|A theme itinerary: Michelangelo’s Florence
A walk for two days
Uffizi’s name comes from the administrative “offices” that used to be here in the XVI century. The architect of the building, Giorgio Vasari, is the same of Palazzo Vecchio’s interior. He designed the bright arcade on the last floor and he protected it with real glass panels supported by iron and lead, a very rare facility for that time. Due to the beautiful light, the Medici grand dukes chose this space to expose their own art treasures, creating on of the first art galleries in the worlds (arcade in Italian is “galleria”). After admiring the east-wing masterworks of Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian (and many other masters…) and after looking at the great view of the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio from the “Tribuna”, let’s arrive in the west-wing where it is displayed the reason of our visit: the Tondo Doniby Michelangelo, a tempera painting on wood.
It is the only painting in Michelangelo’s picture production, anywhere else he will always use the fresco technique only. It is a “tondo” (like the Bargello one), a circle-inscribed representation of the Holy Family, and the gorgeous golden round frame is original and probably designed by Michelangelo himself.
The history of the painting is both curious and emblematic of the perception of Michelangelo about his works. This decoration was ordered by Mr. Angelo Doni, a very rich merchant who was born in a poor family and so he had built his wealth by himself. Maybe due to his humble origin, he was said to be a stingy person, so that when Michelangelo sent him the painting with a 70 ducats invoice, Mr. Doni just decided that 40 were enough and that’s what he gave the delivery boy. When Michelangelo knew the affront, he just sent the boy again to take the painting back and he let Mr. Doni know that the new invoice had doubled in the meantime: to keep his work he would have to pay 140 ducats now! The artist was very conscious of the real value of his works, much more than the pricing he could decide, and also he could never bear who breaks words. Since the merchant really loved the painting at first sight, he had to pay then all the extra money requested to get it, and the second time he took the care of no asking any more discounts!
Apart from the funny tale, many see in this episode the first artist in the world that is so conscious of his skills that he can do without a customer, emphasizing how the value of his creativity works was priceless. If you look at all the top masterpieces he made, you can easily understand how the time was ripe enough for this act: not an arrogance act, but the natural evolution from the artisan craft man, to what we still call “artist” in a modern meaning.
For this Holy Family representation Michelangelo invented several new features that will deeply influence the next generation of painters, as a real point of break in Art history.
First of all look at the so bright and neat colours, how they show up the volumes of the subjects, very similar to a sculpture style. The composition is very original as well: Jesus is not in the Virgin’s lap, but on her back, and she turns backward toward him and St. Joseph, creating a triangle composition. In the background a horizontal strip of naked putti completes the representation.
From the style of Michelangelo’s works like this originated the artistic movement known as “Mannerism”, which was popular especially in Florence from the second half of 1500 up to all 1600. Its name comes from the “manner” of Michelangelo which became the first inspiration for the artists, more than the nature or the classic art. The main features of this style are the bright and vivid colours (no more colours of reality, but colours as symbols), the complex compositions with many figures and their sinuous positions. A very few of these artists could reach Michelangelo’s works beauty, but some like Bronzino, Pontormo or Rosso Fiorentino created a personal style since his experience, so that they were able to realized masterpieces of high attractiveness (we saw a Bronzino’s big fresco inside the San Lorenzo Church). In the Uffizi almost the entire west wing exposes works of this style, then, if you wish to see one more masterwork, be careful to see the Santa Felicita Church on the left side of the road just after the Ponte Vecchio, where near the entrance there is the splendid Deposition fresco by Pontormo.