Saturday, November 16, 2019

Who wins Florence

As much traveled visitors to Rome, the great Baroque city if ever there was one, my wife and I received many hints there of the Renaissance. They seemed increasingly appealing the more we looked. So we thought we'd go to Florence. We thought we'd see a little bit of the footsteps that led to the flourishing of Rome, the best city we've ever seen.

There is a lot of great art in Florence. After all, 600 years ago Europe woke up there; The Renaissance, don't ya know, with all the burning energy of a thousand year sleep. With so much amazing art to see I wondered who, above all, would blow through my soul. So we made the rounds.

Filippo Lippi, of whom we had seen precisely one intensely captivating painting in Rome, all angels, grace, and gold, was every bit as good as the promise of what we had seen in The Doria Pamphilj. Botticelli was like a refinement of that grace, and his paintings, well known to us, and to most people on the planet, were a whole other world of loveliness, one that was never apparent exactly in the reproductions, which were all I'd ever seen of him before. The Da Vincis were fascinating, but no real match for what hangs in the Louvre. Raphael seems to oscillate in a tiny fraction of an inch between sheer genius and mundanity, mostly wonderful, nothing better than what is in the Barberini in Rome, but plenty remarkable. Giambologna was ridiculously good, with statues more baroque than I dared hope or imagine, every one a thrill to see. Donatello was fascinating. Pontormo's Deposition was a painting I've always longed to look at in person. It is a mad and ridiculous painting, an absolute joy that sums up everything anyone might ever need to know about Mannerism in a single work of art, all graceful and nearly purposeless poses, lurid, wonderful Sistine Chapel colors, and skill almost just for the sake of skill. There is our bizarre bridge from the Renaissance to the Baroque.

And of course there's Michelangelo, towering over it all. Influencing everything with his touch and magnificence. 

And yet...

The amazing David is exquisite and almost unbelievably monumental in a way that nevertheless feels a little emotionally flat to me after the excruciatingly moving Pieta. Maybe if they put it outside where it belongs? All the masterpieces of the Medici Chapel are better, but renovations there, and obscuring scaffolding, may have hampered my enjoyment along with his weird version of breasts and a sense that he didn't quite finish his plan for it all the way he wanted to. His early work kind of... sucks, up to Bacchus, which is more proof of talent than an epiphany.

Which, maybe I should have known all along, left us with three Caravaggios, of all things. 

The Sacrifice of Isaac, a story I've always found a touch ridiculous, made me tear up. The Medusa, a demonstration of gloss and perfection like I've never seen before, and sleeping cupid, a painting I'd only barely looked forward to, which is a picture of love sleeping by an artist at the height of his magical powers in full, shuddering expressive force.

Sleeping Cupid. No pretty child. Apparently Caravaggio used a dead child as a model. Yellow light. Flesh. Love lies sleeping. A picture is worth an entire language.

I suppose there are best current artists.

And there are artists of their generation.

And there is the greatest artist of their age.

And then there is the most brilliant artist of an entire era.

And then there's Caravaggio.

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