Friday, January 10, 2014

Florence 19.12.2013 (2): Barbarism to Civilization and Flora Morphing

Ponte Vecchio Viewed from Uffizi, 19 December 2013

Now at the Uffizi, having high-priced cappuccinos in the cafeteria and having decided it's worth the price to have a moment to sit down and enjoy the spectacular view. The process of obtaining tickets and entrance a perfect farce.

We'd made reservations online (and had paid for them), understanding this would obviate the need to stand in line for tickets. Not so.

There's a line to obtain one's reserved ticket--a line as long as the other ticket line for folks who have no reservations at all and are simply buying their tickets. We wait in the first line, get the ticket, the lady at the desk telling us the computer's not wanting to print today. We wait. We wait more. She then hands us our tickets and tells us to go and stand in line one across the street.

We cross the street. There are lines two and three, but no line one. A nice museum official directs us and others who had had reservations to line two--the line for those with no reservations who are just obtaining tickets. It's never clear to me what line three is for.

As wet get to the head of line two, where there's a screening machine like the ones in airports, the officious little martinet preparing people to pass through the machine shouts that we're in the wrong line.

Go to line one! The two Italian women behind us, who had been directed to line two by the same official outside, protest and explain that we had been directed by a museum official to this line.

But nothing will do the little martinet except that we go and stand in the other (non-existent) line. So outside we head, only to be intercepted by the nice man who had sent us to line two, who sends us back inside and comes along with us and shouts at the martinet, who then relents and lets us through, huffing officiously all the while. Madonna buona! shouts the nice man at the other one.

The Italian ladies turn to us and say, Only in Italy can this happen. Steve nicely says, "Oh, no, such things can happen anywhere." I'm less yielding and say, "Yes! It appears our reservations paid for the privilege of waiting in two different lines and being shouted at," and we all laugh--only to pass through the screening device and have yet another little martinet sitting at the end of the screening process shout at us for not carrying the baskets that held our belongings as they went through the screening machine back to the other side of the machine.

And then the Uffizi--from barbarism to civilization:

What to say? So many better educated people have written volumes about the works in this museum, it would be superfluous (and presumptuous in the extreme) for me to try to say anything of substance. And so impressions:

Overwhelming, of course, so that I very quickly reached saturation point and felt I was taking in less and less with each room.  

Giotto, Madonna and Child, ca. 1301, Uffizi
The medieval works, the Giottos and Cimabue: the frontality (and angularity), which has much to do with the iconic traditions preceding these paintings. Icons: eyes must engage eyes, so that the heads of some of the holy ones are bent at an angle to assure that one sees--sees them looking, meets their eyes. Through the eye-to-eye contact is the holy transmitted, touched, made accessible in this world.

The early Renaissance works, especially the Botticellis: spectacular, of course. What's often commented on is the shift from Madonna to Venus or Flora, the shift from iconography with its focus on the otherworldly realm of the holy, to celebration of the human.

What struck me, though, was the movement, which is nowhere in the icons, in the medieval religious works. They're doors, and fixed ones, where we are invited to enter a holy realm by looking into the eyes of the holy ones.

Botticelli, Primavera, Detail with Flora, Uffizi
What changes with Botticelli is that things move. The trio beside Venus, the three graces, move; they dance. Chloris morphs to Flora before our eyes--she moves--from tree to flower-bedecked goddess.

In the Venus-rising painting, winds blow, the maid brings a dress billowing in the wind, and Venus emerges from the sea, hair wafting in the breeze. There's no more of the frontality, the iconic angularity, the fixed door of the medieval religious works. All is now in flux, a new world emerging from the old, celebrating its emergence through dance, the movement of wind and wave, the turning of seasons: through movement

Eppur si muove . . . . 

Lucas Cranach Elder, Adam and Eve, Uffizi
The painting that perhaps surprised me the most: the Adam and Eve diptych of Lucas Cranach the Elder. As with so many northern European paintings of the period, the technical expertise Cranach displays here is stunning. But there's something more that draws my eye, and I'm not quite sure that it is--the frank if sublimated eroticism running between the two?

I'm not sure. Whatever it is, it's there. These are two paintings I could continue to look at over and over. Perhaps it's the stripped-down-to-essentials quality of the frankly human gaze of all these northern European paintings, where one feels for the first time as if one is meeting the introspective gaze of modernity as it begins to be born after the Renaissance is well underway.

The high Renaissance works, Titians, etc.: the colors. My God. The colors. So clear, limpid, rich, as if color has been, well, what? Boiled, distilled, its essence tweaked to produce something well beyond a distillation and essence of ordinary color.

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