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Santo Spirito Market
On our way to the church of Santo Spirito, we found a really nice local market in the piazza in front of the church on the evening we were there. It looked more like a flea market and has reasonable prices; vendors were selling just about everything! It didn’t pack up until after dark, which by the time we arrived was quickly approaching.
The Santo Spirito market is held every day except Sunday for produce and clothes. Also, on the third Sunday of each month an organic food market is held; and every second Sunday of the month is an antique market from 0900-1900.
Because we were there at dusk and by the time we exited the church it was dark, the market was in the process of dismantling. However, during the bit of browsing we did have time for we saw some nice things for sale.
After seeing Masaccio’s work at the Brancacci Chapel this evening, I was excited to see his other famous and inspiring work at the Church of Santa Maria Novella, which we visited the next morning.
Address: Piazza Santo Spirito – Firenze
gardens of the Medici Palace
The Medici family ruled Florence for many years. In the late 1400s, Cosimo I began building his new home in town, which to the horror of other merchants who were jealous of the Medici wealth through their banking business, felt that the palace was too much for a mere merchant family. Cosimo had even toned the opulence down from Brunelleschi’s initial plans and went with another architect with less grand plans. The Medici family later sold the house to the Riccardi family so the building is actually now called the Medici-Riccardi Palace (the Medicis moved across the river to the Palazzo Pitti).
The home itself is built around a central open courtyard with an open garden behind it. In the center of the courtyard stood Donatello’s David (found in the Bargello), which would be seen by all those passing by when the gates were open. The garden has orange trees growing in it, representative of the Medici ‘balls’ that are found in their coat of arms.
Today, the home is a museum that is a very fancy house. In our tour it appeared that the place was also used as a conference and meeting center since many of the fine rooms were set up for meetings with projectors and screens. There are some wonderful tapestries and paintings in the museum.
The highlight of the tour is the Chapel of the Magi, the Medici family’s private chapel with frescoes by Gozolli. In these frescoes, you can see the Medici family immortalized as part of the procession heading around the room with the three kings (Lorenzo, Cosimo’s grandson and future leader of Florence, is actually portrayed as one of the kings) as they head towards Mary and baby Jesus at the altar. This seems rather pretentious, but perfectly acceptable in a private chapel (but it wouldn’t be acceptable in a public church). The frescoes themselves are fantastic and show a delight in nature with all the trees and animals. In the procession are many famous people including the Medici.
This chapel was expensive! Not only for the commission for the fresco, but the marble and the carved wood stalls. This room alone is worth a visit to the Medici Palace.
Visits to the Chapel of the Magi are limited due to the smallest of the space – only ten visitors every 7 minutes are allowed in the room. Absolutely no photos in the Chapel but the rest of the palace photos are allowed with no flash.
Open weekdays and holidays from 9:00 am – 7:00 pm, closed Wednesdays.
This was our last official tour with our Renaissance art history class. That evening, we held a celebration dinner at Ristorante Acqua al 2 at the recommendation of our instructor.
Address: Via Cavour 3
Phone: +39 055 276 0340
steps designed by Michelangelo to the library
I was anxious to see the vestibule steps leading to the reading room of the library – the architect was Michelangelo. The library itself has more than 15,000 manuscripts and early printed books. It is located in the cloister of the San Lorenzo Church, which was primarily renovated with Medici wealth. The library demonstrates that the Medici family was intellectual as well as wealthy. The architecture of the steps, reading room, and library demonstrate the Mannerist period. Michelangelo designed them and began the work, but then left for Rome several years later and never saw the finished work.
I was initially struck by the smallness of the vestibule in which the steps to the library are laid out. But the entrance to the Reading Room is high up and the steps needed to get up to that level. It is said that Michelangelo’s design was inspired in a dream about waterfalls – and you can almost see the steps cascading down the room somewhat like water in a waterfalls cascades over rocks. Something else to ponder: Michelangelo has been quoted as saying “He who has not mastered the male nude cannot be a good architect.” Huh? Where does that fit in?
We climbed the staircase and entered the Reading Room, also designed by Michelangelo. You could see the Medici symbols in the windows. The intricate marble floors had a unique grotesque style design with masks. The wooden ceiling was amazingly beautiful and the room was filled with desks for reading. This is no longer used as the official reading room for the library was rather is a museum.
We went on a Friday morning and had a private showing of the library. According to the website, the actual library is open every day of the year from 9:00 to 13:00 and is free.
Before we finish with the Medici part of the tour, there is one final place you need to visit – the Medici Palace – the home of the Medici. Once inside, be sure to tour the Chapel of the Magi, the Medici’s private chapel within their home.
Address: Piazza S. Lorenzo, 9
Phone: +39 055 210 760
dome in the Chapel of the Princes
The Medici family financed the renovation of the San Lorenzo Church and the adjoining chapels. The entrance to the Medici Chapels is on the back side of the church and is separate from the church entrance.
After paying to enter (€6), you come into a museum area that has quite a few elaborate chapel pieces on display. Our first stop was the New Sacristy which was designed by Michelangelo and has his sculptures in it. This room houses the tombs of Cosimo’s two sons, Lorenzo (the Magnificent) and Guiliano. On their tombs are Michelangelo’s famous sculptures of Night/Day and Dusk/Dawn. There is also his Madonna and Child (originally planned for Pope Julius II’s tomb). Unfortunately, Michelangelo just couldn’t sculpt female nudes as well as male nudes. The poor lady in Night has some real issues with her chest! But this would become the influence for Mannerism for the next 40 years or so. His original plans called for frescoes as well, but they didn’t get done.
Michelangelo fell out of favor with the locals and had to be smuggled out of town. It is said he hid in this room while waiting to escape. If you look behind the altar you will see where the workers doodled on the walls – they were supposed to be covered with frescoes so I’m sure they never thought we’d be looking at their ‘work’. Photos are absolutely prohibited in this room!
After visiting the new Sacristy, we toured the Chapel of the Princes – an elaborate chapel with a domed ceiling. This wasn’t a Renaissance design but contains many tombs of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. There were lots and lots of marble in this room. The details on the altar are worth some time looking over.
This was an interesting stop and worth it if you are interested in Michelangelo’s work. If that doesn’t interest you, then I wouldn’t recommend this for you. Without Michelangelo, it is just another fancy church.
Before leaving the San Lorenzo area, stop by the Laurentian Library, which is in the cloisters of the church. The vestibule as well as the interior of the library were designed by Michelangelo.
Address: Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini, 6
Directions: entrance is behind the San Lorenzo Church near the San Lorenzo market
Phone: +39 055 2388-602
the tomb of Cosimo d'Medici
San Lorenzo used to be an important church in Florence but lost its status as the cathedral was built. The Medici family paid for its renovation and, in doing so, was able to make it practically their own private church. It is now the burial site for many of the Medici, including the founding fathers – Giovanni and his son, Cosimo.
Brunelleschi was the architect for this church – his clear lines and single point perspective Renaissance style is evident all around. We looked around in the church for a bit before heading into the Old Sacristy on the far left of the altar, which was also designed by Brunelleschi. The parents of Cosimo d’Medici are buried in the center of this room, under the bit table looking thing. In this room you can see the Brunelleschi work in the square modular units – each wall consists of four units high and across. On the side wall nearest the door under that mesh fencing are the tombs of Cosimo’s other sons – this way people could see the tomb from inside or outside the Sacristy. The reliefs in the room were designed by Donatello as were the bronze doors, but these were actually made by his students.
As you leave the Old Sacristy, there is a side chapel nearby that has an Annunciation by Filippo Lippi, a favorite painter of Cosimo d’Medici.
Head over to the altar and you will see a roped off square on the marble floor – this is the tomb of Cosimo d’Medici. He was named “Father of the City” and this was inscribed on his tomb. Symbolically, Cosimo is there before the altar helping bring the peoples’ prayers to God (as the prayers come from the nave up to the altar, they cross over Cosimo’s tomb).
Just before the altar on either side of the nave are two bronze pulpits created by Donatello. These were some of the final works of the artist.
On the other side of the San Lorenzo Church is the Medici Chapel designed by Michelangelo. You have to leave the church and walk around to the other side of the church, through the San Lorenzo market, in order to get to the entrance to this Chapel. Once inside the Medici Chapel, you’ll see some of the master sculptor’s famous works.
Address: Piazza San Lorenzo
the David by Michelangelo
Most people come to Florence and have a visit to the Accademia on their must-see list for one statue only – the statue that has come to symbolize Florence: Michelangelo’s David.
This massive 13 foot tall warrior stands proudly at the end of a wing that has other works by Michelangelo in it. But you are drawn to the David so go there first, wander all around the statue standing high on his pedestal, and just enjoy this magnificent piece of art. I had seen lots of art in the week I was there – and some of it rather famous and spectacular pieces – so while I was excited about finally seeing the David, it wasn’t a big deal for me. But I was wrong…I was surprised at my first reaction to the piece as I saw it from the other end of the hallway. It was breathtaking…literally. Like everyone else, I didn’t even see the other works that I walked right passed to get to Florence’s most famous piece. And once there, I enjoyed the work of a master sculptor.
David was sculpted out of one big piece of marble that had been sitting around the Cathedral work area. At some point, someone had come along and attempted to make something with it, but gave up. It was Michelangelo that got the commission to create a statue from the marble.
This is the Biblical David, the young boy that slays the giant Goliath with a single pebble. As he stands there, in the moments before the kill, you can see the emotion in his eyes. He’s thinking, strategizing, and formulating his plan. His sling is over his shoulder and the pebble is in his hand. This is unlike the other Davids in Florence – Donatello’s two and Verrocchio’s; these three Davids show the boy after he has killed the giant. Michelangelo chose the moment before – David doesn’t have that cocky victorious air about him, but rather he’s contemplating the upcoming battle. Was Michelangelo’s creation of a facial expression of readiness influenced by Donatello’s St. George which is now in the Bargello?
Michelangelo sculpted this massive statue in 18 months and kept scaffolding around it so no one could see what he was working on. Once it was finished, a committee (that did not include the artist) decided it should be placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (town hall), where it stood for many years. However, time and weather took its toll and it was brought inside in the 1800s with a copy standing outside in the original location.
NOTE: Don’t even try to take a photo of David. The guards around the statue are rather vicious in their enforcement of the no photo rule. I saw several people get verbally abused for even looking at their camera!
Once you have had your fill of David, go back and look at the other statues by Michelangelo that you walked past. St. Matthew was the first of 12 statues commissioned by Pope Julius II for his tomb (not all twelve were finished or even started since he then had Michelangelo stop sculpting in order to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel). But in his St. Matthew you can see the moment of conflict that Matthew had when giving up the money of a tax collector to become a follower of Christ. Is it finished? No, it doesn’t look like it – but perhaps this is the way Michelangelo wanted to leave him. The slaves statues are definitely not finished (there are two nearly finished slaves in the Louvre in Paris), but they demonstrate the genius that was Michelangelo. NOTE: If you want to see the finished tomb, although dramatically scaled back from Michelangelo's original plan, you will have to travel to Rome to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains). You can visit this church virtually by visiting my VT page for San Pietro in Vincoli and see photos of the finished tomb.
Elsewhere in the museum are other Renaissance art pieces from painters such as Uccello, Ghirlandaio, and Botticelli.
Open Tuesday-Sunday 8:15 am – 6:50 pm; Closed Mondays, Dec 25, Jan 1, and May 1.
Isn’t he grand?!? I surprised myself by how much I was in awe of that statue. But we have other places to get to before our time in Florence is over. Many of our sites coming up will be connected to the Medici in some way and we’ll see the symbols of the Medici family prominently displayed in these locations.
Address: Via Ricasoli 60
Phone: +39 055 2388 609
bronze David by Donatello
David! He seems to be everywhere in Florence. David represents the Florentine people – the little warrior that fights the large giant (other larger city-states, Rome, etc.) and comes up victorious. He’s kind of the mascot of Florence.
Most people come to Florence with the must-see of seeing Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia, which is a good thing – he is absolutely worth the time! But there are other Davids that are worth visiting as well…in fact, David can be found in quite a few places around town.
A visit to the Bargello will get you three Davids to see – two by Donatello and one by Verrocchio:
- Donatello’s earlier marble David stands near his bronze David – both are very different from the other even though they have the same creator. One is clothed, one is not, one is marble, one is bronze, one is life sized, one is not, and the comparisons are endless. You can easily compare them since they stand in the same room nearby each other.
- Verrocchio’s David is typically in the Bargello; however, when we were last in Florence, it was on loan to the Palazzo Pitti for a special exhibition.
No time to wait in line to see the real David by Michelangelo? Then stop by the front of the Palazzo Vecchio (next to the Uffizi Gallery) and see a full size copy of Florence’s most famous statue. This is the location where the real one used to stand; however, it was placed inside to protect is from vandals and weather and a duplicate put in its place. It will give you an idea of what the real one is like.
If you want to see yet another version of this same David, climb to the top of the Piazzale Michelangelo for a gorgeous view of Florence and you will find David overlooking the city.
David is everywhere in the city - take time to find the various ones and compare the different techniques the artists used.
Yes, there are many Davids in Florence. But now was our time to visit the one that most people have come to see. Our class was off to the Accademia and THE David.
Holy Trinity and St. Jerome by del Castagno
At the end of the piazza where the orphanage designed by Brunelleschi is located, you will find a church dedicated to Mary, founded in 1250. You can easily look at the art in the entrance area, but please be very respectful if you enter the church as worship and prayers occur more often here than in other churches you may visit in Florence. When we visited, we waited about 15 minutes until the prayers were over before entering and even then, we had about 10 minutes before they started again and we needed to leave.
As you enter the front of the church, you come into a foyer with frescoes on the walls. Not so much Renaissance art in this section, but rather Mannerist works (the style that followed the High Renaissance – often called Mannerist because they were done “in the manner” of Michelangelo) by Fiorentino, Pontormo, del Sarto, and Rosselli. These are worth a look at while you are waiting for a break in the prayers.
If you are able to step into the church, please be respectful – turn off your camera's flash and be silent if possible.
We were there to view Andrea del Castagno’s Holy Trinity with Saint Jerome, which can be found in the second chapel up on the left side of the church. It is dark in the chapel, but there is a light switch in the corner of the chapel that will turn on the lights briefly.
Other works in the church include Bronzino’s Resurrection and Perugino’s Madonna and Saints and Assumption. Giambologna is buried here and there is a monument to Orlando de’Medici.
We didn’t stay long as prayers were starting again, but as we exited we got a good look at the Shrine to the Madonna in the back left corner of the church with all the lamps hanging down, candles and other devotional items.
Open weekdays: 7.30 am - 12.30 pm; 4 pm - 6.30 pm
Holidays: 7.30 am - 12.30 pm; 4 pm - 6.30 pm
We woke up on Friday morning and realized that this was our last full day in Florence! The week has just flown by and we have been enjoying seeing all the Renaissance works in the city. Today was another day of art and architecture, and we would be seeing THE David as well as other works by Michelangelo. But, don’t limit yourself to just one David…
Address: Piazza SS. Annunziata
Phone: +39 055 266 181
statue of Grand Duke Ferdinando I
Before you leave the piazza by the Ospedale degli Innocenti, take a look at the equestrian statue of Grand Duke Ferdinando I by Giambologna from 1608. The story goes that Ferdinando rode into the piazza and met the eyes of a young bride in the window of the red brick building in the square. They fell in love but never consummated this love. Later they each memorialized each other – Ferdinando in the form this statue and the lady in a della Robbia bust that sits on a window sill on the top floor (look for the window with the shutters half open in the red brick building opposite the church that currently houses the photo archives of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence).
On one side of the piazza with the statue of Grand Duke Ferdinando I is the Church of Santissima Annunziata, which contains some nice Renaissance and Mannerist frescoes in the foyer and some better works on the inside. Let’s go in for a quick look in between prayers.
Address: Ospedale degli Innocenti
orphanage designed by Brunelleschi
Just a short walk from the Cathedral you will find the Piazza Santissima Annunziata (find the entrance to the Dome climb and turn around – the road you want to take is by this door – follow the road until you come to the piazza with the equestrian statue in the middle of it).
As you enter the Piazza, you don’t really realize that you are looking at some revolutionary architecture for the Renaissance. The buildings are fairly plain looking – straight ahead is the church SS Annunziata, to the left is a hotel, and to the right is the building we want to focus on – the hospital of the innocents.
This façade was designed by Brunelleschi (the same guy that designed the Cathedral’s dome) in 1517, commissioned by the silk guild. He has traveled to Rome and studied classical buildings; then he returned to Florence and brought those classical ideas with him. After all, Renaissance means a rebirth of the classical. Look at the front of the orphanage – notice its simple columns and classic style? You could see something like this in Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Brunelleschi’s architecture was all about clarity – so simple and clear that someone could literally draw the plans from just looking at it.
There are nine arches on the façade of the building supported by monolithic columns. At the top of each of these columns you will see a round design of a medallion of some sort. These tondi were designed by Andrea della Robbia and represent a baby in swaddling clothes. Originally Brunelleschi wanted these to be plain, but at some point his plans were thwarted and della Robbia got the commission.
Of historical note – this is the first building that saw the use of paper plans – Brunelleschi drew up the plans on paper along with a wooden model and left them with the builders before he left town to head to Rome again.
On the left end is where the turning box used to be – this is where parents could anonymously drop off their children to the orphanage without being identified. It was used until 1875 to accept unwanted babies. Typically the babies were kept at the orphanage for several years before being sent out to monasteries, convents, or workhouses.
The building was used as an orphanage until 2000 when it became a shelter for children and families in need. It also contains a UNICEF research center.
Inside the building is a museum that has some very nice Renaissance pieces, including Ghirlandaio’s Adoration of the Magi and an early Botticelli that he copied from his master Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child with an Angel.
Those two round fountains in the piazza are Mannerist works that have monsters and symmetrical marine decorations.
Open weekdays 8.30 am - 7 pm; the ticket office closes 30 minutes before the museum closing time. Holidays: 8.30 am - 2 pm; the ticket office closes 30 minutes before the museum closing time. Closed on: December 25, Easter, May 1.
Entrance: € 4,00
While standing in the piazza in front of the Ospedale, have a look at the statue of Grand Duke Ferdinando I.
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