Come and tour it with me..! This fantastic museum is equally magnificent as the Uffizi, and hosts some of the most significant masterpieces ever created (paintings by Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Andrea del Verrocchio -Leonardo da Vinci's teacher-, Pieter Paul Rubens, Raffaello Sanzio, and Tiziano, just to name a few..!). The Palatine Gallery is NEVER overcrowded, and is truly a sight to behold...so many diverse shapes, materials, and colours merge together, giving us ultimate synesthetic pleasure..!
Before entering the Palatine Gallery, let's experience a breathtaking view..!
Its whiteness, with antique pink and sage green stuccoes punctuating the blank ceiling, is dazzling. This was the Foreign Princes' Audience Hall. Did you know that the best plasterers of all time used to come from Canton of Ticino, in Switzerland..? To Grato and Giocondo Albertolli, from Canton of Ticino as well, we owe this stunning and opulent decoration, which is also harnessed in a geometric frame, in-keeping with Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo's illuminist and rational taste. Its renovation lasted from 1774 to 1776.
Why a renovation? Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo of the Lorraine dynasty (which got the Tuscany throne after the Medici family had died out) did not approve of the breakthrough Baroque style of the Medici Granddukes' apartments (currently the Palatine Gallery), and chose instead to live in the apartments which once belonged to the Grand Prince Ferdinand Medici; these were far simpler in their decoration. Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo altered these –along with other courtrooms like the White Hall– to suit his tastes, which he believed to be more refined than the Medicis’. Moreover, Pietro Leopoldo gathered every painting he could find in the Pitti Palace's room within the Granduke’s Apartments (the current Palatine Gallery) that he had chosen not to stay in. Because of this, the Palatine Gallery's walls are adorned in colours and overwhelming in their images of all kinds and styles. These astounding paintings are also surrounded by lavish golden frames, like the Pala Dei's (Dei Altarpiece) by Rosso Fiorentino. Many of these had belonged to Grand Prince Ferdinand of the Medici family who liked to collect large paintings, taking them from churches and convents and adapting them with frames to his personal taste; this had created the setting he desired for his own quarters.
In the Footmen's Antechambers let's take a look at a very interesting portrait.
It's Giangastone de' Medici -first of his name, last of his house- I am talking about. He welcomes us standing solemnly and wearing a curled wig, like all high-born men of the
1700s once did. The painting's background is the city of Florence, immersed in the mist of a stormy sunset, symbolic of the decline of this great Grand Duchy. On the other side of the hall, the large window opens wide onto the marvellous Boboli Gardens, which actually marked the beginning of an era: that of the Medicis at Pitti. The window floods the Antechambers with light. Light vs. darkness, dawn vs. dusk, hope vs. despair.
One of them, the Table of the Muses (1851, Opificio delle Pietre Dure and Giovanni Dupré) is in the Castagnoli Room, and it consists of a carpet of flowers mounted on an intricate bronze pedestal. The table base is made from coloured, precious stones assembled using the “Florentine mosaic” (commesso fiorentino) technique. This method ensures that every single shade of colour is represented by a thin slice of precious or semi-precious stone. Another in the Music Room consists of a large block of glowing green malachite mounted onto a lavish base of gold-plated metal by Philippe Thomire, Napoleon's court goldsmith,who dignified the malachite with lion paws and Sphynxes. But where did this flashy green malachite come from? It was actually sourced from the quarries owned by
the Russian (based in Florence) Demidov family in the Urals. Another is a slab of porphyry, known as the ‘stone of Emperors’, for its deep, purple colour, and its preciousness. Other slices of stone have been inlaid next to this piece to shape a series of richly decorated vases (Antonio Cioci, 1784).
Then, what a surprise..! In the Prometheus Room there are panels by Filippo Lippi and Sandro Botticelli..!
The ‘Tondo Bartolini’ by Filippo Lippi is a real masterpiece, the summation of all Renaissance principles; the one-point perspective in the background (where the Birth of the Virgin takes place), the Madonna in the foreground painted as a highborn Florentine lady, sporting a transparent ‘flugello’ veil on her fair hair, and wearing Our Lady’s colours. The red represents her earthly nature, while the blue refers instead to her divinity.
Do you know why many Florentine paintings are on a round panel..?
This originates from a very peculiar Florentine custom: the birth tray. Patrician women who had just delivered a baby were celebrated with a richly decorated tray, filled with seasonal fruit, chicken broth, and red wine. The decorations led the tray, which was usually round, to be considered a possible panel to be painted.
We then stumble across a painting by Sandro Botticelli, depicting a pleasing Madonna with Baby Jesus in her arms, bending over to allow young Saint John the Baptist to hug the little cousin. It's not the Birth of Venus, it's not the Primavera, yet you can still admire the exquisite delicacy, elegance and perfection of Botticelli's drawing style, which could stand alone even without its colours.
This painting dates back to 1608-1609 and is in the Education of Jupiter's Room, once a bedchamber intended for Napoleon Bonaparte (with his bathroom nearby..!). The painting is dark and harshly realistic, depicting the body of a child who has died from a juvenile infection. No artist had ever been so daring. Back in those days only a few patrons and donors could sympathize with such extreme rebellion against the rules of idealisation and sublimation of the subject which prevailed at the time.
Here, you will finally understand my depiction of the White Hall as lavish, yet simultaneously geometric and ‘minimalist’. In fact, in the Stove Room and the Planets' Rooms by Pietro da Cortona, Baroque explodes in all its magnificence and vivid colours, with frescoes dotted with golden stuccoes. Pietro da Cortona really was the Italian Rubens, whose painting “The Consequences of War” here at the Palatine Gallery in the Hall of Mars, displays a magnificent fair Venus, greatly resembling the Pietro da Cortona’s buxom, beautiful, glowing, ruddy women, painted to stand the test of time. They'll last forever thanks to the extremely durable fresco technique which Pietro da Cortona knew perfectly. Although durable, the fresco appears incredibly light and fresh, as if it were painted quickly, easily and gently.
Entering the Stove Room (which once housed the heating pipes to warm the neighbouring bedrooms) feels like taking a breath of fresh air. The varnish seems to glow as if lit from the inside. The fresco painter, as it is known, only could paint on a small portion of wet plaster a day, known as a “giornata”. The painter revealed all of his greatness and skills when it came to joining the “giornatas” (“days”) without anyone being able to detect the joining lines. Can you imagine how hard that must be to achieve..? Guessing how pigments would appear once dry (with no help from electric lighting), making sure the “giornatas'” neighbouring colour would take on the same tone once the carbonation had taken place..?
In the Stove Room, the four scenes depicted are from Greek Mythology.
Such a fascinating myth, from Ovid's Metamorphoses. The Golden Age fresco shows beautiful men, women and children living in harmony with animals and wild beasts without hunting or cultivating the land; the Silver Age fresco, when mankind still lived a peaceful life though forced to till and plough the soil and kill animals to survive; the Bronze Age fresco, the first age of violent wars, although prisoners at this time were still shown respect; and, eventually, the Iron Age fresco, the Kali Yuga, the age of the sadistic wars, when elderly people, women and children were brutalised, along with soldiers and warriors.
Animals, handsome human beings, plants, the sky: all of these elements are depicted with an iridescent, fresh, lively palette of blues, pinks, greens, and yellows. The floor is embellished by original majolica.
Let's end this journey with them. We begin admiring the Velata (The Woman With The Veil), in the Jupiter Room, which an art historian once named “Portrait of a sleeve”. This sleeve is a sort of... “primordial broth” for the rest of the painting. You can make out all the greys, the whites, and the golds which will explode through the rest of the portrait, depicting a magnificent, sophisticated and mysteriously dark-featured noblewoman, her skin as light as Snow White's. It is simply unbelievable how Raphael, with a handful of white tones, could build up such an image and give the idea of flax (the veil), and of taffeta (the luxurious dress). This, and the Madonna of the Chair in the Saturn Room, are really the crowning jewels of our tour, and provide proof of Raphael's well-perfected style. The Madonna of the Chair cuddles her baby so sweetly, their harmonious hug fitting perfectly into the circular panel, as if it only belonged there. Everything is balanced at its very best; colours, lines, emotions. The garments Our Lady is wearing are so precious and elegant, so exotic and oriental. They are colourful, trimmed in gold.
Come on this journey with me. You'll leave Florence so much richer than before..!