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Contextualizing Art

January 19, 2023
Ben Griffin

Who Needs Plaques When You Have Imagination?

Ben Griffin

An immersive Italian art experience guided by the imagination of yours truly. 

Over Christmas, I had the chance to visit my sister, who is studying abroad in Florence, Italy. While I was there, we visited art museums, squares, art museums, churches, art museums, garden grounds, and finally, art museums. 

 I made several observations after visiting the first few museums. First, a lot of the plaques were in Italian, so I couldn’t read them. Second, I was tired of reading plaques, so even if they were in English, I chose to remain in the dark.  

Because I neglected to inform myself of the context and meaning behind the thousands of paintings and sculptures I glimpsed, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to imagine what these artworks might say for themselves. I realize if you’re like me and don’t like reading plaques, there’s a slim chance you’ll read this whole article. Luckily, I like my chances like I like my lunchmeat: slim and not very good.

Holy Allegory by Giovanni Bellini. Photo by Uffizi.it.

[Old man leaning on rail]: *in a rapid whisper* Quickly, children, gather the apples. No, don’t drop them! Yes, yes, the adults are getting hungry. 

[Woman on throne]: Why does he insist on baby employees; we could have been eating by now if he would just pick the apples himself. 

[Woman with crown]: I would give anything for feet like that… 

[Woman in black shawl]: Has that man been shot by arrows? Why isn’t anyone saying anything? 

[Man shot with arrows]: I have two questions: How did that baby get a shirt, and why is my loincloth so much tighter than the man next to me? 

[Man with turban]: I could have sworn I left my centaur here. 

[Man with sword]: Seriously, I’m telling you, you HAVE to try this churro. 

[And scene]

Cameo of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Eleanor of Toledo, and their children by Giovanni Antonio de’ Rossi. Photo by Uffizi.it.

Cosimo: Pssssst, Eleanor! I have something to tell you. 

Eleanor: Yes dear, tell me. Here, my face is three inches away from yours so that you can tell me. 

Cosimo: Good, good, I wanted to tell you that — wait, son, what are you doing here?! I must tell your mother something, leave us. 

Cosimo: Ok, as I wa — Son #2! Not you now. This is a private conversation, go creepily eavesdrop on your brother. 

Eleanor: They really are nosy. Alright honey, let’s hear it. 

Cosimo: … 

Eleanor: Daughter #1 is behind me, isn’t she? 

Cosimo: Alright everybody, your mother and I would like some privacy! 

Creepy baby: *coos*  

Cosimo: Good gods, I’ll just tell everyone, then: I believe there’s a little man blowing a horn above our heads, although I’m not certain. 

Eleanor: *screams* 

[And scene]

Allori Loggia by Alessandro Allori. Photo by Uffizi.it.

[Woman by monkey]: Freda, how is your goat washing going?  

[Woman washing animal]: I don’t know that it’s a goat per se, but it seems to like the delicate cycle. 

[Woman combing hair]: Camilla, does my hair look smooth enough to you? 

[Woman by monkey]: I’m afraid I still see a few knots; shall I send over my monkey? 

[Woman combing hair]: *shudders* 

[Woman by dog]: Every time I get my hair clean, another bird releases their droppings on my scalp, and I have to restart the entire process. 

[Dog]: Arf! 

[Woman braiding hair]: That’s why I stand to the left of the birds. 

[Woman by dog]: You’re still under the birds, you dolt. 

[Sky babies]: *hiccup* 

[Birds]: *in one collective voice* the Reich of the birds has risen; we will not rest until all monkeys and women have perished. 

[And scene] 

Roman sculpture of Asclepius. Photo by Uffizi.it

[Muffled Roman applause] 

How are we doing tonight, Tuscany?!  

It’s nice to be here. You know I’ve been doing shows all over the Mediterranean, or as I like to call, the entire world, so I’ve gotten to see a lot of audiences. You seem a little quiet, but you’re a lot better than the Colosseum, that audience was pretty... well, not very lively anyways.  

Anyways, so the other night I’m talking to my buddy Nikeratos, and we’re just strolling up towards Pantheon all casual, and he’s like, listen to me Asclepius, that is NOT how you wrap a toga. And I’m like, how do you mean? And he’s like, well you completely missed your right pec, and I’m not confident the left is covered either. So, I say, it felt a little odd to me too, but I swear to gods that’s what all the lady statues are doing. 

[And scene]  

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