It’s art that endures

Florence, Italy Those massive Medici egos supported so much of what we have today in Florence as a record of the Renaissance. The Medici are finally gone but the work is still there for us to appreciate.

We began the day at the Bargello, originally the town hall, then a prison, and now the national museum of sculpture. And what sculpture. There are works by Michelangelo, Cellini, Donatello and other notables of their day. The two submissions by Brunelleschi and Ghiberti for the Baptistry door commission are here, along with the ever-popular David theme executed by Donatello and Verocchio. The scary guy with the eyes is Cosimo I, watching us all carefully.

Then it was off to the museum of the Church of San Marco, the former Dominican monastery which housed two different expressions of faith. This is the monastery of Fra Angelica, whose paintings are luminous in their spirituality. (It was — surprise — commissioned by Cosimo Vecchio, who started the dynasty.)

When Fra Angelica became head monk, he began decorating the monastery walls, including every monk’s cell. I wonder if they got to pick their favorite image, or if it was chosen for them. You ascend up to the dormitory floor and see Fra Angelico’s Annunciation as you walk. The natural light makes it glow. And then there are the 45 cells…

The second famous resident of the monastery was Savonarola, the moral reformer who has fans and foes to this day, and who was taken from his cell here and burned in the Piazza della Signoria, outside the Palazzo Vecchio. His cloak and a few other artifacts remain here.

After lunch, hungry for more, we went back to the Duomo to tour its museum. It is a marvelous catalog of the works of genius the Duomo is known for — Brunelleschi’s dome, the Baptistry doors, and statues by Donatello and della Robbia. This is where the originals are housed to protect them from the elements and the centuries, while copies grace the outside. Michelangelo’s Pieta — the one intended for his tomb — is also here along with Donatello’s choir stall and Brunelleschi’s working models for the dome. Astonishing to have so many beautiful things in one place.

And just to lighten the mood, here are a few street scenes which just piqued my interest and show some local color — and bad fountain planning.

Don’s Food Corner

We ended up in a restaurant that in a guidebook touted the “retro” ’50s decor. Accurate. But sadly it all looked a little tired, as did the staff and the largely local clientele. The food was equally tired. There’s a fine line between tired and classic.

Jo started with an artichoke risotto. The plentiful artichokes were clearly fresh. She then went on to a chicken breast that promised to be roasted (like the wonderful chicken she had yesterday?), but was instead a paillard, not what she expected. Little twigs of rosemary were stuck into the breast , apparently to keep it from curling up while being grilled. She declared the chicken “dry,” which is her most damning complaint of any food. (She doesn’t like Italian cakes because they are “dry” as she declares Italian ricotta cheese cakes to be as well. “Dry” and grainy.)

I fared a little better. I started with ricotta-and-spinach stuffed ravioli in a meat “Bolognese” sauce. The ravioli had a decidedly manufactured look and taste to it, and the sauce, while flavorful, was watery. I moved on to a platter of roast beef and double-fried potatoes. The roast beef, sliced thin from a larger roast, was nicely pink and not too tough. It had what looked like heavy diner gravy on top, but was actually a pretty decent wine-based sauce. The potatoes were the best thing of the day. Lightly crispy with a very light and creamy interior.

The meal was memorable in a bad way.

I haven’t had a real Florentine steak yet. Maybe tomorrow, but I’ll have to choose carefully.

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