Yet more poetry of the wee hours (revised by light of day):
A gal who was touring in Florence
I know there are other reasons why people visit Florence and Tuscany, but for us it was only about the art -- miles and miles of it, within acres of gorgeous old buildings. While we seemed to have an endless appetite for it all, there did seem to be an excess of Nativity scenes and it became impossible not to start comparing them.
It was like watching the Olympics, where for a few days you become a self-styled expert in gymnastics or figure skating. We weren't so much noticing overall composition as we were faces, and body parts and poses.
It was clear that the earlier artists weren't painting from live models -- often the nursing Madonna had a disturbingly snakelike breast and the Christ Child had a long body of mini-adult proportions. But then you would see a portrait of Mary with bunions -- ah, a live model!
A great question: where are the eyes looking? Are the characters in the tableau actually engaged with one another or gazing blankly into the distance?
Mary's facial expression was a tough one. I assume the artists were trying to make her look beatific, but she often looked bored or dazed.
Baby Jesus was most interesting. How does one paint God incarnate? Scholars have probably studied the transformation of this image over the centuries, but my insight was limited to jumbled impressions. Sometimes he looked like a scowling little midget. Sometimes he came off as arrogant -- like, I AM the Son of God and don't you forget it. Maybe it was during the Renaissance -- or whenever the artists began using models -- that Jesus began to look like a real baby or a romanticized baby: bubbly and cherubic.
I did some text-messaging over my cell phone with friends back home and they sounded so pragmatic and wrapped up in the politics of the day. I floated along, helped by a glass or two of Chianti at lunch, pondering 500-year-old faces. What a way to spend your days, eh?