Master Strokes - The New Indian Express

Master Strokes

Published: 09th February 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 07th February 2014 04:05 PM

My first close encounter with Michelangelo was at the Louvre Museum in Paris where I was mesmerised by “The Slave”. It inspired me to visit Florence, where several of the city’s museums house many of his works.

Venerated as Europe’s intellectual capital, the Tuscany capital belongs largely to Michelangelo. He was born in 1475 in a nearby village. Though he died in Rome,  Michelangelo’s body rests in Santa Croce Church, a pilgrimage site in Florence, for all Michelangelo devotees. He spent his early life here learning art from great Italian artists like Ghirlandaio and Giovanni before relocating to Rome to create “Pieta”, the iconic statue of Virgin Mary holding the body of Christ, now gracing St Peters Basilica in the Vatican. But he was drawn back to Florence to create the magical symbol of the city—David.

The statue is housed inside one of Florence’s top ranked gallies, Accademia, the obvious first port of call for Michelangelo aficionados. People push and shove to get closer to David, as they would inside Louvre Museum in Paris to view the “Mona Lisa”, the only difference being the inches-long lady is ensconced in a glass box, while the 14-ft tall man of marble stands proudly looking down upon the hundreds surrounding him. “Without any doubt, this figure has put into shade every other statue, ancient or modern, Greek or Roman,” said Giorgio Vasari, the famous 15th century Italian painter. However, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing more from Michelangelo to see in Florence.

At Accademia are kept other works, among which is another version of the “Pieta” depicting figures of Madonna holding the broken body of Christ. The statue of “St Matthew” is noteworthy. Bargello Museum often referred as “House of Michelangelo” exhibits several of the artist’s marble figures that includes “Apollo”, “Brutus” and “Bacchus”, the god of wine and revelry, which he created when he was only 17.

The former royal residence, Palazzo Vecchio, is a Florentine landmark. Inside its Grand Hall, the ceiling and walls are ornamented with paintings showing great Florentine moments, and the floor space is occupied by several sculptures including “Victory”, a famous Michelangelo creation. It’s said that in 1500, the venue was the stage of a painting contest between young Michelangelo and the aging Leonardo da Vinci, but no records exists to testify the outcome.

Palace Vecchio presides over Piazza della Signoria, a large paved courtyard, which since medieval times has been the civic epicentre of local life. This square is like an open air museum hosting one of the planet’s finest collections of outdoor sculptures that includes an exact replica of  David, kept at the same place where the original had stood for over 300 years until it was shifted to the Accademia in 1873.

At a walking distance from  the Piazza della Signoria is Piazza De Doumo where the city’s heart beats­—the magnificent Duomo Cathedral officially known as Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore dominates the piazza. The huge crowds outside and the long queue to enter instantly stamped the imposing Gothic structure as the city’s number one attraction. Its architectural highlight is the octagonal dome designed by famed artist Brunelleschi. A museum inside displays another version of Michelangelo’s “Pieta”, along with Donatello’s famous “Mary Magdalene” and the original Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise”, said to be named by Michelangelo after seeing the gilded bronze doors of the octagonal Baptistery building in front of the cathedral.

One cannot leave Florence without visiting Uffizi Gallery, the world’s largest vault of Italian art exhibited in 45 halls in two large floors of an imposing edifice. Alongside the “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli and the “Adoration of the Magi” by Leonardo da Vinci, you will find the “Holy Family”, a painting by Michelangelo which testifies to his talent with the brush as well, though his frescos gracing the walls of Sistine Chapel in the Vatican do that more elaborately.

A few days in Florence immerse me deeply into a vast and diverse extent of art, with Michelangelo as the centrepiece. I conclude my voyage at Piazzale Michelangelo, a hilltop square dedicated to one of the most illustrious sons of the soil. Watching the setting sun painting Florence,  it is as if the master has made it come alive in canvas and marble.

Getting There: Fly Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) to Rome from where Florence is only two hours by fast train (www.trenitalia.com).

Accommodation: Boutique hotel La Casa Del Garbo (www.casadelgarbo.it), located in the heart of Piazza della Signoria.

What to shop for: Leather goods, particularly colourful ladies handbags.

For more information, visit www.turismo.intoscana.it

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