Florence – The Wrestlers, Venus de Medici, and Knife Grinder-three masterpieces in the Tribuna

This celebrated room, the Tribuna, was built originally by the Grand Duke Ferdinand I to contain a collection of precious stones, but now it is devoted to the magnificent and unparalleled masterpieces of art which were selected from this mass of almost countless treasures by a competent committee of artists about one hundred years ago. This room contains five celebrated statues, three of which we see. Directly in front of us is the Venus de Medici, of world-wide fame, the base of the statue being surrounded by an iron railing. We shall have an opportunity of a nearer view of this wonderful chef-d’oeuvre.

To the right of this central statue is the so-called Arrotino, a Scythian slave whetting his knife to slay Marsyas. The subject was discovered by means of bas-reliefs and medals. The statue was found at Rome in the sixteenth century. This Knife Grinder is wondrously natural and lifelike, and, looking at his upturned face and outstretched arms, you may almost hear the play of the blade as, with clever touch, he sharpens it upon the grindstone.

To the left of the Venus de Medici is seen the Lottatori, or Wrestlers, a work of the school of Praxiteles. Two young men, trained to the highest degree in gymnastic exercise, are wrestling with their utmost skill and strength ; and each form is so ingeniously entwined in the other that they seem to twist and bend simultaneously, and yet the two figures are everywhere distinct and separate. Though one is down and under, the contest is by no means decided, and a feeling of suspense takes possession of you as you watch the vigorous and struggling bodies. Gazing upon these squirming forms you half forget that they are chiseled out of stone, and you almost think yourself back to the days when such scenes as this were of daily occurrence in the Palaestra. The heads of these wrestlers, though antique, belonged originally to other statues, resembling those of the children of Niobe and belonging to the school of Scopas. Parts of the limbs have been restored, but the agility and energy of the writhing forms have not been impaired.

Back of the Wrestlers, and a little to the left, may be dimly seen Raphael’s Madonna and Child with the Goldfinch, which was painted here in Florence in 1507 and almost totally destroyed in a fire in 1548, but the pieces were subsequently joined together again. In the earlier representations of the Madonna, only the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus appear. Afterward, in order to introduce additional features of child-life and to make a better and more harmoniously arranged group, John the Baptist was added, and the two children standing at the feet of the Virgin made a broader base for the picture and gave to the Madonna the central position in the painting.

Above the Venus de Medici notice a Madonna with John the Baptist and St. Sebastian, executed by Perugino. Between the Venus de Medici and the Wrestlers is seen a freshly painted canvas resting upon an easel, the work of some present-day artist who is copying Titian’s Venus of Urbino.

This Tribuna may well be called the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple of Art, for in no other salon in the world does the glory of the Capi d’ Opere of the masters shine with such resplendent luster. No other four walls on earth glow and throb with such form, such color, such soul-power. To enter it is like looking upon one of those heavenly visions a spirit some-times sees in dreams. Nothing can be more perfectly lovely, nothing more rapturously beautiful.

Before we leave the Tribuna let us take a nearer view of one of these masterpieces.