Monday, June 18, 2012
Medieval Football and Santa Maria Novella
On Saturday Shaun collected a few of the actors in Romeo and Juliet – our Lord Capulet (my roommate for the summer), our young Romeo (an actor from Brighton), our Nurse, and me. The plan was to take our first walk around town, presumably just to andare in giro and get a feel for the center of Firenze.
We stopped for a beer outside Santa Maria Novella, the Gothic style church built by the Dominicans, just in time to catch a parade assembling in medieval costume. We were told this was the prelude to a match of medieval style football, quite violent and played without protective gear. There was a parade of grand costumes, flags, and weapons, until the players themselves marched. The players looked as though they could kill you with their stares alone. Inadvertently, we found ourselves in the midst of the green team, who disdained to push us out of the way and merely stomped like giants around us until we found a gap through which we could retreat towards the church.
We breezed into the courtyard entrance and strolled past the avelli, the gravestones at your feet as you walk through the contemplative suspense of the courtyard and into the church itself.
Stephanie, an actor in our troupe, was abashed to realize her shoulders were bare – which might prevent her from being admitted -- but was soon relieved to discover they have disposable body-coverings at the door.
The art in some of these chapels has been restored, and the colors are dazzling in a way that cannot be conveyed in the art books where I made their acquaintance. The scene of St. John resurrecting Drusiana (a fresco by Lippi) emerges from the frame with immediacy and life.
In the Tornabuoni Chapel, with Ghirlandaio’s frescoes swirling about us, Shaun (our local guide) admitted to coming on weekdays and lying down on the floor with her son to see the ceiling frescoes, until someone inevitably came along to say, “No.”
For students of art history, one of the critical pieces on display in this church is not in any of the chapels, but rather quietly presents itself on one wall. Masaccio’s Trinity is here, a step forward in the development of perspective and creating three-dimensional effect, and also humanizing the figures of Christ, the virgin, and St. John.
Photography in this and other museums is strictly forbidden. When I saw a pool of sunlight blazing through the stained glass above onto the exquisite tiled floor, I played the dumb tourist in order to catch the scene. (I was accordingly admonished.)
It was a fitting beginning to what will be, when I’m not rehearsing Romeo or teaching at one of the camps, a deeply personal tour of art and architecture I’ve read about from afar for such a long time. Indeed, at more than one point I nearly embarrassed myself, filling up with tears. This would also happen the following day, visiting the Galleria Palatina at the Palazzo Pitti with my fellow actors. This may call for some solo touring.
Fortunately, there will be time this week. The first performing arts camp will begin next week in the garden of the Palazzo Corsini; and our rehearsals will be in the evening, owing to the heat of the day and the camp schedule. At this writing, I am in high anticipation for our first rehearsal, which will bring together an international cast of actors from Italy, Britain, and the United States to perform Romeo and Juliet outdoors at the Palazzo Corsini in July. I play Tybalt, the ragazzacio who kills Mercutio and is in turn slain by the young Romeo. What I know in advance is that I will be costumed in black vinyl, and fighting with a rapier and dagger. Romeo will fight me wielding two swords. The stage combat is a major attraction here, and we are working with a professional choreographer to forge a spectacle.
But medieval football is a tough act to follow.