Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mary McCarthy's "The Stones of Florence": Book Review

The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarthy
Like John Ruskin's The Stones of Venice, Mary McCarthy focuses on art in a civic Italian treasure trove. In this 1959 book, she complains of hardly any air-conditioning, the wasp-named Vespas, the crowds of Germans and Swedes, the food, and the noise. How she would complain now? But at least today's Ponte Vecchio is closed to today's traffic. Looking at the photos in the original large-format edition, there are only two or three people around Il Duomo or the David replica, where there'd be easily a hundred in the shot most days today. Still, McCarthy's laments ring true, from a lively writer.

She spends most of this narrative roaming among this art. Naturally, the Uffizi is featured and the palaces, but surprisingly less time at Giotto's San Marco, for instance. As this takes place a few years before the devastating floods, one wonders if some sites were altered or their works moved for good, or lost to the Arno. She remains an erudite guide to the wonders of the city, and a commentator on a people whom the native son Dante (before or after his exile?) found stingy, envious, and proud.

I'd have liked more about the people, as so much about the stones, marble, statues, frescoes, and artworks can overwhelm. It's expected that this work would treat these heirlooms, but I found the glimpses of the Florentine temperament even more engaging. For visitors past or future, still a must.
(Amazon US 12-9-15)

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