Europe '96: Florence

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After the Cinque Terre, I headed on to a week in Bologna, with 3 day-trips to Florence to see the Uffizi Gallery and the Duomo. The Uffizi is certainly one of the greatest museums in the world, probably the greatest for the Italian Renaissance, and what period of art really outranks the Italian Renaissance? I hit it 3 separate times for a total of about 16 hours, and I could have stayed longer.

[The Duomo (sketch)]

Highlights for me: [the central panel of] Uccello's "Battle of San Romano" and Hugo van der Goes 🔗 "Portinari Triptych." I was already a big fan of Uccello (pretty much the inventor of radical foreshortening in the foreground, by the way) from his "St. George and the Dragon" which hangs in the National Gallery in London. It's a really weird picture, with a woman in medieval dress holding the dragon on a leash (now who was supposed to be whose prisoner?) while St. George attacks it with a lance. His mural-sized "Battle of San Romano" is equally wonderful, generally less weird, although he put a lot of fallen horses and corpses in armor in the foreground just to have an excuse to do really radical perspectives.

As for van der Goes, he was a Dutchman who apparently spent 2 years in Italy and influenced a lot of people with his very realistic background landscapes (think of all those late Italian Renaissance psintings and you can see the influence: the landscape behind the portrait). The triptych is a manger scene, but, unusually, he chooses to portray the arrival of the shepherds, not the magi, and they are 3 very distinctly painted rustics, each very different in both physical features and in how they react to the baby Jesus: one simply awed, one wanting to take that baby in his arms, the other a mixture of the two. And in the right panel there is an incredibly bizarre creature between the saint's feet and the patron's daughter's hands, the nature of which I cannot begin to guess at. [See image below.]

The next three illustrations and captions come from the English-language Wikipedia article about Ucello's Battle of San Romano paintings 🔗.
Niccolòs Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano

Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino 🔗 at the Battle of San Romano 🔗 (probably c. 1438–1440), egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar, 182×320 cm, National Gallery, London.
(I saw this in London in the 1970s.)

Niccolòs Mauruzi da Tolentino unseats Bernardino della Carda

Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino unseats Bernardino della Carda at the Battle of San Romano (dating uncertain, c. 1435–1455), tempera on wood, 182×320 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
(This is the one I saw this time.)

The Counterattack of Michelotto da Cotignola

The Counterattack of Michelotto da Cotignola 🔗 at the Battle of San Romano (c. 1455), wood panel, 182×317 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
(I bet I've walked right past this at the Louvre. Too many things in one place. Have to look next time I'm there.)

Paolo Uccello: Saint George and the Dragon

That supremely bizarre Ucello St. George in the National Gallery in London. (c. 1470, oil on canvas, 57×73 cm)

And (left of the girl) the even weirder creature in the Portinari Triptych, discussed above.
The weird creature in the Portinari Triptych

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Originally written: 1996

Last modified: 26 February 2021

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