European Diary

Souvenir of Florence

Among the great city states of Italy—for city states they remain, a world unto itself every one, despite the advent of the steam locomotive and the electric carrot peeler—Florence was never my favorite.  When I lived there, I loathed its American present as the art student’s medina, with its disheveled, Nebraskan, notionally female multitudes swarming the city squares in search of culture.  I also loathed its Medici past.

What Florence of the vaunted Quattrocento conjures up in the mind of one who grew up in Soviet Russia is . . . Soviet Russia.  A glance at Michelangelo’s David of 1501, or indeed at its 1910 replica in the Piazza della Signoria, sends childhood shudders of revulsion up his spine, which he soon identifies as the aesthetic impact of Mukhina’s The Worker and the Peasant Woman of 1937.  Certainly, one is five metres high and executed in Carrara marble, while the other is 25 metres high and executed in anodized steel, but one must make some allowances for technological progress.  And while a peasant woman as large as King Kong is bizarre enough, a giant youth whose claim to fame is that, unlike his biblical antagonist Goliath, he was of ordinary stature is yet more absurd.

Much of the late Renaissance, for which Medici Florence is encyclopedic shorthand, is like that on close inspection, a precursor of Socialist...

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