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A Tale of Two Tassels - Raphael and Holbein in The National Gallery, London

March 3, 2017

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Visiting The Pitti Palace, Florence

 

The Palatine Gallery, in the Pitti Palace in Florence, had a lot more “A-List Artists” than I was expecting. If this “small” museum were in NYC it would be, by far, the crown jewel of renaissance and baroque art collections in all of the USA. But it’s not in NYC, it’s in Florence, and therefore has to compete with the Uffizi and the Accademia, as well as the Medici Chapel, the Duomo and all the magnificent cathedrals and other museums... and so is often overlooked. 


I went on my own. As in: without The Wife. When she and I are on vacation there is often a day, usually towards the end of the trip, when she’ll go on a food tour and I’ll either return to a museum which we’ve already visited, or else go to a museum which she has less/no interest in seeing. So... I saw the Pitti Palace while she was on a food tour of Florence.

First of all - the Pitti Palace has more painted works by Rafael and Andrea Del Sarto than any other collection I’ve seen. I have to admit: I’m not overly fond of Raphael but that said, I do have eyes... and therefore acknowledge he was a great master of his art. Seeing these paintings - fully in his own style and not beholden to the manner of Perugino as so many of his early/lesser works are (the kind you grow up seeing in NYC) - was actually a bit awe inspiring. Raphael could paint REALLY well! I didn't expect to come away with a newfound respect for him but I did. Conversely - Andrea Del Sarto’s paintings (whom I adore) were a bit of a letdown. I’ve seen the occasional Del Sarto (or two) in this-museum-or-that... and have always been captivated by his work. But what has truly drawn me to Del Sarto over the years are his drawings. 
 

As a draftsman Del Sarto was almost untouchable. Da Vinci was probably more technically proficient and inventive, and therefore “better” but that’s about it... when it comes to sketching and drawing from life, Andrea Del Sarto gives even Michelangelo a run for his money. But his paintings - or a lot of them anyway - are remarkably contrived by comparison. Especially the devotional pieces. All his women look identical - a fact noted in his own lifetime by the biographer Vasari who says he was so infatuated with his wife (who was cruel, petty, manipulative and violent by the same account), that all his painted women looked just like her. He wasn’t kidding. Canvas after canvas we see Mary holding a swaddled Christ-child and she looks exactly the same. Like he was on auto-pilot and just cranked out the pictures. So - although it was a MASSIVE treat to see so much Del Sarto in one place and finally be able to contrast his history paintings with his devotional paintings and portraiture... it was overall a bit of a disappointment. But that’s just me...
 

The palace itself has changed hands several times throughout it's history. Like the rest of Florence, at one time it belonged to the Medici family. That said it’s called the Pitti Palace because it once belonged to the Pitti family as well. It is home to the Boboli Gardens, world famous for their sculpture gardens and sprawling, green vistas. But I was there for the Palatine Gallery and I’m glad I went. The museum is STUFFED with great paintings by a who’s-who of 16th and 17th century greats. This handful of pictures taken with my iPhone can't even begin to do credit to the treasures they hold. Not just Italians like Raphael, Del Sarto, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, etc... but also the great, later, Northern artists like Rubens and Van Dyck, and even a few Spanish canvasses by Murillo. If you’re into great renaissance and baroque paintings - you can’t afford to miss this place.

 

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