Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A wonderful day in the Bargello, and a bonus rant

I'll get the rant out of the way first. I decided to spend my morning in the Bargello Museum, which houses arguably the finest collection of Renaissance sculpture in the world, including Donatello's David. When I packed my bag this morning, I considered leaving my Nikon D40 at home, but decided to bring it along, just in case. I arrived at the museum, and lo and behold, there were no signs at the door banning photography, and I saw people in the inner open courtyard taking photographs in front of the guards without being reprimanded. So I took out my camera and happily began snapping away, working my way around the courtyard. I entered the first enclosed gallery, which was full of works by Michelangelo, Giambologna and others, and continued what I was doing, taking closeups of details and views (such as the backs of works or unfinished areas) that don't tend to be available in published accounts. All of this was without flash, mind you, in a room that contained no paintings. I was about halfway through the room when suddenly, a security guard came running at me, screaming "NO PHOTO! NO PHOTO!" Apparently, they have a policy of allowing photography in areas open to the air, but not enclosed galleries.

This policy is simply not fair. I've crossed an ocean to make this trip, and the reason I'm here is to learn as much as I can about important works of art, some of which I may never again see in person (one never knows). Also, as a sculpture scholar who has attempted to work from published photographs before, I know that it is often difficult or even impossible to obtain multiple views of a piece from the front, sides, and back, but multiple views are essential for understanding how sculpture, a three dimensional medium, works in space. For instance, how could I ever explain to a group of undergrads how Giambologna's Florence Victorious over Pisa is perfectly resolved from every viewing angle, and how difficult it is to achieve this, without showing them pictures of multiple angles? It pains me that some of the world's great masterpieces are in the hands of petty thugs who can't tell the difference between a student photographer taking pictures for further study and a disruptive tourist. Thus endeth my rant.Anyway, here are a few of the photographs I was able to take in the Bargello, either before the guard told me off or secretly afterward (shhh):

A few weirdly suggestive but awesome former fountain statues, taken in the open courtyard where photography was apparently allowed.

An awesome bozzetto by Giambologna of a giant for an outdoor commission - the Bargello has an excellent collection of small terracottas and bozzetti.

And here's why I love looking at bozzetti: that's Giambologna's fingerprint!

A detail of an early unfinished statue by Michelangelo, identified as either David or Apollo. I took a few great details of different areas of this statue, but I just love how sensitively the face is rendered, even in this unfinished state.

Here's the picture that got me in trouble, a detail of a Narcissus by Benvenuto Cellini. What caught my eye immediately was that the neck had obviously been repaired by a different marble, which made me wonder whether the sculpture was originally created as an antique forgery. The wall text didn't support one theory or the other on that one, but it did say that apparently Cellini had originally used (ancient?) Greek marble of poor quality to create the statue, and then was forced to make repairs in a different stone after the statue was damaged in a studio accident. Hmm.....

Here are some owls by Giambologna, for the birders in the audience. This picture was legal, because the owls were located on an outside terrace. They should have had guards posted out there, though, because I saw people TOUCHING them. I think that's a much bigger problem for the statues than my non-flash photography.

And finally, I snuck this picture of Donatello's David by keeping my back to the guard and holding my camera at chest level. Because, well, eff those fascists.

I'll come back later and post some more about how Giambologna became one of my favorite sculptors today - these long posts take a long time to write!


  1. Thank you for the wonderful images you did manage to get. Giambologna's fingerprint is very touching. I have heard archeologists mention the connection they felt with ancient potters on the discovery of their prints even on shards, almost like a clasping of hands through time.
    Can't help loving the owls too. Have a nice evening.

  2. Thanks for the owls. They look like they depict different species. The one in front looks like a Bubo type (Eurasian Eagle Owl?), and the second one looks like an Asio type (Long-eared Owl?). It looks like there's a third one too, but I can't see that as well.

    That's too bad about the photography bans. I hope the Roman museums are better.

  3. John - correct on both identifications! I also took a picture of the wall text, and I just checked it. There were a bunch of other birds of other species, and maybe I'll post some more when I come back and finish that post about Giambologna. The guy was talented.

  4. They don't let you take pictures so they can sell you pictures in the souvenir shop. I've, of course, just begun catching up on your blog, so hopefully you figured out that breaking the law is an Italian past time, and you kept taking pictures anyway. :D

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