Slowing Down for Botticelli's Birth of Venus
There are more museums in the city of Florence than we could have visited in a month. Some are housed in grand medieval palaces, while others are tucked into small corners of the city and rarely visited by tourists. Maybe museums aren’t your thing, and learning about art bores you. When I was in college, it bored me, too! Taking a class where we were forced to memorize dates and magnified details of a painting shown on a dim projector screen didn’t do much for me.
But seeing art in person, in the birthplace of the Renaissance, is a little different.
The city of Florence offers a promotion called the FirenzeCard, which gives you access to 72 museums over 72 hours for 72 euro. The card not only covers admission, but also allows you to skip the lines and enter most museums through a dedicated FirenzeCard entrance. You can buy the card ahead of time, but the clock won’t start ticking on your 72 hours of access until you use the card for the first time. To take advantage of this promotion, we made a list of museums we wanted to see, and dedicated 3 days of our Florence vacation to museum trips.
The two museums we considered must-see were the Uffizi Gallery and the Academia. The Uffizi Gallery houses an eclectic collection of sculptures and paintings dating back to the first century, and the Academia is home to Michelangelo’s David.
At the Uffizi Gallery we noticed how many tourists were snapping pictures of paintings with their phones and even a few iPads. A crowd of visitors huddled around Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, bumping against each other and raising their phones to get the best camera angle. Once they were satisfied with their photo, they moved on to repeat the process with the next painting.
We were drawn into this too, taking pictures of what we liked, then looking around for the next experience. But after a while, we felt like the picture-taking was detracting from our visit. There we were, 4000 miles from home, standing just a few feet away from one of the most influential works of Western art, a captivating piece that most people only read about or see in a photo, and we were worried about getting the best angle and holding our phone high enough so we could take a picture without another tourist’s head in our shot.
So mid-way through our visit to the Uffizi Gallery, we slowed down. We stood in front of the Birth of Venus, for just for a few minutes, with our phones in our pockets, taking in the whole piece, trying to see the brushstrokes and the cracks in the paint. Contemplating the expressions on the subject’s faces. Examining the ridges in the seashell and the garments seemingly blown in the wind. Trying to understand the effort, thought, and time that went into creating the piece.
We took a few pictures of paintings we felt were especially meaningful (two of our favorites were Baldassarre’s painting of Dante and Virgil, and Antonio del Pollaiolo’s St. Michael Archangelo), but overall, putting the phones down freed us to enjoy the experience in front of us, rather than worry about whether we caught a stray arm or face in our pictures. After a while, Chris actually began taking pictures of the captions below the paintings so he could have the names of the pieces and the artists to learn more when we went home.
Ultimately, if you want to see a high-quality photo of Michelangelo’s David, or Carravagio’s Sacrifice of Isaac, a Google image search will serve much better than a hurried photo with an iPhone. There’s nothing wrong with taking pictures (and the museum staff won’t tell you to stop), unless it comes at the expense of enjoying the moment. We will have the rest of our lives to look at pictures, but only a few minutes to stand in front of the real thing.
Tomorrow, I’ll be writing about a different kind of art - the kind that appears on your plate! During our restaurant visits, we muddled our way through ordering in Italian and enjoyed some great meals. But when we were finished… where was the check? Come back tomorrow to find out what we discovered about meal time in Florence.