From Milan central station G and I boarded an early train to reach Florence around 10:30AM last Friday. We took an exit at V.de Gama to get out of Rifredi station and walked for another twenty minutes to our hotel in the Novoli quarter (northwest of Florence). It was rather early for check- in so we decided to leave luggage there and started exploring the city right away. It would be our last trip together before I leave Europe.
Bus #22 dropped us off in front of Santa Maria Novella station after a short ride. It was bone chilling that day but the sunshine was extremely bright. No specific itinerary for the day except for checking off the Michelangelo’s David sculpture, we relaxingly roamed around and decided to drop by the tourist office for a city map and advices. G has always been a map person while I’m more interested in the possibility to get some nice print photos of Florence landmarks for the travel journal.
Story of two Crucifixes
Since the church of Santa Maria Novella was just round the corner we walked past its long sidewalls to the front gate and dropped in for a quick glance. The mass was going on, most of the nave was fenced off so there wasn’t any opportunity to study its famous frescoes and paintings. From the label displayed at the entrance we learned that many celebrated works of art were accommodated here including a wooden ‘Crucifix’ by Brunelleschi, the same designer of the majestic Duomo’s cupola.
The green and white marble facade of Santa Maria Novella church
Legend has it that Brunelleschi hated the peasant-like Crucifix that his best buddy Donatello had carved for the Santa Croce church so he decided to create his own version — a more graceful body of Jesus Christ on the cross. There’s an intriguing piece about him on Reidsitaly I just read the other day and you may also want to check it out for a better understanding of who he was and the sculpture challenge that gave the world two Crucifix masterpieces to debate.
Orsanmichele & 14 Patron Saints
Although the ultimate destination was Galleria dell’Accademia, we made a detour to the Palazzo Strozzi for a sneak peak into the contemporary art exhibition of Ai Weiwei before hitting the church of Orsanmichele, another magnificent example of Florentine architecture. The structure first caught our eyes by its beautiful niches that embellish its four side facades. There were fourteen of them, housing bronze and white marble statues of patron saints carved by the most famous Renaissance artists including Ghiberti, Donnatello and Brunelleschi. What we saw were the copies while the originals were already moved to the museum of Orsanmichele on the upper floor of the church which only opens on Monday.
‘St John the Baptist’ by Lorenzo Ghiberti
Been to a number of churches and museums in Italy during the past months I have now been able to recognize St John the Baptist based on his wild animal skin coat and G added two more: St Peter with the key of the Kingdom of Heaven and St Mary Magdalene with long wavy blond hair.
We stayed quite long inside the church to learn about its history and admire the sophistication of frescoes, stain-glass windows and the altar of Our Lady of Grace until a noisy group of tourists flocked in.
Heading towards Piazza della Signoria we heard the sound of drums and horns from afar. G reminded me that it was 6 January (the twelfth night) and probably there was some sort of ritual celebration on the streets. Following the noise we hit massive crowds lined the route of a long cavalcade wearing blue and red costumes and carrying the flags of stylized lily flowers. The parade marched the main streets of Florence before reaching the central square where they cheered up the audience with a 30-minute performance of flag throwers. It was a windy day which made it rather difficult to toss and catch the flags but overall it was quite an amusing scene to watch.
The performance of flag throwers at the central square of Piazza della Signoria
Overwhelmed with beautiful Renaissance sculptures and the culture show that brought Florence to life we still had to leave around 2pm for a quick lunch before both of us pass out. We turned left to an alley and found a little panini shop at Via della Condotta which offered a great value menu. Their huge pork sandwiches with yellow mustard sauce were unbelievably delicious for the humble price of five euros each and we even returned there on our third day!
After lunch we waddled to Galleria dell’Accademia not far from there and let the food slowly digest as we were waiting in line. An entrance ticket usually costs only 8 euros but that day the price rocketed to 12.5 for an additional temporary exhibition. It was quite disappointing the way Florence introduced a new collection of arts to the public but we bought the tickets anyway. It was all for ‘David’!
To see ‘him‘ we had to pass the Hall of the Colossus where the ‘Rape of the Sabines’ by the Flemish sculptor Giambologna was displayed at the central stage. Although the original is now at Piazza della Signoria it was quite interesting to have a close up look at the plaster cast and learn that the whole complex of three seemingly moving human bodies was actually carved from one single marble block only. Other works on display here included various paintings of religious theme by Florentine artists like Filippino Lippi and Botticelli but with limited knowledge of arts I felt a little overwhelmed.
Then there was the Hall of Prisoners which was named after a group of four sculptures that Michelangelo crafted for the tomb of Pope Julius II. One of the ‘Pietas’ (allegedly made by him) was also put on show, depicting lifeless body of Jesus supported by two mourning figures. I was lucky enough to admire another ‘Pieta’ inside the Sforza castle in Milan, an Michelangelo’s unfinished last work.
And here he is — ‘David’, standing strikingly tall, muscular and graceful at the end of the hallway:
‘David’ is about three times taller than an average man so most of visitors had to take a few steps back to admire the masterpiece. His left hand was carrying a sling over the shoulder, eyes looking to the left and far away, staying focused yet very calm. He was waiting for something big to come.
I’m no art expert here but have always been interested in the backstory to understand an art work. For those who are curious like me, ‘David’ is a biblical hero that has been known for the victory over Goliath to save people in the land of Israel and in this case Michelangelo depicted him before the battle. Although there are so many versions of it one easy way to learn about this story is watching this David and Goliath movie. 😀
By the way do you know that Michelangelo carved ‘David’ from a white marble block that had been long abandoned in the courtyard of the Cathedral of Florence, and that he was only 26 when he started this work?
Feature Image: The copy version of ‘David’ on display in front of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence
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