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  • Shawn Gilliam

RECAP AND REFLECTIONS: Botticelli and Renaissance Florence

We take a look at the final numbers for the Botticelli exhibition, and see what guides had to say about touring it.



Visitor numbers for Botticelli and Renaissance Florence: Masterworks from the Uffizi edged closer to pre-pandemic levels for special exhibitions, Mia educators Debbi Hegstrom and Kara ZumBahlen report, with 2,855 visitors for public tours and 1,566 visitors for private tours. This is in addition to four virtual tours with a total of 586 online attendees and guide-organized visits of 1-4 groups of friends and family for most guides. Looking at visitor feedback surveys, 37 percent of respondents went on a tour. Of those, 83 percent reported the tours contributed positively or somewhat positively to their experience.


Numbers are good to note, but what do Mia Guides have to say about their touring experience? We tapped Andrew Hong, Fran Megarry, and Lyn Osgood for their thoughts and takeaways from touring the exhibition.


A SLOW LOOK

One realization this exhibition brought Fran Megarry, which she says will serve her well moving forward, is that “multitasking” isn’t great for her. “And by that, I mean I can’t just walk up to a work of art and glance at it for a minute and continue,” she says. “I’m a strong believer in the slow look—that the art will speak to us if we allow it to.”


The Boy with Thorn (also known as Spinario) sculpture provided the perfect example, Megarry says. “It was such a joyful piece. We’ve all sat in that position, and it’s harder as we age. That coupled with the drawing that was just to left of it, which was Botticelli’s, was wonderful. He took inspiration from Spinario but added some muscle and some age to the drawing. It all deserved time—a really nice, slow look.”


Boy with Thorn (Spinario), Late first century BCE to early first century CE, Greek marble with additions in Carrara marble, inv. 1914 no. 177. Image source: Uffizi Galleries


A STRONG THEME AND THROUGH LINE

“I chose the theme, ‘How People Live,’” Megarry says. “The Florentines were coming off an epidemic similar what we’re coming off, Covid. I tried to relate the religious connections for the Florentines then to our search for spiritual awareness now.” Continuing with that theme, Pallas and the Centaur provides a good example of what she means: “I started by saying, ‘Think about the last wedding gift you bought, and would it be a painting of the size we are standing in front of today?’”


Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Pallas and the Centaur, c. 1482, probably tempera and oil (temprere grassa) on canvas. Le Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence, inv. Depositi, no. 29. Image source: Uffizi Galleries


One through line Megarry noted throughout her tours was that pieces from the Uffizi were stored safely away from Florence during World War II, a move that spoke to how much the museum cared about the works. “Almost every piece I used had that little phrase on the label, if you looked at it carefully—and the idea of looking at something that someone thought was important to save from destruction was powerful,” Megarry says. She also frequently mentioned that the works were not originally intended for the Uffizi or any museum wall. “Many of these works were made for homes or banks or gardens,” she says.


Choosing a theme wasn’t necessarily easy, though, Lyn Osgood says. “It was difficult for me to come up with a theme—how could you just go in one direction with so much going on with people, place, and time?” she says. “So I just took the approach of being there—to believe you’re walking through the gardens, you’re meeting the Medici, and you’re seeing the rooms where they would’ve had the Pallas and the Centaur and the statues. And people’s eyes would open up.”


Osgood’s favorite piece, Adoration of the Magi, worked with her theme of being there in Florence. “I could say, ‘Let’s meet the Medici,’ and give visitors the background of the pageant and how this was a time the Medici could dress up and be the big patrons,” she says.


Pollaiuolo’s Portrait of a Woman in the final gallery, though, provided perhaps the most colorful discussion, Osgood says, right down to the detail that the young woman was blond, as were many women depicted in arts at the time. “Even in the old texts of Dante and Virgil, the heroines are blond—it was the epitome of beauty,” she says. “We guides can go a little deep with our research. When I Googled “blond” and “Renaissance,” I found a close-up of Beyoncé. So I compared that with a close-up of the Birth of Venus and how Botticelli’s influence lives on. It usually got a clap! People love connections—something they can put in their pocket.”


Piero del Pollaiulo (1441/45-1485/96), Portrait of a Woman, c. 1475, tempura and oil on wood panel painting. Image: Uffizi Galleries

A SPECIAL EXPERIENCE

Andrew Hong shared stories he heard from two unrelated visitors on separate tours. Each visitor—one man, one woman—saw the exhibition three times, including two of Hong’s tours for the man. Hong was curious about what brought them back. “The man replied, ‘I am a retired veteran and have mobility problems, and I don’t think I can afford to go to Italy,’” Hong recalls. He continues the man’s comments, “‘But I have read and have great fascination about Renaissance arts. Sad to say I am also losing my eyesight rapidly. This exhibit is one of the lifetime events and it is also one of the lifetime opportunities. So there, I am here to take it all in.’ I was so moved. It got me teary.”


The woman, on the other hand, had visited the Uffizi, Hong says. “She responded, ‘I have been to the Uffizi museum three times and it is never enough of Botticelli paintings. Each time I was here, I learned something new. Many of the items shown here were not seen at the Uffizi. My favorite is still the small painting of Saint Augustine.’”


The exhibition was “an amazing experience to come back to,” Osgood says. “I still get tickled down my toes to have this opportunity after the pandemic. We had Supernatural, and that was fun. But wow, to have this! We are all craving something serene and beautiful now, and Botticelli provides it.”

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