Today we arrived in Rome. Our train left Florence at 9:35 a.m. and pulled into Rome at 11:17 a.m. While we are excited to see the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain, we should first tell you about our time in Florence. The city that is rich in art and leather bags is just as glorious as when the Italian Masters called it home.
A City of Masters
Florence has a long history shaped by the famous figures who have lived there. Among its citizens are the exiled writers Dante and Machiavelli, astronomer Galileo Galilei, classical composer Rossini, and, of course, the Medici family. The Medici were a powerful aristocratic family who revolutionized banking, and in so doing became the financial, political, and on several occasions the religious leaders of Florence. The mark their family left upon the city is still obvious in the architecture of Florence. Several of the city's most prominent palaces and chapels were intended for Medici use, and their crest can be seen throughout in reliefs and sculptures. They were also patrons of the arts. The artists they sponsored included Michaelangelo and DaVinci, and their art collection (which we were able to see in the Uffizi Gallery) contains many of the greatest masterpieces of Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance Europe.
Perhaps the most recognizable of these great masterpieces is Michelangelo's David, housed in the Academia. The towering 17-foot marble statue depicts the biblical character preparing for battle with Goliath. Arguably the most important work of art in the world, David is a celebration of the human body. Many of the Masters’ most important works focus on the human body. In fact, their ability to recreate it in marble and paint is what made them famous. Michelangelo’s skill is so great, he even accommodated for the statue’s viewing angle. Originally, the statue was meant to stand on a much higher pedestal. For this reason, Michelangelo made the hands and feet slightly larger than is proportional. The statue of David has interesting implications for Frankenstein. We always think of The Creature as this shambling mound of body parts, much like how his statue in Geneva depicts him. However, in the text, The Creature is just as beautiful as David. He becomes ugly when he is imbued with life. It's interesting to think about how the Romantics thought of the body, especially in comparison to how the Masters viewed the body.
Beyond museums and galleries, much of the art in Florence is found in churches, along with the graves of the artists and writers who created them. As our class stood inside Santa Croce, the church where Michelangelo and Machiavelli are buried, Dr. Weldon told us how many works of art were almost lost for good. In 1966, the Arno River flooded Florence. This wasn’t just a little water that required you to wear your rain boots to work for a week; no, this was 15 foot waves hurdling past Santa Croce towards the Duomo depositing full size cars and garbage along the way. Santa Croce has markers that show how high the standing water came up in the church. We know that the waters rose at least 16 feet, or to the top of Michelangelo’s sarcophagus. In addition to tombs and religious relics, many pieces of priceless art were in peril. While the flood devastated much of the city, the response was similarly staggering. Volunteers from around the world came to Florence to wade through waist-deep water and debris to save the very works we saw. This tradition of caring for the arts began with the Medici family, and still flourishes in Florence today. We also follow in their footsteps by studying the works of the Romantics, and thus preserve the memory of these great writers.
Until next time,
Jonathan, Emma, and Grant