FLORENCE, Italy – Today I saw Hercules, with his penis in full view, beat the living daylights out of Cacus (also with his penis out). I didn’t know it yet, but today I was going to overdose on too much history in this historical town.
Then I saw Hercules beat some other poor fellow down the street. An hour later, I saw him again crushing a centaur at the world famous Uffizi Gallery.
Too much mythology in Florence. My museum visits here went from thrilling to boring to down right irritating because I saw so so much of the same things, over and over and over.
There is too much history on Iran tours too
And now I commiserate with the Americans and Europeans who visit Iran because they also overdose on mythology.
“Please, please don’t take us to another mosque; we’ve seen enough,” every tourist guide in Iran has heard from foreign tourists.
I am willing to bet that many Iran tourists remembered seeing too much history in Europe too.
Which is a shame, because Iran has so much more to offer than tours focused on too much history. There’s the specular nature, the quaint traditional lifestyles of the villagers and the bedouins, the work of the artists and rug weavers, the amazing variety of Persian foods and music., all kinds of sports and acitivites in multiple climate zones, from near subartic to tropical to desert.
In Italy, I’m reminded again of the Iran tours with too much history
There’s so much beauty in Florence. The works of mankind’s most talented has accumulated in this little town for centuries.
But then suddenly I’m drowning in it all within a couple of hours.
Way too much (repetitive) stuff at the Uffizi, Florence
At Uffizi alone, I passed by hundreds – yes, hundreds – of portrayals of the Gospels, depicting baby Jesus, adult Jesus, dead Jesus and every one of family member and friend in every conceivable scenario.
The Gospels-themed paintings and carvings were both stunningly realistic and comically inaccurate.
No, I’m pretty sure Mary wasn’t in an immaculately maintained Tuscan garden when Michelangelo chanced on Angel Gabriel’s visit.
Or the baby Jesus’ manger didn’t have a panoramic view of a Roman port.
In one case, the Florentine merchant who commissioned the painting is inside the biblical scene that occurred 1,500 years before his time. A fan of time travel, no doubt.
An exception to the sexless depiction of Mary
Not all presentations of Mary in Italy are sexless and subdued. Ran into a powerful animated NFT of Mary at Palazzo Mora in Venice. This Mary is not passive. In the dark, her eyes are downright scary.
Museum or Storage Facility?
The Uffizi’s hallways are lined with hundreds of life-size or larger sculptures of dead men and Greek action heroes.
Along the top of the walls, on the edge of the ceiling, hang hundreds of portraits of historical figures, sort of like a registrar of all who were somebody in Florence, down to the barely notable. It’s like a giant display of mugshots.
But when too much of anything – even beauty – is, well, too much!
I got so bored; I started acting out some of the sculptures for the camera, to the amusement of fellow tourists who then started imitating me.
There were a couple of rooms where someone, God bless them, had the intelligent idea of hanging just two or three paintings, along with clear, concise interesting explanations of why what I’m looking at is important.
Yes. This is what a museum should be like, not a dump for all that’s been accumulating for centuries.
Later in the day, I am at the Palazzo Pitti.
Again, I walk through room after room after room of biblical and Greek mythology – walls and ceilings covered, an orgasm of art that irritates not inspires.
Lots of hanging ding dongs too, as usual.
At the Accademia Gallery also too much history
Later, at the Accademia Gallery, Saeideh and I saw the world’s most famous sculpture, Michelangelo’s David, in his birthday suit.
I’m glad we saw David. I’m glad the accompanying description mentioned Michelangelo made it out of an abandoned piece of marble.
But once again the rest of the museum was packed with depictions of religious mythology.
I was cursing under my breath by now.
I know these people were consumed with religion and war and violence. But does the 21st-century tourist also have to relive the ancient Italians’ obsessions?
But maybe no one else cares. I stopped to think: this town is packed with tourists and not all are first-time visitors.
Iranian tour authorities could learn a lot from Italians
People seem not to mind ponying up good money to see basically the same thing, not just in Florence, but all over Europe. How many Gothic churches can you see and not get tired? There are dozens if not hundreds of museums and historical sites in this town alone.
Tourists come despite inflation raging all over the world and the ruthless summer pricing of plane tickets and hotel rooms.
They came despite the occasional but ultimately unavoidable rude Italian waiters and shopkeepers and all the tourist-milking tricks the Italians are known for. (Every time I hand someone my credit card, I get nervous.)
I go outside. The sun is scorching. It is 37 degree Celsius (98.6 F) and it is just the beginning of a heat wave that is supposed to continue over the next seven days.
And yet there are easily tens of thousands of tourists marching up and down the streets of this little town.
I’m so used to seeing streets full of tourists that when I stumble upon an empty alley, I’m taken aback. I instinctively raise my phone and record the scene.
My heart aches for Iran. Florence has art from the last thousand years. Iran has 3000-year-old art pouring out of its ears. There are places in Iran where you literally trip over old stuff jutting out of the ground because no one has yet gotten around documenting them, let alone protecting them from the elements (and the dumb lucky tourists).
Give me some science, instead of too much history
At the end of the day, I take refuge at the Museo Galileo, gladly pony up the 11-euro entrance fee (a fraction of what I spent at the fairytale museums), scurry up the stairs, and suddenly I’m in a world totally antithetical to what’s been bugging me all day.
I admire Galileo’s bust, overlooking two rickety telescopes. They look like something a schoolchild made with cardboard tubing but their impact on humanity was seismic.
These were the tools with which, beginning in the summer of 1609, he discovered that the moon has mountains and valleys, that there are stars out there invisible to the naked eye, that the sun is marred by dark spots and Jupiter is surrounded by many moons.
It was the beginning of the revolution that would demolish the superstition that kept mankind blind and stupid for thousands of years.
What art history teaches us
Five hundred years ago, artists could not deviate much from the church’s precepts, or like Galileo risked losing life and limb. The very church that sold eternity in heaven also made hell on earth for those who dared to think differently.
There was a powerful reminder of man’s ignorance at Museo Galileo: Fra Mauro’s Map of the World, dated 26 August 1460. It was when people thought earth was a flat disk and at the center of the universe.
Back at our Airbnb, after showering and cooling down from the heat outside, Saeideh and I argued about overdosing on mythology.
“Not everyone is like you. Most people like going to museums,” she said.
But Uffizi and Pitti are more like storage facilities. Florence, to me, is like this old hoarder desperately hanging on to every bit of the past.
UPDATE from 2022 Venice Biennale
Visiting the 2022 Venice Biennale a few days later reminded me of the power of modern art and why I was so irritated by the endless repetition of medieval art in Florence’s museums.
There’s plenty of modern art that makes zero sense to most of us. But then you keep walking until you run into something that inspires. There’s so much variety that it’s impossible to get bored.
Freedom from the yoke of the church allows the modern artist to create freely and move us to our bones.
Like Uffe Isolotto’s We Walked the Earth at Venice Biennale’s Danish exhibit. I was shocked at seeing what was both alive and dead. It was impossible to walk away without emotions. It is a statement about adaptation to our changing world.
Then it was Simone Leigh’s works in the Venice Biennale’s American exhibit that was absolutely riveting, an unforgettable statement about the body and psyche of the black woman.