Bored in the Uffizi

I think we have bad habits now, in museums and galleries, or those vast visiting collections that are puffed off at the Royal Academy or the British Museum. It’s partly the crowds of course, and the pressure to keep moving, but it’s also the sheer numbers of paintings or objects. A literary critic once suggested that you shouldn’t try to read more than four poems a week. I suspect you could apply the same rule to paintings. No more than four in a visit – or is that still too many.

Which all goes to say that I found the the Uffizi marvellously tiring, or tiringly marvellous. I grew especially weary of the endless repetition of religious paintings – all those Madonnas, clutching their – often slightly disturbing – babies.

Which made it all the more exciting when we came across this painting by Antonella da Messina – a Madonna for sure, but somehow less removed or antique, more real; more, I thought, like one of us. Her son too, clambered about in a cheerfully unsymbolic way as babies do, and hugged his mum.

IMG 2913

I discovered that da Messina was painting in the 1470s – when all around him were bursting into the gorgeous excesses of the heroic renaissance – and wondered why he wasn’t better known. If you google him, his paintings all have that unfussy but very human directness. They are real people with back stories, bad thoughts and an appraising eye.

Look at these three:

Antonello da Messina collage 3

And this thoughtful Virgin Mary:

IMG 2912

I even like his crucifixion. Well, Jesus is a little staid, but his thieves are wonderfully acrobatic.


You can read about Antonella here.

It’s fascinating that much of the story of the renaissance is about south influencing north – but with da Messina it looks as though it was the other way round.

Bored in the Uffizi

2 thoughts on “Bored in the Uffizi

  1. sibling3 says:

    Whenever I went to a gallery or exhibition with the kids, before we split up to come back together, they were to focus on whatever drew them or caught their attention and that probably a maximum to focus on in any one visit was 6 – 8. Then when we joined up each would take the other 2 to look at whatever attracted them so we could share. I’d say 4 poems a week sounds about right?

    1. That sounds like a good plan Clare. The problem really arises when you find yourself somewhere you know you won’t have a second chance to visit – and the instinct is to cram as much in as you can. Did you know da Messina? I’m sure you have him pinned all over one of your boards already, but he was new to me.

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