Florence is a city that has long intrigued me. Italy is a dream destination for many. My wife and I spent four days in Rome years ago and, other than the Coliseum, left very underwhelmed. Over the years, we have been told not to let Rome ruin Italy as the rest of the County is so much better. Florence is often one of the cities that is highly recommended to us. I reached out to Italian photographer Gianluca Veronese to find out what makes Florence so special. His answer-the Uffizi…and some other places too. All the images, other than the paintings, were done by Gianluca. More of his work can be found on Instagram.
Gianluca says any visit to Florence must include a visit to the city’s best and most famous museum-the Uffizi. Gianluca warns against the long lines, or queues at Uffizi and recommends booking your tickets in advance, much like most popular European destinations (there are very few things that could be worth the line I had at Versailles, and Versailles was not one of them). The Uffizi is one of the most popular museums in all of Italy, so expect crowds whenever you go.
Gianluca says the Uffizi is is a dream destination for art lovers. He describes it as “one of the most sensational caskets of Italian masterpieces.”
The Uffizi is so rich in works that a thorough visit would require at least two to three days dedicated just to exploring the Uffizi according to Gianluca. While each room deserves a careful visit, there are a handful of very famous works that you will want to make sure you see before you leave.
Birth of Venus By Botticelli
This is probably one of the most famous paintings in the world and one you will surely recognize. It is a painting on canvas dating back to the fifteenth century. It depicts the goddess Venus arriving at the shore after her birth, when she had emerged from the sea fully-grown
the allegory of Spring by Botticelli
This is often considered a companion piece to the Birth of Venus. It is also a painting on canvas dating back to the fifteenth century. The painting depicts a group of figures from classical mythology in a garden, and it is commonly considered one of the most debated and most controversial paintings in the world. It is also known as Primavera.
the Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci
Everyone knows the name Da Vinci. This is one of his masterpieces from the 1470’s. The subject matter of this work is drawn from Luke 1.26-39 and depicts the angel Gabriel, who was sent by God to announce to the virgin Mary that she would miraculously conceive and give birth to a son, to be named Jesus.
the Tondo Doni by Michelangelo
This painting is worth visiting as it is the only finished panel painting by the mature master Michelangelo that has survived. The painting is still in its original frame. The Doni Tondo was probably commissioned by Agnolo Doni to commemorate his marriage to Maddalena Strozzi, the daughter of a powerful Tuscan family. The painting portrays the Holy Family (the child Jesus, Mary and Joseph) in the foreground, with John the Baptist just behind them.
the Venus of Urbino by Titian
This oil painting dates back to the 1530’s. It depicts a nude young woman, traditionally identified with the goddess Venus, reclining on a couch or bed in the sumptuous surroundings of a Renaissance palace.
the corridor of statues
The Uffizi is famous for its large collection of ancient marble statues. These statues are housed in the corridors between the rooms. While all the statues are stark white, they used to be in color. Unfortunately, the color was removed in the seventeenth century by those who believed the color was not original. The most famous of the statues in the Uffizi is undoubtedly the Medici Venus.
The works of Caravaggio
The eight rooms on the first floor of the eastern wing of the Uffizi are dedicated to Caravaggio, a famous painter exemplifying the works of the seventeenth century.
The first room, “Between Reality and Magic,” contains paintings by artists who were active in the sixteenth century who paved the way towards a new artistic approach that would lead to Caravaggio. Particulary emphasized are those works which are characteristic of the region in which Caravaggio trained.
The second room, “Caravaggio and Artemisia,” is dominated by biblical subjects, focusing especially on the theme of violence. The third room is dedicated to Caravaggio’s Medusa, a magnificent painted parade shield. The fourth room is devoted to still-life and Caravaggio’s Bacchus. The fifth room, “By Candlelight,” is focused on the depiction of candlelit scenes. The sixth room contains works by the greatest masters of European painting of the period. The seventh room is comprised of portraits. The final room, the “Florentine Epic,” is dedicated to literary themes taken from Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, which the most popular subjects in Florence at the time of Caravaggio.
The works of Giotto
Giotto di Bondone was the leading artist at the start of Italy’s Renaissance and the Florentine School of painting. Giotto was the transferring point of Italian art from the Byzantine style into the Renaissance. Giotto was so famous at the time, he even made an appearance in Dante’s Divine Comedy, which said, “Once Cimabue thought to hold the field as painter; Giotto now is all the rage, dimming the luster of the other’s fame.” One of Giotto’s most famous works, the Ognissanti Madonna hangs in the Uffizi.
The works of Masaccio
Massaccio was a famous painter from the early fifteenth century. In the Uffizi, you can find his best known work, The Virgin and Child. This painting is known for its realistic depiction of the Christ child as opposed to the more-popular cherub depiction from the time. This is also one of the first paintings to display the effect of true natural light on the figure, which would have a profound influence on the painting of the Italian Renaissance.
The works of Filippo Lippi
Lippi was a friar in Florence of the early fifteenth century, but he was permitted to pursue his love of art. Lippi painted a number of frescos and altarpieces throughout Florence and later in life in the city of Spoleto near Umbria. He was well known for his depictions of the Madonna, including several of which are at the Uffizi Gallery; Madonna and Child with two Angels, Coronation of the Virgin, and Madonna and Child with Four Saints.
The works of Piero della Francesca.
Francesca was an Italian artist of the Early Renaissance, mid-fifteenth century, known to contemporaries as a mathematician and geometer as well as an artist, though now he is chiefly appreciated for his art. His painting was characterized by its serene humanism and its use of geometric forms, particularly in relation to perspective and foreshortening.
Tips for Visiting Florence
I always like to approach a city by figuring out what you need to see if you only have one day there. While I like longer vacations, sometimes a long layover or single day is all I get some places. Gianluca says visiting Florence in just one day would be very difficult, maybe even impossible, but he says you will get an idea for how beautiful the city is as soon as your arrive. If you are cramming a lot of museums into a short stay, it is worth looking into getting the Firenzecard, which is the official museum pass for the city. The card and has an easy “72” formula, 72€ for 72 hours at 72 museums.
Gianluca recommends you experience Florence by walking, starting at the Santa Maria Novella station (however, it is not recommended to get a hotel near this station as the noise will keep you up). This station is in the center of town and is waling distance to all the best spots. By walking, you get to know the feel of Florence, but you also may get lucky and stumble into one of Florence’s great markets.
Florence is the home of Italy’s famous Tuscany region. Together with the Uffizi Museum, Florence is best known as the home of the Duomo. However, the region is renown for its beautiful landscapes in addition to its rich culture and history. If you have the time and ability, an escape to the countryside is a must. A perfect day to escape the city is on Monday, when many places in the city close down. Likewise, if you only have a day or two to see Florence, don’t do it on a Monday. We made this mistake in Lisbon and spent a day walking around looking at sites we couldn’t go into.
Other Must-See Places in Florence
While Gianluca highly recommends the Uffizi museum, there are several other amazing places he says should be seen in Florence. Below are some of his favorites.
Arriving by train, the first monument that can be admired is the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, a reference point for the Dominicans in the city and completed around the middle of the fourteenth century.
From there, Gianluca recommends the Basilica of San Lorenzo, in front of which is held the homonymous market, which is recognizable by its unfinished facade (which had been entrusted to Michelangelo) and is one of the oldest churches in the city. The extraordinary interior, started by Brunelleschi and then finished by Michelangelo, is one of the most beautiful examples of a Renaissance church.
The most famous church in Florence, however, is that of Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral is the largest cathedral of the city, as well as one of the largest religious buildings in the world (after St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Paul’s in London, the Cathedral of Seville and the Duomo of Milan ). The church is now commonly referred to simply as the Florence Cathedral. The flagship is the famous Brunelleschi’s Dome, the largest ever built in masonry (Commonly knows as the Duomo), which is one of the most famous pieces of architeture in the world. Inside, there is the largest fresco in the world, by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. Today the cathedral can host thirty thousand people.
Next to the Duomo stands Giotto’s Bell Tower, famous above all for its rich sculptural decorations with its bas-reliefs designed by Giotto himself and executed by Andrea Pisano, Nino Pisano, Alberto Arnoldi, Gino Micheli da Castello, Alberto Arnoldi and Maso di Banco. Opposite the Bell Tower is the Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista.
Walking around Florence is beautiful, but if you want to enjoy one of the most evocative views of the city, Gianluca says you must go to Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge over the city, today populated by goldsmiths and artisans’ workshops and with a truly unique profile. Just above Ponte Vecchio, the Vasari Corridor connects Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi to Palazzo Pitti, the last great Renaissance palace in Florence and emblem of the power of the Medici Lordship.