Pigeons

Well, today was a bit goofy…. I was drawing outside at Santa Maria Novella Cathedral, and these pigeons had a mind to come after me! And not just one, many! Something out of that Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds. Truly. I tried to chase them off a good number of times….  and I swear that I didn’t have any food to attract them. Fat, greasy pigeons, ugh. Watch out for those buggers. They are not afraid. So not afraid.

Roman Art

No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Trevi Fountain. Though it was one of 1,352 fountains in 4th century Rome, the Trevi Fountain has always stood out from the rest. The Trevi Fountain is one of the oldest water sources in Rome. The fountain dates back to ancient Roman times, since the construction of the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct in 19 B.C. that provided water to the Roman baths and the fountains of central Rome. It’s said that the Aqua Virgo, or Virgin Waters, is named in honor of a young Roman girl who led thirsty soldiers to the source of the spring to drink. The fountain was built at the end point of the aqueduct, at the junction of three roads. These three streets (tre vie) give the Trevi Fountain its name, the Three Street Fountain.

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When the fountain is open roughly €3,000 is thrown into it every day as people follow the tradition of throwing coins over their shoulders. The legend holds that a coin thrown into the fountain will ensure a return to Rome. This tradition also dates back to the ancient Romans who often threw coins in water to make the gods of water favor their journey or help them get back home safely. (Throw in a second coin if you’re seeking love – even a third for wedding bells!)

What many don’t know is that the coins are collected every night and given to an Italian charity called Caritas. Caritas, in turn, use the money for a supermarket program giving rechargeable cards to Rome’s needy to help them get groceries. Perhaps for just that reason, it’s illegal to fish out coins from the fountain. In the past it was common for gangs of thieves to sweep the coins out of the fountain at night.

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So what else is a must-see in Rome? The Pantheon, certainly! The Roman Pantheon is the most preserved and influential building of ancient Rome. It is a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome. It was built and dedicated between A.D 118 and 125. Its magnificent dome shows the genius of Roman architects, and as the building stands virtually intact, it offers a unique opportunity for visitors today to step back 2,000 years and experience Rome.

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The purpose of the building is not known, but the name, porch and pediment decoration suggest a temple of some sort. However, no cult is known to all of the gods and so the Pantheon may have been designed as a place where the emperor could make public appearances in a setting which reminded onlookers of his divine status, equal with the other gods of the Roman pantheon and his deified emperor predecessors. Who knows? Feel free to make your own reality of it.

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What next in a day? The Vatican city! So much to see… doing Rome in a day takes a lot of stepping power, for sure. I walked 13 miles today, but was quite satisfied with all that I got to see. As we all know, the Vatican Museums hold the Sistine Chapel, which is revered amongst basically everyone, no matter what one knows about art. Of course, this is a great thing, for the public to be inspired by art… but also frustrating with regards to waiting in longs lines. When I arrived to the back side of St. Peter’s, I was very happy to fine NO LINES. Oh. But then I found out why. The Sistine Chapel was closed this afternoon. As though it were the only thing to see. Sigh. I got in straight away.

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Established by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, the Vatican Museums display one of the world’s most significant art collections built up by the popes throughout the centuries; besides the famous Sistine Chapel (do I need to tell you more about this undisputed masterpiece???!), visitors can explore a multitude of sections, from the Pio-Clementino Museum (home to the celebrated Laocoon Group) to the Collection of Modern Religious Art (consisting of almost 800 works of 250 international artists).

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I was most struck by the massive numbers of Greek and Roman works of art in this collection. I kept thinking how the church must’ve looted all of this stuff, since they had the power and money historically. Hm. And what’s up with all the little babies and grapes crawling all over these two? A bit odd. There is also a fantastic Egyptian collection, and not to mention, The Raphael rooms.

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The most famous room is the Stanza della Segnatura (“Room of Signature”) housing the private library of Julius II. In here, there are four frescoes representing the four main themes of knowledge: Disputation of the Holy Sacrament (Theology), The School of Athens (Philosophy), The Parnassus (Poetry) and The Cardinal Virtues (Law).

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I love the way that the buildings were painted in this trompe l’oeil fashion to mimic relief sculpture in silver and gold, marble surfaces and architectural details. The optical effect is beautiful and unusual.

So… I finished my museum tour without seeing the most famous bit, even though I did see an awful lot. Did you know that Michelangelo didn’t want anything to do with the Sistine Chapel anyhow? It was Julius II who forced him to paint it (and what Julius wanted, he usually got…). After taking the job, the great Tuscan master hated working on it so much that he wrote a poem about it. Ha—look it up J

Palazzo Medici-Riccardi

Towards 1444 Cosimo the Eldest, the patriarch of the Medici family, commissioned to Michelozzo to build a palace near the church of San Lorenzo. The palace is the first Renaissance building erected in Florence.

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Two asymmetrical doors led to the typical 15th century courtyard, built following models of Brunelleschi and decorated with graffiti, which originally opened on to a typically Renaissance garden. By 1460 the palace was complete (it was also the residence of Lorenzo the Magnificent), although in 1517 the original building was altered a bit. The lower levels of the palace as it stands now is a courtyard and garden of potted lemon trees that is open and free for the general public to stroll through. The day that I was there, the lighting was perfect for looking up to find that the sky appeared like a slow-moving painting. Quite beautiful.

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After Cosimo de’ Medici moved to the Palazzo Vecchio in 1540 when he became Grand Duke, the palace continued to be inhabited by the lesser members of the family until 1659. Ferdinando II then sold it to the Riccardi marquises. It was at this time that the palace layout was enlarged and significantly altered. The most amazing bit of work from this alteration is in the large hall decorated with the frescoes of Luca Giordano. It’s over the top opulence is one of the most significant examples of Baroque architecture in Florence, and extremely striking in appearance.

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The most important section of the palace, however, is still today the Chapel frescoed in 1459 by Benozzo Gozzoli representing the Procession of the Magi. Many of the personalities portrayed in this room are wealthy protagonists of the time and members of the Medici family.

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The palace also contains some impressive tapestries and a Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi, whose work I like very much. He was the teacher of Botticelli.

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In the basement of the palace is another museum of works of antique marble that were collected by the Riccardi family. It’s a great place to draw heads, as the majority of the collection is made up of busts and the space is fairly quiet and less visited by tourists.

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The Accademia

Today was perfect for a visit to the Accademia. I had made reservations thinking there would be some huge line, as there usually is, however, I was delightfully surprised to find none (or a very small one, really)! If you are planning to visit the gallery after January 6th, don’t bother with reservations. It’s really not necessary.

I love visiting the Accademia not for the famed David by Michelangelo, but instead for the room full of plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculptures and busts. Not that the David isn’t fantastically wonderful, but I believe that this one room to the side of the David is more true to the history of this place. I am fascinated by historical ways that art was taught, and discuss this with students to give them a better understanding.

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The Galleria dell’Accademia was established in the XVIII century as a teaching facility for students of the adjacent Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1784 by Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Lorraine. And even before the ancient works and didactic models for art students were in this location, the halls of the building used to house a hospital and a convent.

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However, everyone always wants to know more about the David. The statue was created in 1501 – 1504 from one single marble block. Originally David had been installed at Palazzo Vecchio but it was moved to the Accademia Gallery in 1873 to protect it from the weather. The sculpture, stands 17 feet in height.

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It’s almost impossible to imagine that Michelangelo was only 26 years old when the Cathedral Works Committee commissioned him to sculpt this large scale statue of the biblical hero, David. The David sculpture was supposed to be one of the grand statues to decorate the cupola of Florence’s Duomo, standing 80m (262 ft) above Florence.

Michelangelo worked on the statue in secret for three years. When he presented the finished piece, the committee unanimously agreed the statue was too magnificent to be hidden up high on the cathedral. Hence, it was positioned in Piazza Della Signoria, the city’s main square.

When you see the David sculpture, there are some peculiarities. For instance, since he was intended to be displayed high up and seen from below, Michelangelo scaled some of his body parts disproportionately. David’s head, arms, and his right hand (the one with which he killed the giant) are much larger. It’s hard to notice this in the pictures but it’s quite obvious when seen with your own eyes. Also, be sure to notice the incredible details that make David so realistic like protruding veins and naturally tensed muscles.

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There is a lot of hype about this one sculpture… back when I was 21 and traveling for the first time, I quite honestly got so tired of seeing the David in every store window and piazza that I walked through, that I rather rebelliously decided not to see it. Not in all three months when I lived there back then. I had been told that it was basically the only significant thing in the museum… while that is not entirely true, it does appear that absolutely nothing could possibly top the view of this one sculpture.

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At any rate, there are a number of fantastic works to see throughout the museum. I found myself drawn to a few symbolic Byzantine works with floating objects.

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Through all of this,  I was most interested in the unassuming side room, as I always have been. It’s a fantastic place to draw and captures the spirit of Renaissance art training, bringing the entire facility to life.