Five Must see Pieces of Art in Florence

As the birthplace of the European Renaissance, Florence has awe-inspiring works of art and architecture at every turn and it’s impossible to see them all in a short trip, but this past weekend, we tried to squeeze in as many as possible. Traveling my friend Kaitlin, who’s a photographer and fellow artist (and our husbands), we traipsed through the city, marveling at the sheer talent of such Italian greats as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Cellini.

Like I said, you can’t see it all in a quick trip, so I’m listing here five of the most important pieces to see when you get to Florence (at least in my opinion).

*Note Bene: I’ve included prices for entrance to each museum but if you plan to museum hop and see as many as you can in your time in Florence, I urge you to look into the Firenze card. It includes entrance to all of the museums I’ve listed here as well as the other biggies like the Palazzo Vecchio, the Pitti Palace, the Duomo, etc. Having the Firenze card also gets you to the front of the entrance lines, no need to pre-book (except to climb the Duomo). Head to and tourist information point to purchase or museum to purchase your Firenze card (we got ours when we went to the Bargello). The card is good for 72 consecutive hours and then an additional 48 hours sometime within 12 months of purchase on return to Florence.

1. The David

Location: Galleria dell’Accademia (The Academia )
Hours: 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m Tuesday – Sunday
Cost: €8 + €4 pre-booking fee (recommended)

Of course this one comes as no surprise as it’s well known throughout the world and most people have this on their list to see when they come to Florence. But I am adding it because a. it is very important to see it and b. because I missed the original the first time I was there.

Carved from marble by Michelangelo in four years between 1501 and 1504, David stands an imposing 17 feet tall. Originally placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (the “old palace”) in 1504, the David was moved inside to the Academia Art Gallery in 1873. Later, a replica was created and put back in the original location outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

It was this duplicate that I saw on our first trip to Florence nearly three years ago. Because we were pressed for time in the glorious red-tile roofed city, I thought that seeing the copy as we ventured into the Palazzo Vecchio to climb the tower would be enough. It wasn’t until this past weekend that I realized how wrong I’d been.

There is something moving about the original David that left me absolutely speechless. We rose early that day to get to the Academia just as they opened and it was definitely worth it. Standing in the presence of a statue that is so well known world-wide with hardly anyone else around was magic. I could have marveled for hours about how lifelike David is. How his hair curls and if you look long enough how it looks like he could take a breath at any moment.

The Birth of Venus

Location: The Uffizi Gallery
Hours: 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m Tuesday – Sunday
Cost: In the off season (Nov-Feb) €12 Peak season (March -October) €20
+ €4 pre-booking fee (absolutely recommended!)

A main theme of the Renaissance was a return to classical subjects in art such as Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. This theme is rarely more apparent than in the stunning Birth of Venus, painted in the 1480s by Sandro Botticelli.

The scene painted in oil on canvas captures the moments after Venus (the Roman goddess of love and beauty) is birthed, fully grown from the sea. Venus floats to shore on a clamshell, blown by the wind, Zephyr and the lighter breeze, Aura. The figure on the right may be Flora, the Roman Spring goddess waiting to wrap Venus in a cloak when she reaches the shore.

There is so much to see in this painting that you could stand here for hours continually seeing several small nuances. Between the time I saw her in 2016 and this visit, the Uffizi spent some good money to place her in a (what I assume is) a climate controlled glass box. She’s inset in a wall with glass so clear and clean that I didn’t realize it was there at first. This inset lets people get fairly close to the painting without risking damage to the masterpiece. Kaitlin and I hadn’t ever seen anything quite like this for great pieces of art and I think it was a phenomenal idea undertaken by the museum and those tasked with preserving these great works of art.

Perseus and the head of Medusa

Location: Piazza della Signoria
Hours: 24/7
Cost: free

Perseus and Medusa (stock photo)

Are you guys recognizing a theme? If you know me, you know I minored in Classical studies and focused much of my undergrad degree on studying Ancient Greece and Rome. I have a deep passion for the Roman Empire and its history and being in Florence and seeing the relatively modern artworks depicting classical figures makes me so happy.

For those of you may not know, Perseus was the Greek hero, son of Zeus and Danae, and one of the greatest heroes before Hercules. Using his shield to avoid looking into her face (and thus turning to stone), Perseus decapitated Medusa, the gorgon with snake hair. Bevenuto Cellini’s bronze Perseus stands hoisting Medusa’s severed head high standing on her lifeless body.

Commissioned by Cosimo I Medici, Cellini’s masterpiece was revealed toward the end of his career in 1554. The bronze statue was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio near the David and Hercules slaying the fire-breathing Cacus.

You can still see the statue in the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio where it was originally placed hundreds of years ago. You can also see the smaller mock ups and a copy of the base in the Bargello museum.

Primavera

(stock photo)

Location: Uffizi Gallery
Hours: 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m Tuesday – Sunday
Cost: In the off season (Nov-Feb) €12 Peak season (Mar -Oct) €20
+ €4 pre-booking fee (absolutely recommended!)

Primavera or “Spring,” is another massive Botticelli painting that, while it’s not likely a companion piece, reflects the same classical aspects of the Birth of Venus. Painted on panels between the 1470s and 1480s it likely predates Botticelli’s other, more famous classical painting, but dates aren’t entirely concrete.

Standing in front of Primavera, I found myself absolutely speechless. I couldn’t do anything by stare and was absolutely enamored. Depicted on the massive panels are nine classical characters including another portrayal of Zephyr, Chloris (and her future goddess self Flora) and Venus. Also in this painting are the three graces, cupid (Venus’ son with Mars, the god of war) and Mercury, the messenger god.

When you come see Primavera, take note of the way Botticelli was able to paint see through dresses on Chloris and the Graces. Think about what that meant back then. No vectors or transparency layers we have on computers today. It absolutely blows my mind. (Thanks to my dear friend Kaitlin for pointing this out to me as I stood gaping at this painting).

The Cycle of Virtues

Location: The Uffizi Gallery
Hours: 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m Tuesday – Sunday
Cost: In the off-season (Nov-Feb) €12 Peak season (Mar -Oct) €20
+ €4 pre-booking fee (absolutely recommended!)

This was absolutely my FAVORITE set of paintings/art I saw the entire weekend in Florence. I love symbology and I love when art has companion pieces making it a giant set of WOW. (Yeah… I know that isn’t really correct English but I mean… stand in front of these paintings and gawk at them for a bit and try to think of something more eloquent that just HOLY WOW!!).

There are seven panels in this set, the first of which, Fortitude is also painted by Botticelli (seeing a trend here). Fortitude was Botticelli’s first masterpiece and was finished in 1470. The remaining six paintings were completed by Piero del Pollaiuolo and depict the other heavenly virtues: Temperance, Faith, Charity, Hope, Justice and Prudence. Each of which is holding something to depict her virtue, symbols which, at the time, were probably quite obvious to the viewer.

The symbols in the paintings are as follows:

Fortitude

Her strength is depicted in her armor and baton of command.

Temperance

Also known as moderation, she’s depicted mixing hot and cold water

Faith

As faith at this time meant Catholic faith, she’s depicted with a crucifix and a Eucharistic chalice

Charity

This one confuses me a little… she’s portrayed holding fire and suckling a child? I don’t get it… any insights?

Hope

No tangible symbols here, Hope simple folds her hands in prayer and lifts her eyes towards the heavens

Justice

She holds the world on her left knee and a sword in her right hand. Maybe a symbol that one must fight for justice in the world?

Prudence

Her insightfulness is shown through the mirror in her right hand and the snake in her left, which, apparently, according to religious texts, is a prudent animal.

Bonus Art

Both of these paintings are worth checking out and are also located in the Uffizi. You could spend hours there.

The Adoration of the Magi San Donato in Scopeto
by Leonardo Da Vinci

The Da Vinci room was packed so I didn’t get a ton of time to look at this painting but I snapped a quick shot of it because it was just so gorgeous. I overheard a tour guide talking about how Da Vinci loved horses and painted several of them in this painting. I think I loved this because it reminded me of the 1998 movie Everafter. (Cinderella lovers? Anyone?).

Pallas and the Centaur by Botticelli

(stock photo)

Not far from Primavera and the Birth of Venus, you’ll find this supposed companion piece to the former. Not as moving to me as Primavera, but it’s still amazing to see the translucent gown on Flora. Botticelli was truly an amazing painter!

 

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