Late in October 1842, Mary and the others left Venice and headed on to Florence—where she and Bysshe had lived twenty-three years earlier. (And where—as I related many, many pages ago—a Gypsy woman picked my pocket—with ease!—outside the main train station on April 22, 1999. Happy Earth Day—and welcome to Florence!)
In Florence, Mary and her party did what many (most?) tourists do today: visit the art galleries and museums. And she has quite a bit to say about it. To read sublime poetry, she writes, to hear excellent music, to view the finest pictures, the most admirable statues, and harmonious and stately architecture, is the best school in which to learn to appreciate what approaches nearest to perfection in each.
And I—a grumpy former public school teacher—ruminate and (inwardly) rant about how schools today quickly cut the arts first when funding gets tight. In other words, we close, in a way, what she called the best school.And pat ourselves on the back for “saving money.” For being prudent. (For being stupid!)
Mary Shelley—whom, like her mother, the public considered a “fallen woman”—could wax a little prudish at time. Considering the works of Michelangelo, for example, she writes, His love of the naked was carried to a curious excess. In the Tribune [Tribuna of the Uffizi—a room in that world-famous gallery], is a Holy Family, into which he has introduced a variety of naked figures in different attitudes that have not the smallest connection with the subject of the picture, but intrude impertinently to mar its effect. She was most likely talking about Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, completed very early in the 1500s.
In March, Mary and her party sailed from Rome aboard a small but well-built and quick steamer. Once again she was returning to a place she and Bysshe had lived—the spring of 1819, when she discovered that she was once again pregnant.