Fascinating Florence: A journey to find the man in a picture

2018-07-30 12:36 - Tatum Khoury
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Thoughts of Italy, often conjure up pinterest-like daydreams of mouthwatering dishes, perfectly paired with well matured bottles of vino and while that may be unquestionable, so is the fact that in the heart of Tuscany lies a city with an ethos of art…

Italy has always been in my top five European countries - with Rome’s majestic Trevi fountain promising wishes come true and Venice’s quaint no-road infrastructure threatening to sink before our eyes – it truly encompasses a spark of romance. While Florence was also on my nomadic checklist, I never dreamed that travelling there would be to fulfill one of my life’s missions. 

In 2012, my parents journeyed to Florence and spoke of the majestic beauty radiating from the Tuscan city but a single picture that they had taken of an old man surrounded by his eclectic art was what caught my eye. Maybe it was his eye-patch, the self-portrait balanced on an easel to his right or the lines on his face imitating a map to one thousand stories I felt he had to tell - but in the moment that I looked at that picture, I knew – I had to meet him.

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The city of Florence has a deep, rich art culture

With only a picture to go on it was difficult to find more information about this mystery artist. I would show his picture to anyone who would look hoping that maybe, they knew who he was or could at least offer some sage advice on where I might find him.

A year later, a friend of mine travelled to Florence – so naturally, I told her that she had to find him (Not thinking she would). On her last day in Florence, she sent a picture – there he was, ever so slightly older but still surrounded by his art, looking like the narrator of a Tolkien-esque novel of life stories. She had no time to stop and chat, but at least I had the picture and the knowledge that he was still there.

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The city of Florence has a deep, rich art culture

(Photo: Farah Barry) 

In 2015, I embarked on a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate my Gran’s 70th birthday and the helm piloted the ship toward Italy - I wasted no time mapping out a route to Florence with my cousin who already knew the layout of the beautiful city. Once we’d docked in La Spezia, despite the captain’s warnings not to travel to Florence due to time constraints, I grabbed my cousin and we took a cab and two trains to Florence.

With time rapidly running out by the time we disembarked the final train at the station, we bee-lined for the Square, where my cousin hoped he would be, among other artists she had encountered not too far from the cathedral.

We rambled past many gifted artists en route, but still had no sight of ‘him.’ We made a pact that we would search right up until the end of the long road before turning back and abandoning hope. The thought of having wandered across the world and not finding him, was a devastating one.

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The city of Florence has a deep, rich art culture

(Photo: Tatum Khoury) 

Then, just before the small bridge at the end of the road, I saw him sitting there – the same place he’d always been, his self-portrait on display for the world, his hat protecting him from the mid-summer sun and multi-colored paint splashed all over his apron.

It was him.

In disbelief, I edged slowly towards him, unable to speak - he looked quite scared to be honest -  and in hindsight, I don’t blame the man - Two young women staring and walking slowly towards him – I laugh at the thought of the sight of us.

Still unable to speak once we’d reached him, my cousin uttered: “She has been waiting years to meet you.” I quickly realized that I needed to say something before we scared him off. Using his nods and smiles as an indication that he understood, I told him the story of how I came to find him. Once I’d finished babbling, he placed his paints to one side, stood up and embraced me.

“My name is Carlo Piagentini”

The city of Florence has a deep, rich art culture

A City of Art

Florence paints a pretty picture of the Italian Renaissance by virtue of enchanting architecture and distinguished artistic masterpieces, synonymous with the Tuscan capital’s artistic reputation.

The Piazza della Signoria, identified as the historical and political nucleus, is recognizable by the celebrated works of Da Vinci, Michael Angelo and Botticelli that embellish the picturesque city.

Neptune can be seen standing to attention in a fountain at the centermost point of the square and a copy of Angelo’s David poses proudly for awestruck onlookers in front of the Plazzo, while just across the way the Uffizi Gallery – one of the largest and most prominent art institutions in the world- boasts grandeur.

Uffizi embodies an art lover’s nirvana, with an extensive collection of pieces that explore just about every genre. From Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus to Leonardo’s realist Annunciation and even the Doni Tondo, Michael Angelo’s first canvas piece - and the only one of its kind in Florence -  what was once an office has transformed into an artist’s sanctorum.  

The city of Florence has a deep, rich art culture

(Photo: Tatum Khoury) 

While Uffizi is the most visited gallery in Florence, not all of the city’s art is confined to those figurative four walls… in the streets and down the alleyways of the square, street artists can be found exhibiting their own interpretations of art among the artworks of master artists.

Every piece of their art tells a story through a diverse range of stylized pieces, be it realist, abstract, pop art, fine art or any other art form for that matter – these are the artists that one day, could be featured in Uffizi – so, pay attention because just maybe their work will speak to you, like Carlo’s did to me… 

Looking at Carlo’s art, I could see fragments of reality displayed in a newsy sense of pop art, mixed with a deeper, almost analytical approach to each collage-like piece, which told a story -  his perspective of what I imagine to be a life lesson.

The city of Florence has a deep, rich art culture

(Photo: Tatum Khoury) 

While each assorted piece was dazzling in non-conformity, I had eyes only for his self-portrait -  the only one of its kind at that moment in time – which is now hanging up in my home as a reminder of this incredible moment.

That day, a dream came true, but I also made a friend. Carlo is a kind soul and one of the most captivating people I have had the pleasure of meeting. I will forever be grateful for his warm embrace and kind nature.

Florence may be the city of Art but it’s also home to a myriad of hidden gems from delectable bomboloni to Giardino delle rose: ‘The Rose Garden,’ each step promising exciting encounters and fascinating locals…

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Travellers Tip:  

  • Joining a tour group with a professional art historian as your guide is a great way to ensure that you get the most out of your excursion. Prefer to just to take it in your stride? Keep in mind that trips to Uffizi in high season can have queues with very lengthy waiting period, so get there early to avoid the mad rush.
  • Most of the street artists can only take cash, with no available means for accepting a card, so if your intention is to buy a piece of their artwork, make sure you have some cash in hand.
  • Carlo is actually very well known by travelers who often stop to snap a picture with him. He spends most of his time in Florence, but also sells work in Portugal. See more of his work here.  

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