Day 11

Posted by Whit Barringer , Thursday, June 07, 2007 9:47 AM


CT 5:06
IT 12:06

Medici Intrigue at the Palazzo Vecchio.

Shortly I will tell you a tale of ages. But first, I will tell you of the boring precursors – which were the main events prior to the tale.

I got up this morning about 11:30. I got dressed, ate a sandwich (salami and cheese) for lunch, and headed out ahead of Rachel to the school for class. I got there and read a bit, but mostly waited for people to show up. Rachel came in about 12:50, and no one was there yet. Dr. Bane came in five minutes late, and everyone else came in 15 – 20 minutes late. I was kind of disappointed, because I like class to start on time just as much as the next person…. Well, the next person who isn’t late. Zing.

Anyway, we finished the Aeneid in class today, complete with interesting discussions about religion and Dante’s Divine Comedy. We then had a presentation about Gilgamesh from the friends I hang out with all the time. It was good, if not a bit muddled, though there weren’t many questions. Dr. Bane then began pointing out the obvious allegory or parallel (Gilgamesh and the Great Flood = Noah and the Great Flood), and then picked out the less obvious ones (Snake steals Gilgamesh’s precious fruit = Snake coaxes Eve to steal God’s precious fruit; Enkidu comes from the wild and is tamed by a woman = Adam is wild and needs a woman). As pretentious as it sounds, I’m always surprised when people don’t know the obvious facts of the case of believing in religion wholesale. Perhaps this is because I’m used to dealing with legitimately intelligent people who know the story and still choose faith over evidence. Or maybe I’m really pretentious.

We took a break for about 20 minutes to meet at the Piazza Signoria, which is next to the Palazzo Vecchio. We had the ultra-secret passage tour, but we had to wait on Dr. Bane and Paulette to get the tickets. While we were waiting, I got a quick lunch (sandwich with spice, polmodoro, mozzarella, e ham) and took some pictures of the piazza’s statues. I finally found out that the big fountain was none other than Neptune (big surprise – it is a fountain) and got to see the lion holding the crest of Florence or the Medici, I can’t remember which (the real one is in the Bargello across the city). Dr. Bane called me and told me to go to the side door and he’d be waiting on us. So I moved us over to the side door. He called again. “Uh… so… where are you?” “The side door behind the fountain.” “It should be two big doors that are open.” This happened to be the keyword. So we went further down, found an open door, and Dr. Bane met us with our tickets. After checking our bags and having a “girl crisis,” we were ready for our tour.

I wish I could paste every picture I have into this document, but suffice it to say everything you’ve ever heard about palace/royal/powerful family intrigue, secrecy, and cool tricks, the Palazzo Vecchio has in abundance. Here is your history lesson. Listen carefully, dear children.

Palazzo Vecchio (literally “the old palace”) is mid-Medieval accomplishment. A castle built to represent the power of Florence and its republic, the Palazzo was home to the elected councilmen of Florence. Six men would be elected to two-month terms. These men would be obliged to live in the Palazzo Vecchio. Since no women were allowed inside the castle walls, it was seen as more of a duty for men to serve for Florence. Along the way in Florence’s rise to power, relations between Pisa and Florence worsened. Preparing for war, Florence brought in a mercenary and his forces to defend Florence and become their leader.

Whether or not the war with Pisa came to be (which I think it actually didn’t) doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the mercenary began to amass Florence’s power into his control. Sensing the loss of their republic, thus freedom, the people of Florence revolted and attacked the castle. After fighting long and hard, the mercenary was expelled from Florence and the republic restored.

A couple of things to be gathered from this all too brief and probably too vague history: the Palazzo Vecchio was a sign of Florence’s power and people. However, even with its own egotism, Florence was still susceptible to singular, consolidated power structures. This would end up allowing the Medici to come into power.

Exactly how it happened, I’m not sure. My memory is fuzzy and I’ve never learned much about the Medici. However, I seem to remember hearing that Cosimo I, the one who actually began the two century dynasty of the Medici, was actually elected. He was 18 at the time, and was chosen because of his easily-influenced youth. Cosimo wasted no time showing Florence he was determined to rule alone, and began ruthlessly tossing aside his enemies.

He was the architect for the capture of the beautiful and rich city of Siena, and also led the Florentines to victory against Pisa. He realized the importance of Palazzo Vecchio and its symbolism and skillfully made the Medici’s synonymous with it. He changed little on the outside of the Palazzo, but converted the inside into a livable palace for himself and his family, thus changing the power from the people to himself and his progeny. He then altered the inside of the palace to become one of the most important, if not the most important, sign of his power. He commissioned art.

As power hungry and terrible as the Medici were, it’s important to note that, without their generous patronage, a good portion of Renaissance art would not exist at all. Michelangelo was a favorite and was commissioned more than once. However, Cosimo’s favorite artist was Vasari. The things he did were unimaginable in scale… but I’ll come to that shortly.

The history I just gave was from the contents of our tour today. The first “secret” we were led to was a room built especially for Cosimo’s son, Francesco. The room was completely covered in paintings. The frames of one painting would be close to or touching another frame for another painting. Each held scenes with typical Renaissance subjects and style – flowing strokes of color highlighting the labors of Hercules, the birth of Venus, the trials of Perseus, and so on. Though the room was designed by Vasari, it was the collaborative effort of over 30 artists. Only one painting was actually done by Vasari.

Interestingly enough, the room was shaped like a treasure chest. What do treasure chests hold? Well, treasures of course. The room was shaped like this:

Number 1 is a picture of a woman amongst animals giving a rock or mineral to Prometheus, who is holding a torch. This actually symbolizes Nature giving a gift to Art, or at least unifying itself with art. There’s a bit more to the “rock” bit though. See, Francesco was apparently a nutcase who believed in the power of alchemy. Number 6 is an alchemy shop with scientists hovering, calculating, measuring, and mixing. In the bottom right hand corner is a man who looks frightfully similar to the portrait of Cosimo I (which is on the facing end wall). It is Francesco Medici himself, painted into a scene in one of his own paintings by a Dutch painter whose name I could never remember, nevertheless pronounce.

So Francesco was a nut. Power breeds its own insanity, so it’s not surprising. But what might be a bit surprising is the lengths at which Francesco went to keep his possessions hidden away. The painting to the right or left of Number 5 (can’t remember which) was of Poseidon holding a crystal (the entire right hand wall was of water elemental paintings, the left of fire). The tour guide then opened that cabinet, and showed us an empty hollow where they believe Francesco hid his things away. So the objects in the paintings represented what was held behind them.

To the left, right, top, and bottom of Number 1 were paintings of the four “elements” – earth, fire, air, and water. Number 2 was of Perseus freeing Andromeda (I think – not too current on my mythology), which is the only painting in the room by Vasari. Number 5 was of a scene I didn’t recognize, but I did see a person in the paining peeking around a column. The tour guide opened this cabinet to reveal a secret passageway, which we took with awed looks on our faces.

The room we climbed to was the hidden cabinet room of Cosimo I. There was only one cabinet that she showed us, but they think it held small trinkets and treasures of antiquity and the new world. Up above, faded circular and odd-shaped paintings of the arts (sculpture, music, painting, etc.) were framed by grotesques, which were a newly discovered style at the time. We then exited the room from another door, coming out another painting (Number 3) in Francesco’s treasure chest room

Next we visited the Room of the 500, where the men used to meet to elect the new republic rulers, or the priors. I don’t think I’ve seen a room so big in my entire life. I forget how many meters across the tour guide said it was, but it was absolutely colossal. However, the ceiling was very low when Cosimo came to power. He commissioned Vasari to redesign it. His decision? Lift the ceiling eight meters, cover the entire room in gild and paintings (some bigger than billboards), and commission statues to place around the room. It was an absolutely gorgeous and completely unbelievable room. It was where Cosimo chose to entertain diplomats from all over Europe, especially Spain and France (one queen of France was a Medici), showing to them his absolute power. In the front of the room were three statues of the most influential and important Medici. I couldn’t hear the third’s name, but the one on the left was Cosimo and the one sitting in the middle was Pope Leo X (I believe Clement VII was the other Medici pope, but I could most certainly be wrong). The paintings on the walls were of Cosimo’s major conquests against Siena and Pisa. In the middle of the ceiling, Cosimo is being crowned. Another one shows Cosimo plotting the attack on Pisa. (Imagine seeing all of this while a string orchestra practiced classical pieces for some sort of party that night – it felt like we were living in a classical fantasy).

We then headed up to the second (or third by this point) story to see the paintings up close. Some of the paintings actually represented the different districts in Florence (Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, etc.). Then we headed up even further to see the actual architecture of the ceiling. The ceiling was actually painted on panels that were then lifted and secured into place by massive trusses. Vasari actually invented two types of trusses that were used in the ceiling – one set that supports the ceiling, the other that supports the roof. This structure, now nearly 600 years old, is still 80% original. It also took Vasari two years. During this time, he designed the roof, painted the scenes (I’m not sure if he did all of them or just some – either would have been a feat), and designed the secret passageway to the Palazzo Pitti, the new Medici palace (remember: Palazzo Vecchio means “old palace” for a reason).

We were then escorted back down and told which ways we could go. We got to see the entrance to the secret passageway, looked at fabulous rooms and pieces of art, an anatomical statue of a horse, intricate cabinets, 16th century bathrooms, etc. We actually got lost in the castle, which is a fantastic feeling. Once we finally got out, I went to the gift shop and bought a guidebook to the artwork in the castle. It is actually in my top three of Florence so far.

Afterward, it already being 5:00, I went with Halley, Kim, and Rachel to the internet shop to check mail, Facebook, and what have you. We have to take the Dante’s Inferno quiz online for Dr. Bane (I’d already taken it with my roommates earlier this year – I’m a Seventh Circle Warmonger, thankyouver’much) and they hadn’t done it yet. Along the way we stopped in an absolutely adorable wood-working shop where the man hand-makes children’s toys and clocks, just like Gepetto would. I think I’m going to go back and get a clock for my new baby cousin and his big 4-year-old brother, just because I don’t think I can leave without doing so.

We then visited what we called the “mini-San Lorenzo market,” which was a parking lot taken up by vendors. I want a leather bag very badly, and one of my current roommates got a nice one for 40 Euro. I can’t find anything even close to that price, all of them being around 120 or more. It makes me sad that I might leave without the only souvenir I want, but c’est la vie.

We all went and checked our mail, found out most everyone was in Purgatory, and headed out to cross the Arno. I had to get dinner since we didn’t go back to the apartment, and stopped at a little restaurant where you pick the stuff that goes on the sandwich and they make it for you. It wasn’t quite a deli, but it was still really good. I got a Heineken (tsk tsk, I know) and found out very quickly that I didn’t like it. Everyone else drinks here, so I thought I’d try it. No dice, my friends. No dice. But the food was good, and the beer wasn’t too expensive. I just felt like an idiot for wasting my money.

We got to Halley and Kim’s apartment to find Caitlin “cheating” and watching an all-music channel on TV that featured a lot of American artists. We watched that, chatted it up, and headed out about 9:00 to go to the Piazza Santo Spirito. One of the other guys on the trip lives nearby, so he came out to visit with us. We sat outside on the steps and were approached twice by weird drunk Central African guys. Everyone had alcohol in their hands except for us (Halley was the only one drinking, and it was water). One came up and kept gesturing to his wine in a glass, and we couldn’t understand what he was saying. He whistled, swirled the whine, and then stared at us. We kept saying, “We don’t understand,” so he said, “F--- you” and walked off. Another guy approached me and said, “Hay… Hay… I love you… I love you!” He reached for my arm and said, “Come on… Come on…” I jumped another stair up and leaned towards my friends. “No no no no no no no no.” He said, “Awww…. Come on! I love you. Come on.” Me: “No no no no no no no no.” Finally he left me alone, but it was scary while it lasted. I just did what the officer told us in the first few days. Don’t react, be calm, and refuse. Not very long after that, a man tackled an older drunk lady in the street. The first African man that had come up to us went out and broke up the fight, even getting the drunk man to hug him and kiss his cheek. There was a police car with two officers nearby. The African man went and explained what happened, and then walked away without being apprehended. I told Rachel I’d had enough and I wanted to go, so we headed back to our side of the river to go to bed, read, sleep, and wake up for a new busy day.

It’s 1:51 and my iPod died. I’ll take that as divine intervention. Goodnight all.

2 Response to "Day 11"

Justin Ray Says:

I'm in purgatory--a virtuous pagan.

Sarah Says:

Glorious. You are delightfully busy (from my perspective that is). We visited the fairy tale castle neuschwanstein in Germany, and though it has never been finished, we did get to visit the throne room. It was not huge, but it had steps leading from a stage down to the floor, then back up to the throne... all in marble. I loved the castles.

Yay warmongering! I love you Whit - you truly are wonderful. I am just so sad that I'll be gone by the time you return - a long summer without my old suite-ie!

"I think I’m going to go back and get a clock for my new baby cousin and his big 4-year-old brother, just because I don’t think I can leave without doing so." Good luck. We visited a few places in Germany famous for their cuckoo clocks, but the only way to get them home was to ship ahead. But we were only there for a few days rather than weeks. Wooden clocks are lovely.

Keep having fun and being beautiful (those flirty Italians)! :D

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