This morning I received a recommendation for a wonderful, authentic Italian bakery from our friendly doorman. It was about 2 miles roundtrip, a wonderful early morning walk, from our apartment – to get there I crossed the bridge, the Ponte alle Grazie, right in front of our apartment, over the Arno, and headed up the street, the Lungarno Serristori, running alongside the Arno, toward a small square and the promised bakery.
On the way, I watched some kayakers and fishermen on the river and observed some interesting rapids – the Pescaia di San Niccolò, and saw a beautiful riverside garden, the Terzo Giardino.
I also passed in front of the medieval city gate along the Arno – part of the old, long-missing city walls. The gate is known as the San Niccolò Tower in the Piazza Poggi. “The gate, which was located separately from the city walls, was built in 1324 as a defense tower for the Oltrarno area of the city. The tower is one of the most important elements for a rich understanding of the city’s history, given its place among the city walls built in between the 13th and 14th centuries.
It is the only tower in Florence that was never “decapitated”, shortened with respect to its original dimensions, and retains a fascinating walkway that was recently secured so that residents and tourists can access it. Once visitors make it up the 160 steps they are treated to a 360 degree view of Florence with truly one-of-a-kind vistas.” from the San Niccolò Tower website.
The wonderful bakery – Produzione Propria Pasticceria, located on the Piazza Francesco Ferrucci, was teeming with customers – and for good reason, the truly scrumptious baked delicacies were beyond-compare! I bought a big assortment, including a delicious almond paste pastry, a pistachio pastry, an incredible (and highly recommended by the doorman!) apricot pastry, meringue cookies and some wonderful-looking chocolate Easter bunny suckers. We feasted on the baked delicacies and some strong homemade Italian coffee for a while, back at our apartment.
After breakfast, we walked through the narrow old-town streets of Florence toward the center of town, the Piazza della Signoria, literally, the town square – in front of the massive, Romanesque, crenellated fortress-palace, the Palazzo Vecchio. We soon spotted the 94-m-tall Palazzo Vecchio, looming high, with its tower, above the lower 5 and 6-story buildings that make up old-town Florence.
The Piazza della Signoria contains many important civic sculptures, including “Michelangelo’s David (which) also stood at the entrance from its completion in 1504 to 1873, when it was moved to the Accademia Gallery. A replica erected in 1910 now stands in its place, flanked by Baccio Bandinelli‘s Hercules and Cacus,” from the Palazzo Vecchio website.
After getting our bearings during our walk around the exterior of the Duomo, we entered the impressive Great Museum of the Dome – here we encountered massive original architectural models of the great dome, constructed by Fillippo Brunelleschi’s workshop, under the guidance of the “master architect” himself.
There were also very interesting modern architectural models of the great dome, both of which were suspended from the ceilings by cables, so one could get a better look at the structure from underneath.
“Who ever so hard or so envious would not praise Pippo architect seeing here such a large structure, steep above and ‘skies, to cover with all its shadow all Tuscan peoples, made without any help of trusses or copying of timber, what artifice Certainly, if I am very playful, as in these times it was incredible to be able to, so perhaps the ancients were not known or known?” (Leon Battista Alberti, De Pictura, Prologue), from the Duomo website.
Inside the museum were other works of art, contemporaneous to the Duomo, including a sculpture which touched me, a bedraggled-looking Mary Magdalene. It turns out that some of the famous works of art found around Florence can be seen “live” on the city streets – an entertaining phenomenon which we also witnessed in the streets of Rome.
Later that day, passing through the courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery, I saw the same likeness of Mary Magdalene, posing for photographs from passers-by, perched atop her pedestal. Another time I saw a living “sculpture” of Cupid, complete with his wings and arrows. I even paused for a fun moment to have my photo taken with him. He was smooching at passers-by, trying to attract their attention!
After visiting the Great Museum of the Dome, we had lunch at a sidewalk cafè, looking out over the huge plaza surrounding the looming Duomo. From here we split up, so I could make my date with my guide, mariogesu to see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery, and Mandy could go to the Medici’s Palazzo Pitti, across the Arno, where she would find paintings by her beloved Italian master, Caravaggio, among many others.
Upon arriving at the Accademia Gallery, getting my ticket secured with mariogesu, my guide for this great adventure, and going inside to meet the other tour members, we were led by Mario to the great hallway leading up to the rotunda where the collosal 17-foot-high David (1504) statue is located. This great hallway is home to some other, rather extraordinary, Michelangelo statues – “the works, known collectively as The Captives, each show the figure struggling to free itself, as if from the bonds of the rock in which it is lodged. The works give a unique insight into the sculptural methods that Michelangelo employed and his way of revealing what he perceived within the rock,” from Michelangelo on Wikipedia.
Our excellent, academic, art-historian tour guide, mariogesu, demonstrated with his own body and gestures the feeling that Michelangelo was attempting to portray in the Bound slave statue, carved from a solid block of marble, thusly: Mario writhed and squirmed as he deformed his own body, demonstrating how the lodged figure of Atlas must feel, bound as he is in the block of stone – a very effective demonstration indeed. Once again, the great mariogesu made the work of the master, Michelangelo, “come alive” for those of us lucky enough to be part of his small tour group at the Accademia Galleria that day!
Mario said that many people tend to think that these works of sculpture are unfinished, but they are exactly as the master, Michelangelo, intended – seen struggling to break free from the great block of stone in which they are encased. One can almost hear the imprisoned groaning to break free! There were several other works representing The Captives – we stopped by each one and spoke at length about it – with Mario following his very effective question and answer format. The questions Mario asked our small group were all direct, intelligent, quizzicle, and probing – and he expected us to respond intelligently with well-considered answers!
Finally, after viewing The Captives for around 20 minutes we moved on to see Michelangelo’s 17-foot-high statue of David, weighing more than 12,000 pounds, yet it is sculpted from a single block of white Carrara marble. Michelangelo worked on the monumental masterpiece from the year 1501 until it was finally unveiled in 1504, after being hidden under utmost secrecy in Michelangelo’s workshop for the duration of its creation. David “is a masterpiece of Renaissance and world art. Depicting the Hebrew prophet-prodigy-king David as a muscular Greek athlete, the Christian humanist ideal can be seen in the statue’s grand features, posture, and attitude; this ideal can also be seen in other great works of art from early modern Italy.” (from the Renaissance on Wikipedia)
It is said that moving the statue from Michelangelo’s studio to the Palazzo Vecchio took forty men and four days, even though the distance was less than a mile, to its initial installation point in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria.
Of Michelangelo’s David, it is said, “traditionally, David was portrayed after his victory, triumphant over Goliath. But Michelangelo breaks away from the traditional way of representing David. He does not present us with the winner, the giant’s head at his feet and the powerful sword in his hand, but portrays the youth in the phase immediately preceding the battle: perhaps he has caught him just in the moment when he has heard that his people are hesitating, and he sees Goliath jeering and mocking them.” from David on Wikipedia. David‘s eyes are supposedly focused on his rival, Goliath, but more figuratively, on Rome, the Republic of Florence’s political and cultural rival.
This David, (1504) a high Renaissance masterpiece, is more intellectual than other David‘s, especially, in my mind, Bernini’s David. Bernini’s David is taut, about to let loose the sling – all muscles tensed and ready David caught in the moment of action. Watch this short, but excellent YouTube video describing Bernini’s David (1623-24) , a Baroque masterpiece housed in Rome’s Galleria Borghese.
Michelangelo’s David is intellectualized – David seems to be contemplating his coming action, rather than poising himself to take it, as in the muscularly taut Bernini’s David. This David harks back to Greek and Roman art, celebrating the beauty of God’s ultimate creation – the human body. This is a decidedly high Renaissance stance – that of idealizing the human form, of objectifying it, of making it godlike.
Mario asked us why we thought Michelangelo placed the short branch against David‘s right leg – did we think it was simply aesthetic or was there some greater purpose? Turns out it was mathematical – the extra mass of stone contained in the short branch was necessary to hold the monumental statue aloft!
After parting ways with mariogesu and my small tour group after an intellectually and artistically-stimulating hour and a half, I headed for Florence’s Apple Store, in order to replace my iPhone 6, which was malfunctioning, with a new iPhone 10. The staff at the Apple Store, as is customary in my experience, but especially so in European cities, were extremely knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. The store manager even agreed to authorize giving me 130 Euros for my old iPhone. Sweet!
On the way from the Apple Store to my next stop, I passed the world-famous chocolate and gelato shop, Venchi, just off the Piazza della Signoria. I didn’t go inside, for it was extremely crowded with long lines, but I did peer longingly through the windows. The store was packed to the rafters with every kind of chocolate imaginable, there was even an enormous chocolate “waterfall” to make any Umpa-Lumpa proud, along the entire length of the wall behind the sales counter.
My shopping streak was to continue – on my way to the central post office, I passed a leather goods store, Diva Leather-Firenze, just off the central Piazza della Signoria. Florence is world-renowned for the quality of its leather work. There is even a leather-working guild that sells items directly to the public in Florence’s Piazza di Santa Croce – where I bought a finely-worked Florentine leather belt on another day. My goal was to replace a pair of fine Italian leather ankle-high black leather boots I had previously misplaced at our house in Austin, Texas.
There was a nice couple from California who were also shopping in Diva Leather for a pair of shoes for him. He was an L.A. doctor who was moving his family to Cape Town, South Africa. The good doctor said the boots I liked most were too “biker,” that perhaps I wanted something more refined. I ended up selecting a pair that were almost exactly like the pair that I had misplaced at home. They were a very sweet family with an adorable toddler daughter who was making her parents laugh a lot. At this point, I was still feeling exceptionally outgoing, falling into natural conversation very easily – so I was still slightly hypomanic – this explains my shopping spree! Leaving Diva Leather I headed for the central Post Office, where I saw some fantastic sidewalk art by some young Florentine artists hard at work:
After visiting the post office to mail some things home just before they closed for the day, I met back up with Mandy and we headed directly for our new favorite Florentine restaurant – the vegetarian hotspot, Brać. Unfortunately we had made no reservation on a busy night, but happily they were able to squeeze us in at a little corner table. We settled in for another delightful vegetarian adventure!