The Accademia in Florence

I tend to pass by classical art galleries. With a few notable exceptions (‘The Journey of the Magi in Florence, and ‘The Battle of Lepanto’ which covers most of a wall in the Doge’s Palace in Venice), after about three galleries of paintings, they all start to look the same to me, regardless of the style, century or subject matter. My bad. 

I do however, have a fondness for a well chiseled male figure…

It is what brought me to Florence, epicenter of the European Renaissance and center of the medieval universe for banking and textile trade. Home of the Medici and the artists they patronized, many of whom felt their work to be the extension of God’s work, and who would become global legends in their own right. A city touched by the revival of Greek and Roman classicism. The austere beauty of this place, with its stone walls and fortifications, is astounding. I thought Venice was the most beautiful city I had ever seen, until arriving here. Within my first few minutes of walking around the city, I nearly toss my itinerary into the nearest trashcan.

I literally stumble into the Loggia dei Lanzi, filled with several of the sculptures that were on my list.

Perseus
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

The Loggia, built between 1376 and 1382, was originally the place where priors (city guild leaders) were inducted, and later served as a forum for public debate. The Medici family turned it into an outdoor statuary gallery. I would spend most of my time admiring the bronze ‘Perseus’ which Cellini modeled after works by both Donatello and Michelangelo. It took him nine years to complete and nearly killed him when his house caught on fire during the casting.

Here is also ‘The Rape of the Sabines’ in marble, by the Flemish sculptor Giambologna, showing a compelling depiction of a Roman soldier tearing a man away from his wife. There are half dozen original Roman works here. To the right of the Loggia stands the Neptune Fountain by Ammanati, installed for one of the Medici weddings, a work which some art critics have panned as being to garish to be taken seriously.

Sabines
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

My next stop is the Accademia. I walk into a room of icons, triptychs and other religious works that I recognized from books. In the center of one of these rooms stands a plaster cast of “Rape of the Sabines.” Many of the sculptures that I had seen earlier this morning are replicas; the originals have been moved inside to more protective surroundings. But I appreciate the replicas nonetheless, as it allows me to see these works in the settings that the artists originally intended them for.

I am eager to see a singular original work that is housed here, but I restrain myself from running past several unfinished works by Michelangelo, and force myself to at least pause long enough to study the slaves and saints slowly waking from their stones. Then, very slowly, respectfully, nearly religiously, to the man himself…

…the magnificent David…

David Back
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

He’s very white, and more translucent than I was expecting, standing nearly 17 feet tall under a softly lit dome that was build especially for him. Michelangelo was awarded this commission when he was 26 years old, and presented David to the citizens of Florence in 1504, after working for three years on a block of marble that his contemporaries had tried to carve years earlier, but abandoned it after finding it too flawed and disproportionate.

The first thing I notice is how large David’s hands are, and how out of proportion they are with the rest of his features. My guidebook attributes this to Michelangelo’s thought that David had “the hand of a man with the strength of God.”

Other disproportional elements of this statue are due to the forced perspective that Michelangelo used, since this statue was originally intended for installation on the southern roof of the Duomo. I’m one of those people that creeps around the backside to capture what most people don’t, and photograph his back, with his sling slung over his shoulder and draping down his back, in nearly equal the detail of his face side. Veins and muscles are carved delicately into the stone. He is unbelievably beautiful.

David detail
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

And according to the guide book I came home with, the pupil of his eye is carved as a heart!

I tear myself away from the David and investigate the room behind him. The Salone dell’Ottocento, filled with shelves to the ceiling holding marble busts and plaster cast models that were the “final exam” pieces by the students of the Accademia. My very first thought upon entering the room is the catastrophic loss that would occur if this room suffered an earthquake. The thought of being crushed to death by so many falling marble busts was secondary to the destruction of so many irreplaceable pieces. Several pieces by Lorenzo Bartolini (19th century) catch my eye, so much so that by the time I am all the way through the room, I can pick them out without even reading the placards. An amusing piece of statuary shows three children at play, representing Lust, Love and Vice, with Love on top of the dog pile, symbolizing that ‘love conquers all.”

Another gallery displays paintings and icons, many by Bernardo Daddi (13th century) who, as of this visit, has been added to my ‘notable exceptions list’ as a new favorite painter of the medieval period.

I take a final, reluctant-to-leave walk around the David before exiting. Next stop - a caffè and a bookstore...

When next you are in Florence:

The Loggia dei Lanzi is an open air museum located on Veccio Square. I’m partial to viewing sites like this in the early morning, when Italian light is at its best.

The Accademia is located at Via Ricasoli 58/60, 50122 Firenze. To see everything that I missed, please visit their website at http://www.galleriaaccademiafirenze.beniculturali.it/

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Heather Daveno

Heather Daveno is from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught hatmaker by night. She spent most of her pandemic lockdown in 2020-2021 creating 800 masks for the Masks4Millions project.

In a normal year, her travels inspire her hats, which she handcrafts from reclaimed textiles and found objects. You can find her hats and masks for sale at August Phoenix Hats. She is currently reissuing her original journals as “Director’s Cuts” with expanded text and previously unpublished photos, which you can read for free at Daveno Travels.