Florence has my heart forever. I fell in love with the city as we strolled down the streets, our horizon punctuated by il duomo in the cityscape. When you picture Italy, an image of Florence appears in my mind. The colorful streets, with live music and shopping everywhere. The most beautiful thing about Florence, like all of Italy, is the rich history. As an American, it’s easy to forget how old the rest of the world is.
Our first stop in Florence was the Uffizi–Italian for offices, more specifically the offices of the Medici. The Medici family were a wealthy and powerful banking family in Italy that rose power in the 13th century. The Medicis were large supporters of the arts that would turn Florence into the center of the Renaissance. Many of those pieces of art have remained in the beautiful city. What used to be offices of the Medici are now filled with famous, priceless masterpieces. There are rooms upon rooms dedicated to the same religious scene or filled with dozens of works of art from the same artist. The hallways of the Uffizi are lined with Medici portraits and many, many marble white statues, as if there was not enough room in the building that they had to place art in the hallway. It seems that you can’t ever escape art in Italy. My favorite Italian Renaissance artist is Michelangelo Buonarroti, a man, who lived a life of contradictories: a Florentine in Rome, a sculptor forced to paint, supported by the Medici, whom he hated, a proud artist that only ever signed his work out of spite. It is all these contradictories that shaped Michelangelo and made him into the artist and man that we remember today.
His only painting in the Uffizi is Doni Tondo, his rendition of a famous image of the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and the Child Jesus. It is one of few paintings done by Michelangelo including his frescos in the Sistine Chapel. The Doni Tondo is gorgeous, but completely different than other images of the Holy Family. Mary is holding Jesus over her right shoulder, and her robes are not completely blue, as her tunic is a light pink color. Joseph wears a dark navy-gray with golden yellow. There are also folds of a deep green across Mary’s lap as she reaches for Christ. In the background, there are nudes that indicate Michelangelo’s sharp eye for musculature and figure. His colors and lines are crisp and cut through the image. A turn around the room doesn’t yield anything else quite like the circular masterpiece. I see Michelangelo and this Doni Tondo as a representation of Italy and what it has to offer. The gorgeous color offer life and vividness; the same things that I feel as I walk down an Italian corso. And the combination between the old and the new is refreshing. The different rendition of the Holy Family honors the religious nature of historical Italy and brings new artistic vision into the Renaissance by the contorted forms of the Family and the nudes in the landscape. The painting reminds me of Italy in that looks hyperrealistic and striking, yet feels like it could not be real. I cannot imagine anyone sitting down and painting Doni Tondo or carving the frame for the painting either. And I cannot imagine walking down the streets of Florence not in complete awe of il Duomo.
Doni Tondo was a commissioned piece by a wealthy Agnolo Doni, as a gift for his wife. He had heard of Michelangelo and knew him to be a very talented artist and commissioned a tondo–a circular piece of art traditionally for the bedroom of a woman–of the Holy Family for his wife. When Doni went to pick up the Doni Tondo, however, he looked at it and could not appreciated the strange style that Michelangelo had painted in or the fact that the garden behind the family was filled with nudes. He refused to pay for the painting, but his wife was outraged that her husband had scorned a Michelangelo. She sent him back insisting that they had to have it. Michelangelo would then charge them double for the painting. The story behind the painting amuses me the same way that couples can never pick out colors for house paint–the same lack of communication between a husband and wife is timeless. The story adds another layer to the already interesting painting, and as I learn more about Italy and Italian culture, I feel almost overwhelmed. There is so much beauty in this country, and I almost feel as though a lifetime here could never reveal everything Italia has to offer.