AngiePen (angiepen) wrote,

Florence 4.0

OK, I really should have pictures with this one but I haven't gotten around to uploading the ones we took yesterday so we'll have to settle for babbling and more pics later. I'll probably keep doing the two parallel tracks, illustrated and non, just because I started posting pics late. Sowwy. Next time I travel I'll do it all together, now that I know how.

Anyway, yesterday we went to Palazzo Pitti. It's this huge stone building originally built by the Pitti family but later taken over by the Medici 'cause it's just that cool. It's on the far side of the Arno and they decided they wanted a way of getting from the Uffizi (where they'd hung out before) directly to the Pitti, without, like, having to get wet if it was raining or having the commoners staring at them or whatever. :P So they build the Vasari Walk, which is this elevated corridor, completely enclosed, from one palazzo to the other. You can see it go by as you walk along the route, between buildings and across the Ponte Vecchio, and I have some pics of it in various places. It's funny, though -- over by the bridge this one family refused to sell their towers so they couldn't build the walk straight through and it takes this jog around, like a gofer going around a pole. :) I have a pic of that -- will post later.

It's about twice as far from our hotel as the Uffizi, or nearly so, and my feet are still griping at me so we took a cab there and walked back. The cab had to go way out of the way because the streets here are incredibly narrow and a lot of them are one-way and others are clogged by tourists (not that that stops all the drivers and you really have to keep an eye out and be ready to hop up on the sidewalk, some of which are like ten inches or so wide, when a car or (tiny little) truck comes zooming by. We got there, though, and the place is huge. There are actually a number of museums in it -- the main area with a lot of paintings and statues and the royal apartments with a lot of the antique furniture and such, and a modern art museum, a silver museum, a porcelain museum, a costume museum (late period only, unfortunately -- there's just not a lot of clothing around from the Renaissance) and the Boboli gardens which are pretty huge all by themselves and have a lot of statues and such spotted around.

The attractions are grouped into two tickets and of course the things we primarily wanted to see -- the main museum and the garden -- are on separate tickets. We just bought tickets for the museum and figured we'd see what we (OK, mostly I) felt like after. Another metal detector although no bag check that I saw, and another multi-story climb and there we were.

There's some really gorgeous stuff, mostly paintings but a lot of sculpture too. The first area is devoted to a period when the Medici house had some bad luck and was left without a male heir. The old Duke, Cosimo III, declared his daughter, Anna Maria Luisa his heir. She'd already married the Elector Palatine, Johann Wilhelm of Pfalz-Neuburg and moved to Dusseldorf, taking with her various Italian artists and sundry others; there are a lot of paintings by northern European artists in the Pitti collection which date from this period because of her. One I noticed was kind of cool -- a portrait of the Duke of Buckingham looking amazingly like the actor who played him in the Michael York version of the Three Musketeers. :)

There was a fairly even split between religious and secular paintings, although sometimes these crossed over; Botticelli did a number of paintings of Simonetta Vespucci, who was supposed to be the most beautiful young woman in the world at the time, or at least Italy, or at least Florence ;) and one of them was here, with her as the Virgin Mary. The label made sure everyone knew who it was, though, and I recognized her from other portraits of her I've seen. She is a lovely young woman although I don't know I'd give her the Fairest Ever apple; it's interesting, though, in that it tells you about standards of beauty at the time.

Oh, and this one pair of paintings a couple of rooms apart had me sort of o_O 'cause they were just... yeah. Anyway, I'm not Catholic and while I'd heard of Saint Agatha but didn't know anything about her but her name. Apparently her martyrdom included having her breasts crushed and then cut off. :/ There's one painting of her in the middle of a crowd of Bad Guys, mostly naked, with two of the men going at her nipples with pincers. Ummm. A couple of rooms later there's a painting of her (thankfully with her back to the painter) holding up her severed breasts neatly sitting on a platter. I suppose she was offering her suffering to God and I can see the symbolism of that, but still, ack.

The ceilings are gorgeous throughout the palace, both allegorical paintings (one has all the gods and goddesses up in Olympus and is really gorgeous, with smaller paintings around it showing other smaller scenes) and more purely decorative designs with geometrics and some foliage and a boatload of gold leaf. This sort of enclosed patio area near the east stairs has a coffered ceiling of carved and polished dark wood which is absolutely incredible. Even after seeing all the molded plaster and gold leaf and frescoes and trompe l'oeil, the simple (although intricately worked) carved wood blew me away.

There were also a number of inlaid tables that had Jim and me both gawking. Marble and granite in various colors, plus semi-precious stone and some mother of pearl and whatever all else they could get, were all cut and fitted together with hairline precision to make incredibly intricate designs. Some were just geometrics but there were a couple of architectural scenes and over a dozen floral designs detailed enough that you could identify different species of flowers, brightly colored and shaded. This one pair of tables had a design of sea shells on it and from the middle of the room it looked like they were just display tables with shells laid out on them, only brighter in color than actual sea shells would be. There were at least fifteen or twenty of these tables throughout the place; apparently it was a bit of a craze at the time. It would certainly have added to one's conspicuous consumption since I can only imagine the skill and expense it would take to make even a small one, and these were all at least coffee table size and many were dining-table size.

The only problem, here and at the Uffizi both, is that it's hard to really take in this much art all at once, especially with the similarity in theme of so many of the paintings. I can only look at so many "Holy Family" paintings before my eyes start glazing over, or "Madonna and Child with St. John," another popular theme. And the classical-style statues all sort of fuzz together after a while. I think it'd be much more fruitful to stay here for like a month (hey, I never said it'd be easy or cheap) and do, like, one room in one gallery per day, you know? So you can study like ten or a dozen or even twenty pieces, depending on the size of the room, and really take it in before doing more the next day. I imagine art students who are here studying would be more likely to do that

There was a tiny little bookstore just outside the exit from the main museum, which was a bit disappointing. We spotted a separate bookstore across the courtyard and though, "Cool, that must be the main bookstore that serves all the museums," and headed over. Well, maybe it was but it was about the same size as the one we'd just left and didn't have much more stuff. I guess they just aren't into fleecing the tourists at the Pitti -- either that or they have the "real" museum shop well hidden somewhere. It's kind of a shame, especially since you can get to the Pitti bookstore (the separate one) without buying a ticket for anything, whereas the really cool bookstore at the Uffizi can only be reached after buying a ticket and standing in line and going through the gallery. There are enough bookstores at the Uffizi to make it a decent trip in and of itself, but I'm not eager to pay a decent amount of money and stand in line for an hour just so I can go shopping, you know? I wish it were the opposite, with the free-to-get-in Pitti bookstore being the huge chain of rooms with all the cool stuff. I'd have spent a lot more money if so.

Anyway, after we were done with the main museum I didn't really feel like walking around the gardens, which are several times the size of the palazzo. (In a way it's nice that it was a separate ticket; at least we didn't feel like we'd paid for everything and had any kind of an obligation to look around at all of it.) Instead we decided to walk back and go to ZaZa's for late lunch. It was quite a hike but we walked across the Ponte Vecchio, which is lined on both sides with jewelry shops selling gold and silver. I think I remember that this has always been where the gold- and silversmiths hung out. And there are a lot of little shops all along the way on both sides, and it being a Saturday (I'm guessing that's the reason) there were a lot more street vendors out than we'd seen before.

These guys are apparently not quite legal; Jim said that the day before when he was out on his own, someone had called "Carabinieri!" (which is one of the police forces here) and all the street vendors had cleared out in like twenty seconds. :) What surprises me, though, is that there's business for so many of them, when they seem to all carry a very narrow range of items. The most popular thing to sell is purses. A guy will lay out a white sheet on the pavement and spread a number of designer-looking purses on it and hock them to passers-by. There are a lot of these vendors and (to my untutored eyes) all the purses look kind of the same, like they're all the same brand or whatever. Next most common is guys selling prints of classical paintings. They lay their stuff out right on the pavement, overlapping just a bit at the edges such that when they need to get out in a hurry they can just grab the one on the end and walk along, scooping everything up into a stack and high-tail it out; we saw one of them doing that yesterday. Guys selling sunglasses are about as common as the print guys; they usually have a cardboard box with the top and bottom removed so it folds flat, and another piece of flat cardboard with the sunglasses on it. They walk along and find a spot and open the box up into sort of a parallelogram and rest the flat piece with the sunglasses on it on top -- tah-dah, instant table with merchandise on it. :) And there were also a surprisingly large number of guys selling camera tripods of various sizes off of a sheet on the pavement (guess a lot of tourists come with cameras but no tripods? [shrug]) and more guys with white sheets with a few toys on them. Over near the Duomo, there were a few Asian people doing those name-card things where each letter is a picture, usually floral or birdish or something; I've seen artists doing them at home at craft fairs and such, and interestingly enough they've always been Asian too. Maybe it's a traditional thing that gets passed down families? Oh, and there was one guy going around carrying a piece of cardboard with pieces on it to make name-bracelets.

I didn't see many people buying anything from the street vendors, but apparently they make enough sales to keep doing it.

On the way back we stopped at a shop that had hand-embroidered linens in the window. I can never resist such and had to stop and look. There was a wide range of quality, from very coarse-scale pieces done with thick threads or even yarn down to some incredibly fine and intricate work, including cut and drawn work. Some of the cutwork was cheated -- instead of setting the buttonhole stitches right next to each other, they'd laid a thick thread around the edge of each cut area and set the buttonhole stitches only about half as close as they're meant to be. It works and looks decent if you don't look at it really close (or if you don't know what it's supposed to look like, which I imagine a lot of people don't) and once you get the hang of it, it must be a lot faster than doing it the traditional way. I moved on inside and was looking around and ended up buying this absolutely gorgeous handkerchief -- raised embroidery and cutwork and drawnwork and all very finely done, with tiny threads and wonderfully even stitching. It was E45 but worth it. I told Jim I'm going to wait for his cat to die and then display it on a table or something; if I put it out now and Whimsy mangled it, I'd have to kill her and then Jim would probably divorce me or something. :P

Lunch/Dinner at ZaZa's was great. I had a garden salad, which here is a dinner plate size plate of mixed lettuce with chopped pears and strips of peccorino cheese, with some olive oil and vinegar and two big slices of prosciutto on it -- yum! I'm used to a "garden salad" being a small pile of lettuce with maybe some carrot shreds, one cherry tomato and a cucumber slice. The Italian version is much better. I also had a dish of ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta, in a creamy walnut sauce -- OMG yummm! Jim had a plate of mixed dried sausage/salami slices which he enjoyed quite a lot; he likes coarse grind sausage and some of the ones they served him had chunks the size of a fingertip in them. He also had spaghetti with a seafood sauce, with shrimp and stuff in it, very light and very good, with just a tiny bit of heat to it. For dessert I had a chocolate cake, which was only about half an inch thick and very dense, like halfway between cake and a brownie, with a pool of a custardy sauce. I could've eaten four or five of them, even full from the salad and ravioli, seriously. Jim had a homemade tiramisou, which was a custard dish full of more of the same yellow custard-stuff I'd gotten, with coffee powder sprinkled on top. It's kind of funny, when I've seen tiramisou at home it was always a sort of brown-beige color, like a sort of chocolate-coffee-something mixed mousse-ish thing. It's yummy, though, and we both waddled back to the hotel. I was pretty much set for the rest of the day and didn't go out for dinner. Jim went for panini and brought me a couple chunks of fried polenta we'd seen in a shop window near the hotel; that was more than enough and I was still essentially full when I woke up this morning. :)

Today is Jim's birthday and we're going to Pisa to look at the tower. Later! [wave]

Tags: personal, travel

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