The morning of Saturday, November 15, we visited the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Florence’s most recognizable inhabitant, Michelangelo’s David.
Walking through the gallery hall leading to David, we saw the four Prigioni (Prisoners), unfinished works that were intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II. The half-formed Prigioni expose the metamorphosis from rock to man accomplished by thousands of tiny chisel strikes. To see David then, in his enormity and his absolutely familiar, although idealised, human form, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t always existed. That he was once a boulder. Like Botticelli’s Venus, an encounter with David is not dulled by the proliferation of his image. At 17 feet, he is truly astounding.
The Galleria dell’Accademia contains much more sculpture and Renaissance religious art. These religious paintings are rife with symbolism, and can appear nonsensical without knowledge of the traditions of the saints and other religious imagery. Baby John the Baptist wearing his animal skin onesie, for example. (And noshing on Gerber locusts and honey?) One painting showed every person present at Christ’s crucifixion simultaneously shooting him with arrows. Illustrating all our complicity in his death, perhaps? We saw numerous renderings of the Annunciation, the angel’s prenatal visit to Mary. I liked the repeated imaginings of this most amazing conversation. Sometimes the angel is nearby and comforting. Sometimes the exchange takes place from a polite distance, across the terrace. In every painting, Mary is holding a book. I liked thinking of Mary as a bookish girl that surprised everyone by using her intelligence and pluck to, well, save the world! Indirectly. More likely, as I learned, the book suggests that she was reading prophesies of herself in Isaiah. That may be a stretch, but I like the importance placed on the Word in rendering this moment. The Word that would become flesh. Other frequent inhabitants of the scene are the Holy Spirit as a dove and the Lily of purity.
I’m sure layers of meaning and centuries of religious thought were lost on us as we viewed painting after painting over a several days. I will say though, I liked the frequent use of bold blue.