Years ago I went to the Uffizi Galleries in Florence. It was the first visit of many that would come in the future. The Uffizi is reminiscent of a rambling villa, with long windowed corridors that wind around the building canopied by frescoed ceilings and fine woodwork. The floors are marble and feel cool under your feet even on the hottest Florence day.
Wandering the Uffizi used to feel like I was roaming in someone else's house as a voyeur. I never used a map or had any idea what I would find as I crossed the threshold of each room. Would I step into the Filippo Lippi room, with his Madonna and her face so serene? Would I happen into the Rembrandt room, with the dark, smoldering light that I love so much in my own painting? Would I wander into the Caravaggio room? To be knocked over, literally down to the ground?
Each step was a mystery and a revelation. Your first visit to the Uffizi can happen only once, and when you go back you will remember the thrill and look for it behind each pillar.
But nothing in my wildest, most colorful dreams prepared me for the last room on that first visit. I had seem the Mona Lisa in Paris, the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Michelangelo's David, my favorite Chagall in Milan, many of which did not live up to their luster after so many imagined encounters. But that day I walked into the Botticelli room at the Uffizi, I sat down on the stone bench and gazed and gazed. Inexplicable, elegant, fantastical, mythical female beauty like nothing else on this planet that I have yet seen. I swear it smelled like roses and the light radiating from the canvases warmed my face. I swear it was ethereal.
I sat on that bench for a long, long time.
I go back to the Botticelli room each time I visit the Uffizi, and the thrill is never, ever lost on me. Venus. On her shell.