Small it may be, but this glorious city is the very cradle
of Renaissance Italy. Art lovers flock to its medieval centre for a close-up of
famous paintings, frescoes and statues by the likes of Raphael, Titian and
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo safeguards
treasures once held in the neighbouring Duomo, including seven of the original
10 panels from Ghiberti’s masterpiece Porta del Paradiso. Look out for Arnolfo
di Cambio’s The Virgin and Child and Donatello’s sculpture of St John (Piazza
del Duomo 9; admission £4.70).
The seat of city
government since the 1300s, the Palazzo Vecchio (Old
Palace) is synonymous with Florence itself. Medici dukes filled the medieval
building with art in the 1500s. Star of the show is Michelangelo’s sculpture
Genio della Vittoria (Genius of Victory). Guided ‘secret passage’ tours take
you backstage into the Medici family’s private digs (Piazza della Signoria;
admission £4.70, secret passage tours £1.60).
Florence’s greatest art
museum is currently being expanded. So expect some disruption. The Uffizi Gallery is the definitive guide
to the Italian Renaissance. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is world-famous; other
highlights include Piero della Francesca’s portraits of the Duke and Duchess of
Urbino, and works by Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. Book tickets online (booking fees £3) to
avoid long queues (Piazza degli Uffizi 6; closed Mon; admission £5).
San Lorenzo and San Marco
Dominican monastery, Museo di San
Marco, was once home to gifted painter Fra’ Angelico, and today showcases
his work – panel paintings include the Deposition, the Annunciation and his
complex masterwork, Crucifixion, completed in 1442 (Piazza San Marco 1; closed
some Sun & Mon; admission £3).
The Spedale degli Innocenti –
Europe’s first orphanage, founded in 1421 – houses an impressive art
collection. Highlights include Ghirlandhaio’s striking Adoration of the Magi
(1488), serene wooden sculptures by Marco della Robia, and a charming Madonna
of the Innocents by Domenico di Michelino (Piazza della Santissima Annunziata
12; admission £4).
The Galleria dell’Accademia was built
especially to house one of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance –
Michelangelo’s original David. The most famous statue in the world is worth the
queue: seeing its subtle details up close really is impressive. Other
Michelangelo sculptures are on show, plus pieces by Filippino Lippi, Andrea
Orcagna and Taddeo Gaddi (Via Ricasoli 60; closed Mon; admission £5).
Artworks at the Basilica di
Santo Spirito, set on an attractively shabby piazza, include Domenico di Zanobi’s
Madonna of the Relief, in which the Madonna wards off a little red devil with a
club, and Filippino Lippi’s Madonna with Child and Saints from the 1490s (Piazzo
Santo Spirito; closed Wed; admission free).
Situated inside the
forbidding Palazzo Pitti, the Museo
degli Argenti displays lavish frescoes celebrating the life of Lorenzo de’
Medici, ruler of Florence at the height of the Renaissance – look out for one
featuring Michelangelo (Piazza Pitti; closed first & last Mon of month;
combined ticket with Boboli Gardens £5.50).
‘Modern’ is a relative
term at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna,
which celebrates art of the 18th and 19th centuries. Dominating its collection
are works by artists of the Florentine Macchiaioli school (an Italian take on
Impressionism), including Telemaco Signorini and Giovanni Fattori (Piazza
Pitti; closed Mon; combined ticket with Palatine Gallery £6.60).
Where to stay
Pensione Hotel Scoti is a splendid mix of
old-fashioned charm and great value for money on Florence’s smartest shopping
strip. It has 16 guestrooms and a frescoed living room (Via de’ Tornabuoni 7;
Hotel Morandi alla Crocetta, is a former
medieval convent and a real stunner. Rooms are tasteful, refined and full of
authentic period furnishings and paintings. The highlight is room 29, filled
with frescoes (Via Laura 50; from £85).
The old Palazzo Magnani Feroni is
exceptional. Its 12 suites are vast and elegant, with period furnishings and
rich fabrics. The 360-degree city view from the rooftop is unforgettable (Borgo
San Frediano 5; from £245).
Florence airport has flights from
Gatwick (from £130). Pisa International airport is further away, but with a
wider choice of flights – BA, easyJet, Jet2 and Ryanair fly from airports including Stansted
(from £100) and Leeds-Bradford (from £75; jet2.com). Trains from Pisa airport to
Florence’s central Santa Maria Novella station take an hour (singles from £5.60).
Florence’s city centre is small, with most sights within walking distance of
one another. Cycle hire is a good alternative – blue bikes can be picked up
right at the front of the main station (£6.30 per day).
The article 'Mini guide to art in Florence' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.