With a third of the population of planet Earth on coronavirus lockdown, we’ve begrudgingly accepted that it’s not the best time to take a vacation. With only a few exceptions, we’ve got to stay home for as long as it takes to get COVID-19 under control.
That said, you can pretend to take a tour of a foreign landmark online – and in our opinion, you might as well head somewhere in cyberspace that you definitely don’t want to visit right now in real life: Northern Italy.
The city’s Uffizi Gallery is one of the art galleries you can tour virtually on Google’s Arts & Culture app. (You might already have the app on your phone – it’s the one that everyone was using to find works of art that look like their selfies back in January 2018.)
The Uffizi section of the app has four online exhibits with photos and info about works of art, 156 images of the art, a Google Street View version of the museum that you can wander around (that’s really easy to get lost in as you tilt your phone to look around), and one of those 3D phone-based VR “virtual tours” in which you can closely examine Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” while a voice with a smooth, Italian accent (Simone Rovida) narrates the experience.
Why digitally tour the Uffizi? It’s one of the most important, largest, and most visited museums in Italy, featuring art primarily from the Italian Renaissance. That’s right, it’s got stuff by the namesakes of your three favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Leonardo (da Vinci), Raphael, and Michelangelo. (Donatello’s works can be found elsewhere in Florence, but not here, you fans of turtles who “do machines.”)
The most famous paintings in the gallery are probably those of Botticelli, including “The Birth of Venus” (windswept naked lady on a clamshell or old Adobe Illustrator logo, depending on how much of a nerd you are), “Primavera” (party in an orange grove), and “Adoration of the Magi” (crowd chilling in a decrepit building).
The complex of buildings itself was built for Cosimo I de Medici in 1580 as offices for Florentine Magistrates, but the Medici family used the top floor as a gallery for all the art and artifacts they collected. When Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heiress, gifted the art collections to the city of Florence, which in turn opened the galleries up to the public in 1765, the Uffizi became one of the first modern art museums (though it didn’t officially become a “museum” until 1865).
If you don’t know much about the House of Medici – which financed the invention of opera and the piano, the building of Saint Peter’s Basilica, and the careers of Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Michelangelo – there’s a semi-fictionalized series about them on Netflix called “Medici.” It stars, among others, Richard Madden and Sean Bean, and though we haven’t watched it yet, we assume it’s like an Italian “Game of Thrones” with fewer dragons and more popes.
When you’re done with your virtual tour of the Uffizi, add to the experience by ordering Italian food or pizza (there are a few places to get either in and around Durango) and watch “A Room with a View” or “Hannibal,” both of which are set at least partly in Florence.
Is this the authentic Florentine experience? Of course not ... but neither was your free, phone-based art museum tour. What did you expect?