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Florence Art

July 20, 2003

Dear Friends and Families,

Renaissance art is the reason for going to Florence. The ice cream's good but not that much better than in other Italian destinations. I'm an engineer so this is all part of the get-some-culture campaign I've been on for a few years to counter-balance my nerdness. I've got a long way to go, but I'm starting to like it.

Here are my museum-by-museum impressions.

The Uffizi

This first stop has been an art museum for hundreds of years and remains as overwhelming as the Medicis probably meant it to be. Nevertheless, the single-floor U-shape arrangement is easy to cover since the display rooms move from the 13th through the 18th Centuries. The window-lined hallways hold ancient copies of Roman and Greek sculpture, perhaps added as background for the Renaissance work in the rooms. But there is just too much to see and appreciate before museum-glaze sets in after two or three hours.

I suppose everyone has favorites among the thousands of paintings. Many are immediatley recognizable, such as Botticelli's "Birth of Venus", but seeing lesser-known works by the same artists adds context to their most famous neighbors.

Michelangelo's famous "Madonna Doni Tondo" illustrated how he changed Western art. The Madonna theme had been painted thousands of times, but here was a picture of a physically strong mother handing her son over her shoulder to Joseph. Each of the three people looked human and somehow both ordinary and extraordinary.

(The commercial story associated with the work is also interesting. Mr. Doni commissioned the work, but the price was only negotiated after completion. Michelangelo asked 70 scudi, but Doni didn't get to be a rich merchant by just accepting list price and he countered with 40. The artist thought a moment and said the price had gone up to 100. Doni wanted the piece but couldn't give in to a mere artist so he negotiated more. The deal was ultimately settled at 140 scudi. Michelangelo was no "mere artist".)

I found I had other favorites as well. Bronzino's 16th Century portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi showed a beauty who could turn heads in Hollywood today. On the other hand, Carvaggio's Medusa, painted on a ceremonial shield a half-century before, truly looked freightening enough to immobilize those heads not turned away.

So we see, even an engineer can be impressed by the Uffizi collection. Thinking about a few of the pieces makes me wonder about all those I skimmed by too quickly. Next time.


The next "must see" was the Accademia, home of the Michelangelo's David. Even engineers recognize this work, but seeing the 14-foot tall (4+ meters) masterpiece, was certainly a highlight of our Florence visit. The strength of the piece can not be overstated. Our tour a few days earlier to a sculpture workshop made young Michelangelo's accomplishment even more impressive.

The same display hall also had four "unfinished" works by the great sculptor. In each stone, Michelangelo seemed to have reached the limit of what the block of Carrara marble could yield. These were in clear contrast to the perfection of the David.

The Accademia holds other works, but they seemed minor after the Uffizi collection and the David hall. No matter, the single Michelangelo was worth the visit.

The Bargello

The crowds did not join us for our morning visit to this display of mostly sculpture. It was a relatively quick and easy tour, but pieces by Michelanglo (surprise), his contemporaries, and successors made it a nice experience.

Medici Chapels

The Medicis were the commercial and political leaders of their time. From humble beginnings, they built a drug empire that allowed them to dominate Florence and much of the Italian art scene. (I wonder what the difference was in those days, between legal and illegal drugs?) The family mausoleum was expanded by none other than Michelangelo, to make proper resting places for the three major Medici brothers.

The master sculptor designed the space and carved each brother's tomb. The figures were all masterful reflections of the Medici power and the grief felt at any loved one's death, powerful or not.

Again, this was an easy visit, without leaving an outstanding memory of any single item. Maybe we had reached our museum limit but it is more likely that crypts leave a subdued message, no matter who designed or used the place.

Pitti Palace

The clue to the expanse of this place should have been that the ticket was good for three days. We did two mornings worth and still missed parts. The places we did hit are a blur. Paintings. Sculptures. Costumes. Dishes. Silver. Glass and crystal. Furniture. Garden. It went on forever but now, a week later, I must admit I remember few specifics. I guess there is a limit to how much culture an engineer can absorrb - at least in a single week.

Street Scene

Art also exists on the streets of Florence. There is a duplicate David, erected to replace the original, when it went over to the Accademia. Neptune's statue glares over the Piazza della Signoria beside the Palazzo Vecchio. Charming small sculptures hang from the sides of churches.

The Baptistry of the Duomo has three sets of bronze doors. The Dummy's Guide to Art claims that the set on the eastern wall may be the most important art work in Europe. That may be overstating the case, but the ten panels are remarkable bronze relief "paintings" of gospel scenes.


So, did Florence improve my limited culture level? Sure. Is there too much to see? Sure again. Do we need to go back? Probably, but there are so many places to see that I wonder when the next visit can be. Who knows, that may be a future story.


Stay in touch.


John and Marianne


Website:Wonderful collection of art work. Shows many of the pieces we saw.



Ghiberti's doors to the Baptistry. The ten panels told a Comics Illustrated version of the bible.



Examining one panel shows how the artist managed to capture three-dimensional scenes in an essentially two-dimensional art form.

This della Robbia bust was one of my favorites in the Bargello.



Yet another della Robbia. Later in our trip, we would see many others.





This copy of David is mounted where the original piece stood. While the Palazo Vecchio is being restored, it seems like a forgotten work among the scaffolding.



On the street, art peices showed up everywhere. This niche was 20 feet above the street.

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