I came to Florence with very high expectations. Although I know better than to have raised hopes when going into a new experience, so as to avoid being let down, I felt pretty confident that Florence wouldn’t disappoint and indeed it didn’t. It was refreshing to be away from a big, bustling, dirty and noisy city like Rome and be around fresh air and nature again. The signature terracotta coloured rooftops were even more beautiful that the pictures I had seen for years, and the iconic Duomo dome and the Florence Cathedral tower were remarkable to see in person.
I was shocked by the actual size of the Duomo, not realizing the cathedral body itself would be as monstrous and complex as it was. I felt as if the body was as impressive if not more so that the dome which gets all the attention initially. I was hoping to be able to go inside and take in the view but wasn’t able to beat the lines in time. However as excited as the Duomo was for me to see, I had one thing that was at the top of my list as an absolute must see and that was Michelangelo’s David. Following that would be the legendary Ufizzi gallery.
The day came to go see David and I made sure to book my appointment for the latest possible time so as to potentially have less tourists to contend with and this proved a wise move as there were much fewer people at 4pm than I expected. What I loved most about this gallery (Academia) was that they didn’t bury the best treasure deep within the gallery for you to spend an hour trying to get to your main interest. Instead as I entered the gallery and made my first right turn, there he was in all his grandeur, David standing larger than life at the end of hall.
Nothing prepared me for the experience because I had seen countless images of David for years and studied the work in Art History, so I was quite familiar with the piece, but I was still completely stuck and stunned by the absolutely otherworldly beauty and perfection of the thing. I couldn’t believe my eyes how beautiful and utterly impressive it was. I approached it slowly until I was as close as I needed to be and stood with my mouth gaping, trying to comprehend how something this perfect could have been created by anyone. I moved slowly around the piece, pausing for 15 minutes at a time to take it in from different angles. The absolutely attention to detail alone was unbelievable, but there was something more present. The sculpture had a presence and an aura about it that was undeniable and palpable. There were three distinct moments I remember having to hold back tears, I was so moved. It is literally the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. The 16th century art historia Giorgio Vasari stated, “The statue so far surpasses both in beauty and technique, ancient and modern statuary that one needn’t bother seeing other works of sculpture.” I have no reservations about agreeing whole heartedly with this bold statement.
Standing in stark contrast to my experience of the David statue was the Ufizzi gallery. I was troubled to have to pay 24 Euro for the entry fee but I knew I had to do it or forever be haunted by having been to Florence and not going to the legendary Ufizzi. For an art history student this would be a cardinal sin. Once inside I was immediately annoyed by the gross disorganization and bad design of the front foyer. After clearing security and now being firmly in the gallery I found myself stuck behind a massive crowd that wasn’t moving. After standing motionless for 10 minutes and being berated by a tour guide who didn’t take lightly to me squeezing past her group, I finally realized the reason for the hold up. A single person turnstile, was creating an artificial choke point. There was no reason for it to be there as no one was taking tickets at that point and was completely unmanned. After finally getting through and now being free of the standstill crowd I began my rounds. At this point I was approaching saturation point of Madonna and Child painting, so when the bulk of the art ended up being another multitude of the same motif I started to grow fatigued fairly soon.
I came to the disheartening conclusion that the current mystique of the Uffizi gallery was based now mostly on hype and everyone’s refusal to point out the plain truth that the only thing it’s got going for it is Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Raphael’s Madonna and Child, Caravaggio’s Medusa, Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Gentelissci’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, the Hellenistic Laocoon sculpture and perhaps a few more that I will give the benefit of the doubt that I might have missed. The entire gallery and it’s mythos, floating on a handful of works. I left the gallery, feeling drained and disappointed. Maybe it was David’s fault, for setting such a high standard the day before, that nothing could live up to it, but I think it was more than that and perhaps the Ufizzi gallery is a bit overrated and doesn’t quite deserve it’s legendary status and is in fact just another case of the emperor’s new clothes.