Sunday, October 21, 2007

L'Inglese

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….

15 comments:

Taffiny said...

Sounds like my oft experiences with museums. (though non of mine are abroad)

I of course love that you fell for him.

I love it when you turn a corner in a museum and see something you never saw before, and either it seems as though it was part of you all along, but you are just for the first time realizing it, or it seems something fantastical, something wonderously other you have been needing, and now you have finally found it; I love when that happens. And you pull it all into your soul and it becomes part of you. ( and you get to take it with you, carry it inside of you, from then on)

It is interesting how trips seem to have both parts, the standing in line, too many people about, I'm feeling annoyed, exhausted, thirsty, hungry, always wondering where the bathroom is, too long in the boring parts, and always rushed through the parts I most want to sit still in, and yet they always seem to have that other part too, that moment when you see something, or experience something you feel was meant for you, you were meant to see, to find. Waiting for you, through all the clanging and jangling jumble, a quiet song played inside.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Ah Vesper, you took me back to my own trip to Florence. Happily we went just before the season so avoided the crowds at the Uffizzi and I was able to stare, for a good long while and drink in the Birth of Venus, and then, having wondered down the long avenue, also having crossed at the Ponte Vecchio, we pretty much had the Palazzo Pitti to ourselves. But I don't recall your Englishman - but he is magnificent. He is, as you say, alive, such power and vividness in that painting, it's quite remarkable. I'm not surprised you fell in love. And I do love the idea of falling in love with an image in a painting. So far I've only fallen in love with characters in books or films. Right now I'm harbouring a special relationship with Joe Black :-) Not quite the same, I know, as your Englishman, but ever so intriguing.

Taffiny said...

P.S.
I forget to tell you (which I should since now it is bumped from my front page), I did take your suggestion, and set the big hairy scary spider free. He is grateful to you, I am sure.

sognatrice said...

Oh I can completely understand falling in love with that English chap. There is something alive about him, especially those eyes. And I love that simply looking at postcards can take us back to lovely places....

c.s. said...

fantastic post! thanks for the education here!

Ropinator said...

Italy was the centre of culture from the Roman times till the 1800s so it is not a surprise that they made a lot beautiful things. Southern peoples have more talent for nice that northern (like Scandinavians).

jason evans said...

Thank you for the window into another time.

colleen said...

I once started to cry while looking at a still life of peaches by William Martin in a gallery in Aspen.

I also saw the Louvre but didn't have any money to go inside! Big regret. It's like saying 'I almost went to Woodstock.'

Vesper said...

"A quiet song played inside" - I like that Taffiny. Thank you. And thank you for the spider!!! :-) :-) :-)

Vanilla, I'm glad I brought back pleasant memories for you. It's indeed the only time I had such feelings for a character in a painting. With films and books it happens quite often. Joe Black, hmmm, interesting...

Sognatrice, yes, it's interesting how small things can trigger intense memories.

Thank you, CS!

Ropi, yes, many beautiful things. The ancient Romans had the wisdom to use not to destroy, to gather all that was best, from the ancient Greeks especially, and from other cultures.

Jason, thank you for taking a look through this window...

Colleen, I know the feeling, art can do that to someone... I'm sorry about the Louvre. I find prices for museums horrendous. But do you rule it out completely from the future? Maybe one day...

Bernita said...

Fall in love?
How could you not?

To make a comparison which is basically offensive, considering - the doctor in the Voyager series appears to be modelled on Lorenzo.

Vesper said...

Indeed, Bernita, thank you!
I had no idea about the doctor in the Voyager series - oh, now I have to struggle to get his image out of my mind! Ugh! He was a rather anoying character. :-) :-) :-)

SzélsőFa said...

you have captured it so well...I rarely go to museums, but sometimes I do have something similar. The painting revelas a lot of stories!
And the Englishman does look so alive and, well, good.
:)

Shameless said...

Wonderful post. And, yes, all the flutters and heart-dances, over so many paintings. If only they would come to life, even just for a few seconds! :-)

Vesper said...

Thank you, Szelsofa! You're right about the stories. I like to imagine them... In fact, it would be a good exercise in writing, wouldn't it?

Seamus, thank you so much! Flutters and dances - how well you say it. But if they were to come to life, about which I sometimes fantasize, what would you do?!?! :-) Wouldn't you be scared? :-) :-) :-)

SzélsőFa said...

Sure!