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The Galleries and Free Openings 02/06/2011

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c. 1880

Where there are Galleries or Museums, Sunday is usually an open or free day, no payment being exacted. At Naples the Museum, and at Florence the Picture Galleries and the grounds of the Royal Pitti Palace, are open to the public, the only other day in the week on which the Museum and Galleries are free being Thursdays. Ascension Day, however, seems to be regarded as more holy than Sunday, for it happened at Florence, while we were there, and falling upon a Thursday, the Galleries were closed.

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News: Raphael’s Madonna and Lost Landscapes 07/02/2011

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Several news outlets have the story that Raphael’s celebrated Madonna at the Pitti (see yesterday’s post)  has a hidden landscape in the black background of the picture. The black background was added at a later date – perhaps the sixteenth century. X-rays have revealed hints of Raphael’s hidden world.

Admiring the Madonna at Palazzo Pitti 06/02/2011

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c. 1800

I happened lately to be at the Palazzo Pitti with a person who is perfectly well acquainted with all the pictures of any merit in Florence. While he explained the peculiar excellencies of Pietro’s manner, a gentleman in company (who, although he docs not pretend to the smallest skill in pictures, would rather remain ignorant for ever, than listen to the lectures of a connoisseur) walked on by himself into the other apartments, while I endeavoured to profit by my instructor’s knowledge. When the other gentleman returned, he said, ‘I know no more of painting than my pointer; but there is a picture in one of the other rooms which I would rather have than all those you seem to admire so much; it is the portrait of a healthy handsome countrywoman, with her child in her arms. I cannot help thinking the colour very natural. The young woman’s countenance is agreeable, and expressive of fondness and the joy of a mother o’er a first born. The child is a robust chubby-checked fellow, such as the son of a peasant should be.’

We followed him into the room, and the picture which pleased him so much was the famous Madonna della Seggiola of Raphael. Our instructor immediately called out, ‘Viva’ and pronounced him a man of genuine taste; because without previous knowledge or instruction, he had fixed his admiration on the finest picture in Florence. But this gentleman, as soon as he understood what the picture was, disclaimed all title to praise; ‘Because’, said he, ‘although when I considered that picture simply as the representation of a blooming country wench hugging her child, I admired the art of the painter, and thought it one of the truest copies of nature I ever saw; yet I confess my admiration is much abated, now that you inform me his intention was to represent the Virgin Mary.’ ‘Why so?’ replied the Cicerone; ‘the Virgin Mary was not of higher rank: she was but a poor woman, living in a little village in Galillee’, ‘No rank in life,’ said the other, ‘could give additional dignity to the person who had been told by an angel from Heaven, that she had found favour with God; that her son should be called the Son of the Highest, and who herself was conscious of all the miraculous circumstances surrounding his conception and birth. In the countenance of such a woman, besides comeliness, and the usual affection of a mother, I looked for the most lively expressions of admiration, gratitude, virgin modesty, and divine love. And when I am told, the picture is by the greatest painter that ever lived, I am disappointed in perceiving no traces of that kind in it.’

What justice there is in this gentleman’s remarks, I leave it to better judges than I pretend to be, to determine.

Vasarian Corridor and Facchini 29/01/2011

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c. 1905

Many of my readers will have taken the wonderful walk along this corridor. The limits of the Uffizi galleries terminate with the beginning of the Ponte Vecchio, where, having paid another franc at the turnstile, we enter upon our long covered seemingly endless walk. The corridor is lined on both sides with pictures, in the main portraits. Some of them are bad, but all of them profoundly interesting. There are also some thrilling pictures of popular festas. This is the place to learn history and to study heraldry, flags, crowns and costumes: but I usually see people racing along here, red book in hand and with such an odd fixed look on their faces, eager to get from one surfeit of masterpieces to another.

Do not believe Baedeker when he says: ‘Those who have left their sticks or umbrellas at the entrance to the Uffizi must, of course, return for them after visiting the Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno.’ For the modest fee of 25c. you will find your stick waiting at the exit of the Pitti or the exit of the Uffizi, whichever you happen to want. The one gallery gives you a countermark to claim it from the other gallery, and the facchino carries it round through the streets. The corridor is closed on Sundays.