We’re in Florence, feasting our eyes on the newly born Venus, resplendent on her shell.
I first saw Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus as a seven-year-old, when mum and dad patiently drove us around Europe on a three-month camping trip in a VW combi van. At that age, being dragged through great palaces and galleries was way less interesting than say, playing hide and seek in a ruined castle. But splendid Venus had something about her. A nude lady standing in the sea with winged people blowing at her: smashing!
I’ve returned to see her several times in the decades since then (and she seems younger each time!)
Now, finally back in Florence after some years it’s a joy to be at the Ufizzi, Italy’s most popular art museum, again.
This time, though, there’s an expert art guide at my side.
Pete and I are on the Florence In A Day Combo Tour, which includes a visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see The Statue of David, and a trip to the Uffizi.
By 9 am, we’re waiting by a statue in the Piazza San Marco to meet our guide, Patrizia.
With large melting eyes and more than a passing resemblance to “Mona Lisa,” she welcomes me and the other 10 tourists. “Let’s get going,” she beams, leading us into the nearby Galleria.
“I’m an art historian and a Florence local,” Patrizia explains, as we head in to see David.
About 1.5 million people flock to the Accademia each year to slap their eyes on this prime specimen of marble manhood. Now it’s our turn. No photo can truly do this 17-foot fellow justice, can it?
If, after seeing him a zillion times, Patrizia gets slightly bored, she conceals it well. She is keen to remind us, though, that the Accademia, founded in 1784 by the first opponent of capital punishment in modern history, Pietro Leopoldo, holds plenty of other treasures, including Florentine paintings dating back to the 13thcentury, and Michaelangelo’s unfinished “slaves” sculptures.
“He couldn’t have accidentally left them all unfinished; what was Michaelangelo trying to tell us?” Patrizia widens her doe eyes.
I decide to bite the bullet and just ask her: why is David’s penis so small?
“Well back then, it was thought that if a man had a large, member, well he wasn’t very bright,” Patrizia replies earnestly. “Perhaps there’s something to that?”
We ponder this, as we follow our flag-waving leader to the Duomo, that astonishing edifice that makes you feel like you’re part of a rich multi-layered marbled cake.
“Up there, that’s where the State of David was supposed to have been placed, but of course, it never was,” Patrizia points upwards.
Though it’s autumn, the queues to get into the cathedral are long. Patrizia tips us off that if we decided to ever attend a mass we can enter the Duomo through a different door and thus avoid the lines.
We also feast our eyes on the adjoining, older Baptistery.
As we head off, she points out places worth stopping for a meal.
“Don’t go there, it’s too touristy,” she informs, leading us along cobblestone streets to where Italy’s beloved poet, Dante Aligheri, lived in the 13thcentury.
Patrizia reminds us that it’s thanks to this influential wordsmith and his great Divine Comedy that the Tuscan dialect was ennobled, to eventually become Italy’s national language.
“Hence, Florence is the best place to learn the Italian language; it’s pure,” she nods, as we head over the crowded Ponte Vecchio, full of tourists snapping away at the Arno below.
The first of the day’s two tours are over. Pete and I walk to a local veggo café and tuck into a splendid chickpea salad (the chickpeas taste much better than back home!) a welcome change from all the rich tucker we’ve been readily pythoning each day.
An hour later, we’re back at Florence’s main square, the Piazza Della Signoria , waiting by the equestrian statue of Cosimo until our next tour guide, Valentina, arrives.
Another art historian, she hands us our tickets to the Uffizi gallery and leads us through the fast line. Soon we’re gazing at works by Boticelli, Piero della Francesca, da Vinci, Caravaggio and other greats.
Valentina talks us through various aspects of the works, adding quirky snippets about the artists.
Pointing to one of the intricate frescos above us she sighs, “I’m here almost every day and I always see something new just in this work alone. You can never come to the Uffizi enough to see it all.”
As we leave this famed building, I ask her about the Botticelli works.
“I saw them when I was very small; I was sure they were all in one room.”
“That is true – exhibits have been moved around more recently,” Valentina informs.
I’m relieved. I’d hate to think those childhood memories I’d kept alive for so long were not so accurate.
After six hours of absorbing some of Europe’s finest treasures, we stagger back to our hotel, enlightened, bedazzled, exhausted. What can ever top this?
Should we all be moving to Florence to do art historian courses so we too can be less philistine?
It’s of course, easy to lap up beautiful Florence’s abundant statues, art and churches, without needing to know too many facts and figures about its historical past. Beauty is beauty.
Still, knowing what forces shaped this treasure trove of a Tuscan town can only make the visit more meaningful.
Even if you’ve read up on the town’s major battles, artists and influences, a guided tour always adds a new depth of understanding.
This was our second tour with The Tour Guy.
(Our earlier tour was the ebike tour in Rome. Link here. http://www.thestarfish.com.au/roaming-rome-on-e-bikes)
Florence in A Day Combo Tour with David and Uffizi 124.27