Upon my return to Florence after the wonderful night spent in a train station in Milan I figured that I would at least have a little time before class to relax in the hotel and bring myself back to life. Low and behold I ran into Katie and Megan on the way to the hotel from the train station, who informed me that we had class at 9. I ended up spending the entire lesson (on the “New Sacristy” in the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo designed and produced by Michelangelo) with my heavy backpack attached to my body.
The lesson was quite interesting as Rocky walked us through the intellectual and artistic subtleties of Michelangelo’s first realized architectural space. Michelangelo, in a way, mocked the traditional constraints of classical architecture which demands symmetry and a general lack of decoration. Michelangelo, though he never fully completed the space, constructed a room wrought with tension. The architecture seems to fight with the artwork for space. For example he stuffs empty niches with protruding pediments between two pilasters as if to make it seem that the pediments are being forced forward by the pilasters (like the pediment is trying to be squashed in). There are 8 doors in the room, to keep symmetry, but only one of them is functional. Two even open to brick walls. Michelangelo’s four statues in the room, Night, Day, Dawn and Dusk, are all in contrapposto. There are two tombs in the room, one with the two statues of Night and Day, and the other with the statues of Dawn and Dusk. The entire space is filled with these kind of contradictions that were apparently made to lead the eye upwards towards a planned fresco of the Resurrection, which would have been one of perhaps two Christian symbols in a room patronized by two Popes. Michelangelo’s genius comes through clearly in this room as even though he openly mocks the ‘Christian’ of the room (he even made the prayer area 1/4 the size of the statue room as if to say that his statues are more important than the people who paid for them) by constructing few religious icons but many beautiful momento mori into the space. Quite impressive.
The rest of that day was a bit of a struggle for me. I managed to go on a run with Abby (not sure how my body accepted such a task with no sleep) and started to study for our final! Woohoo!! Not really much to talk about when discussing studying so we’ll skip over that.
Tuesday we went to the Bargello, or the National Sculpture Museum in Florence. It’s a very impressive museum that houses some of the best works of Donatello, including his two famous David’s and his statue of St. George, all in the same room! We spent an hour an a half in there with Rocky as he chronologically led us through the progression of Donatello’s masterpieces explaining both the significance of each individually and the significance of them as inspiration for the greatest piece of sculpture ever, Michelangelo’s David. Donatello was quite the master himself and his second David, the bronze sculpture and more famous of the two, is as unique and seemingly ambivalent as a sculpture could be. For those who do not necessarily know the subject of the sculpture, which interestingly enough is still being debated by art historians, it would be easy to say that the figure of David is feminine. In fact, the young David looks in every way a prepubescent girl except with a penis. He stands in what is normally a female stance, has long hair and general feminine proportions. Also, he does not hold Goliath’s sword and there is no stone in the head of Goliath, yet Goliath’s head is chopped off under the feet of David. How is this possible? The story does not seem to follow the general biblical tale or even a logical procession.
Some art historians speculate that this David actually portrays a very obscure legend of Hermes (because it looks as if David has winged boots) killing a giant. And while I was the one to point out that David looked like Hermes, I really believe that Donatello meant to sculpt David in his own progressive way. Donatello certainly was an innovator in the sculpture world. His facial expressions and willingness to go outside the common perception of what sculpture should be made him one of the greatest of all time. David, besides being a yet-to-be “solved” art mystery is a masterpiece. You cannot help but appreciate its mysterious aura and intriguing beauty. How could a man achieve such detail with a bronze sculpture? I will never understand that level of craft, but man can I appreciate it.
Another night of studying, this time intensely so that we could learn the names, artists, dates, patrons and locations of the art which we had seen on top of memorizing art terms and historical facts…at least Brian and I went museum hopping on our last night in Florence where we studied the artwork and enjoyed it one more time.
The test Wednesday morning could not have been easier. Either we had prepared perfectly or Rocky went easy on us. Or Rocky taught us so well that it could not have been hard. Whatever the reason I finished the exam in about 45 minutes, if not less. I said goodbye to Rocky and thanked him for his wonderful class before leaving behind the world of art history, at least intelligent comprehensive art history.
The rest of the day, being free, we of course decided it would be a day of celebration. First, the guys and I packed, which took us all of 20 minutes considering the lack of unpacking and general lack of things which we brought. We then went for a lunch at our favorite cheap lunch place, Pizzeria Mangiatoia, which is across the Arno past the Pitti Palace. From there Abby and I ventured to Piazale Michelangelo which has a wonderful view of Florence because its up a hill overlooking the city. Jilly joined us and we sat around taking in the view and trying to ignore the strange wedding photos being taken below us…
Anyway, we had an appointment to meet my cousin, Caterina, at her university where we would be a given a tour of James Madison University’s school, which focuses on politics, in Florence. The school is gorgeous because it is housed near the Santo Spirito Church (a very cool, artsy, student neighborhood) and in a refurbished palazzo, which directly translates to palace, but more generally means big, inner-city living quarters for somebody rich. Her students were extremely nice and after the tour we all went, including Caterina, to aperitivo (before dinner drinks and food) at a new place in the city that serves Indian food. While the food was nothing about which to write home, the company provided fantastic entertainment. Her students all spoke English, among other languages, but one of them, Sarah, was actually an Italian citizen who had moved to America when she was ten. We spoke mostly Italian to each other as well as with Caterina.
I find that my Italian continuously improves. I even managed to use the congiuntivo perfetto (perfect subjunctive, a very hard tense to conjugate) properly! Besides the company it felt good to be away from the Americans and the American bars for a while. Though we were technically with mostly Americans, we were in a bar not for Americans. Italian was the primarily language spoken. It gave us a preview of Parma and my excitement only grew! We left around 9. I said bye to Caterina, but only temporarily because I’ll be back in Florence to see Dad and Chris soon, before Brian and I adventured onward to find a wonderful restaurant for our last meal in Florence.
Following the advice of Caterina we went back across the river to the Altr’Arno (the aperitivo place was in the city center). Besides a wonderful meal of ribolita, which is a kind of bread stuffing with lots of vegetables, and carpaccio (which actually was my first carpaccio even though I’ve made it many times) we talked politics for about two hours. That is what makes dinner special; it’s not always the food or the restaurant but with whom you are eating. Brian and I took our sweet time and delved deep into the political and social problems facing America.
As special as the food was it cannot compare to making a deep connection and having a great conversation with a friend. I, even as foodie as I am, truly believe that people, friends and family, are the most important part of life and that their company should be cherished, relished, sustained and made an every day part of life. Dinner should not be rushed. It’s meant to be eaten slowly so that those at the table have a chance to converse and bond. A major difference between European and American life is the time spent at the dinner table. Dinner is the time for the family and friends to come closer together and share their thoughts on the world. It is a place for commentary and a place for laughter. It is a place for eating and drinking, but more importantly it is a place for interaction.
We ventured the city on our last night, going here and there, until around 3 when Matt, Brian and I separated from the girls to hang out under the Duomo and have a ‘brosesh’ (an affectionate shorthand for bro-session meaning male bonding time). The Duomo, as captivating as it is during the day, is much more impressive at night because there is nobody around. No tourists, no street vendors, nothing. What better way to end 3 weeks in one of the most beautiful cities in the world than to sit under its most important and arguably most beautiful building?