Friday, October 14, 2011

A Pity at Palazzo Pitti

To greatly simplify a long and fascinating story, the Palazzo Pitti was built by banker Lucca Pitti in the mid 1400s and was purchased in the mid 1500s by the Medici’s, one of the most wealthy, political, and influential families in Europe. Its grounds and gardens are in a word, huge, and in another word, weighty. There is something undeniably solid about the structure (both physical and visual) and its contents. The palace sits across the Arno River from center of Florence and today, the royal family’s living quarters have been reassigned as Galleria Palatina and are filled with the private art collection of the Medici’s. Inside are antiques, sculpture, silver, fine china, paintings, frescos, costumes and other artifacts and outside, more sculptures and fountains in the manicured Boboli Gardens.

The plot of land is the size of a village. Walking straight from the palace up the hill, location of the museum filled with fine porcelain, takes a minimum of 20 minutes. It isn’t until I find myself atop a hill, and catch a glimpse of the city of Florence in the distance, that I realize the true effort exerted in traversing the hundreds of sneaky, short elevation steps leading to this highest vantage point. Walking side-to-side on the flat land, the chances of getting lost in one of the many gardens within a garden, are high and as exciting as daunting. Even with the enormous size of the Pitti Palace, it’s easy to lose your bearings in the overgrowth for several minutes without a sight line to the massive building.  

Inside the palace, my legs get an almost tougher workout up the stairs and over what seems like acres of harder than hard stone floors. But walking through the interior galleries is a little slice of heaven akin to my favorite type of living experience. Be it overnight in a hotel or friend’s guest room, spending weeks in our apartment “Aldo” on Via Ricasoli, in the family home where I grew up, or in my current home in California – my attachment to a place is directly related to the manner in which the walls dress. How walls wear their clothes and accessories tells me how they feel about the day and influences how I feel when I wake and see them in the morning. I feel most comfortable living inside a space filled with art. In the palazzo, ceilings and walls are covered with frescos, detailed plaster cast ornamentation, deeply carved molding, gold leaf furniture, and hundreds of original paintings framed in bulky gold frames, hung gallery-style, fill the walls. To me, it’s not overwhelming, but rather calming. In this bedroom suite where royalty once slept, the over-stimulation of color, shapes and images sing the soothing lullaby of art.

Several years ago, in a traveling show at Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, TN, I discovered Giovanni Paolo Pannini and new a love for “veduta painting.”  Vedute means view in Italian, hence the style called “veduta paintings,” large scale paintings of panoramic views or scenes with highly detailed landscape and architectural elements. Pannini’s “Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga,” is a wall-size painting of the interior of a library type space with 60’high barrel ceilings and paintings covering every square inch of the walls. The room has columns, statues, people milling around, paintings scattered on the floor, and it makes you feel as if you just happened upon an art calamity, not unlike today’s flash mob. A print of that painting hangs in my living room, which itself resembles more of an art gallery than a staging area for a sofa and coffee table.

The fact that you are not allowed to take photos in the Pitti galleries softens the blow of me leaving without a snap shot of my favorite piece of art dated in the 1600s by Cornelis de Bailleur entitled “The Studio of Rubens.”  It is a veduta of an art studio filled to the brim with paintings and alive with all things that have always made artists’ studios a place of mystery and magic. Of the 2,500+ works of art said to be catalogued for the palace, I was saddened to learn that no one at the palace gift shop was familiar with my favorite piece; there was no post card, no book, and no museum literature. To add insult to injury, I cannnot find an image of it on the internet. In spite of this pity at Pitti, the gardens and sculptures make the trip worthwhile, so stop by and see my favorite painting when you visit the palace, and check the nearby antique bed to see if I have drifted off to sleep under the red velvet comforter, an uncatalogued work of art, dreaming of being in a veduta painting.

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