The Bargello Museum
The Bargello is remarkable as much for its architecture as much as its contents. Finished in the 14th century, this palazzo has been the residence of the Duke of Calabria (1326), the headquarters of the local magistrates (1502) and a prison (1574). It has been a national museum since 1865 and houses a nice selection of Italian and Persian artifacts.
Once you get through the courtyard, past the cistern, up to the balcony of sculptures and bronzes, you enter a room much like the Medici Chapel – low and vaulted, but painted lapis blue and covered with gold painted stars. The building is as captivating as the artifacts it houses.
Among my favorites:
- The circular, folding, parchment fan, dating back to the 9th century. Probably the oldest paper I have seen that was not a book or a manuscript.
- A 6th century ivory tablet of Empress Arianna, in full Byzantine court garb, thought to hail from Constantinople.
- The combs. All three of them. Very large, coarsely toothed on one side, a band of really nice relief carving along the center.
- The Islamic Room. The 14th century Venetian-Saracen artworks — trays and boxes made by Islamic artists living in Venice. Carved Syrian Ivory plaques. The three 15th century Damascus Persian helmets.
- Juno and the two peacocks, by Ammannati, originally intended as part of a fountain at the Palazzo della Signoria, now installed among several other sculptures in the courtyard.
- The Atys, a bronze depicting a cupid with chaps and a contagious smile, about the size of a 2-year old toddler. I spend the rest of the day looking for a replica to take home for my garden. I settle for finding him in an Italian art book.
Dinner, and retracing the day…
The first viable osteria I find is not seating for a half hour. I shop for a ring and find one at last – a heavy, silver, Medici-looking men’s ring with a convex band interrupted by a fleur-de-lis. “The symbol of Florence,” the young man says. Yes it is. The handmade, sterling piece becomes mine, and I admire it throughout dinner.
The osteria opens, and I treat myself to a full course meal. If I have ordered correctly, that should consist of onion soup, ravioli, spinach, and white beans, accompanied by a glass of Fonseca. I read my menu choices to the waiter in Italian, and he writes them down. He repeats the order back to me twice before I realize that is what he is doing. My Italian will never be fluent enough to converse here…
I journal the events of the day. Of crossing the Ponte Vecchio, spanning the narrowest part of the Aron River since Roman times. The bridge is covered with goldsmiths, occupying the ground floors of buildings that still have crenelations and battlements at the roof line. Finding Santo Spirito, closed. I will have to come back.
…My onion soup has just arrived… a thick gravy of pureed onion with a thick piece of toasted bread plopped in the center, mounded with fresh parmesan cheese. American “onion soup” ought to be downright embarrassed…
Back to the day. I wish the Boboli Garden had been my first stop, rather than one of my last. Two Pompeiian villas stand at the entrance, one a replica residence, the other a painter’s workshop, with gardens fenced in with bamboo latticework. Red troughs catch water from the eaves for use in the gardens. Medicinals have not broken ground yet and the coin I toss into a fountain, bounces off the ice.
…The main course for my dinner has just arrived…four, lovely, plump ravioli, stuffed with spinach and a sublime white cheese, draped with truffle sauce, bite-sized chunks of porticini mushrooms scattered overall, fresh Parmesan on the side. Absolutely delicious.
I recall the olive arbors running the length of the gardens, intersecting with oak arbors running crosswise, dating back to 1620. A break in the arbors allows access up a hill to a secluded path where there’s a terraced stone trough running the entire length of the road. They are bird watering troughs, in an area designed for hunting birds with nets. Each trough ends in a medieval bestiary head that spits rainwater through its mouth, into a basin, and down the next trough, to the next spitting head. It is called the Fountain of the Mostaccini, dating back to the 17th century.
…I have finished the ravioli, and the next plates arrive. A mound of spinach, sautéed in olive oil and garlic, which I try to polish off but simply can’t. White beans in tomato and sage sauce, a regional specialty, does not impress me as much, but my body screams for protein. Frank Sinatra belts a song out on the radio. In English. It’s rather jarring.
I had found Santo Spirito Cathedral, similar to San Lorenzo, though it feels quite a bit larger. I thought Michelangelo was buried here but I cannot find the crypt. The central presbyter is stunning, flanked by 4-foot tall angels, some with black wings. A working knowledge of Latin would be really helpful before I return here, in order to read the plaques.
…The waiter has returned, but I have no room for desert. I finish my wine, and leave as the noisy dinner crowd starts to arrive.
I need to come back. To visit Venice for a day for Carnivale, and to spend the rest of the week in Florence. Fewer churches next time, more gardens, palaces and museums. More time just walking around the city. Another trip to the Baptistry. An entire day at the Boboli Gardens. Or at least the latter half of the day, so I can see the sunset…