Quiet Masterpieces

The port of Trieste

Let’s face it – the New York Times has a definite fondness for Trieste. From the “quiet corner of Italy” article just the other day to the ode to Trieste’s pork products in an review of Da Pepi in 2007, this under-visited northern seaport appears in the newspaper’s pages with some frequency. I can personally attest to Trieste’s charm, as well as to the fact that it is quiet – the last time I visited this city, I toured a house-museum once lived in by a wealthy, 19th Jewish merchant that boasted an extensive collection of chamber pots – more than I’d ever seen together in one place. But what amazed me even more was the fact that for the entire hour I was in the museum, I was the only visitor there……quiet, to say the least!

This would never happen in Florence, the city where I live. The galleries of the Uffizi and the Accademia are packed with dutiful tourists from morning till night. The masterpieces that fill these rooms are certainly well worth a visit, but art-lovers should also venture to the Pitti Palace on the south side of the river to see a house-museum to beat all others. Luca Pitti went bankrupt building it and, despite its name, the palace was lived in for most of its history by the Medici, a family who wasn’t known for their decorative restraint.

One of eight museums in the Pitti Palace complex, the Galleria Palatina still preserves the typical layout of a private collection with its sumptuous combination of lavish interior decoration and stacked rows of paintings in original, richly-gilded picture frames. Not hung in chronological order, the paintings instead reveal the personal taste of the various inhabitants of the palace. Masterpieces by Raphael, Titian and Van Dyck are mixed in with everyday objects like beds, dressing tables and a spacious, Napoleonic-era bathroom, complete with a toilet and an exquisitely carved marble bathtub.

If I had to choose my favorite from among all the paintings in the Galleria Palatina, it would probably be Caravaggio’s “Sleeping Cupid.” Hung right at eye level, this little work is deceptive in its simplicity. A grubby little boy with a pot belly sleeps cradled on his own wing that serves as a down pillow. The curve of his right wing makes a gentle arc over his head, and his mouth is slightly open so his teeth are visible. Not god-like in the least, one hand clutches an arrow which is the only indication that he might be Cupid. But then again, he might simply be a child from Caravaggio’s Roman neighborhood that the artist “borrowed” as prop for this painting. Unassuming in its brightly-lit, photographic realism, this quiet masterpiece has a power all its own — standing in front of it, I  hesitate to speak in case I might wake the sleeping boy.



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