It doesn’t take an art-lover to know that the art in Florence is world-class or that you really shouldn’t end a trip there without taking in at least the most famous pieces. On a hot summer’s day, however, when the kids are stamping their feet or cafés in the piazza are calling, it can take an art-lover’s dedication to see all that the Florence art galleries have to offer. For those without the time, energy or interest to take in the full range of art in Florence, the following is a list of (arguably) the five most famous Florence masterpieces for streamlined tourism. It’s no replacement for a full tour but at least you’ll know what to say when everyone back home asks you how David was.
David who? You know, David, of David and Goliath. The kid with the slingshot who felled a giant with one tiny stone. Champion of the underdog. Saviour of the little man? Oh yes, that David! I know that David. Well, the Renaissance artist Michelangelo (you may know him from other projects such as the Sistine Chapel) made this astounding statue of him cut out of white marble in Florence. Originally it was meant to sit in the square outside, but it was moved inside because all the oohing and ahhing was disturbing the neighbors. Plus, it was getting weather damaged. There is still a replica out there, but it has nothing on the original inside which will transfix you. Not an ugly piece of stone at all, but one of the top Florence masterpieces.
Tip: Get to the Academia Gallery, Galleria dell'Accademia, early in the morning or just before closing to avoid the queues and to get some space to enjoy the sculpture without the crush.
Just for a bit of comparison, you should head next to the Bargello Museum (the sculpture annex of the Uffizi Gallery) to have a look at Donatello’s two Davids – one bronze sculpture and one marble sculpture. The bronze cast is the better of the two, a huge work of a young David wearing nothing but a helmet and a look of calm victory, his tiny foot resting on Goliath’s massive head.
Can you see any resemblance between Donatello and Michelangelo’s Renaissance works?
Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’
Watch the goddess Venus ride to shore on her giant seashell as the angels try to protect her and her modesty with a huge cloak in Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. She doesn’t look all that bothered by her nudity to be honest, nor should she be – she has all that long golden hair to shield her. As painted here, Venus is also known as the ‘blonde on a half shell.’
The Birth of Venus can be seen in the Uffizi Gallery in the Botticelli Rooms, and you can catch a pretty inferior preview of the Italian masterpiece on Google Art Project.
Da Vinci’s ‘The Annunciation’
Painted in partnership with Andrea del Verrocchio, The Annunciation is one of the few known works created by a young Leonardo da Vinci, a man who was to grow up to produce the Mona Lisa and to become known as one of the most diversely talented men in the history of the world. The painting depicts the Virgin Mary’s complete shock when the arch-angel Gabriel informs her of the due date. Well, it would be a surprise, wouldn’t it?
The Annunciation is in the Uffizi Gallery in Room 15, The Leonardo Room.
Okay so the great Duomo of Florence is not something you go and coo over in a gallery, but there is no doubt that it is among Florence’s most important masterpieces. A whopping 348 foot high and dazzling red against the white marble of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and an ever-blue sky (fingers crossed), Filippo Brunelleschi’s architecturally genius dome is a lot more than a pretty face. Besides from having a stunning fresco by Vasari on the interior that can be seen close up from a balcony, the dome also offers spectacular views of Florence and Tuscany beyond – if you can manage the 463 steps up a steep, cramped spiral staircase that is. Who said Florence art couldn’t be fun?!