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  • Vasari’s Corridor December 12, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing had – notwithstanding his recent rudeness about Giorgio Vasari – the fortune of the devil yesterday. He managed to tag onto the work group of Mrs B (absent because too heavily pregnant) as they went to one of the most exclusive tourist destinations in the world, Vasari’s Corridor in Florence.

    Florence, as any who have been will know, swarms over with crowds of holidayers, who crawl around the city like  maggots on an overripe piece of steak. Most of Florence’s notable churches and galleries are knee-deep, even waist-deep in tourists.

    But the Vasari Corridor – grail among visitable sites within the Flowery City – has a mere thousand visitors or so a year.

    Over a kilometre long and some three metres above the city centre the VC was built to allow the Medici rulers of Florence (hiss, boo…) to walk through Florence unmolested by the stinking populace or any chance assassins.

    As these were the Medici there was also, from early times, the temptation to line the corridor with works of art. The lords of Florence would be piled into sedan cars, reading the latest spy reports from Milan or staring out at a Roman Venus or a Venetian Annunciation, while being raced along the passage by eager attendants, .

    The Corridor today has become a spill over gallery for the Uffizi with, literally, hundreds of precious paintings lining the long course of the corridor – paintings that almost no one ever sees.

    The first part is all Renaissance tat: substandard Caravaggio, the first caprices of the French, a couple of Dutch non-grand-masters, some remarkably ugly daughters of the Duke of Modena… But then as the corridor straightens out over the Ponte Vecchio there is a long series of self portraits including works by van Dyck and Dürer that got Beachcombing all a flutter and that stretch forward into the twentieth century.

    The effect is added to by the casual, unprotected nature of the pictures. In most museums and galleries there is a sense that the attendant is about to pounce. Here though there are none of the normal precautions as only a dozen people are allowed to visit at a time.

    A couple of guards flanked the group, but for the most part Beachcombing and his small party were able to do exactly what they liked and the pictures had no glass or fibre glass, providing an unusual sense of intimacy.

    Beachcombing had expected to be struck by the corridor itself. And it is certainly exciting to walk along the passage where Cosimo’s dreadful prodigy stalked or were carried. Yet the corridor is strangely lifeless – it reminded Beachcombing of an elevator in a multinational.

    There are some fabulous moments. There are, for example, the windows in the corridor above the Ponte Vecchio that Mussolini had put in specially for Hitler’s visit to Florence in 1938: Beachcombing had never stood before – at least not knowingly – where Hitler had been and this made an impression, especially as, for a second, looking down the Arno, he felt a third-class landscape painter wake within him. How Beachcombing would have loved to see the moustached one start clapping his hands and talking ‘wunderbar’ on the very bridge that, five years later, his soldiers came so close to destroying.

    But it was the peculiar ‘deadness’ of power that was most striking. All these counts and dukes and dictators being rushed backwards and forwards had left nothing but their pictures behind them.

    On returning home Beachcombing was able to dig up this short comment from 1913.

    ‘Except for glimpses of the river and the Via Guicciardini which it gives, I advise no one to walk through the [Vasari] passage uniting the Pitti and the Uffizi unless of course bent on catching some of the ancient thrill when armed men ran swiftly from one palace to the other to quell a disturbance or repulse an assault. Particularly does this counsel apply to wet days, when all the windows are closed and there is no air. A certain interest attaches to the myriad portraits which line the walls, chiefly of the Medici and comparatively recent worthies; but one must have a glutton’s passion either for paint or history to wish to examine these. As a matter of fact, only a lightning-speed tourist could possibly think of seeing both the Uffizi and the Pitti on the same day, and therefore the need of the passage disappears. It is hard worked only on Sundays.’

    Beachcombing wondered whether ‘there is no air’ refers to the same deadened atmosphere he felt: the horror of having walked into a still life.

    Interestingly back in 1913 entrance was evidently easy for those with some lire in their pocket. Todaya visit is difficult to pull off under any circumstances. Either you (i) sleep with the mayor or his daughter, (ii) have a cousin who works in the Uffizi, (iii) get together a group of about ten and each pay 100 euros or (iv) have your wife pull a sickie and insinuate yourself into her work trip (see above).

    And even these options will soon be ineffective as the Corridor is about to close for renovation for three years.

    In a Scandinavian country ‘three years of renovation’ usually means a decade. In Italy Beachcombing suspects, this will mean a half century.

    Beachcombing was struck by how little is known about the earlier tourist history of the Corridor: any visits from the 1920s-1980s in readers’ families? Beachcombing would love to know more: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com