After returning from Lake Como, I went to work on Monday and excitedly chatted with my co-workers about all I had seen and done with my family. Jackie’s family was meeting her in Rome on Saturday and she was looking forward to showing them around on their first trip to Italy as well. All of us at the Archive agreed on how fortunate we were to be able to share our appreciation of Italy with our loved ones. What’s more, this week, two great opportunities came my way: the chance to take my family to the Uffizi Gallery on Tuesday evening, and then on Friday morning, seeing an exhibition at Palazzo Pitti with Sheila, Jackie and Ashley.
Although both experiences were great in their own right, their relationship to each other made them all the more special in my mind. I decided to take my family to the Uffizi on Tuesday night because during the summer the gallery is open until 11:00 PM, and I wanted to avoid the lines as much as possible. A summer in Florence is undoubtedly a hot one, and besides the fact that I had work during the day, I knew my brother and sister were not going to appreciate the Tuscan sun if we were standing in a three-hour line in 100 degree heat! Thus, I registered us for 7:00 PM tickets and met my family near Piazza della Signoria after my Italian class. I was so excited to show them one of my very favorite museums…but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was also rather nervous. Because I am so passionate about art, I didn’t want them to be bored walking through the halls and galleries that I love so much.
Walking through the security room and passed the ticket booth, I led my family up three flights of very tall stairs, and into the first hallway. The Uffizi collection holds a vast number of objects that originally belonged to the Medici family, and the gallery, which is organized in the shape of a “U” has three long hallways (lined with portraits, classical sculptures and busts of Roman emperors) and galleries arranged in chronological order. Thus, I began by explaining the museum’s organization, making sure I hit the most important points I remembered from Liliana’s lecture of this space. Then, beginning with the Middle Ages, I took them through the Medieval galleries and explained the historical highlights while also emphasizing the most important characteristics of artwork during this period. My brother, Tim, smiled at me as I explained one of the works of art, an image of Christ on the cross by Giotto, and he later leaned in and said, “Caitlin, other people are listening to your explanations too!” which of course made me feel nervous, excited and proud all at the same time! I had a blast talking to them about my favorite pieces in the museum and telling them anecdotes about the artists or sitters, such as the story behind the Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca (the Duke, Federico da Montefeltro, had lost his eye and the bridge of his nose in a jousting accident!).
My sister Nicole was curious as to why all artwork from the 1200’s-1400’s (from what I had showed them thus far) seemed to be religious in content. I explained how interesting that observation was; these individuals were working as craftsmen and as servants of God rather than as intellectuals with specific ideas and skills they wished to communicate and thus in many ways, the concept of an “artist’ had not yet emerged. That change began in the period we now refer to as the Renaissance. Tim and I spent some time up close with Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, and I told him how Leonardo, interested in botany, had painted each blade of grass, each type of plant, in a scientifically accurate way. My dad observed that our understanding of history largely refers to the history of the wealthy, (for example, all of these pieces of art had been commissioned by patrons who could afford it) and I responded by telling him about a scholar at MAP who was working on the history of the lower classes in Siena, specifically on lower class women, which is very exciting!
The best part was being able to share my passion, my emotional responses to artwork with my mom. Not only at the Uffizi, but at the Medici Chapels of San Lorenzo, I showed my mom works (both painting and sculpture) by none other than Michelangelo. Seeing how moved she was not only by the works themselves but by my love of them only reinforced how much I felt towards them. It was such a wonderful moment to be able to share with her. Back to the Uffizi, I had my family’s undivided attention for two and a half hours before their stomachs got the best of them and they needed an Italian dinner. I was really surprised and touched when my siblings approached me separately and told me how much they enjoyed the ‘tour’ I gave them. I was so fortunate to have the chance to share my passion with Tim, whose passion is for automotive engineering, and with Nicole, whose passion lies in scuba diving and oceanography. Plus, the fact that they enjoyed it made it all the more fun for me!
On Wednesday, when I was back at work and collaborating with Sheila, she mentioned that an exhibition on Carlo Dolci (an artist I knew almost nothing about) was opening at the Pitti Palace, and she asked if Jackie, Ashley and I would be interested in going with her. Naturally we all agreed and in consequence, we spent over three hours closely viewing this rather small exhibition! I walked around and stared at the various paintings, putting them into the context of schemas I already knew: style, technique, patron, sitter, and subject matter. But Sheila’s knowledge brought me into new territory. One look at a painting and she would dive into a discussion of the fabric depicted – how gold was woven into the material – or she would gaze up at the poor condition of a work and begin musing about the controversial restoration of the Sistine Chapel in the 1990s. Everything that she spoke to us about made me think more critically about what hung in front of my eyes, and because I had just given my family a tour of the beautiful works at the Uffizi, I began thinking about how much I don’t yet know about the history of these objects and what they depict. I found myself so much more eager to know everything about Renaissance Florence. In fact, I wanted to know about Florence from start to finish; I wanted to know its historical trajectory and especially, how it came to be the Florence Michelangelo knew – the Florence I know.
My experiences at the Uffizi and the Pitti galleries this week taught me a very valuable lesson: I was at a critical point in my academic career. A point at which I could teach the basics about the subject matter I was studying, but also a point that I needed to surpass in order to quench my curiosity, and to fuel my passion. Teaching would absolutely play a part in my future, and clearly Florentine history would too.