that had been inspired by Michelangelo's own art.
There were a few paintings that had been inspired by some of his sketches that had never been painted. On the upper floor was a small room where every surface, excluding the floor, was covered in vibrant paintings of Michelangelo and scenes from his life. There were numerous paintings of him receiving commissions, him painting, and numerous others.
On the lower floor, there was an intriguing statue of a boy, presumably Michelangelo, carving a mask out of marble (I think the actual mask was upstairs in a room too). We were allowed to get close to this one, and we could see all the little details that he was famous for. His shirt had a design consisting of curls carved into it and his skin was so smooth. His curly hair was adorable and each curl was individually carved. This sculpture was definitely amongst my top favorites of the trip so far.
Unlike many things the Medici family owned, their library, designed by Michelangelo, is very simple. There isn't a whole lot of good edging, vibrant murals, or other staples of decorating back then. It mostly uses white and greys with a red tile floor. The sides are lined with these church pew like benches. Continuing down the length of the library, there's door that leads into a series of rooms. When I saw what it contained, I had to pause and absorb it.
In the next five rooms were over 100 drawings that illustrated Dante's Comedia. It's more commonly called The Divine Comedy. Each was matched to a passage in the three books. They were all sketches done with pen and ink. There were also early editions of the book on display. The books were huge; they were made of parchment and illuminated. There were no first editions available to see, mostly because they are no first editions left.
There was, however, the oldest known manuscript on display. Scholars call it the "antichissimo". It was a huge book that was at the very end. One of my favorites drawings was the picture that showed the circles of hell and how they were giant rings that descended down. I read Dante 's Inferno in high school and loved it. I love how his ideal punishment for each sin is creative and the cruelest possible form. Seeing those illustrations left me in awe.
San Lorenzo Chapel
Right after looking at those drawings, we headed into the San Lorenzo. While the Chappelle Medici was a private chapel for the Medici, the San Lorenzo was the public chapel they built. It continues with the simple and elegant theme from the library: using mostly whites and greys with elaborate wooden details. This was designed by Michelangelo as well. One difference is that the walls are lined with muted paintings. Each painting shows a biblical scene. In the front of the cathedral, there hangs a giant cross. On it, Jesus is looking up, directing your gaze up as well. The dome above the altar is the true masterpiece. It's a depiction of heaven, filled with angels, prophets, martyrs, and holy men and women. There are so many that they overflow the dome at some points and the paintings spill onto the wooden edging. This draws attention to the fact that some of the ornate edging was just painted on and is not real woodwork. This is only a few spots however.
As I mentioned earlier, this cathedral's version of The Crucifixion has Jesus looking up. In every crucifixion that I have seen (which is quite a few), he is always looking down. They show Jesus after he has died and his side has been pierced; they show the end of the narrative. It's interesting to see that the artist who made this Crucifixion chose to time it right before he dies; when he cries out to his Father, our God, to forgive the world. It seems so fitting for a church; a place where many go to pray to God for forgiveness and blessing.
Anyway, that sums up the past few days for us. Coming up next is our visit to see Michelangelo's David, the Duomo, and so much more! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!