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Friday, October 14, 2016

A Small Town and its 1%'ers

Florence has the feel of a small town. Like the way Boston seemed a generation or two ago when you could arrive at Fenway just in time to sit in the bleachers for a couple of bucks.  And yet, Florence, though small in size and demeanor, is heir to the glory of the Renaissance. Here, in an area easily walked in a few minutes, are treasures upon treasures.  Paintings, sculpture and architecture of singular importance are everywhere.  Literally, everywhere.  Yesterday, we passed an outdoor sculpture in a niche in a wall of the Orsanmichele Church.  (It is only a copy so as to protect the original, now housed inside the church.)  

There are no signs marking the sculpture.  Or any of the 14 sculptures that line the outside of the church.  And the street is most ordinary, a touristy shopping street.  We were on our way to another sight, soon to be described, when our daughter drew our attention to the sculpture.  Called Christ and St. Thomas by Andrea del Vercocchio, it actually replaced a Donatello!, when the merchants' guild wanted to make their "statement gift" to the church and city.  Notice how the right foot of the saint hangs outside the frame of the niche.  Like breaking the "4th wall" in theater, the outside foot serves to invite us in, as Thomas is asked by Jesus to believe without factual evidence that he has died and is now again alive.  We too are being asked to believe.

Well, as I was saying, we were on our way to another sight, actually a private walkway, built by the 1%'res who made Florence, in their day, the center of western civilization.  The Medici family were rich merchants who ruled Florence off and on for generations.  They married their way into nobility, becoming dukes, and also managed to become many a cardinal and handful of Popes.  And in a sweet story, when the last of the Medici line (she and her brothers did not have children) considered the fate of the family, Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici created the "Family Pact," which insured that generations of Medici artistic treasures would remain forever in Florence, thus creating a tourist destination in perpetuity.

The sight for which we were headed, is the private elevated, sealed passageway built by Cosmino I de' Medici at the time of his son's wedding.  It goes from their new house, the Palazzo Pitti to the Palazzo Vecchio, their old house.  The Vasari Corridor, is a quarter mile (remember Florence is small) of art filled corridor. We entered the corridor just next to its final destination in the Palazzo Vecchio, today a spectacular art museum.  From there the corridor passes over the Arno River, piggy backing on the Ponte Vecchio, goes around a large tower, the owner of which would not allow the Duke to remove, passes by the family's secluded church balcony and ends up at the Palazzo Pitti, home sweet home and today a spectacular museum.  

The corridor provided safety and privacy that only few can afford. Sadly, the effort to make the corridor open to the public, which began in the 1970's, was hampered by several difficulties including a mafia attack in 1993 outside the Palazzo Vecchio.  It is open now for a brief time and we had the pleasure of walking it, seeing its treasures and pretending to be far above our station.  As was reported to us by our guide, Cosimo I once said about the corridor, "I wanted to walk on the heads of the people."

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