Thursday, July 14, 2011

Santa Maria del Fiore!!!!

June 20th

Finally after a long wait today was the day that we would be visiting the Duomo.

Since my very first art history class, many moons ago, I have loved Brunelleschi's dome and wanted to see what the inside of this building looked like.

Surprisingly, it was not at all as I imagined. I can easily say that the exterior marble inlay is the most interesting aspect of the cathedral and the most heavily decorated feature. The austere interior seems to be typical for Brunelleschi's designs, which tend toward minimalism rather than ornate decoration. In fact on the occasions that Marco has lectured and guided us through Brunelleschi's designs, it was made clear that the architect preferred simplicity and would have been revolted with the ornate decorations of Baroque architecture that followed and sometimes altered his designs.

We began our tour with the Opera del Duomo, which is the museum dedicated to the history, art and artifacts of the cathedral, the baptistery and the companile (bell tower). In this museum there are incredible sculptures, beginning with original sculpture that decorated the exterior and interior of the church.

Marco the 'sauve' (tee-hee) with his sunglasses! Behind him is a Roman Sarcophagus and a medieval Virgin Mary from the exterior of the church.

Some early Roman sculpture that was saved from the site. Interestingly enough, the Early Christians and Renaissance church officials considered Roman art to be worthy of preservation and even more, actually included it into the interior or the facade of a church as an added value to the sacredness of the space.

Medieval statues from the facade

Unfortunately, I can't remember what this statue is holding, although I want to say it's the horn of plenty. What I did like so much about her are the delicate features of her face and arms, something I find to be prevalent in Italian sculpture (even from this very early period).

The sign of blessing

Marble tomb. This is one of the traditions of ancient Rome that persisted into Christianity. This tomb is decorated with Florentine motifs: the Fleur de Lys, which the Medici got official permission from the king of France to use. The Fleur de Lys as a motif blended economic trade agreements with the history of Florence as the city of flowers. It was a symbol of the city's past and present during the Renaissance.

The Virgin and Child with a Bishop or Cardinal (I can never remember which staff means which)

A reclining statue from the exterior facade of the church. This one is particularly interesting because it is very reminiscent of Etruscan funerary statues that are always shown reclining. I would guess that having access to Etruscan statues locally (in Fiesole) the artists may have been influenced by them.

A saint or church father (I'm so sad that I can't remember which). Regardless, the quality of the drapery is incredible.

Altarpiece with St. Sebastian, who I learned was the patron saint of the medical profession and one of the Plague saints.

Here you see the archers who shot him

The other archers. The detail of the work is amazing. The colors are as well.

The Fleur de Lys of Florence, notice the  two extra flowers

One of the treasures of this museum is Michelangelo's final Pieta. He is very famous for the one at the Vatican in Rome, but here you have his final and incomplete work. Marco spent quite some time discussing the significance of this work, in which you can see Michelangelo's technique and also the sacrilegious contribution of one his students in the completed figure on the left. Created in Michelangelo's old age, this work shows his maturity and it's quite interesting to be able to see the progression of his work: the hatch marks of his chisel, the suggestion of what a detail may have looked like and the trepidation and difference in style between the great master and his student.

The next room contained some more master sculptural works. Two choirs that were in the interior of the cathedral: one by Donatello.

You can see the clear influence of Classical architecture and humanist philosophy in this work. And I particularly loved the details of the work opposite, which featured scenes of children playing music.

They were quite sweet!

In the final room we visited was Donatello's Mary Magdalene, one of the most famous and moving Renaissance works. Here Mary Magdalene is shown in her old age, after she has wandered in the desert and is wearing old worn and torn rags. She is a very sympathetic figure that was meant to evoke compassion. This is another work that I've seen in textbooks and now understand the power of.

Some of the members of my group. Here you can see that she larger than life size. The rest of this room was filled with reliquaries. These gold and bejeweled cases for dried up body parts invariably creep me out!

This little relief sculpture was in a room full of similar ones, each of which represented a certain trade. I liked this one because it was meant to represent the sculptors and as Marco said, "Thees one is the sculptor. He looks like he is killing the baby, but he is not killing the baby!" 

Leaving the museum we saw a mock up of the contraption Brunelleschi designed to build the dome.

 and his death mask.

After leaving the Opera we continued on to the Duomo where we were gathered to stand in line and await entering (thankfully in the shade). I took this time to run and get some caffeine. My professor asked me if it was any good, and I said "you have NO idea," she assured me that she did! Cappuccino is officially my lifesaving elixir.

The line was surprisingly fast despite seeming to be giant. This is a picture from later in the day, so you can see how crazy the crowds get. But then again, as I said, the interior of Santa Maria del Fiore isn't as exciting as one might think.

Pictures are discouraged but I was a sneaky-sneak. Here is one of the Nave. As you can tell it is GIANT and despite all of the space it feels very heavy and oppressive.

Not original (as Marco says Brunelleschi would have hated it!) the interior of the dome is ornately painted with biblical scenes. According to Marco this = the architect rolling in his grave.

Beneath the cathedral is the gift shop and the crypt. It's unfortunate that there was a separate entrance fee and that we were so short on time.

In touring the crypt we would have gotten to see the excavations of the ruins of Santa Reparata the church that the cathedral was built on top of.

After leaving Santa Maria del Fiore we had a little break. I went to hunt for my Grom gelato place, but those dang Medieval streets got me lost again, so I headed back. I have to say that of the places we toured that day, the baptistery was easily my favorite.
There are several things that make it interesting. 

1. It was built over the top of a Roman temple complex, like the cathedral and as you see in one of the pictures below, the roman sacrophagi that the Florentines uncovered is actually incorporated into baptistery walls.

2. It is one of the oldest churches in Florence, certainly significantly older than the cathedral.
3. Its octagonal shape and green and white marble facade, which is one of the oldest in Florence, shows Islamic architectural and decorative influence in the shape and stripes. 

4. This, maybe more than the cathedral in some ways, was a cultural center. The "sin wash" as Marco had said, where illustrious figures like Dante, the Medici and other famous artists and historical figures were baptized.

5. And speaking of the Medici... we were told that originally there was a beautiful fountain in the center of the Baptistery interior, but one of the Medici family members was getting married and so they said, we need this fountain to be gone and moved it out of the Baptistery permanently. One of the many stories of their sticky fingers in religious places and tyrannical decisions.

Here is some detail of the walls of the baptistery. This building and Santa Maria del Fiore are the only two that I saw which were covered by inlaid marble on all sides, rather than just the facade. The stripe motif of the columns is Islamic in origin.


And now for the glitz and glamor. One of the most stunning features of the interior is the incredible mosaic on the ceiling, which features stories of Christ's life, the life of Saint John the Baptist (to whom the baptistery is dedicated) and other new and old testament stories. Marco showed us how to read the images, which interestingly enough is often bottom to top and right to left.

Christ at the center.

Detail of angels and the saved at Christ's feet (to his right). The tombs of the saved are being opened up.

Detail of the damned at Christ's feet (to his left). One of the things that I learned in this workshop is to pay attention to where figures are placed and how they are positioned. Often "the righteous" are to Christ's right.

Angels that surround the central point of the dome. It is not surprising that along with Islamic influence the baptistery was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. The small window of the dome, which is a source of light, resembles the oculus of the Pantheon. In terms of symbolism it a representation of heaven shining directly into the interior of the church and therefore on the worshipers within.

As in Pisa there is a gallery on the second floor of the Baptistery but this one is unavailable to tourists.

Detail of the gallery. In the shadow you can see the mosaics in between the columns, the mosaics lining the walls and the marble inlay with geometric patterns, some of which repeat within the baptistery and also show up on the exterior of the Duomo.

Detail of the interior walls and decorative arches.

As in all of the religious spaces we've visited you have tombs within.

Here is an example of the incorporation of ancient Roman religious artifacts within Christian spaces. This is one of several Roman sarcophagi that are within the interior or actually a part of the exterior walls of the Baptistery.


And now on to the food!!!!

After the tour I was starved for lunch and went to hunt for a place that people had been raving about. In the student district near our hostel and the train station are tons of cheaper cafes and ethnic places to eat. I had been looking for a good place for Gyros and some people on the trip had found a good one. Only in Italy it isn't called Gyros. It is called "kebab" or in some case "kebap" which we all found funny. 

I walked and walked until I saw some of the members of our group and got my very first kebap. It was only 4 Euro and DELICIOUS!

Having been on a burrito bender before leaving for Italy, eating something with meat that was wrapped in a flour tortilla-like bread was awesome-blossom! I got mine with half chicken and half lamb.

Finally some protein!

After going to lecture and meeting up at the dorm that night, a bunch of us went to the place that Laura and I had been recommending left and right. Tira... Baralla (an old Florentine expression that means "it's all good/don't worry be happy-ish") a.k.a. the truffle ravioli place which I had finally found again the other night.

Here we all are! And here is some of what we ordered!


The famous Truffle Ravioli! (The majority of us ordered that)

My Gnocchi Quatro Fromaggi! Mmmm!

And the cheese cake dessert that I had seen another woman order and decided we must have!

It was a wonderful day and a fantabulous meal.  I have clear evidence that of this, as EVERY plate on the table looked like this! :)

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