Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Palazzos of Florence Tour

6/27 Tour of Family Palaces

Today was our last tour with Marco and many of us are quite sad! He is an amazingly charismatic, knowledgeable and witty tour guide and having him as one of our professors has really made this experience special.

On my way to the meeting place at the Piazza della Repubblica, I actually spotted Marco waiting along the Via Cavour. I said, "Hello" and he said "Caio."

I was running late and asked if we were meeting here at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi (maybe I got the meeting place wrong) and he said "no, no, I am waiting for some tickets, here (in Florence not all the travel agent stores open on time) so go and tell them I am here." ;P

So I walked on until I found the group waiting at the Piazza della Repubblica and as a group we walked to meet Marco.

Our tour began at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which I have walked by frequently.  It was built along what was once the Via Largo, now Via Cavour - one of the main thoroughfares that leads from our hostel to the Duomo. It is a street I love particularly well, because it is lined with beautiful shops, it leads to the Piazza della Signoria where the Uffizzi and the Palazzo Vecchio stand, and finally ends at the Arno's shore (my favorite!).

Having made tremendous amounts of money through wool and money lending, the Medici wanted a house in the center of Florence that would represent their family and its power, influence and importance. The plot of land placed the family a stone's throw from San Lorenzo (their parish church) and a few minutes from the Baptistry and Duomo, and the Piazza della Signoria with the  (Florence's secular seat of power).

The Palazzo was built by Cosimo il Vecchio (the Elder) who originally commissioned a design by Brunelleschi, Marco's favorite architect, but in the end chose the design of another of Florence's leading architects: Michelozzo. The choice was very much in accordance with religious traditions during this period; Cosimo il Vecchio did not want the design of his house to represent a flaunting of his great wealth.

Significant, for its architectural program, the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi is recognized as one of the earliest Renaissance buildings in the city!!!

The Medici Mansion was eventually bought by the Riccardi family in the 17th century (hence its name the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi), but at the time that Cosimo il Vecchio and Lorenzo il Magnifico held court here, some of Italy's greatest artists and writers met and some of Florence's greatest backdoor political dealings took place.

It was once the house in which Michelangelo Buonarroti lived while under the protective wing of his earliest patron Lorenzo the Magnificent. It was where the humanists gathered for discussions about philosophy and where Florentine artists found patronage and inspiration. Sigh*

Today little of the original features of the building remain within its walls. But the interior of this courtyard has beautiful and elegant masonry and design, with roundels that show the Medici crests. The decorative technique of the roundels uses two difference kinds of stucco color, a dark and a light, in which the artist (the name of whom escapes me) etched the Classically inspired design. The effect is permanent and very striking. It is also quite amazing in that it has remained in tact for so many, many moons.

You can see in the capitals and the columns that there is a new architecture developing during the early Renaissance that stemmed directly out of a renewed interest into the Classical tradition. This square courtyard and its elegant geometry and symmetry speak to a rebirth of Roman architecture during the Renaissance. Behind the giant poster images (which are a modern art instillation that Marco considered quite ugly! ha!) you can see family crests. The spot that I was standing in to shoot this photograph is very close to the center of the courtyard where Donatello's David originally stood!!!

One of the ooh-la-la features of the modern courtyard is a statue of Orpheus by Baccio Bandinelli (ca. 1519)

Carmel- a shot just for you! :P

The Medici Crest

Currently the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi houses some government offices and a small museum, very little of which reflects what the building would have looked like when it was owned by the Medici during the Renaissance. However, on the second floor there is a small chapel named Capella dei Magi where the walls are lined with original and gorgeous Renaissance frescoes that feature members of the Medici family in a procession with the Magi.

Here is one corner of it that I was able to sneak a photo of while the guards were turned away. They are understandably VERY strict in this chapel. One of the wonders of the artist's work is that the design continues around the room as if it were a scroll folded in places along the wall, so that the image continues as one whole narrative with only the interruption of a column or door. It is different then other thematic depictions that I have seen on the walls of a single room. Here a horse can be cut in half!

I found the space to be intimate and charming. I could understand why it has remained in tact for all of these years-despite the building's ownership passing to another family. Being present to it causes awe and also a bit of chuckle at the sheer audacity of the Medici. Not only did they take what they liked from sacred spaces in the city, but they also erected sacred spaces in their own homes to honor themselves!

Because, I couldn't sneak any spanning pictures of the walls here is one I've borrowed from Wikipedia:

One other Renaissance work currently on display in the museum is a painting by Fra Filippo Lippi:

Fra Filippo Lippi- drawing on the opposite side of ...

Fra Filippo Lippi's Madonna and Child circa 1460

Lippi's paintings are among my favorite from this period. In the Uffizzi there is a stunning Madonna and Child. The Madonna's face is so delicate and her face so expressive that it pulls at one's heartstrings. 

The rest of the museum features later Florentine works. Here are some images of the Baroque ceilings and decorations that I was free to photograph!

Ceiling detail

The Tapestry Room

The Tapestry Room

Ceiling Detail

Ceiling Detail

Pretty Chandelier

One of the glories of this Palazzo Medici-Riccardi- the Luca Giordano Hall (he painted the ceilings)

Detail of the ceiling fresco

Outside we were given a brief lecture on why this building is considered to be the first Renaissance palazzo. Classical influence shows up in the layers of the building. The successive layers of double arched windows and cornices along the roof were particularly significant as was the size of the stones in the lower and upper half of the building. The use of the round arch as opposed to the Gothic pointed arch is notably distinct and important. The other significant consideration is that this type of structure is moving away from the traditional medieval tower structure used by families as the preferred model for constructing a home prior to the Renaissance. Originally the building would have been square.

After discussing the finer points of the palazzo's exterior our tour moved on to the Palazzo Davanzati.

Massive door to the palazzo.

This Palazzo has an interesting story. First, it is a pre-Renaissance home and inside the visitor is able to see what a late medieval Florentine home would have looked like. It was built in the transitional period of architecture between the truly medieval and the new Renaissance style. The form that it takes is that of a tower, with smaller windows and a loggia on its roof.

Inside we saw a plaque commemorating one of the palazzo's owners in the 20th century, who decided to purchase the palazzo and restore it to its original state, including furnishing it with original pieces to show how it would have looked during "the glorious and beautiful age of the Republic."

Here is a view up to the ceiling from the courtyard of the palazzo. You can clearly see the building's tower structure. On each successive floor rooms surround the courtyard on all sides and the halls of stairs around the courtyard convey the visitor upward offering views of the roof and courtyard below. Understandably, there is very little natural light and it does have that dark and dingy medieval feel that movies and books describe. It is also beautifully painted within.

Traditional wooden ceiling

Some of the amazing medieval frescoes.

Sneaky-sneak. I stole some shots of the hidden away water closet (aka bathroom). Even in such practical spaces, one is surrounded by frescoes.

Detail of a frescoed corner of a wall. You see here one of the lovely conventions in Florentine fresco painting- the mimicking of tapestries showing a curtain being pulled back to reveal the interior of a space.

Frescoed room within the palazzo with a fireplace. You can see how the frescoes continue around the room. Gorgeous!

After visiting the Palazzo Davanzati we came to the Palazzo Strozzi- which currently houses a special exhibitc called Picasso, Miró, Dalí. Angry Young Men: The Birth of Modernity. I particularly want to see this while I'm in Florence, just as I can't wait to see the Picasso exhibit at the De Young this summer!!!!

Marco showing us the interior courtyard

Original plan for the Strozzi

Marco showing us a model of the Palazzo Strozzi in a room on the ground floor that features an exhibit on the walls that shows the genealogy of the Strozzi families all the way to its modern descendants.

Walking the Streets to the Piazza Rucellai

Our final stop before we broke for lunch was the Piazza de Rucellai.

Marco talked to us about the Rucellai family residence which currently houses one of the city's prominent study abroad institutes.

We did not get to go inside the Palazzo Rucellai, but we did end our last lecture here and were free to go find food. I didn't mention this quite yet, but this was easily one of the hottest days in Florence thus far. Sweltering! Regardless, I wanted the water and some good pizza, so I hiked across the nearby Arno to my favorite place. Sadly they were closed. But I did see and try some new places!

An Antique shop with crazy chandeliers:

There are a number of shops on this side of the Arno specializing in high end home decor. Peeking inside this shop, the chandeliers looked to be made of blown glass and reminded me of Mardi Gras.

Walking to Santa Croce- our second meeting place for the day- I stopped at another place that sold pizzas and sandwiches. As per my rule, long lines of Italians probably means good food I had my first flat bread. 

This pizza bread deliciousness was made with potatoes, olive oil, a bit of cheese and rosemary. I can still taste the salty, starchy awesomeness! This meal was happily accompanied by cold and cheap sparkling water from my favorite grocery store. It just so happened that the grocery store was just next door.

Just before going to Santa Croce I bought some Peach Gelato- an amazing way to combat the intense heat!

We gathered as a group, on the steps of the cathedral (preferably the shady ones) and headed to a smaller museum dedicated to the work of Michelangelo. Along the way our guide, Refugio, showed us some unique features of Florentine city culture. On some houses in Florence, you can see a small window niche on one of the exterior walls near to the ground. According to Refugio's great knowledge about the city's cultural history, these doors were made so that people could sell wine out of their houses: by the bottle or by the glass!
Prohibition-esque Street Bars in the Renaissance! So cool!

Street Art: I particularly like the flying forks :-)

The area closer to our campus has some amazing street art! Here are a few other examples to show you!

There's a creepy doll in True Blood that these remind me of!

A sea of scooters and of course another of my favorite mini trucks. How cute is that. Aww!

Via Ghibellina - one of the main streets in this quarter of the city! Lined with yummy food!

We finally got to the Michelangelo museum and sadly, this is the only picture that I took within. The museum was horribly stuffy and without intending to I fell asleep sitting in a chair. Our lecture guide was an hour late and the majority of us had a hard time paying attention. I do remember this piece however. It was one of Michelangelo's earliest relief sculptures called the Madonna of the Stairs. I don't know that this photograph shows it, but what is amazing about this very early work is that it already showcases the sculptor's genius. With very little depth, he is nonetheless able of capture a three dimensional likeness. It isn't visible in this photograph, but if you look at the image straight on it's difficult to fathom that the carving is actually accomplished in such shallow relief. Here is another borrowed image from Wikipedia to show you:

From the Casa Buonarroti Museum we left the Madonna, the artists studies, sculptures and drawings for the CSU Summer Arts lecture hall and cooler surroundings!

Street art along the way!

An angel from the street artist that I love!!!