The other day, I stumbled upon two postcards bought in Italy, in Florence, a few years ago.
The first from the famous Uffizzi gallery.
I remember quite well. After waiting for almost four hours in a thick snail-slowly moving line of people, exasperated at the groups of tourists who were always given priority, despairing at the rumours of certain areas being closed, and pissed off (excuse the language) at not having where to piss (I apologise again), we finally got inside the gallery.
Having to move with a crowd, with little freedom inside it, takes away half of the pleasure. Combine that with some poorly exposed paintings, at which you were forced to look from too close, not finding the bust of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, the philosopher, my favourite emperor, when all the other Roman emperors were there, and indeed finding some of the rooms closed for (maybe) renovation – and you can paint a good picture of my state of mind.
I always envied and scoffed at those film characters who sometimes meet in an important museum, like this one, and there’s no one else there to hinder their contemplation – they can sit endlessly on a bench and admire the Raphaels and the Botticellis and have meaningful conversations…
When we got out, I bought this postcard of the portrait of Lorenzo di Medici. It makes up for the mundane troubles endured.
It’s a posthumous portrait, by Giorgio Vasari, painted in 1533, forty-one years after the death of the Magnificent. I find it has an incredible force, and tells a hundred stories in its sombre composition. It makes me think, more than all the others, of the Golden Age of Florence, of the height of the early Italian Renaissance, when Lorenzo’s court included artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo Buonarotti, but also of what politics meant in Italy of that time, of Savonarola, of the Borgias, of the Sforzas, of the popes (two of Lorenzo’s sons became powerful popes), of poetry and crime…
However, my true moment of ecstasy came soon after.
I don’t remember if it was the same day or the next. We crossed the river Arno on Ponte Vecchio, and walked to Palazzo Pitti, the austere Renaissance palace of the Pittis, the rivals of the Medici family. No crowds there to disturb our voyage through art just as beautiful as the Uffizi’s.
At some point, in Galleria Palatina, we entered a room, whose walls were red if I remember well - even if they weren’t I prefer to think of them as red, a vivid red of satin. And there he was, next to the door, on the left.
Portrait of a Man (“The grey-eyed man” or “The Englishman”) by Tiziano Vecellio, circa 1545.
He was alive. I fell in love with him. It never happened to me before, to fall in love with a man in a painting, and this hit me with an incredible force. Look at his eyes, look at his hands… He is alive; he’s real, watching me, about to speak, though his eyes speak even more.
Scanned postcards are not significant enough to show the real force of these two paintings, nor are my words. But the feeling stays and stands out exquisitely among other memories from this trip to Italy….