I’ve been asked what my favorite thing to see in Italy was. That’s a hard question because there was so much to see and a lot of it was really impressive. But one of the things that did impress me a lot was Michaelangelo’s David. We’ve all seen pictures and images and it’s become in many ways an icon of the Renaissance, but looking at it close up in real life is quite a different experience. There’s a difference in seeing something on a small book page and in seeing it in 14-foot white marble.
Since we couldn’t take pictures inside the Accademia (where the David is located) the above image from Wikipedia will have to do. As I was saying, there’s a lot you don’t see in a picture. You don’t see the exquisitely small details like the veins in the arms or the fact that even the finger and toenails are accurate. All this even when Michaelangelo knew that the statue would be on top of the Duomo and none of these details would be visible from afar. You also notice that his hands and feet are unusually large for the same reason.
Looking at the David, I saw a work of art but I also saw a glimpse of Michaelangelo’s passion, commitment and expertise. It’s easy to look at pieces like that the David and not really think about the artist behind it. But it’s worth remembering that these works that we venerate and love are the result of hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours of human labor. And you can’t fake dedication like that. I can imagine the love of his art that must have driven Michaelangelo to make something so exquisite.
Being an engineer, I can relate to Michaelangelo in some way. often when making a design I have a certain specification to follow but I often find myself going above and beyond what is needed to build something that doesn’t just work, but works well. Of course, I haven’t made anything remotely close to the David, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling a sort of kinship with Michaelangelo and his contemporaries. In an age where so much emphasis is placed on speed and deadlines at the cost of everything else, it’s good to look on works like the David and be reminded that there is something to be said for quality and the pursuit of excellence.
It’s been a while. I blame the crappy hotel wireless that I had to pay for. Anyways, Florence. It’s another amazing city. Not quite as unreal as Venice, but definitely not your run-of-the-mill metropolitan city. Every street has a piece of history on it and you can turn a completely unassuming street corner and find yourself face-to-face with a work of art. Whether it be the Piazza del Signorio (with the replica of David) or the breathtaking Basilica with its famous dome, this city has art built into it at a very deep level. It is really quite amazing and I could easily imagine myself spending a whole year just getting a basic idea of what amazing stuff is where.
The days and nights spent here have been amazing so far. The mornings are packed with looking at art and learning so much about them. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so fast about anything in my life. It would have been impossible without the two awesome professors who are here with us. They’ve spent significant amounts of time here before and have a really good feel for the city and what it has to offer. Whether it be where to find the best art, the best food, the cheapest shopping or the most flavors of gelato, the professors have been amazing.
Of all I’ve seen, gazing upon the David has been almost a spiritual experience. Seeing the thought and detail Michaelangelo put into this work is breathtaking. I could easily write a whole book on how it makes me feel and how it relates to my life. But that will have to wait.
But with the art-seeing in the morning and the shopping/exploring/partying in the afternoons and evenings, that leaves precious little time for journaling and sleeping. I’ve never slept so little for so long in my life, but I certainly do not regret it (though physically it does take a toll). I’ll certainly have more stories to tell, but they will have to wait. I’m sitting in the hotel lobby which is getting progressively louder and I have a paper to write for tomorrow. I have one more day in Florence and I plan to enjoy it.
It turns out that Venice is not built on top of water after all. We met with this very nice tour guide today called Fiona who’s from Venice but spoke perfect British English (and German) and she told us about the history of Venice and then led us around the city. Venice is composed of number of small islands and city is built by placing wood and stone on top of those islands to make them better suited for carrying buildings. Ironically enough, the part of Venice that was once the highest point in the city, the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) is now the lowest inhabited part of the city and regularly gets flooded.
After another full day of walking around Venice, I can safely say that it is one of the most amazing cities on the planet. Florence may be considered the birthplace of the Renaissance but Venice is truly amazing. It’s really wonderful when you find yourself walking through these narrow streets and suddenly you’re in an open courtyard (a campo) surrounded by beautiful buildings and architecture from different periods. And that is just the beginning of it.
Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance period Venice has been a center of both trade and military activity (especially naval conquests throughout the Mediterranean). The results of this are obvious everywhere, especially in the art and architecture. When visiting the largest Franciscan church in Italy, the Santa Maria dei Frari, it is possible to get a glimpse of the evolution of Venetian art and architecture gathered under a single roof, albeit a rather large roof constructed over 150 years. The church looks large, but very unassuming from the outside and gives absolutely no indication of the wealth of art and history that it holds within.
In many ways this is perhaps similar to Franciscan ethos of service without pomp and grandeur, reserving wealth and richness for the inside rather than external display. However, the wealth and splendor on display on the inside does make one question why an order of friars vowed to poverty would accept such immensely expensive additions to their church, even if technically they owned none of it. At the same time, it’s probably a testament to the fact that the world is so much complicated than simply right and wrong and that sometimes you simply have to accept the system and bend it to your purpose than fight against it.
I’m currently fighting against my camera and trying to figure out whether to keep a paper journal or just spend money and print out my blog posts later. Tomorrow is yet another jam packed day with a boat tour out to more Venetian islands and a Vivaldi concert in the evening. The day after we leave Venice for Florence and I don’t know what the Internet situation will be then. It might be a few days till my next post so till then I’ll keep journaling, reading, writing and paying attention to two awesome professor and a bunch of interesting fellow students.