I had an hour to or so to kill before class. I dawdled over lunch, Tuscan white beans in tomato sauce and tomato, onion, and oregano salad with a short pour of cold white wine. The lingering flavors were mine alone, no one to share them with, no one to share the empty hour. Because I am here alone, because I am having an adventure, damn it. So, I wandered into the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, through the wrong door at first, of course, walked around the block and in the entrance.
It was wild to imagine being so rich and fancy that the open courtyard and soaring columns were just your house. Frescoes of the Medici family marched around the walls. Powerful white men on horses. Who the Medici women were, I still do not know. Many of the rooms were cordoned off, clearly set up for lectures and meetings. While no one lived within these stone walls anymore, the place was still very much in use. I tentatively poked my head into a room with a painted ceiling and rows of Lucite chairs. I could not tell if it was open for viewing (the ceiling, not the chairs). Someone setting up audio in the corner said it was okay to come in, so I did.
I walked the length of the room, neck cranked, gaping on awe at the lavish scenes spread across the domed expanse. “Do you know who painted this?” I asked the guy in the corner. He pointed to the five-foot-tall explanatory sign by the entrance. I am nothing if not oblivious. Luca Giordano. The Medici family had Luca Giordano paint their ceiling. Okay. The scenes spread across a cheery sky-blue background, clouds, and cherubs and happy what-nots all floating around. And then I looked closer. There was a bad-ass looking woman in gold armor riding a giant cat. And a cherub flying around with a severed head in its hand, holding onto it by its hair. A three-headed dog. And a rowboat of women, old and emaciated, with sagging breasts, one with gray-green skin holding a scythe, rowing… where? Hades? I definitely don’t know this story but it’s what I am here for. I always wonder what the women were doing in any given historical situation, especially the crones, the heretics, the ones who will not go quietly. They do not often appear in art or anywhere else, but we are always around if you look for us.