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A Feast For The Eyes
My earlier post outlined how I organized a first timers’ tour to Florence. I returned as a solo tourist to Florence in October, 2022 before embarking on a family road trip through Abruzzo, the province where my family is from.
Experiencing five days as a solo traveler in Florence, the city that captured my heart in the 70s, proved to be a delightful art experience. Searching for something different, I focused on Florence’s contemporary art scene while revisiting a few favorite Renaissance landmarks. The October weather was exceptionally warm; my hotel on Piazza della Signoria, accommodating and well positioned; and throughout the city, monumental outdoor contemporary sculptures graced the Renaissance piazzas.
Arriving at the Santa Maria Novella train station, I hopped in a taxi for the short drive to the Hotel La Casa del Garbo which I found by chance. On impulse, I grabbed a Firenze free map ~it proved to be the best map ever. The pocket-size map with its colored-code “quartieri” or neighborhoods and key landmarks helped me outline a plan.
Some Contemporary Twists
Florence’s museums and galleries exude a “New Renaissance” atmosphere, juxtaposing contemporary art exhibitions within the walls of venerable Renaissance buildings. As you research your trip, check out the ever-changing selection of temporary exhibitions. I have listed a few at the end of this article to help you plan. My hotel in the Santa Croce neighborhood faced the Piazza della Signoria and looked out at the Gucci Garden/Gucci Museum which tells the story of the eponymous fashion house from its start in Florence to the global brand it is today. On view was the kaleidoscopic contemporary exhibition ~Archetypes.
A short walk across the piazza, around the glorious Henry Moore sculpture, Large Interior Form, led to the Renaissance frescoed entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio. In the Palazzo’s Sala d’Arme I viewed Giovanni Marahghi’s Il Rosa Fiorentino exhibition that explored the artist’s vision of women. Down the street from the Piazza along Via Calzaiuoli is Orsanmichele, originally built as a granary, then converted to the church for the Guilds. The Guilds’ patron saints filled the outdoor niches. Today, the church vestibule serves as a ticket center for tourists. The interior houses Bernardo Daddi’s Madonna delle Grazie completed in 1347. But the main attractions are the original statues, which are preserved in the granary’s upper floor, now the Museum of Orsanmichele.
Masters Old And New
Between Piazza della Signoria and the Uffizi is Via de’Neri, which will lead you to the Basilica di Santa Croce. It is worth the stop. Be sure to take in the Cimabue crucifix that was saved from the 1966 flood. As you find your way back to the Duomo, stop at I Mosaici Lastrucci, home of one of the oldest and best-known mosaic studios; the Sant’Ambrogio Mercato where I found a well-preserved replica of the 1864 map of Florence for 3 euros; and Le Mie Ceramiche, for authentic artisan ceramics. It is also
home to Aquaflor, one of the oldest and locally owned perfumeries.
You’ll find an embarrassment of riches with both Renaissance and contemporary treasures in the San Giovanni neighborhood. The small Piazza San Firenze, with contemporary outdoor sculpture, is a must-see on your way to the Basilica S. Lorenzo and Medici Chapel. In the Basilica’s courtyard are the sospesi, and Emanuele Giannelli’s Mr. Arbitrium, on the outside of the Basilica, offering a bit of whimsy to Brunelleschi’s and Michelangelo’s Old and New Sacristies.
Modern Meets Renaissance
From the Basilica along Via Ricasoli, you come to Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Inside the ornate palazzo are: the private Medici garden; II to XVIII century masterpieces; and a glimpse at the opulent life style of the Medici and Riccardi families. In contrast, the Palazzo also houses the contemporary exhibition, Passione Novecento, from Paul Klee to Damien Hirst. The exhibition, with pieces by Paul Klee, Damien Hirst, Lucio Fontana, Andy Warhol, Bridget Riley, to name a few, is on view until 1 August 2023.
The Museo degli Innocenti, the Brunelleschi designed orphanage for abandoned children, at the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, showcases altarpieces and art from the Church of the Innocents, and now is home to the block-buster Maurits Cornelis Escher Exhibition (until 26 March 2023). While in the San Giovanni neighborhood, take in The National Archaeological Museum, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, the Basilica of San Marco and the Jewish Synagogue. If your Duomo tour has not included a visit to the Opere del Duomo, it is a must as is Caffe Scudieri, a favorite Fiorentine meeting place since 1939.
The Santa Maria Novella neighborhood holds some of the best contemporary art collections. Across the Basilica Santa Maria Novella piazza is the Museo Novecento housed in the 13th century hospital of the Leopoldine and dedicated to Italian art of the 20th and 21st centuries. The museum opened in 2014 and houses a permanent collection in addition to special exhibitions. It is worth spending time here with the Alberto Della Ragione Collection and the Ottone Rosai Bequest. Here, you can also find more about
the Henry Moore multi-site exhibition (through 31 March 2023).
From the Museo Novecento, a walk along Via della Spada will lead you to the Via Tornabuoni…the Fifth Avenue of Florence. Looming large among the retail shops is the Renaissance era Palazzo Strozzi. This palazzo has become a hub for Fiorentine cultural and exhibition activities. The 2022 blockbuster Renaissance exhibition ~ Donatello, il Rinascimento, was held there, as was the largest contemporary exhibition ever held in Italy ~ Olafur Eliasson: Nel tuo tempo.
Down the street, at Piazza Santa Trinita is the Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni. In this jewel-like Renaissance building you will find The Casamonti Collection, Roberto Casamonti’s 40-year collection of art by artists from the early 20th century to the present. If you only have time for one modern collection, this is the one to see. Art in Florence takes many shapes and forms. Via Tornabuoni is also home to the flagship Salvatore Ferragamo store and museum. Through April 2023, the exhibition Women in balance is featured. If you love fashion, the 60’s, and want to experience the evolution of women in the work world, this exhibition is time well spent. It is a tribute to Wanda Miletti Ferragamo, who in 1960, after Salvatore’s death, headed the brand until her death in 2018.The Santo Spirito neighborhood is a quick walk across the Ponte Santa Trinita.
And Just To Review
The hotter the weather in Florence, the more popular Oltrarno becomes. This area, (the other side of the Arno) is home to small, artisan shops and the larger-than-life Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, the Brancacci Chapel, Piazzale Michelangelo, San Miniato al Monte, Forte Belvedere and the Bardini Gardens and Museum. Here you can spend time outdoors, see Florence from photo-worthy views, and get plenty of art and art history. The Brancacci Chapel at the Church of Santa Maria delle Carmine, is worth the trip. The chapel has limited opening days and time, but if it works with your schedule, you will not be disappointed. The Life of St. Peter frescoes started in 1425 are the work of three artists: Masolino, Masaccio and Filippino Lippi, who completed the work in 1475. But it is the work of Masaccio that ties with the contemporary theme. His vanguard techniques of perspective and tragic realism labelled him as a “contemporary artist” in his day.
Leonardo and Michelangelo would visit the chapel to study his pioneering work. If you have a full day to spare and love to walk and walk, consider starting at the Boboli Gardens and continuing to Forte Belvedere. The Bardini Gardens are near there and you can also visit the Bardini Museum. In addition to their permanent collection, they have one-of-a-kind temporary exhibitions on contemporary topics. From these locations you can also walk to San Miniato al Monte and Piazzale Michelangelo where dinner at La Loggia affords you a postcard view of Florence.
Liz’s Check List For A Florentine Contemporary Art Tour
Where to stay. Booking.com offers plenty of choices and you can book directly, which most hotels prefer, and some will give you better pricing. I booked directly with La Casa del Garbo and their site tells you that it is without an elevator, but if you look at the room descriptions, each one is accompanied with a description of how many steps it takes to reach your room.
Hotel Calimala offers all the amenities including a gym, plus an amazing rooftop restaurant where you can have a complimentary breakfast or choose to dine in the evening. I also booked directly with them.
If you are worried about where to eat, use The Fork, a TripAdvisor app that almost all Italian restaurants use for reservations.
Read through the online version of The Florentine a weekly newsletter written in English, which keeps you up to date on everything that is happening in Florence.
Visit Florence gives you all the current exhibitions in Florence plus booking information.
And just to get ideas for your trip, Italy Magazine is a pleasure to read through for general information about places to visit, events and interesting news stories about all things Italy.
Liz DiGregorio, newest Cuisinette, retired from a career in emergency management. She bought Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1967 and has been cooking ever since. Her love of Italian food is rooted in her DNA. When not re-arranging her cookbook library, she can be found in the garden, English mystery in hand and plotting her next escape from DC.