Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Art Galleries Of Florence

( Originally Published 1913 )



He who would study the art of the Italian Renaissance finds Florence the city of his desire. Three priceless collections are in the possession of the municipality, not to mention those owned privately or by individual churches.

The Accademia delle Belle Arti, leading art school of Florence, was founded in 1874. The Hospice di San Matteo (Hospital of St. Matthew) was appropriated to house the school and the pictures removed from churches and monasteries suppressed, first by the Grand Duke of Tuscany and later by the Napoleonic government. The collection of modern paintings on the first floor gain but passing attention from the majority who come hither to study the work of Italian masters. Angelo's David, recently removed from the terraced steps of the Palazzo della Signoria, has been placed in the vestibule admitting to the Gallery of the Academy.

Two rooms of this suite are named for Botticelli and one for Perugino. Artists from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries are here represented. Cimabue's and Giotto's Madonna Enthroned are hung side by side, thus to enable the beholder to compare the differences and similarities of the two interpretations. Most famous of the pictures in the Academy is Botticelli's Spring, which was painted for Cosmo de Medici and is supposed to portray one of the Medici family in the figure of Flora. Not until the time of the Pre-Raphaelites did Botticelli come to be appreciated in modern times; yet it has since been noted as significant that he was favorably commented upon by Leonardo.

"What Botticelli was, Spring will tell us; and this work is so significant, its essence expresses the thought of the matter so clearly, that it has preserved all its charm for us, although its particular meaning is not known to us. We call it Spring, but if one of the figures in the picture really represents Spring, it is only an accessory figure; and, moreover, this name given to the picture is entirely modern. Vasari says that it represents Venus surrounded by the Graces, but if we find the three Graces in the picture, it is not likely that the principal figure represents Venus. In my opinion, it is that principal figure that is the key to the picture; it is for this figure that everything has been done and this it is, above all, that we must in terrogate if we wish to know Botticelli's meaning. Evidently it is neither Venus nor Spring; and the precision of the features, and the fidelity of the smallest details of the costume, make us believe that we are in the presence of a veritable portrait... Around her, Nature adorns herself with flowers; Spring and the Graces surround her like a train of Fays. Here is one of the familiar poetical forms of the fifteenth century; and, doubtless, by attentively reading the Florentine poets, we should discover the meaning of all the allegorical figures that Botticelli has united in his work and which we do not understand.

"But whatever may be the particular meaning of each of these figures it is certain that here we have to do with love and beauty, and that perhaps in no other work may we find the charm of woman described in more passionate accents. . . . And around this scene what a beautiful frame of verdure and flowers! Nature has donned her richest festal robes; the inanimate things, like the human beings, all speak of love and happiness, and tell us that the master of this world is that little child with bandaged eyes, who amuses himself by shooting his arrows of fire."

Another picture of great beauty is Ghirlandajo's Nativity. It was painted after his visit to Rome, whither he had been summoned in 1475 to assist in the decoration of the Sistine Chapel. The Corinthian pillars, the Roman sarcophagus with its Latin inscription, used in place of a manger, and the cavalcade approaching under the Triumphal Arch, all testify to the painter's familiarity with the Eternal City. In the person of the kneeling shepherd with folded hands, it is said that Ghirlandajo painted his own portrait.

Domenico Ghirlandajo (1449-1494) was the son of a silk merchant. He was set to work in a goldsmith's shop where he evinced marked ability in fashioning jeweled garlands for ladies-whence the name by which he is now known-Ghirlandajo, garland-maker. His reputation was already established before 1475, when he went to assist Botticelli in the Sistine Chapel. Ghirlandajo was possessed of tireless energy and is said to have remarked that he would like to cover the walls of Florence with frescoes. His paintings lack the depth of feeling which is found in Giotto's pictures, but dignity of theme and perfection of detail give his paintings excellence. His portrait work is particularly gratifying. Ghirlandajo died of the plague when but a comparatively young man. He is frequently remembered as the teacher of Michael Angelo.

Masaccio's Madonna with St. Anne has a value enhanced by the fact that few of his paintings survive. Indeed, it will be remembered that he died at the age of twenty-seven and had accomplished little. Yet he left a message for his own and subsequent ages: that nature must be the source of inspiration for the artist. While San Marco contains the best of Fra Angelico's painting, nevertheless, the Academy possesses his scenes from the life of Christ-the Flight into Egypt and Visit o f the Magi being most charming. Perugino is represented by seven pictures, the Assumption of the Virgin perhaps finest.

The most important work of Filippo Lippi, the Coronation o f the Virgin, is also here. On each side of the throne stand rose-crowned angels, bearing tall white lilies in their hands. Below a group of worshippers kneel, among them the artist having placed himself-easily distinguished by his shaven head and monk's robe.

The Uffizi Gallery, second of Florence's treasure-houses, is in the Palazzio degli Uffizi, erected by Cosmo de Medici after the plans of Vasari. It was built to provide offices for the ad ministration of government in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The ground floor is a great open hall, devoted to the Uffizi collection. Francis L, son of Cosmo de Medici, had a portion of the palace reserved for pictures which belonged to his family in their various city and country homes. Subsequent members of the Medici family added to the gallery thus begun by acquiring Dutch, Venetian and other collections as opportunity afforded. Gian-Gastore, the last of this famous family, died in 1737, and, in accordance to his wish, all Medici property, real and personal, was settled in perpetuity on the city of Florence, thus preserving priceless paintings and statuary for the locality that had largely produced them. The arrangement of pictures has recently been changed, new rooms being added to provide much-needed space. Halls are named for Leonardo, Botticelli, Michael Angelo and for various schools of painting.

The Hall of Botticelli contains a dozen of the artist's productions. The Calumny of Apelles, Adoration of the Magi, Madonna o f the Pomegranate, and Birth o f Venus are perhaps most widely known. Botticelli was one of the rare Italian painters who could paint classic or Christian subjects with equally pleasing result. Of the Birth o f Venus, Pater wrote: "At first, perhaps, you are attracted only by a quaintness of design, which seems to recall all at once whatever you have read of Florence in the fifteenth century; afterwards you may think that this quaintness must be incongruous with the subject, and that the color is cadaverous, or at least cold. And yet the more you come to understand what imaginative coloring really is, that all color is no mere delightful quality of natural things, but a spirit, the better you will like this peculiar quality of color; and you will find that quaint design of Botticelli's a more direct inlet into the Greek temper than the works of the Greeks themselves even of the finest period. . . . An emblematic figure of the wind blows hard across the grey water, moving forward the dainty-lipped shell on which she sails, the sea `showing his teeth' as it moves in thin lines of foam, and sucking in one by one the falling roses, each severe in outline, plucked off short at the stalk, but embrowned a little, as Botticelli's flowers always are. Botticelli meant all imagery to be altogether pleasurable; and it was partly an incompleteness of resources, inseparable from the art of that time, that subdued and chilled it; but his predilection for minor tones counts also; and what is unmistakable is the sadness with which he has conceived the goddess of pleasure as the depository of a great power over the lives of men."

Raphael's portrait of Julius IT., Madonna o f the Goldfinch, and a portrait of himself are also here. The Madonna of the Goldfinch was painted for Lorenzo Nasi, as a wedding gift for his bride. In 1548 an earthquake destroyed the house and the painting was broken into fragments. These were very skillfully put together by his son. In the portrait of the soldier pope, Raphael seized upon a moment when he was at rest, but even in repose his unyielding strength and de termination are unmistakably apparent. A glance of his eyes was said to strike terror to the heart of the bravest. He will be remembered as the pope who summoned Michael Angelo to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Angelo's reply -that he was a sculptor, not a painter-did not for an instant swerve the despot pope from his determination. Nor can we ever forget that it is this painting, rather than his statuary, which gives the artist his undying glory.

Several of Titian's pictures are here-none more perfect that Flora. The light-soft diffusion of brightness, though not contrasted strongly as in some of his paintings-produces an admirable impression. "No ornaments have been used to heighten nature's handiwork. The fair face is crowned with a wealth of golden hair, and the soft outlines of the rounded neck and curving shoulders, revealed by the natural lowness of the chemise, speak only of the charm of a perfect woman. This is one of the daintiest of Titian's creations."

For actual loveliness it would not be possible to exceed del Sarto's Madonna o f the Harpies. So many Madonnas were produced during the Renaissance that it became the habit to distinguish them by any peculiarity. For example, in Raphael's Madonna above mentioned, the child John the Baptist gives a goldfinch to the Christ Child. This has given the painting its name-Madonna o f the Goldfinch. In the same way the harpies on the pedestal give Andrea del Sarto's Madonna its name.

Andrea del Sarto (1486-1531) has been called the "faultless painter." The son of simple people, he was sent at the age of seven to work in a goldsmith's shop. His cleverness in designing caused him to be transferred to an artist's studio, that he might study painting. Eventually he came under the instruction of Masaccio, Leonardo and Michael Angelo.

This painter was madly in love with his wife, the beautiful Lucrezia, whose face, perfect in its loveliness, looks down upon us so frequently from his canvases. However, she was arrogant and heartless and did much to limit the power of her gifted husband. Francis I. of France invited del Sarto to come to the French court and the life there inspired him to put forth his best effort. But soon his wife began to urge his return; when he asked permission of the king to go home for a short time, Francis not only granted his request but entrusted a considerable amount of money to him, with which he was instructed to purchase paintings for France. Del Sarto's infatuation for his soulless wife was sufficient to lead him to appropriate this trust fund to buy her a beautiful home, which circumstance prevented his return to the monarch he had so basely deceived.

So far as technique is concerned he was gifted beyond many, but his painting is characterized by a certain timidity and lack of decision which prevented his full development. Yet his child angels in the Academy and this beautiful Madonna possess a charm and sweetness rarely found. The deep crimson robe and soft blue mantle enhance the baby flesh, and the white veil against the auburn hair throws into stronger light the divine beauty of the Madonna face. What del Sarto might have been had this woman whom he idealized given inspiration instead of selfishly thwarting his ambitious hope, many have wondered, and only Browning has adequately implied.

Fra Angelico's Madonna, surrounded by angels with trumpets and other musical instruments, is in the Uffizi Art Gallery. It was painted in I433' for the Guild of Flax Mer chants. These angels, designed merely to embellish the frame of the Madonna, are probably more widely known than anything else executed by this gentle monk, who painted his dreams of Paradise. Correggio is represented by a Madonna and by his Repose on the Flight into Egypt.

One of the fascinating features of this gallery is a collection of painters' portraits by themselves. Important among these are the portraits of Raphael, Holbein, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Reynolds.

The Dutch school is fairly well represented. Among the German artists, Durer has several pictures, notably the Adora tion o f the Kings. This is another conception of the visit ofthe Magi. The early Middle Ages, not content with scriptural accounts-never detailed-filled these out for the further edification of the people. The three wise men, so simply mentioned in the Testament, became kings. Their names were finally known-Caspar was the older man, Melchior one of middle age, and Bathaser the youngest, who was believed to be a negro. In Durer's Adoration we find a typical German. mother in the person of the Madonna. The king, or wise man, who is standing-with the long hair so generally associated with Durer-we recognize as the artist himself.

Vasari, the architect who originally planned this palace, is well known because he wrote prolifically of contemporary artists. To be sure, time has shown that much that he wrote was inaccurate and that he was as indiscriminating as Herodotus and quite as susceptible to exaggeration. Nevertheless, we are indebted to him for an acquaintance with his fellow-artists that otherwise would have been denied us. In the Uffizi Gallery his best painting is preserved-the portrait of Lorenzo de Medici. His few easel pictures are excellent, but in his other work he is plainly a mere imitator of Michael Angelo.

In 1779 the Hall of Niobe was constructed to receive the sixteen statues illustrating the Niobe myth. These had been in the gardens of the Medici Villa on the Pincio, having been recovered from the ruins on the Esquiline in 1583. The Wrestlers, The Dancing Faun, attributed to Praxiteles, and the Venus de Medici are also in the Uffizi. This last stattle was found in the sixteenth century near Trivoli, broken in thirteen pieces. Cosmo de Medici-always a patron of arthad it restored and brought to Florence. Hawthorne was equally impressed with this specimen of Hellenic art. "She is very beautiful, very satisfactory, and has a fresh and new charm about her, never reached by any cast or copy. I felt a kind of tenderness for her-an affection, not as if she were a woman, but all womanhood in one... Her face is so beautiful and so intelligent that it is not dazzled out of sight by her form. Methinks this was a triumph for a sculptor to achieve. She is a miracle. The sculptor must have wrought religiously, and have felt that something far beyond his own skill was working through his hands."

The Uffizi Palace is joined by a long bridge or gallery to the Pitti Palace, the repository of a collection containing only about five hundred paintings but each a masterpiece.

The Pitti Palace was erected in the early Renaissance, and after the custom of the times was built to serve both as fortress and residence. It is today a royal palace, although the king's family has occupied it but a day or two in several years. It was designed in 1440 for Luca Pitti, but within a hundred years came into the possession of the family of Me-dici. Perfectly proportioned in its three stories, built of rough stone, its location crowning a hill on the left bank of the Arno makes it very imposing. Like the Uffizi Gallery, with which it is connected, this is now owned by the city of Florence.

The rooms in the Pitti Palace are designated according to the decoration of the ceilings-the Hall of the Iliad, the Hall of Saturn, Jupiter, Wars, Apollo, Venus and Prometheus. The gem of the gallery is Raphael's Madonna della Sedia, or Seggiola. This picture is probably more widely known and loved than any other in the whole world of art.

"The external beauty of the Madonna o f the Chair is as great as anything that could be imagined, but the internal beauty is not in the least sacrificed to it. The chief character istics of this face is regularity and the purity of its features. All the lines are simple, regular, and traced as though by inspiration. It is true that Raphael, carried away by the genius of harmony, has represented his Madonna as brilliantly and richly attired, but it is without anything jarring, without anything too staring, and without anything hurtful of the principal impression. A scarf, admirable in color, is wound around the crown of her head and falls down to her neck. A green shawl, enriched with various shades that respond to those in the scarf, envelops the breast, the right shoulder, and falls behind the back, where it is confounded with the golden fringe that decorates the back of the chair. Beneath this shawl appears the purple robe, the sleeve of which is tight-fitting, with a cuff, and the blue mantle that covers the knees. The two hands, one crossed above the other over the body of the Infant, are charming in shape and delightfully modeled. Everything in this arrangement is enchanting; in the entire effect of this image everything is seductive."

Other paintings by Raphael are also here, important among them being his portrait of Leo X. He has endowed that face with a dignity approaching majesty. The hands, of which the owner was so proud, are shapely, and none but Leonardo could paint hands more expressively than Raphael.

Titian's vision of loveliness, the Magdalene, is in the Pitti collection. The Titian hair was never more luxuriously shown. "Even in spite of its sensuality of flesh tint and golden hair-painted from pure delight in beauty-Titian's Penitent Magdalen retains its spiritual purport of affecting penitence." La Belle, The Englishman and The Marriage o f St. Cathe rine, all by Titian, are to be found here.

The Fates, designed by Angelo and executed by Rosso, form a striking picture. It has been said that a woman who greatly annoyed the erratic master was used as a model for this conception-the same face, each time more grim, serving for all three sisters.

Here, also, are Botticelli's Pallas and the Centaur and the Madonna o f the Rose Garden, with several additional ones attributed to him and others belonging to his school.

Giorgione's Concert is one of the greatest treasures of the Pitti Palace. Pater wrote of it: "The Concert, in which a monk, with cowl and tonsure, touches the keys of a harpsi chord, while a clerk, placed behind him, grasps the handle of a viol, and a third with cap and plume, seems to wait upon the true interval for beginning to sing, is undoubtedly Giorgione's. The outline of the lifted finger, the trace of the plume, the very threads of the fine linen, which fasten themselves on the memory, in the moment before they are lost together in that calm unearthly glow, the skill which has caught the waves of wandering sound and fixed them forever on the lips and hands, these are indeed the master's own; and the criticism which, while dismissing so much hitherto believed to be Giorgione's, has established the claims of this one picture, has left it among the most precious things in the world of art."

Giorgione (Big George) was a painter of rare genius; but few of his works survive and little is known of him. He went to Venice about the time Titian left his mountains in Cadore for that gay city. Giorgione is sometimes called the first real nature artist, because he brushed away architectural accessories in pictures and substituted landscapes pure and simple.

He was evidently very versatile and a favorite in Venetian society. He died when but thirty-four, of the plague which, many years later, claimed his only rival, Titian. The Knight o f Malta, also his, is preserved in the Uffizi Gallery.

Romano's Dance o f the Muses and Lorenzo Lotti's Three Ages o f Man are both famous pictures. Lotti's style is similar to that of Giorgione.

Paintings of Durer, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Murillo and Velasquez, are to be found in the Pitti Gallery, together with examples of most Italian artists who lived during the age of the Renaissance. Guido Reni and Salvator Rosa are both well represented.

In addition to these three important picture galleries, visitors in Florence find much gratification in viewing the paintings of Cimabue, Filippo Lippi and Gharlandajo preserved in the oldest church in Florence-Santa Maria Novella, founded in 1278 by the Dominicans. The Franciscan church, Santa Croce, is remembered for its frescoes by Giotto, representing important scenes in the life of the beloved founder of that order, while the monastery of San Marco has been immortalized by the devotion of Fra Angelico, who gave his best efforts to adorning the cells of his brother monks.



Bookmark and Share