I was fortunate to be invited by a friend on an art & architecture tour to Italy through a local college. Italy hadn’t been on my must see list, but now I’d recommend it to anyone. I’ll be posting on some of our stops including Venice, Tuscany, Pompeii and Rome in upcoming posts, but I’ll start with my favorite city – Florence.
Florence is rich in famous art and unusual architecture, as well as excellent leather shopping and delicious food. It was one of our favorite stops on our trip, but we were sadly only there for two days, not long enough to experience all it has to offer. Below are some of the high points from our whirlwind excursion:
Academy of Fine Arts (Galleria dell’Accademia)–Home of Michelangelo’s David
On our first day in Florence, we walked about 15 minutes from our hotel to the Academy of Fine Arts, where we met up with our guide for the next 1 ½ days, Michael, who looks exactly like actor David Spade.
Michael is actually Canadian and British and came here because he’s a painter, so we could understand him and he’s a good storyteller. As we waited outside the Academy, street vendors plied us with pictures of Italy. One tourmate expressed too much interest and a vendor tried to force a picture on her and then swore at her when she ultimately refused (shopping tip #1, only express interest if you are interested).
We were at the Academy to see Michelangelo’s David sculpture. The Academy is a former convent now housing an art school and a music school. David the sculpture was much taller than expected; far taller than a human. Michael provided interesting information on David. The statue was created for the Duomo’s cathedral and it was started by tw0 other artists who couldn’t complete it. It has the following “flaws”: the head, hands and feet are too big in proportion to the rest of his body, there is no left shoulder blade (probably a bad slab of marble) it had its left hand and right middle finger broken off and reattached. It was supposed to be in the cathedral, but instead was put in the Piazza della Signoria (see below), but eventually moved to the Academy to avoid being damaged. It is an impressive sculpture, but paled in comparison to a sculpture of David in the Borghese Gallery in Rome by Bernini.
There were other partially completed sculptures of Michelangelo’s. He’d routinely quit one commission midway through to start a better commission. Paired with these sculptures were Robert Mapplethorpe photos of the human form in similar poses to the sculptures to illustrate how Michelangelo sculpted the human form realistically (you could see the veins in David’s hand, for example). There was a Mapplethorpe exhibit as well, and a display of old musical instruments which had some stradivariuses and old pianos from the 1700s.
Piazza della Signoria – Come for the history, stay for the food
The Piazza della Signoria is the political seat where the jail was and is located next to the de’ Medici palace (now the Uffizi Gallery).
There are a number of sculptures in the Piazza in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) & Loggia dei Lanzi. The sculpture, Rape of the Sabine Women (by Giambologna), stands here, although as our guide Michael pointed out, the sculpture was not carved by the artist but by his workshop staff, based on a plaster model he created (which stands in the Academy).
The Fountain of Neptune and a copy of Michelangelo’s David are also in the Piazza.
There are a number of restaurants with outdoor seating ringing the Piazza and we lunched here. We perused a few menus before deciding on Caffé Perseo, where we had a wonderful waiter and a tasty, though slightly expensive, lunch. I had a mozzarella, tomato, basil sandwich and a bottle of water, then we split a sundae (€14!) with several different types of homemade ice cream (we could identify hazelnut, vanilla and tiramisu, topped with hazelnuts, raisins and chocolate covered coffee beans). Our table was on the patio adjacent to the railing so we could watch all the activity on the Piazza. It was fun and how we pictured a trip to Italy would be.
We had dinner as well in the Piazza after shopping that evening (see Shopping in my next post). We found a café offering a fixed price menu of any pizza or pasta, any beverage and gelato or cappuccino for €10. Sounded like a deal, so we ate there and were pleasantly served. I had ricotta & spinach ravioli (yummy, tasted homemade), and chocolate & strawberry gelatos, which were deliciously loaded with chucks of strawberry & chocolate. There was a newlywed couple at the table next to us from Denver (she grew up in Warroad, MN, small world), on honeymoon for 3 months traveling all over Europe via railpass.
There was a strong police (Politzia or Carabinieri) presence in the Plaza Della Signoria, as well as some souvenir kiosks, but I would suggest shopping elsewhere for souvenirs if you have time.
Our second day, we went to the Uffizi Gallery, which has works by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Titian & Botticelli (Birth of Venus). There were theme rooms, with a Madonna & Child theme, a Botticelli theme, a Titian theme, an Adoration of the Magi theme. One funny “family skeleton” on display – one painting had a picture of the painter in it, a monk. Across the room were paintings by his son. Apparently, the artist, at about age 50, went to teach at a convent and fell in love with a nun. He used her as a model for a Madonna & Child painting in the room as well.
The gallery is large and we were standing in place for long periods while works of art were explained to us in excruciating detail (although Michael was interesting to listen to), so go to the gallery at the beginning of the day, rather the end of the day when we did (although there are places to sit in most rooms, it was still exhausting).
Our traveling art history professor, who hasn’t contributed much to this point on the trip, said “looking at art is hard work and requires time and concentration”, or something like that. I don’t agree. Art shouldn’t be considered hard work. If so, why do it?
The Uffizi had great arial views of Florence, the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio (the oldest bridge in Florence).
My next post will detail the end of our time in Florence – including shopping!
More photos of Florence