When we arrived in Florence, Emma, Dawn, Gabriela (one of the students) and I went to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. There are many amazing things in this museum including a half figure of Christ made in the 1300s. This piece grabbed my attention because of the sweet expression the artist captured—in stone, no less—on the face of Christ. After studying it for a moment, I could see the compassion in Christ’s eyes and the faintest traces of a smile on his face. I love to think that Jesus often looked like this—compassion just on the verge of joy!
Donatello’s Mary Magdalene
Donatello‘s Mary Magdalene statue is also there. The sculpture is carved of wood and is approximately the height of a first century woman and is close to the color that Mary Magdalene’s skin would’ve been. Looking at her standing there, covered in her ever lengthening hair was, like seeing the Pieta, transcendent.
While I was standing before the statue, I heard a guide tell her group that Mary Magdalene had been a woman of sin. I’m sure that’s the information she learned; it is the story that is perpetuated about her. But recent academic theologians argue that she was not in fact a prostitute. She was a woman with money. She was a woman who was devoted to the ministry of Jesus and was considered a disciple. While I know the guide meant well, it irritates me that this mischaracterization of her persists.
As I looked at her, I thought of the grief she felt at the loss of Jesus. How she never, ever, ever got over the loss.
Last Spring, my beloved friend Debbie suffered a life threatening heart problem and was in the icu for days. Her heart was repaired by a brilliant surgeon whose name I have forgotten, though I am indebted to him for giving me back my friend. Had I lost her, I would never get over it. Never. Remembering March 2022, I got a taste of how Mary felt at the loss of Jesus. Just a tiny sliver, but that is enough.
I look into her face and wonder if she is also sad because it’s just so very hard to feel as deeply as I’m sure she did. She would have carried in her heart the ministry of Christ. She would’ve had the urgency that we often lack today. The look on her face is one of determination, of intention, of mercy. She looks to me like Mother Theresa did in her later years. Mother Theresa always looked as if she was looking for someone to bless and to help. To me, this is how Donatello’s Mary Magdalene appears.
I was so sad to leave Mary Magdalene, and felt when I left her that I was leaving behind a friend. She touched me so.
After lunch, we visited the Academiawhere Michelangelo’sDavidresides. When I was a senior in college about to complete my bachelor’s degree in history, I wrote a final paper on the David in Renaissance art. I think I featured 3-4 different statues, compared and contrasted them, and discussed the biblical character’s impact on the artists of the time. Naturally Michaelangelo’s mammoth David featured prominently in the paper.
None of my earlier exposure prepared me for the real thing. Without seeing it, I don’t think you can imagine how huge is. Not only is it a massive piece, the museum itself has positioned it in such a way that it looks even larger. It was surreal for me to be standing at its feet, to walk around its base.
I am running out of adjectives to describe the experiences I’ve had this week! The Pieta, Mary Magdalene, and the Davidneed better adjectives because just walking the roads is fantastic!
Next we visited the Uffizi Museum which houses more masterpieces including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.Madonnas and Maestas, and altar pieces that boggle the mind were among the works featured. How to describe such wonders?!
By supper’s end we were all ready to board the train for Rome and get back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep to prepare for another day of amazement tomorrow.