Florence was the birthplace of Renaissance art, so understandably the city has a lot in the way of masterpieces. But which to see first? Here’s the 8 that should be at the top of any art-lovers list.
1. Michelangelo’s sculptures
David at the Accademia Gallery
The mythical statue of David can be found in the Accademia Gallery. Standing at over 4 meters tall, he is a sight to behold and, yes, well worth queueing to see. Vasari wrote that “this figure has put every other statue in the shade, ancient or modern, Roman or Greek”. Pay him a visit and see if you agree.
More work by Michelangelo at the Accademia includes four famous unfinished sculptures; the very moving “Slaves” (Prigioni). These sculptures clearly show Michelangelo’s approach to sculpture, something he called “taking the figure out of the stone”. For him, the idea was already harboured within the stone, alive, ready to be revealed.
Medici Chapels, San Lorenzo Church
After a visit to the Accademia Gallery head to San Lorenzo Church. Here you can enjoy more of Michelangelo’s genius at the Medici Chapels, designed by Michelangelo to match Brunelleschi’s Old Sacristy. The funeral monuments are decorated with his sculptures, and set within an architectural complex where geometry and pathos mix with dramatic effect.
2. Botticelli at the Uffizi Gallery
One of the most elegant masters of the Renaissance, and a favourite of the Medici family, Sandro Botticelli produced his best work between 1478-90. His famous mythological and allegorical paintings can be found at the Uffizi Gallery: “The Birth of Venus” and “Allegory of Spring” are a real feast for the eyes.
You could try to decipher the meaning and symbols in the sculpture that were inspired by neoplatonism. Or you could just stand and enjoy the details in the flowers, the flowing hair and dresses. The very talent which made him the “master of the swirling line”.
Art passionate? Discover the most famous paintings in Florence.
3. Ghirlandaio, Tornabuoni Chapel – Church of Santa Maria Novella
The fresco cycle in Santa Maria Novella Church depicting the life of the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist (1486-90) is the main work of this Florentine Renaissance master. He is noted for his detailed narrative frescoes, and his speciality was painting biblical scenes using leading Florentine citizens in contemporary dress. Immerse yourself in his depiction of Renaissance Florence, and marvel at the craftsmanship in the vivid details and colours.
4. Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel – Church of Santa Maria del Carmine
The Brancacci Chapel (1425-1427) is the place to see the artistic innovations of Early Renaissance art. Much of it was painted by the young artist Masaccio, whose ability to portray people realistically changed the course of the history of painting. He infused his scenes with psychological depth and drama. Michelangelo himself was an admirer, and came here to study his work.
5. Donatello’s David – Bargello Museum
The Bargello contains the first free standing nude created since the classical period. This bronze statue of David was made 60 years earlier than Michelangelo’s, by the early Renaissance master Donatello. It is considered one of the artist’s greatest achievements. Here the hero is more graceful than grand, more sensual than mighty. You could see it as Beauty defeating its opponents, a symbol of the Florentine republic itself.
You can admire another of his statues in Palazzo Vecchio too, the powerful “Judith and Holofernes“, a symbol of victory of virtue over oppression. A copy stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza Signoria.
6. Raffaello – Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi Gallery
The “Madonna of the chair” (Madonna della Seggiola) by Raffaello Sanzio is considered to be one of the more tender depictions of Mary and the baby Jesus. The Virgin Mary is shown here as a very human figure. It is one of the treasures of the Palatina Gallery in the Pitti Palace Museum, mostly dedicated to Renaissance and Baroque paintings.
In the Uffizi Gallery you’ll find some of Raffaello’s famous portraits and the delightful “Madonna of the Goldfinch“, with bold use of colours and striking intimacy between the figures.
7. Leonardo da Vinci – Uffizi Gallery
Leonardo’s “Annunciation” was done when he was 20 years old, and still studying in Verrocchio’s workshop. In this early painting you can already see signs of the artist’s brilliance. The delicacy and psycological depth of the characters are hallmarks of Da Vinci, as are the natural details in the background.
8. Titian – Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi is one of the best places in the whole world to admire Renaissance art. And the “Venus of Urbino” by Titian is yet another one of the Uffizi’s masterpieces. The Venetian painter uses warm colours to give the scene its sumptuous atmosphere. Venus is reclining with sensual abandon, indifferent to the everyday scene around her. This eroticism couldn’t be more different from Botticelli’s idealised depiction of Venus.
Renaissance Art Masterpiece in Arezzo:
Now a brief detour to Arezzo and the nearby town of San Sepolcro, an hour from Florence. Here you’ll see masterpieces by Early Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca.
“Resurrection of Christ“, Civic Museum of San Sepolcro – One of the most original and enigmatic artists of the 15th century, Piero della Francesca’s hypnotic Christ rising from his tomb draws you in with his gaze. Aldous Huxley called it “the greatest painting of all time“. Even if you don’t agree, it’s hard not to be impressed by it.
“Legend of the True Cross” in the Church of San Francesco, Arezzo – This fresco cycle is considered by critics to be one of the greatest series of frescoes of all time.