Florence. Birthplace of the Renaissance, the “Athens of the Middle Ages,” and a city that continues to inspire artists today. Each year, art lovers from around the globe can be found making a pilgrimage to Tuscany’s capital to see breath-taking paintings and sculptures crafted by the most influential creators of the Medieval era. With so much to see scattered throughout the city’s hundreds of museums, galleries, and churches, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
Magnificent Museums in Florence
Relive the Renaissance by meandering through the 100 plus rooms of the Uffizi, Italy’s oldest and most visited art gallery. Experience over 500 years of art history as you walk through corridors lined with regal busts and statues to rooms showcasing masterpieces including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Raphael’s Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals, Caravaggio’s Medusa, and Da Vinci’s Annunciation. Not only does the Uffizi boast an impressive collection of art but wait times to enter the gallery in peak summer months are arguably just as extraordinary.
The famous Galleria dell’Accademia is home to what can arguably be defined as the crown jewel of Florentine sculpture and one of Michelangelo’s most famous works- the David. An art lover’s trip to Florence is not complete without studying the intricacy of his curls, the detailed veins on his hands, and his life-like gaze. The Accademia also houses Michelangelo’s unfinished Prisoners as well as The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna. Florentine paintings created between 1300 and 1600 C.E. including Pacino di Buonaguida’s Tree of Life and Jacopo di Cione’s Coronation of the Virgin fill the gallery’s remaining space. Like the Uffizi, skip-the-line tours and pre-booked tickets are necessary to ensure your inner artist is able to enjoy all that the Accademia has to offer.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
Inside the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo are the original works created for Florence’s iconic Duomo. The museum’s centerpiece is the set of doors for the Duomo’s baptistery, knows as the Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Featuring 28 gilded bronze panels, the doors host intricate depictions of the life of Christ in the New Testament using new techniques pertaining to perspective. It took Ghiberti 21 years to complete this project, however, the result of his labor forever cemented him as one of the greatest sculptors of the Renaissance. Michelangelo’s unfinished and mutilated Pietà originally intended for his personal tomb can also be found in this museum as well as Donatello’s Mary Magdalen.
Splendid Florence Sites
Basilica of Santa Croce
Featuring architectural designs by Brunelleschi and Donatello as well as decorative frescoes by Giotto and Gaddi, the Basilica of Santa Croce is a work of art in and of itself. However, in addition to admiring the Basilica’s aesthetic, art lovers frequent this church to pay their respects to history’s great artists. Also known as “The Temple of the Italian Glories,” the Basilica of Santa Croce is the final resting place of more Renaissance masters than any other church in Italy. Visit the tombs of Michelangelo, Dante Alighieri, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Gioachino Rossini as well as those of renowned intellectuals such as Niccolò Machiavelli and Galileo.
Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria was and remains the political and cultural center of Florence, offering visitors the opportunity to experience the art history of Florence for free. At the corner of the piazza near the Uffizi Gallery is the Loggia dei Lanzi, and open-air gallery of ancient and Renaissance sculpture. The Medici Lions guard the steps of the Loggia leading to Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa and works from ancient Rome’s Flavian era. The Fountain of Neptune, Florence’s first public fountain, can also be found in this piazza. Designed by Baccio Bandinelli and sculpted by Bartolomeo Ammannati in the 16th century, the fountain’s theme symbolizes Florence’s domination of the Mediterranean during this period by featuring a 4.2-meter tall sculpture of Neptune in a chariot drawn by sea-horses. This fountain also possesses an interesting history of vandalism which began almost immediately after its completion and has continued into the 21st century.
Stimulating Street Art
Though Florence’s art history is concentrated in the Renaissance, new art can still be found around every corner. With a growing street art scene, this takes a literal meaning as sneaky street artists leave their marks throughout the city during late-night hours for contemporary art lovers to discover and enjoy. If you spot street signs that have been changed into quirky works of art, you’ve found the handiwork of Clet Abraham who strives to encourage critical thought on the constraints of society through his images. L’arte sa nuotare is another contemporary street artist who takes famous Renaissance works and figures and depicts them in an underwater setting wearing scuba masks, reimagining Florence’s art history in with eye-catching flair.