Saved the best for the last! But first:
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, a mediaeval palazzo, first built to house an administrator called the Capitano del Popolo, later it housed the police chief called the bargello, and used as a prison with executions in the courtyard. The Bargello became a museum in 1865. It houses many of Florence’s historically significant sculptures.
It contains works by Donatello: St George, David below. The David reflects classic sculpture and was the first male nude created for public display in over 1000 years.
Michelangelo: Bacchus, a very early work:
Cellini’s bust of Cosimo de Medici, Duke and then Grand Duke of Tuscany. He was a tyrant, which Cellini’s portrait seems to reflect. Apparently Cosimo didn’t like this piece:
Church of Santa Maria del Carmine The building is mostly baroque restoration late 18th century. Inside it has important early Renaissance works in the Brancacci Chapel: Masaccio/Masolino: life of St. Peter (1425 and 1427). The upper register:
Above, The Tribute Money by Masaccio
Adam and Eve in the Earthly Paradise
The frescoes became famous and mark the start of the Renaissance, not just because of linear perspectives but also the naturalistic portrayal of the human body seen nude for the first time in the Renaissance.
Piazzale degli Uffizi, designed by Vasari for offices of Florentine magistrates and guild officials (1560-1581), thus the name which means “offices”. The top floor housed families and guests as well as a Roman sculpture collection, increasingly, even while used by the Medici family, more space became dedicated for the display of their art collections. The last Medici heiress dedicated the building and art collection to the city of Florence in the 16th century, making it one of the first modern museums.
Giotto: Ognissanti Madonna—Giotto broke with the schematic Byzantine style and its archaisms. For the first time in the history of western painting, both the Madonna and the Child appear to be inserted in a real, well-defined space (not floating off in space). Mary is sitting on a throne that seems to have been designed with perspective in mind, conveying the idea of a real environment. The folds of the garments outline the volume of the bodies. The figures are more plausible, more human; they are no longer flat as if they were puppets on a flat surface. Giotto’s style is an innovation in painting. Although some elements still recall traditional methods, such as the golden background or the hierarchy of the figures (the Madonna and the Child are large, the angels are smaller in comparison), the new value given to the human figure and its relationship with space make this work a very important example of the new course of 14th century painting. Although Giotto’s perspective is still intuitive and not scientific like the one that will be developed in the 15th century, the figurative revolution that takes place during the next 100 years, and known as the Renaissance, is in large part due to him.
Paolo Uccello: The Battle of San Romano – part of a triptych (other panels are in the Louvre and National Gallery in London). Its importance is to the development of linear perspective.
Domenico Veneziano: Virgin and Child (1445) abandons the previous convention of a gold background for an altarpiece. Veneziano carries perspective to new heights by placing the saints harmoniously in a semi-circle, and enhances the effect of depth by the geometric patterns of the inlaid marble. His main innovation is realistic light and shade, fine nuances and delicate shades of colour were far ahead of the solid areas of strong colour used by his Florentine contemporaries.
Piero della Francesca: Diptych of Duke Federico da Montefeltro and Duchess Battista Sforza of Urbino (ca 1465) rare early Renaissance landscape; profile reminiscent of classical portrait medallions.
Hugo van der Goes: Portinari Triptych—15th century Flemish, this brought Northern innovations in painting through his monumental style, use of a specific colour range and individualistic manner of portraiture. It played a role in the development of realism.
Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus–this reflects the intense interest in Classical literature and philosophy. Botticelli combines Classical and Christian thought in terms of Renaissance ideas as a rebirth of the spirit from Classical mythology and Christian theology. He paints a female nude modeled on a Classical statue of the love goddess Venus, and implies a Christian baptism (as Christ is baptized in the Jordan). The Venus can also be read as an ode to the Medici: the beginning of the reign of love finally comes to Florence thanks to the Medici, their diplomatic skills and their vast culture.
For a long while Botticelli fell out of fashion but now his paintings are the most popular at the Uffizi.
Michelangelo: The Holy Family (Doni Tondo) (1504-05)-only surviving panel painting by mature Michelangelo. During the Renaissance, the “tondo” was a typical work for private clients. It was commissioned by the wealthy banker Agnolo Doni, probably at the time of his marriage to Maddalena, member of the very important Strozzi family (their portraits by Raphael are on the left). The figures of Mary, Joseph and Jesus are grouped in a single volume in which the rotation of the Madonna gives the composition a spiral movement that will later be used by many artists. In the background a group of young nudes brings to mind a classic theme, symbolizing the pagan humanity still ignorant of Christian doctrine; the carved wooden frame, designed by Michelangelo. The Doni Tondo laid the foundations of the so-called Mannerist style of painting that preferred bizarre, unnatural poses and iridescent colors to the composed painting of the XV century.
Leonardo da Vinci: The Annunciation, Adoration of the Magi, in the Annunciation Leonardo brings nature into his work in a way that made mystical religious themes more believable in a world that was rapidly becoming aware of science. In this early work, he shows the angel’s wings as realistic bird wings covered in feathers.
The restored Adoration, because of its unfinished state, shows Leonardo’s methods.
Raphael: Madonna of the Goldfinch (1506) the Madonna, an early work, reflects the influence of Leonardo: the pyramidal composition, the gentle effects of the soft light and the emotional dialog between the characters; it also shows what would be recognized as Raphael’s personal style: the extreme sweetness of the faces, particularly, the Madonnas’, the masterful use of colours, the realistic reproduction of the landscape and the profound intimacy between the figures.
Titian: Venus of Urbino (1538)–This shows 16th century Venetian painting methods, particularly, the application and use of colour. It exercised profound influence in the Italian Renaissance and future generations.
It’s believed the Venus was a gift from the Duke of Urbino to his young wife. It represents the allegory of marriage and was a “teaching” model to the young wife of eroticism, fidelity and motherhood. Titian makes interesting use of red to draw the eye to the diagonals.
Parmigianino: Madonna with the Long Neck-Mannerist with refined sensuality
Caravaggio: Bacchus (1596-97), Sacrifice of Isaac (1602-3), Medusa (1597)–Bacchus shows Caravaggio’s realism and preference for humble and popular subjects. Bacchus is not represented in an idealized way but looks like a character Caravaggio used to hang around with in taverns and brothels. The landscape is missing: the artist wants to focus on the humanity of the character rather than superfluous details. It shows skillful use of the oil technique: the effect of incredible realism in painting the fruit basket and the complexion of the young man as well as the transparency of the glass created a new approach to art.
A recent restoration has revealed the outline of a man’s face in the jug of wine in the foreground that is believed to be the self-portrait of the artist.
The Medusa painting on a shield was a gift to Fernando de Medici. Medusa was linked to the Medici family as a symbol of knowledge and prudence. Medusa was a gorgon with a mane of serpents for hair, so repulsive that whoever looked at her turned to stone. The knowledge and prudence part comes in with Perseus, the Greek hero, who was given a shiny shield by the goddess Athena; he used it to avoid looking at Medusa, she saw herself and before turning to stone, Perseus decapitated her. He then used her head as a weapon.
Caravaggio paints the moment of self-recognition when she sees her head no longer on her body.
The painting is an example of Caravaggio’s focus on physiognomic, or facial expression in his paintings. It shows an intense level of realism, dark and light contrasts effectively combined with the convex curvature of the wood shield upon which it is painted, the head looks three-dimensional. Many suggest the head is a self-portrait.
Caravaggio isn’t exactly a Renaissance artist, at best, late Renaissance as the Bacchus and Medusa reflects the interest in Classics. The more mature work of Abraham sacrificing Isaac is more indicative of Counter Reformation ideals of instruction through the use of heightened emotions.
The painting illustrates the passage of the Old Testament in which God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Caravaggio depicts the crucial moment of the dramatic story, when Abraham, at the very moment in which he is about to sacrifice Isaac, is blocked by an angel who tells him to sacrifice a ram instead.
The work also has a symbolic interpretation according to which the building on the hill is a church with baptistery, a reference to the future birth of the Catholic church, while the light diffused over the backdrop, symbolises the light of divine grace. The sacrifice of young Isaac serves, therefore, to foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ.
Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith and Holofernes Daughter of Caravaggio’s follower, Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia moved to Florence to escape the scandal in Rome after the lawsuit for rape she brought against the landscape painter Agostino Tassi. She was thrown into prison and although Tassi was found guilty, he never spent a day in jail.
Her story is often taken as a symbol of the violence women have had to endure for centuries, and tends to overshadow her achievements as an artist. She was the first female painter to become a member of the Accademia di Arti del Disegno in Florence.
Some suggest she transferred her experience to canvas. Her paintings often have strong, suffering women from myth and the Bible – victims, suicides, warriors. She particularly seems to have liked the biblical heroine Judith, a traditional example of virtue and chastity, who decapitate her despised Assyrian enemy whom she has tricked by seduction while keeping her purity safe.
Rembrandt: Self-portrait as a Young Man, Self-portrait as an Old Man, Portrait of an Old Man
Rembrandt also isn’t Renaissance but a group of art lovers can’t bypass the room of his works. These show the influence of Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro but I just love the economy of mature Rembrandt’s brush work.
My independent visit to Palazzo Pitti will form a separate post.