Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Photo of a photo of a painting

Today at the Uffizi Dave and I repeatedly witnessed this scene while standing in the room dedicated to the sixteenth century works of Florentine painter, Andrea del Sarto.

Not an unusual sight, unfortunately. Indeed, I wrote on the same subject two years ago from Paris after we braved utter insanity to look upon the face of a certain famous portrait by Leonardo (see Mona Mania from July 2012).

However, if you look closely at the image above you may notice a couple of odd things.

The framed object is curiously flat, bears a distinctly matte finish and has a generally life-less surface. That's because this is not the Madonna of the Harpies, Sarto's celebrated altarpiece from 1517, but a giant photo of it! The real one--as the accompanying didactic in both Italian and English makes clear--is in the fantastic Rosso&Pontormo exhibition now hanging at the Palazzo Strozzi a couple blocks away.  (See below.)

A common mistake, it appears, that's hard to explain assuming each tourist has a working pair of eyes attached to a sentient brain (which I'll admit going into our 4th week abroad, among tourists, might be stretching things).

So, without reading, looking or really even thinking, tourists from the world over are rolling through here taking photos they believe to be of the original piece and moving on. Task accomplished, meaningless photo taken. And in this case, not just any photo, but that rare breed of vacation image--a photo of a photo of a painting.

It's either incredibly depressing or hilariously funny. I am split. One thing's for sure, someone in the video surveillance room at the Uffizi is laughing their butt off in between cigarette and espresso breaks.

I will say, however, that for me it was a reminder of how increasingly bizarre our era's relationship is with "the image," and how that relationship is further complicated by digital reproductions and smart phones. At a time when art history seems to be viewed as a less and less important area of study for college students, today's episode did nothing for me but prove that more than ever people need to learn to navigate our visual world, and most importantly, to see.

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