so here I am in florence
connecting with the past
trying to find myself in a weird way
playing music in a strange land
full of cobwebs and fairies
that leap up at me and scare me
and wake me from my renaissance sleep
there is no past
only the present
where art screams from the river banks
and the railway lines
and I am lost again
my legs aching and my mind about to explode
i think I lost something here
and not my sanity
a weary contempt of the past
that did nothing but grind me down
and left me on the pavement
with nothing to think about
but oblivion and feelings of inadequacy
Here we are. First day on a trip to Florence staying at a delightful little hotel called Pensione Ottaviani right in the heart of the city. The beautiful church of Santa Maria Novella is just across the road and the Duomo is a short walk away. The weather is good but not too hot. Perfect weather for sightseeing. The only problem is deciding where to go first. It’s Sunday so there may be problems visiting churches unless we attend mass. No, I think maybe the best thing is to visit the Piazza del Duomo and then to the Ponte Vecchio and across the river to the Boboli gardens and the Palazzo Pitti. Yes, that’s a good idea.
The Palazzo Pitti is a pretty grim looking place that was the residence of one of the wealthy dukes that dominated Florence. It looks a bit like a prison from the outside and there are no benches or chairs to sit on in the square in front. They obviously still want the peasants to suffer! The Boboli Gardens in the rear are very pleasant and afford a very good walk if you can afford it. The reason for going inside is to view one of the best exhibitions of Renaissance art there is with works by Raphael and Titian and many others. They are hung in the way they would have been presented originally and so give a different perspective to the paintings than in a normal gallery. There are some excellent pictures in there but also quite a few that I would consider mediocre. In some ways I found it quite a depressing litany of images of the rich and powerful who don’t really deserve to be remembered. They stare blankly from the walls and you feel they are trapped forever in their own conceit. The whole experience is like a homage to a vacant and meaningless materialism. The religious pictures sit uneasily with the portraits. Why did they want pictures of the dieing Christ on their walls? The sheer scale of the opulence of the palace scream out against any kind of humility or charity. This is a truly bizarre experience and one that is quite tiring because there are so few chairs and benches inside as well. Time for a nice cappuccino I think.
OK, time to move on. The Duomo is a truly astonishing place. It’s size is immense. Apparently, it took over a hundred years and the genius of Bruneleschi to work out how to put a roof on it without it falling down. It represents an amazing ambition to create something that had never been done before. This cathedral dominates the city of Florence and is clearly visible from all the vantage points in the surrounding hills.
Florence is a lovely city and is very self contained. The people are also very friendly even though it is packed with tourists, even in October. It is easy to walk to all the main attractions and the restaurants are also good. It’s a bit on the expensive side but I suppose that’s to be expected. Next stop is Ponte Vecchio which is truly remarkable lined mainly with jewelry shops.
The first big exhibition we went to was at the Palazzo Strozzi called “The Thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism”. This was a fascinating exhibition that demonstrated the variety of artistic expression that was taking place even under the cultural,totalitarian restrictions of Fascism. There were some disturbing examples of Fascist and Nazi art alongside experimentalism and expressionistic work. Things got really bad in 1938 though when Italy enacted it’s own racial law under pressure from the Nazis. The holocaust had reached Italy! This is what the curator says about the exhibition:
“The Thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism comprises 96 paintings, 17 sculptures and 20 objects of design and tells the story of a crucial era characterised by an extremely vigorous arts scene in the years of the Fascist regime, against a backdrop that included the embryonic development of mass communication in Italy – radio, cinema and illustrated magazines – which stole numerous ideas from the “fine” arts and transmitted them to a broader audience. This retrospective illustrates an era that profoundly changed the history of Italy. The 1930s also witnessed the increasing mass production of household objects, which led to dramatic changes in people’s lifestyle, allowing ordinary families to live out a dream of modernity surrounded by designer objects, a practice that continues to this day”.
I would recommend this exhibition if it comes your way.
It’s a hard slog walking around exhibitions (but in this case worth it). Time for a nice sit down and a rest outside the Santa Maria Novella church.
The church of Santa Maria Novella is beautiful and contains many astounding frescoes. Unfortunately they don’t allow you to take photos ( a common thing in most museums and art galleries which I think is a bit mean really). The stand out feature though is the crucifix painted by Giotto. It is a sublime and beautiful piece of work.
We spent two days travelling round Florence on an open top bus. Fortunately, the weather remained good for most of the time although there were a few heavy showers at times. The view from Piazzale Michelangelo is breathtaking and it contains one of the many copies of David, the sculpture of which Vasali said that once you’ve seen it you’ll never need to see another sculpture. The original is in the Accademia which we visited and it really is breathtaking. The hands and feet look like they might start moving any minute! It is enormous and seems to be alive!
Thursday night we went to the open mic at the Irish pub “The Fiddler’s Elbow” on Piazza Santa Maria Novello. Not many people there but had a really good time. Was asked to play at a Bob Festival to be held next May. That’ll be fun!
On the last day we went to Pisa where we were flying from. Spent the afternoon having a meal with the leaning tower in the background. Very nice!
The news item that interested me most in the past week is about the vandalising of a Mark Rothko canvas in the Tate gallery. The kind of outcry that this caused was quite interesting. An article by Jonathon Jones in The Guardian described it as virtually a sacrilegious act even though it’s not a religious painting. He displays a sense of awe and wonder that puts all Great Artists on a pinnacle and compares their work to some kind of deep spiritual experience. Other articles in the same paper either give a history of the grand tradition of vandalising art or described works of art that might be improved by vandalism!
Included in his article Jonathon Jones expresses outrage concerning the vandalism of Michelangelo’s Pieta with a hammer. I dare say many people share this outrage and agree with the many comments on Twitter that would condemn these perpetrators to torture, death or worse. However, there as been a long history of vandalising Great works of art. I am writing this in Florence, Italy and found out before this recent act that Michelangelo’s iconic sculpture David was vandalised with a hammer shortly after it was erected. It seems that hammers, knives and machetes are the most favoured weapons of destruction for vandalising art but shotguns and sulphuric acid have also been used. The statue symbolised Florence’s republican resistance to the autocracy of the Medicis (David versus Goliath) and was seen as a legitimate target by the supporters of the aristocracy! But perhaps the biggest collective act of vandalism occured during the English Civil War when a massive amount of art work and buildings were destroyed by the Puritans. Henry VIII was quite a major perpetrator as well when he dissolved the monasteries in search of loot!
Vladimir Umanets was an unknown Pole until last week. Now he has achieved celebrity by tagging Rothko’s “Black on Maroon” at the Tate Modern. He compares himself to Marcel Duchamp who signed a urinal and presented it for exhibition in 1917 thus creating perhaps the first piece of conceptual art. He also likens himself to Damian Hurst who has signed his name to work he has not done. Umanets has said he is part of a new art movement (consisting of him and one other) called Yellowism. He expresses an appreciation of Rothko’s work who he sees as a seminal Yellowist. Now, is this guy crazy or is he making a valid point?
Duchamp famously produced a post card featuring the Mona Lisa on which he drew a moustache and goatee beard. No doubt, he would have preferred to have defaced the real picture but was either unable to or too scared of the consequences. Either way it was a controversial act that blew a giant raspberry at the art establishment and became iconic in it’s own right and later, in a parody of the conventions of classical art, was copied by Salvador Dali albeit with a different moustache. Dali had his own style in vandalism. When presented with a picture by Andy Warhol, apparently he threw it on the floor and pissed on it. Warhol remained calm and detached throughout. Perhaps he couldn’t decide whether it was a compliment or an insult!
I think Umanets was quite brave in what he did. Witnesses say he sat quietly for a long time and then wrote on the painting with a black pen. He knew he would be caught and was ready with his explanation. Unfortunately, he either hasn’t said (or it hasn’t been reported) what Yellowism actually is. This would make it more meaningful like the anti-war protest perpetrated on Picasso’s Guernica. Defacing Great works of art will always get you attention and will guarantee you a place in history (although maybe for all the wrong reasons)!
Another remarkable case of vandalism was when suffragette Mary Richardson attacked Rokeby’s Venus with a meat cleaver. This actually became a picture in itself. She was drawing attention to the hunger strike of Mrs. Pankhurst that was happening at the time. Considering the subject matter of the painting it could also been seen as an act of proto-feminism.
Personally, my favourite piece of art vandalism is when two Chinese students stripped to the waist and had a pillow fight on Tracy Emin’s Bed. Although, in this case, a more effective piece of vandalism would be if someone sneaked in and tidied it up and washed the sheets. Now that would be hilarious!