After delicious gelato, the group met back up to go walk to our fresco demonstration and workshop. Summer heat in Italy is no joke, and I think we all were probably ready for a nap before a painting class, but I am so, so glad we went.
Making a tiny fresco on a wooden backing, ft. the most satisfyingly cold can of Coke I have ever consumed. (Side note: one of my teacher friends tried to order an iced coffee in Italian, and we had a translator, and the entire concept of caffe freddo, si con ghiaccio, was completely alien to the woman. She had no idea what we were talking about. SO strange!)
We did some more walking and exploring before dinner, and then on to the hotel before bed.
One of my favorite, completely unexpected parts of Florence was the street art. The city has tons of winding, narrow alleys, and do not enter one way streets everywhere, and people take advantage of that in hilarious, creative, and completely bizarre ways.
The next morning we were up early to get on line at the Accademia. This was one of the only places we couldn't get reservations ahead of time, so we left the hotel at 7:45 to go wait. I think we came at the height of tourist season, because this day was the most crowded in Florence.
In the interest of complete honesty, I wasn't sure the David was going to blow me away. I had seen so many photos of it, and the reproduction in front of the Palazzo Vecchio just the day before. I figured I knew what it was all about, and that it would be cool to see, but that it was just another stop in our day. I have never been so pleased to be proven wrong.
Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures flank the sides of the room leading to David, and these were honestly just as cool as seeing the masterpiece. Getting to see him actually pull the figure from a block of rough stone is pretty unfathomable. This was so unexpected, and so, so cool. Almost makes you think you could do it, you now? Reminds me of Elton John - "If I was a sculptor, but, then again, no." And I am certainly no sculptor. (One time in college, we had to reinterpret a classical sculpture, and I turned a reclining Venus into a sexy cartoon pinup badger. I'll leave my sculpture experience - or lack thereof - at that.)
And then the room opens up, and this is what you see.
My advice: go early! This was at about 8:20 AM, and the doors had JUST opened.
The statue stands at around 17 feet tall. His hands and feet are way too big, because apparently David was supposed to go on top of a church, and this was supposed to be for perspective. But alas, he was too naked and too popular, and he was instead plopped outside the Palazzo Vecchio, right in the piazza, for several centuries. Our awesome tour guide the day before had told us that his glare was said to be looking either towards Rome, Florence's rival, or looking down the powerful Medici family themselves. Ah, art history and political symbolism.
The replica outside the Palazzo Vecchio (and right next to the Uffizi Gallery!)
We had a short break where we went over to San Lorenzo. I was dying to get inside, but was improperly dressed. We hadn't been anticipating this break time, or visiting churches, so my shoulders and knees weren't covered. They are apparently pretty serious about this rule. We instead snuck a peek at the courtyard and Michelangelo's stairway next door to San Lorenzo in the Laurentian Library. (The picture of the staircase isn't mine because we were just peeking in and I didn't get to grab one, but here's something from Google for reference anyway.)
Next stop: we got to go INSIDE the Duomo Cathedral, Santa Maria della Fiore. I wound up buying some scarves in the piazza outside, and wrapping myself up. Not my best fashion moment, but it was 100% worth it.
A model of the cathedral inside the cathedral
My scarf-wrapped self, and some candles lit for loved ones.
It was so, so cool to see these frescoes from different levels, and so difficult to imagine that just the day before,
I was walking on those little pathways above and below the round windows.
It also warmed my heart that we got to see Brunelleschi's tomb. It's in the catacombs of the church, which are pretty cool, but by this point in the trip my standard for cool was a little bit distorted from its usual scale. You have to walk through the gift shop to get to it, which will never not make me laugh. I don't know if I'll ever get used to the idea of gift shops in churches, but this one was hilarious. This amazing architect will be forever monumentalized, right next to the postcards & souvenir pencils.
After getting to go into the nave of the Cathedral, something extremely important happened.
I had the best. pizza. of. my. entire. life. Celiac or no. It was simply the best pizza of all time. The crust - perfection. The sauce - unbelievable. The cheese - delightful. If I were a poet, I would write sonnets. If I could compose things, there would be a symphony. My life has found meaning, and it is in THIS. PARTICULAR. PIZZA.
Mister Pizza is DIRECTLY across the street from the Cathedral. At risk of under selling, it was very, very good.
I ate this beautiful pizza, all of it, walking through the streets of Florence on the way to the Uffizi gallery. I'd just like to bask in that sentence for a little while... Ok I'm good.
We went to go wait on line for our group reservation at the Uffizi, and we stood under the staff entrance overhang (because air conditioning). As we left to head to the entrance, I stopped to take a picture of a sign, and the coolest thing in the world happened.
I ran into one of my professors from the University of Virginia! My Renaissance Architecture professor Cammy Brothers was walking in the staff entrance, in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. We hadn't seen each other in the two years since my graduation, but I had taken several of her classes, and been her research assistant during my grad school days. (I had helped her work on some of the foot notes for one of her impending books on Renaissance art! Not that fun!) We chatted for a bit, and it occurred to me that people always SAY it's a small world, but... sometimes it really is.
After wandering through the Uffizi, I found one of her books in their book store. It was like 60 euro, so I didn't buy it there, but look how cool! I kept telling my students - she LITERALLY wrote the book on Michelangelo. (The new one, where she doesn't think Mannerism is a thing.)
The Uffizi itself was magnificent. It's everything you want it to be, but cooler.
It's hard to pick a favorite, but one of my favorite parts was an exhibit on Giuliano da Sangallo's architectural drawings (the actual real ones that he actually drew) in the mid-15th century. (This was one of the moments where being 25 and not having been to Europe before really hit me. This was a knees-shaking, is this really happening moment for me - and wouldn't be the last of those.)
Giuliano da Sangallo's drawings for a Medici palazzo on Via Laura (left) and Bramante's drawings for St. Peter's (right)
Giuliano da Sangallo's floor plan of St. Peter's, the Vatican (left) and elevation for the Borgia tower at the Vatican (right)
Giuliano da Sangallo was a really important Renaissance architect and sculptor. He did a lot of work for the Medici family, villas and things like that, as well as a couple of buildings for Popes Julius II and Leo X. He was sort of the successor of Alberti and Brunelleschi, and was said to be a big influence on the ninja turtle artists Rafael, Leonardo, and several da Sangallos down the line. Bramante was an architect during the same period (high Renaissance, 1500s), who worked mostly in Rome. His biggest project (size wise and importance wise) was St. Peter's.
I wish I could keep taking classes forever, and learning about all of these things. This was such an amazing experience, to get to go here and see these works, and think these thinks. I don't know if I have words to explain it.
The building itself is amazing. It was started by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century for Cosimo de Medici, and the spaces you walk through are sometimes just as incredible as the art on the walls.
Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation and the unfinished Adoration of the Magi were outrageously cool. Titian's Venus of Urbino, and Botticelli's Birth of Venus were flooring (and much bigger than I expected, honestly).
It seems a little silly to take off-center photos of these paintings when every art history textbook ever has better reproductions (taken at better angles!). But the color in the Birth of Venus wasn't what I had expected, and it just made me happy to have my own photos of them. Like that famous picture that went around a while ago of everybody taking selfies with the Mona Lisa instead of, I don't know, looking at it? I guess we are all guilty of that.
This last day in Florence was amazing in so many ways, but mostly it just made me realize I have so much more to learn. I hope at some point I will take more classes, learn more things, and spend some more time turning all this over in my mind. It sort of made me wonder why I bothered majoring in modernism. Maybe there's a baby Renaissance scholar somewhere in the back of my head. I spent my bus ride nap to Rome contemplating alternate master's theses on Florentine urbanism, or castles in Renaissance Spain.
Being a teacher has been the coolest hybrid profession in the world - Thing Explainer, cheerleader, artist, comic book maker, video game analyst, 3D model maker, Photoshop guru. Maybe it's time for me to figure out how to fit architectural historian back into that mix.
Next stop: Rome!
Pompeii has been an archaeological dig site for longer than it was a Roman town.
Giorgio Sommer was a famous German photographer who photographed Pompeii in the 19th century. All of the images from this post are his.
I took a seminar on Pompeii in grad school with the brilliant and wonderful John Dobbins, where I learned more than I thought was possible cram into this tiny little brain. I also got to meet some pretty rad art history kids, doing fabulously cool things. Can't we all just learn stuff forever? Ah, love it.
So in preparation for being in Pompeii in like a week, I figured I would try to dig up my old paper for the class. 26 pages of nothin but the good stuff. Much to my chagrin, Weebly doesn't support footnotes (blasphemy), so you'll just have to take my word for it I guess. Anyway, here is the very abbreviated version of what I found on my external hard drive - early archaeology at Pompeii to lay the groundwork [PUN], and Giorgio Sommer.
Early Archaeology at Pompeii
Pompeii was rediscovered to the Western world in 1748, with huge cultural ramifications. The ancient Roman town was well preserved by ash and lapilli from the historic eruption in 79 CE, and under the auspices of the Grand Tour and Neoclassicist ideology, excavations and cultural tourism gained extreme popularity. Excavations were more focused on recovery and investigation of objects than they were on material conservation or preservation of the site. This often included extraction, alteration, or total removal from the site, which resulted in the distribution and sale of paintings, amphorae, and other items from the city.
The excavations at Herculaneum were initiated by Charles VII of Bourbon, who had been looking to decorate a summer palace in the region, and sought to use objects from antiquity from the locally known site. The site was surveyed and plundered in keeping with methods at the time, focused more on appropriation and consumption as means of study. Steps were taken in the late 18th century to prevent the decay of excavated buildings, though in certain cases it changed their character completely, with the addition of roofing or substantiation of wall structures. The deterioration of plaster, or the effects of weather on the now-exposed structures, would progress at an exponential rate as the site was open to the air.
During this phase of archaeology and investigation, reconstructions and restorations were based on individual preference, even into the late 19th century. A translated version of later archaeologist August Mau’s [important Pompeii scholar] work noted “The restorations are not fanciful. They were made with the help of careful measurements and of computations based upon the existing remains; occasionally also evidence derived from reliefs and wall paintings was utilized. Uncertain details are generally omitted.”
Giuseppe Fiorelli’s tenure as superintendent of the site from 1863-1875 ushered in great changes to methods of stewardship in Pompeii. He implemented a top-down excavation method, which would preserve objects in their place and allow for better reconstruction. He devised a plan that divided the city into 9 regions for organized study, a system which is still used today. Scholars from around the world were invited to work, with access no longer limited by political, social, or otherwise arbitrary restrictions. Fiorelli was instrumental to the development of the excavations in Pompeii, as his methods were carried into the beginning of the 20th century.
Under his guidance, plaster casts were made of cavities left by organic materials. Throughout the history of the city’s excavation, people have had a grim fascination with the morbid at Pompeii. At Pompeii, human remains were discovered briefly after excavations began, but the creation of plaster casts lent a three-dimensional, humanizing form to what could have only been skeletal remains and open cavities. Pouring plaster into the spaces left by people entrapped in the volcanic debris left some gruesome and often tragic impressions. At the time, these were found so captivating that the human elements of these figures were enhanced by sculptors, embellishing the forms with folds of cloth, or with anatomical figures like ears, appendages, or musculature that would certainly not have existed at the time of their discovery. This presentation, playing on a fascination with the morose or grotesque, added a tragic human element to the narrative presented at the site that viewers found compelling.
Pro tip: archaeologists today will most likely spin kick you in the face
if you try to pour plaster into their stuff.
Photography + Pompeii
Man I wrote a lot in this section. To sum it up:
There were scholarly investigations of Pompeii, there were tourist leaflets made, and there were architectural / archaeological photographs taken. Giorgio Sommer was definitely not the first person (or the only person) taking photos at Pompeii during this period.
Names to know:
Giorgio Sommer (1834-1914) was a prolific and renowned German photographer in the 19th century. From 1857 to 1888, he produced thousands of photos of archaeological sites, objects, and portraits. Over the course of his career he had studios in Switzerland, Naples, and Rome, won many awards, and was even appointed official photographer to Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. [He produced absolutely stunning images of Naples, but some of the COOLEST photos he took were in Pompeii.]
Pompeii had been seen as a cultural symbol and a point of fascination for over a hundred years when Sommer arrived. Its archaeological management had shifted considerably, with new discoveries and interpretations changing an understanding of the site, even as he worked there. Though his photography was not intended to serve archaeology in a strict sense, as Brogi’s would have, it was part of a more in depth, developing conversation that served to elevate the status of Pompeii in international spheres. The publication and sale of his photos brought him recognition, and helped to circulate chosen views of the city.
While a trained eye could pull factual information from these photos, that is not their only intent. These photos serve not only as “documents,” “evidence,” or products for consumption, but as works of art that fit within a layered history. Sommer’s photos as individual art objects are important for their unusually modern aesthetic, which included flattening of perspective, compositional choice, and inclusion of strong angular and geometric resonant features.
Brain warp: these images were taken during the Civil War and Reconstruction era in the United States, right before the official closing of the Western frontier. Think saloons, and Gettysburg, and also Italian unification.
[Could talk about these forever, but really - just LOOK at them.]