Address: Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome (map)
One of Rome's four major basilicas, built in the 5th century, then restored and extended between the 12th and 18th centuries. Its magnificent 5th-century coffered ceiling is said to have been gilded with some of the first gold brought from the New World, a gift of the Spanish monarchy.
07/11/12 at 08:00AM To: Rome
07/11/12 at 09:00AM
"Rome welcomes you when you come and forgets you when you go." [Frederico Fellini]
A republic was declared in Rom in 509BC, and all roads have led here ever since. A very busy city of leisurely citizens, Rome serves up a jolt of big-city life with the warmth of a small provincial town.
Address: Piazza della Bocca della Verita, Rome (map)
Reenact the scene from the 1950s Audrey Hepburn classic "Roman Holiday": Go to the atrium of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and stick your hand in the gaping Mouth of Truth--legend has it that if someone puts his hand in the mouth and tells a lie, the mouth will bite down. Be careful what you say!
Address: Piazza Scipione Borghese 5
Rome, IT (map)
Begun by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 17th century, the collection includes Titian's "Sacred and Profane Love", Raphael's "Deposition", Bernini's "Apollo and Daphne", and Caravaggio's "David with the Head of Goliath", among innumerable other masterpieces.
Address: Piazza di Sant'Eustachio, 82
Always packed with locals who stream in for the best espresso--something about the water, they say. Or is it the fresh beans roasted on the premises? Home of the city's most delicious cappuccino, never ever ordered after 11am except by innocents abroad.
Address: Piazzale del Colosseo, Rome (map)
Once able to seat 50,000, the Coliseum was begun in A.D. 72 by Vespasian and inaugurated in A.D. 80 by his son, Titus. Combat was the usual entertainment--between men, between animals, between men and animals, and even between ships, as the whole thing could be flooded. Centuries of neglect and outright ransacking have left it a shell largely without floor or seats, but what a shell it is, with three tiers of columns--Doric, Ionian, and Corinthians. Renovation projects go on perpetually.
Address: Via Benedetta, 10
One of the last of Rome's classic trattorias. Half the joy of a stroll through the former artists' quarter of Trastevere, now well on its way to gentrification, is winding up with a coveted table on Checco's outdoor patio, with a sampling of its well-known antipasti.
Address: Via del Pantheon, 55
A local favorite for decades. Simple, well-prepared Roman cuisine is served by jacketed, bow-tied waiters to a well-heeled crowd. Hours are spent lingering over some of the best meals in town--does no one work in Rome?
Address: Largo del Pallaro, Rome (map)
Typical, authentic, no-frills, and the in the characterful neighborhood of he Campo dei-Fiori--who doesn't love this place? The flowers are plastic and there's no menu to peak of: Whatever four-course menu Signora Paola is cooking up in the kitchen that day arrives at your table. (Try for one outdoors.)
Address: Piazzale di Villa Giulia 9
Rome, IT (map)
This elegant 16th-century country villa built for Pope Julius III holds thirty-five rooms with Italy's largest and best collections of ancient Etruscan sculptures, terra-cotta vases, sarcophagi, and jewelry. Very little is known about the Etruscans, whose empire predated the Roman.
Address: Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40
The city's oldest gelateria, so you won't be the only one standing in line to sample their fifty-some homemade flavors. Where else will you find Champagne ice cream? Stake out a table and order the preposterously oversized Copa Olimpico, a sampling of just about everything they offer.
Address: Via della Rosetta, 8
Small and chic. Much of the reliably fresh seafood is flown in daily from the talented chef's native Sicily. Expensive but worth it, this is by now a beloved institution with a strong following of locals and in-the-know out-of-towners.
Address: Campo dei Fiori, Rome (map)
One of Italy's great daily marketplaces, and some of its best theater. Shaded by canvas ombrelloni, stalls sell the freshest produce available--come before 9am or the city's chefs will have snatched up all the best. Insight into daily Roman life at its most authentic continues after the last stall disappears. Patrons of the popular hole-in-the-wall La Vineria wine bar spill out onto the piazza, wineglass in and, to discuss the scandal of the week or the day's soccer score.
Address: Viale dei Romagnoli
Ostia Antica, IT (map)
As evocative as Pompeii and twice as well preserved, Rome's best-kept secret can event be reached by subway. Excavations of the ancient port of Rome reveal much of the history of the far-flung Roman Empire.
(1000 Places to See Before You Die)
14. Piazza Campidoglio and the Capitoline Museums
Address: Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome (map)
Designed by Michelangelo in the 1550s, the Piazza Campidoglio is one of Rome's most elegant piazzas, and home to one of its greatest museums, inaugurated by Pope Clement in 1734. Its collection includes ancient Roman sculptures and Renaissance paintings, including numerous works by Tintoretto and Reni. The famous statue of the wolf suckling Romulus and Remus is here, as is the original statue of Marcus Aurelius astride a horse, which once sat in the center of the piazza. Pollution led to its removal indoors; a copy remains outside.
Address: Piazza Navona, Rome (map)
Teh Eternal City's nightlife at its best. In warm weather, take a seat outdoors at he Tre Scalini cafe for the people-watching and the specialty tartufo, a rich chocolate concoction named for its resemblance to the knobby truffle. Against the background of Bernini's Baroque Fountain of the Four Rivers, a host of Felliniesque characters from central casting mingle with German students, retired couples from Florida, and Roman residents of all shapes and inclinations.
Address: Piazza della Rotonda, Rome (map)
Built in 27 B.C, by Marcus Agrippa and reconstructed by Hadrian in the early 2d century A.D., the Pantheon is the most complete ancient Roman building remaining today and one of its architectural wonders: its dome is exactly as wide as it is high, supported by pillars hidden in the walls, Raphael's tomb is here.
Address: Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome (map)
The center of Roman life in the days of the Republic, the Roman Forum was a stone quarry and cow pasture before excavations began in the 19th century. You need a map and guide to put some meaning to the ruins, which include numerous temples, the Umbilicus Urbus, considered the center of Rome (and, be extension, of the empire); the Curia, the main seat of the Roman Senate; and the House of the Vestal Virgins, home of the young women who minded the Temple of Vesta's sacred fire. The Imperial Forum was begun by Julius Caesar to show the power of the emperors. You can see his forum, once the site of the Roman stock exchange; the Forum of Augustus, built to commemorate the defeat of Caesar's assassins; the famous Trajan's Column, with bas-reliefs depicting the emperor's campaign against the Dacians' the Forum of Trajan' and much more.
Address: Vatican Museums
Vatican City (map)
The world's most famous ceiling
The spellbinding frescoes that cover the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel are among Western civilization's greatest achievements. Historians always knew Michelangelo to be a master painter (although, following his success with "David"'s completion, he painted infrequently before being commissioned to create the ceiling by Pope Julius), but the biggest revelation of its fourteen-year restoration (the most controversial of all time) was his startling use of light and bright colors, which had been drastically muted over the centuries from accumulated dust, dirt, incense, and countless candles. Although he started off with a team of assistants and apprentices, Michelangelo fired them all and worked alone for four years before unveiling his work to a speechless pope and public in 1512. After an international restoration team completed work on this brilliant extravaganza depicting biblical scenes from the Creating (the creation of Adam is the ceiling's focus), they turned their attention to the wall behind the main altar and Michelangelo's equally powerful "Last Judgement." its completion in 1541 brought Pope Pius III to his knees. Although Michelangelo is often associated with his birth town of Florence (where he is represented by "David" and the Medici Chapels), his presence is strongly felt in the Eternal City. The Sistine Chapel rightly caps any visitor's short list, but the "Pieta" in St. Peter's Basilica confirms Michelangelo's genius as a sculptor, while Rome's elegant Piazza del Campidoglio shows off his natural talent as architect and city planner; one of the world's most beautiful and copied squares (reinterpreted in New York City's Lincoln Center), it has been left essentially as he designed it.
Cost: admission 14€ (part of the Vatican Museums)
When: open daily except for 1st 3 Suns of the month
Best Times: always crowded; come early, before the 8:45am opening
Address: Piazza di Spagna, Rome (map)
Designed by Francesco de Sanctis and built between 1723 and 1725, these wide steps ascend in three majestic tiers from the busy Piazza di Spagna to the French Trinita dei Monti church, one of Rome's most distinctive landmarks and the place to be at sunset, with a view of Rome's seven hills. the steps take their name from the Spanish Embassy, which occupied a nearby palace in the 19th century. The boat-shaped fountain in the piazza was designed in the late 16th century by Bernini or his father (the jury is still out). The house where John Keats lived and died sits beside the steps.
Address: Via Cernaia, 37
A wood-paneled, family-run operation in the unlikely neighborhood of the train station. Simple but sophisticated meals are the perfect complement to dozen of excellent, mostly Italian wines by the glass. The selection is even more prodigious at the Trimani family's enoteca around the corner.
Address: Vatican City (map)
The world's smallest independent state, Vatican City is accessed through St. Peter's Square, surrounded by an elliptical colonnade with some 140 saints on top Straight ahead is the facade of St. Peter's Basilica, the center of world Catholicism. The Circus of Nero, where St. peter was crucified, once sat on this spot, and in 324 the emperor Constantine commissioned a basilica to be built here in the saint's honor. Te present structure dates from the 16th and 17th centuries and contains cream-of-the-crop statuary, the Michelangelo-designed dome and his famous Pieta, and so much more that i's overwhelming--exactly as it was supposed to be. To the north of the piazza, the Vatican Museums contain one of the world's greatest collections of art from antiquity and the Renaissance, including Raphael's famous stanze (several rooms containing many of the artist's masterpieces), housed in a labyrinth of palaces and galleries. The gem of the collection is the famous Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512.
Address: Via Condotti, Rome (map)
Via Condotti and its grid of cobbled offshoots at the foot of the Spanish Steps offers ultrasmart shopping and the ideal venue for the early evening passeggiata ritual. In this atmospheric, traffic-free neighborhood is Rome's oldest cafe, Caffe Greco, a centuries-old watering hole where Casanova, Goethe, Lord Byron, and buffalo Bill all stopped for a coffee break.
Address: Via del Proconsolo
Florence, Italy (map)
Housed in a Gothic palazzo built as an arsenal and fortress in 1255, the Bargello later served as an administrative hall and a jail before being transformed into a museum in 1965. Today it houses Florence's greatest collection of Renaissance sculpture, with works by Michelangelo (among his earliest), Donatello, Cellini, Giambologna, and Luca and Giovanni della Robbia. Highlights include Michelangelo's "Apollo", "Bacchus" (looking slightly tipsy), and Madonna-and-child "Pitti Tondo" and Donatello's "David" and "Saint George". The museum also includes collections of medieval weaponry, Oriental rugs, ivory sculpture, 16th-century majolica porcelain, frescoes of the school of Giotto, and historic Renaissance medals.
Address: Piazza Santa Croce, Florence (map)
Built by the Franciscans between 1294 and 1442 but with a 19th-century facade, cavernous Santa Croce is chockablock with 14th-century frescoes and the tombs of famous Florentines, including Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli, and Galileo, as well as a memorial to Dante, who died in exile in Ravenna. In the right transept you'll find Giotto's frescoes in the Cappella Peruzzi and the Cappella Bardi, the latter famous as a setting in "A Room with a View," and featuring "The Death of Saint Francis" and "Trial by Fire Before the Sultan", among Giotto's best-known works. In the left transept, you can see Donatello's famous crucifix. Taddo Gaddi's frescoes in the Cappella Baroncelli depict scenes from the life of the Virgin, while in the right transept, the Cappella Castellani, Gaddi's son, Agnolo, designed the stained-glass windows in the high altar sanctuary, and painted the saints and the "Legend of the True Cross" cycle on its walls.
Address: Piazza della Signoria, Florence (map) Phone: 055-214-412
It's cozy inside when cold weather dictates this historic cafe's specialty of bittersweet hot chocolate (with a de regueur dollop of fresh whipped *panna*). But in nice weather the outdoor tables on the renowned Piazza della Signoria supply the best front-row seats in town for people- and piazza-watching. Even on a slow day, there's the wonder of the life-sized copy of Michelangelo's *David* and other statuary.
Address: Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Florence (map)
Built for the Dominican order in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, Santa Maria Novella is the only one among Florence's major churches to boast an original facade, a multicolored marble design that seamlessly mixes Roman and Renaissance styles. Frescoes fill its interior, executed by Domenico Ghirlandaio (the church's highlight, directly behind the main altar), Filippino Lippi, and Nardo di Cione. Other attractions include the pulpit from which Galileo was denounced for saying the earth orbited the sun; Masaccio's "Trinita", the first painting created using perfect linear mathematical perspective; and two famous crosses--one by Giotto, hanging in the sacristy, and one by Brunelleschi in the Cappella Gondi (behind the main altar), carved as an example to Donatello after the latter unveiled his less traditional interpretation in the Church of Santa Croce.
Address: Via Ghibellina, Florence (map) Phone: 055-242-777
Gourmands genuflect at the mention of this temple to high gastronomy. In a region long known for simple, rustic trattorie, this elegant ristorante has found a loyal clientele of the rich and famous by offering imperial service, theatrical silver-domed presentations, and a wine list widely regarded as one of Italy's finest--and that's saying something. The experience won't soon be forgotten, nor will the evening's bill.
Address: Via del Monte alle Croci, Florence (map) Phone: 055-234-2483
Florence's most popular wine bar is found just outside the city's 14th-century ramparts and the San Niccolo gate, on the way up to or down from the Piazzale Michelangiolo. The best of the Tuscan reds are here by the glass, along with a whole host of crostini and savory snacks that would make any palate sing.
(1000 Places to See Before You Die)
You can dine out on the sidewalk in nice weather, or sit on the benches at tiny wooden tables inside to taste the excellent pizzalike crostini here. Start with the pappa al pomodoro or gnocchi with broccoli rabe and sausage. The crostoni are divided by cheese -- mozzarella, sharp pecorino, creamy goat-cheese caprino -- along with a list of the toppings to accompany them. My favorite is caprino con prosciutto arrosto e pomodori secchi (with goat cheese, roasted prosciutto, and sun-dried tomatoes). The wine is a key part of the meal; the list draws from the more interesting vineyards in Tuscany and beyond. This place is a bit out-of-the-way but worth the trip.
Address: Via Ricasoli, Florence (map)
Founded in 1784 as an artists' academy, the Accademia has been home since 1873 of Michelangelo's "David", sculpted between 1501 and 1504 and standing for almost four centuries as the centerpiece of the Piazza della Signoria. (A copy now stands in its place outdoors.) In addition to this masterwork, carved from discarded marble when the artist was twenty-nine, the museum also houses Michelangelo's "Saint Matthew" and the four unfinished "Prisoners", their forms struggling to break free from the marble around them. No one knows if they are unfinished or intentionally left half emerging from the raw stone blocks. Pieces from the 14th through the 19th centuries fill the other galleries.
(1000 Places to See Before You Die)
31. Il Duomo (Florence Cathedral of Santa Maria dei...
Address: Piazza del Duomo, Florence (map)
Designed originally in 1296 by Arnolfo di Cambio, Florence's Duomo was actually the work of several architects, who overcame enormous technical challenges to design what is probably the central achievement of Renaissance architecture. Finally consecrated in 1436, the cathedral boasts Filippo Brunelleschi's enormous octagonal dome (the largest in the world when it was built and now the very symbol of Florence), whose interior features an enormous "Last Judgment" fresco by Vasari and Federico Zuccari; stained-glass windows by Lorenzo Ghiberti; and Paolo Uccello's huge clock in the entrance wall. The cathedral's red, white, and green marble facade was a late addition in the 19th century. To complete your trip, visit the piazza's other two landmarks: the baptistery, with its famous bronze "Doors of Paradise" by Ghiberti, and Giotto's slender bell tower, with a view of Renaissance Florence from the top of its 414 steps.
Address: Ponte Vecchio, Florence (map)
Built in 1345 by Taddeo Gaddi, the Ponte Vecchio is the oldest and most famous bridge across the Arno River. Its classic overhanging shops were occupied by butchers until the Medici dukes objected to the stench and had them replaced by the goldsmiths and silversmiths who still occupy the premises today, selling everything from museum-quality Italian-made baubles to more affordable pieces. The bridge's fame save it from being blown up by the retreating Germans during WW II. It was the only Arno bridge that survived.
(1000 Places to See Before You Die)
The oldest and most famous bridge across the Arno, the Ponte Vecchio we know today was built in 1345 by Taddeo Gaddi to replace an earlier version. The characteristic overhanging shops have lined the bridge since at least the 12th century. In the 16th century, it was home to butchers until Cosimo I moved into the Palazzo Pitti across the river. He couldn't stand the stench as he crossed the bridge from on high in the Corridoio Vasariano every day, so he evicted the meat cutters and moved in the classier gold- and silversmiths, tradesmen who occupy the bridge to this day.
A bust of the most famous Florentine goldsmith, the swashbuckling autobiographer and Perseus sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, stands off to the side of the bridge's center, in a small piazza overlooking the Arno. From this vantage point Mark Twain, spoiled by the mighty Mississippi, once wryly commented, "It is popular to admire the Arno. It is a great historical creek, with four feet in the channel and some scows floating about. It would be a very plausible river if they would pump some water into it. They call it a river, and they honestly think it is a river . . . They even help out the delusion by building bridges over it. I do not see why they are too good to wade."
The Ponte Vecchio's fame saved it in 1944 from the Nazis, who had orders to blow up all the bridges before retreating out of Florence as Allied forces advanced. They couldn't bring themselves to reduce this span to rubble -- so they blew up the ancient buildings on either end instead to block it off. The Arno flood of 1966 wasn't so discriminating, however, and severely damaged the shops. Apparently, a private night watchman saw the waters rising alarmingly and called many of the goldsmiths at home, who rushed to remove their valuable stock before it was washed away.
Begun in the fourteenth century, the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) was a popular location for shops, largely due to a supposed tax exception for premises located here. Until the sixteenth century these were mainly food stalls, especially butchers' stalls. This came to an end after Cosimo de' Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari in 1565 to build a corridor (Corridoio Vasariano) along the top of the bridge to connect the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti, eliminating the need to mix with the commoners on his commute between the two. Cosimo could not stand the smell of the butchers' shops and had them removed in 1593. They were replaced with the more upper-class trades of goldsmiths and jewelers.
These types of establishments remain the dominant shops today, their heritage acknowledged by a monument to Benvenuto Cellini, Florence's most famous goldsmith. A modern local tradition symbolizing eternal love involves clamping a padlock on the railings surrounding Cellini's bust and throwing the key in the river; as this damages the bridge, anyone caught taking part in the ritual is now fined.
The Ponte Vecchio is not only the oldest segmental arch bridge in Florence, but the oldest in Europe. Its survival is thanks to a surprisingly merciful order--supposedly from Hitler himself--not to destroy it with all the other bridges in Florence during the German retreat from the city in August 1944.
Address: Via Dante Alighieri, Florence (map)
Just a handful of these vendors are left, selling sandwiches stuffed with tripe (cow's stomach), a much-loved local delicacy that earns high points with both blue- and white-collar Florentines. If you want to just look and leave the lip-smacking to the locals, make your way to the well-known "Trippaio" pushcart, a commissary on wheels that sells mounds of gleaming viscera, parked daily outside the main American Express office.
Address: Piazza della Signoria, Florence (map)
As a capital of culture, Florence is a fitting host for one of the largest and most anticipated annual celebrations of classical music, opera, and dance in Europe. Inaugurated in 1933 and held annually since 1937, the prestigious festival has been under the direction of maestro Zubin Mehta since 1985, and attracts both rising stars and world-class performers. It beings in early May, with free open-air closing extravaganzas usually held in the Piazza della Signoria in late June or early July.
Address: Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini, Florence (map)
Forming part of the monumental San Lorenzo complex (the Medicis' parish church, worth seeing but largely ignored by tourists), the Cappelle Medicee were Michelangelo's first architectural projects, begun in the 1520s and designed to hold the remains of Lorenzo the Magnificent and three other members of the ruling clan. The chapels are famous for the reclining, allegorical statues of female Dawn and male Dusk that adorn the tomb of Lorenzo II, Duke of Urbino (grandson of Lorenzo II Magnifico), and for the figures of male Day and female Night on the tomb of Giuliano, Duke of Memours. Ironically, Michelangelo didn't complete the two most important tombs--those of Lorenzo Il Magnifico and his brother, Giuliano, who lie in a plain tomb opposite the altar. Later (and lesser) tombs hold the remains of the Medici monarchs who ruled till the end of the line in 1737.
Address: Via por Santa Maria, Florence (map)
Before you leave town, take a trip to the "New Market", in business since the 16th century. There may not be much to capture your interest among the merchandise, but stop by to rub the nose of the brass "porcellino" (wild boar), which legend says will ensure a rapid return to Florence.
Address: Mercato San Lorenzo, Florence (map)
Touristy to the core, Italy's largest and best daily open-air market comprises hundreds of white canvas-topped stalls filling the streets around the Medici's Church of San Lorenzo and the covered Mercato Centrale (both worth stopping into). This is one-stop shopping for those long lists of the don't-forgets back home, as well as plenty of local color.
Address: Piazza San Marco, Florence (map)
The most celebrated friar of this 13th-century monastery (expanded in the 15th century) was Fra Angelico, and today San marco holds the largest collection of his work in Italy. His 1442 masterwork "The Crucifixion" is found here, as are a number of painted panels, altarpieces, and a series of frescoes that grace many of the plain cells where the monks lived and prayed. (Savonarola, the fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist who won and then lost favor with the Medicis, was prior of the monastery and resided in cell eleven.) Of a half dozen beautiful Last Supper frescoes found in Florence's various monasteries, the one in San Marco's refectory, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, is one of the most important. Ghirlandaio taught a young Michelangelo the art of fresco painting, something that would serve him well decades later in the Sistine Chapel.
Address: Mercato Centrale, Florence (map) Phone: 055-219-949
1Roll up your sleeves and join the market merchants and shoppers who stop by this popular no-lingering lunch counter within the covered 19th-century Mercato Central. The simple down-home menu follows the market's whims, and it doesn't get any fresher than this.
(1000 Places to See Before You Die)
Nerbone has been stuffing stall owners and market patrons with excellent Florentine cucina povera ("poor people's food") since the Mercato Centrale opened in 1874. You can try trippa alla fiorentina, pappa al pomodoro, or a plate piled with boiled potatoes and a single fat sausage. But the mainstay here is a panino con bollito, a boiled beef sandwich that's bagnato (dipped in the meat juices). Eat standing with the crowd of old men at the side counter, sipping glasses of wine or beer, or fight for one of the few tables against the wall.
Address: Via Pian dei Giullari, Arcetri (map)
After taking in the view from the outdoor terrace, head inside for a traditional Tuscan-style meal. Everyone is here for the pasta, plus ust about the best and most tender bistecca alla fiorentina around, and (in artichoke season) the deep-fried batterless carciofini wedges. Five different first courses leave no room for a proper entree, but most diners usually find room for a sampling from the five-dessert menu.
Address: Via Isola delle Stinche, Florence (map) Phone: 055-289-368
With the inviting combination of a casual wood-paneled wine bar in front and slightly more serious diing in back, this handsome osteria, housed in a landmark early Renaissance palazzo, is the best place in town for a self-styled *degustazione* by the glass. Beneath vaulted ceilings and wrought-iron chandeliers, its old wooden tables, display of first-rate salami and cheeses, and interesting mix of habitues feels just right.
Address: Piazza della Signoria, Florence (map)
The civic center of Florence for more than 700 years, the Piazza della Signoria is now a popular outdoor sculpture gallery, drawing tourists to its cafes and round-the-clock street life. some of the sculptures are originals--such as Giambologna's bronze of Grand Duke Cosimo I on horseback--while others (notably Michelangelo's "David" and Donatello's "Marzocco" and "Judith Beheading Holofernes") are replicas, their originals now residing in Florence's various museums, sheltered from the elements. In front of Barolomeo Ammannati's "Neptune" fountain is a plaque marking the spot where Savonarola held his Bonfire of the Vanities in the 1490s, encouraging Florentines to burn their mirrors, books, games, wigs, paintings, and other symbols of decadent irreligion. The Florentines' zeal for his brand of puritanism lasted only so long, and in 1498, after hanging Savonarola, they burned him on the very same spot.
Address: Palazzo Pitti, Florence (map)
Built by wealthy Florentine merchant and banker Luca Pitti in the late 15th century, the Pitti Palace was bought by the Medicis in 1550 and substantially enlarged, becoming the official residence of the ruling dukes. Today it contains some of the most important Florentine museums, especially the Palatine Gallery, whose twenty-six rooms display High Renaissance and later-era art, including Titian, Raphael, Rubens, Murillo, and Caravaggio. It's the most important museum in Florence after the Uffizi. Other museums include the Silver Museum, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Porcelain Museum, and the Costume Gallery. Most of the interior decoration seen today was crated during the 17th century, including the Pietro da Cortona frescoes that adorn the Medicis' main apartments. Bring a picnic for apres-viewing and head for the Medicis' famous 16th-century Boboli Gardens, which climb the hill behind the palazzo.
Address: Piazzale Michelangiolo, Florence (map)
The postcard-worthy views from Florence's hilltop square inspired more than one Renaissance master. Popular with the tour bus set during the day and with local youths and bikers at night, it's the perfect Lovers' Lane, centered around one of the two copies of Michelangelo's "David". Or make the trip up for the summertime watermelon stands and the always crowded Gelateria Michelangiolo.
Address: Via del Monte alle Croci, Florence (map)
Florence's oldest church, this much-beloved 11th-century Romanesque structure dominates the city's highest hill. Its romantic setting, full of birdsong and with panoramic views, makes it a favorite venue for weddings, and its daily program of Gregorian chant makes it the best place in town for a time travel right back to the Middle Ages.
Address: Via Isola delle Stinche, Florence (map) Phone: 055-292-334
Ice cream purists may insist it's no longer the city's best, but don't tell that to the crowds always loitering outside, tucking into flavors that run the gamut from familiar but delicious vanilla to whiskey, rice or fig. Besides, the Piazza Santa Croce is just one cobblestone block away, with stone benches on which to sit and pause.
Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi, Florence (map) Phone: 055-238-8651-652
Here, in a palace designed in 1560 by architect Giorgio Vasari for Grand Duke Cosimo de' Medici, are some of the most recognized and oft-reproduced masterworks of Western civilization. It is the largest such holding of Renaissance paintings anywhere and is widely regarded as one of the most important picture calleries in the world. Collected by the Medicis themselves over time, the superb collection of Italy's unparalleled artistic heritage spans six centuries: the crowds confirm that the Botticelli rooms (*Allegory of Springtime*, *The Birth of Venus*) are some of the most popular. There are also earlier wonders of the Renaissance from such trailblazers as Cimabue and Giotto; Michelangelo, native son of Florence, is represented here by his only extant painting on canvas, the *Doni Tondo*. Add to them equally seminal work by artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Piero della Francesca, Filippo Lippi, Raphael...the list goes on and on. Strendhal swooned from the sensory overload of walking the streets of Florence (and no doubt stopping in the city's sixty-six museums); visitors to the Uffizi will likely experience something of "Stendhal's Syndrome." The U-shaped galleries can easily (and probably should) be divided into more than one visit. Each should be capped off with a caffe at the museum bar overlooking the Piazza della Signoria, the heart of the city past and present.
(1000 Places to See Before You Die)
The Uffizi is one of the world's great museums, and the single best introduction to Renaissance painting, with works by Giotto, Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Perugino, Michelangelo, Raphael Sanzio, Titian, Caravaggio, and the list goes on. The museum is deceptively small. What looks like a small stretch of gallery space can easily gobble up half a day -- many rooms suffer the fate of containing nothing but masterpieces.
Know before you go that the Uffizi regularly shuts down rooms for crowd-control reasons -- especially in summer, when the bulk of the annual 1.5 million visitors stampedes the place. Of the more than 3,100 artworks in the museum's archives, only about 1,700 are on exhibit.
The painting gallery is housed in the structure built to serve as the offices (uffizi is Florentine dialect for uffici, or "offices") of the Medici, commissioned by Cosimo I from Giorgio Vasari in 1560 -- perhaps his greatest architectural work. The painting gallery was started by Cosimo I as well and is now housed in the second-floor rooms that open off a long hall lined with ancient statues and frescoed with grotesques.
How to See the Uffizi -- If you have the time, make two trips to the museum. On your first, concentrate on the first dozen or so rooms and pop by the "Greatest Hits of the 16th Century," with works by Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian. Return later for a brief recap and continue with the rest of the gallery.
Be aware that the gift shop at the end of the galleries closes 20 minutes before the museum. You can visit it without reentering the museum at any time; if you plan to stay in the collections until closing, go down to the shop earlier during your visit and get the guards' attention before you pass through the exit turnstile, so they'll know you're just popping out to buy a few postcards and will recognize you when you ask to be let back in.
The massive Uffizi project of Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) is an early example of the architecture of absolute monarchy, built for the newly established Florentine Duchy of Cosimo I de' Medici. Cosimo ordered the relocation of city-guild and other administrative offices to a location immediately adjacent to his residential palace--the former city hall, the Palazzo Vecchio. United in one location, these *uffizi* or offices were ordered along the course of a newly cut straight street hat linked the Piazza della Signoria to the Arno river, a distance of more than 492 feet (150 m). Each office had an opening onto the grand Doric portico, and upper rooms on a mezzanine level, which was lit by high windows cut into the coffering of the barrel vaults. The sense of order created by the serried ranks of Doric colonnades that enclose the new piazza are characteristic of authoritarian architecture. The Uffizi were not simply and administrative hub, however. The two upper levels of Vasari's design were reserved for the Duke's court and residence and were soon filled with the works of art that form the core of the present-day museum collection. Lighting of these spaces was one of Vasari's major concerns, and he ordered the facade into units of three bays punctured by large aedicular windows. At the Arno end of the U-shaped structure, a vast triumphal arch-like Serliana window affords vistas back to the Palazzo Vecchio, and south to the Arno and the Boboli gardens beyond.
*Beata Umiltà Altarpiece* Pietro Lorenzetti
The altarpiece, dating from around 1340, was reconstructed according to an 18th century drawing. Originally in the women's convent of San Giovanni Evangelista in Faenza. At the Uffizi since 1919.
*Birth of Venus* Sandro Botticelli
The iconography of Birth of Venus is very similar to a description of the event (or rather, a description of a sculpture of the event) in a poem by Angelo Poliziano, the Stanze per la giostra. No single text provides the precise content of the painting, however, which has led scholars to propose many sources and interpretations. Art historians who specialize in the Italian Renaissance have found a Neoplatonic interpretation, which was most clearly articulated by Ernst Gombrich, to be the most enduring way to understand the painting.
For Plato – and so for the members of the Florentine Platonic Academy – Venus had two aspects: she was an earthly goddess who aroused humans to physical love or she was a heavenly goddess who inspired intellectual love in them. Plato further argued that contemplation of physical beauty allowed the mind to better understand spiritual beauty. So, looking at Venus, the most beautiful of goddesses, might at first raise a physical response in viewers which then lifted their minds towards the Creator.A Neoplatonic reading of Botticelli's Birth of Venus suggests that 15th-century viewers would have looked at the painting and felt their minds lifted to the realm of divine love.
More recently, questions have arisen about Neoplatonism as the dominant intellectual system of late 15th-century Florence, and scholars have indicated that there might be other ways to interpret Botticelli's mythological paintings. In particular, both Primavera and Birth of Venus have been seen as wedding paintings that suggest appropriate behaviors for brides and grooms.
Yet another interpretation of the Birth of Venus (whose title derives from Vasari but whose action perhaps better represents the Arrival of Venus) is provided here by its author, Charles R. Mack. This interpretation has not been adopted by Renaissance art historians in general, and it remains problematic, since it depends on the painting being commissioned by the Medici, yet the work is not documented in Medici hands before 1550. Mack sees the painting as an allegory extolling the virtues of Lorenzo de' Medici. According to this reading of the painting, the scene was inspired by the text in an Homeric hymn published in Florence in 1488 by the Greek refugee Demetrios Chalcondyles:
Of august gold-wreathed and beautiful
Aphrodite I shall sing to whose domain
belong the battlements of all sea-loved
Cyprus where, blown by the moist breath
of Zephyros, she was carried over the
waves of the resounding sea on soft foam.
The gold-filleted Horae happily welcomed
her and clothed her with heavenly raiment.
But more than a rediscovered Homeric hymn was likely in the mind of the Medici family member who commissioned this painting from Botticelli. The painter and the humanist scholars who probably advised him would have recalled that Pliny the Elder had mentioned a lost masterpiece of the celebrated artist, Apelles, representing Venus Anadyomene (Venus Rising from the Sea). According to Pliny, Alexander the Great offered his mistress, Pankaspe, as the model for the nude Venus and later, realizing that Apelles had fallen in love with the girl, gave her to the artist in a gesture of extreme magnanimity. Pliny went on to note that Apelles' painting of Pankaspe as Venus was later "dedicated by Augustus in the shrine of his father Caesar." Pliny also stated that "the lower part of the painting was damaged, and it was impossible to find anyone who could restore it. . . . This picture decayed from age and rottenness, and Nero... substituted for it another painting by the hand of Dorotheus".
Thus, in a sense, what the mighty Romans could not restore, their worthy successors, the Florentines, through the hand of Botticelli, could recreate. Pliny also noted a second painting by Apelles of Venus "superior even to his earlier one," that had been begun by artist but left unfinished. Once again, Botticelli, in his version of the Birth of Venus, might be seen as completing the task begun by his ancient predecessor, even surpassing him. Giving added support to this interpretation of Botticelli as a born-again Apelles is the fact that that very claim was voiced in 1488 by Ugolino Verino in a poem entitled "On Giving Praise to the History of Florence."
Such a deliberately re-creative act as Botticelli may have performed with his Birth of Venus would go a long way towards explaining the curious flatness and linearity of the painting, which seem so very out of keeping with the direction of Renaissance art and with Botticelli's own approach to painting. Was the two-dimensionality of this painting a deliberate attempt to replicate the style of ancient painting as found on Greek vases or on the walls of Etruscan tombs?.
While Botticelli might well have been celebrated as a revivified Apelles, his Birth of Venus also testified to the special nature of Florence's chief citizen, Lorenzo de'Medici. Although it now seems that the painting was executed for another member of the Medici family, it likely was intended to celebrate and flatter its head, Lorenzo de' Medici. Tradition associates the image of Venus in Botticelli's painting with the lovely Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, with whom it is suspected both Lorenzo and his younger brother, Giuliano, were much enamored. Simonetta was, not coincidentally, born in the Tuscan seaside town of Portovenere (the port of Venus). Thus, in Botticelli's interpretation, Pankaspe (the ancient living prototype of Simonetta), the mistress of Alexander the Great (the Laurentian predecessor), becomes the lovely model for the lost Venus executed by the legendary Apelles (reborn through the recreative talents of Botticelli), which ended up in Rome, installed by Emperor Augustus in the temple dedicated to Florence's supposed founder Julius Caesar. In the case of Botticelli's Birth of Venus, the suggested references to Lorenzo, supported by other internal indicators such as the stand of laurel bushes at the right, would have been just the sort of thing erudite Florentine humanists would have appreciated. Accordingly, by overt implication, Lorenzo becomes the new Alexander the Great with an implied link to both Augustus, the first Roman emperor, and even to Florence's legendary founder, Caesar himself. Lorenzo, furthermore, is not only magnificent but, as was Alexander in Pliny's story, also magnanimous, as well. Ultimately, these readings of the Birth of Venus flatter not only the Medici and Botticelli but all of Florence, home to the worthy successors to some of the greatest figures of antiquity, both in governance and in the arts.
These essentially pagan readings of Botticelli's Birth of Venus should not exclude a more purely Christian one, which may be derived from the Neoplatonic reading of the painting indicated above. Viewed from a religious standpoint, the nudity of Venus suggests that of Eve before the Fall as well as the pure love of Paradise. Once landed, the goddess of love will don the earthly garb of mortal sin, an act that will lead to the New Eve - the Madonna whose purity is represented by the nude Venus. Once draped in earthly garments she becomes a personification of the Christian Church which offers a spiritual transport back to the pure love of eternal salvation. In this case the scallop shell upon which this image of Venus/Eve/Madonna/Church stands may be seen in its traditionally symbolic pilgrimage context. Furthermore, the broad expanse of sea serves as a reminder of the Virgin Marys' title stella maris, alluding both to the Madonna's name (Maria/maris) and to the heavenly body (Venus/stella). The sea brings forth Venus just as the Virgin gives birth to the ultimate symbol of love, Christ.
Rather than choosing one of the many interpretations offered for Botticelli's depiction of the Birth (Arrival?) of Venus it might be better to view it from a variety of perspectives. This layered approach -- mythological, political, religious--was intended.
Botticelli's art was never fully committed to naturalism; in comparison to his contemporary Domenico Ghirlandaio, Botticelli seldom gave weight and volume to his figures and rarely used a deep perspectival space. In the Birth of Venus, Venus' body is anatomically improbable, with elongated neck and torso. Her pose is impossible: although she stands in a classical contrapposto stance, her weight is shifted too far over the left leg for the pose to be held. Moreover, were she actually to stand on the edge of the shell (which cannot be identified as real), it would certainly tip over. The bodies and poses of the winds to the left are even harder to figure out. The background is summary, and the figures cast no shadows. It is clear that this is a fantasy image.
Venus is an Italian Renaissance ideal: blonde, pale-skinned, voluptuous. Botticelli has picked out highlights in her hair with gold leaf and has emphasized the femininity of her body (long neck, curviness). The brilliant light and soothing colors, the luxurious garden, the gorgeous draperies of the nymph, and the roses floating around the beautiful nude all suggest that the painting is meant to bring pleasure to the viewer.
The central figure of Venus in the painting is very similar to Praxiteles' sculpture of Aphrodite. The version of her birth, is where she arises from the sea foam, already a full woman.
In classical antiquity, the sea shell was a metaphor for a woman's vulva.
The pose of Botticelli's Venus is reminiscent of the Venus de' Medici, a marble sculpture from classical antiquity in the Medici collection which Botticelli had opportunity to study.
*Calumny of Apelles* Sandro Botticelli
In The Calumny of Apelles, Botticelli drew on the description of a painting by Apelles, a Greek painter of the Classical period. Though Apelles' works have not survived, Lucian recorded details of one in his On Calumny:
On the right of it sits a man with very large ears, almost like those of Midas, extending his hand to Slander while she is still at some distance from him. Near him, on one side, stand two women—Ignorance, I think, and Suspicion. On the other side, Slander is coming up, a woman beautiful beyond measure, but full of passion and excitement, evincing as she does fury and wrath by carrying in her left hand a blazing torch and with the other dragging by the hair a young man who stretches out his hands to heaven and calls the gods to witness his innocence. She is conducted by a pale ugly man who has piercing eye and looks as if he had wasted away in long illness; he may be supposed to be envy. Besides, there are two women in attendance on Slander, egging her on, tiring [dressing] her and tricking her out. According to the interpretation of them given me by the guide of the picture, one was Treachery and the other Deceit. They were followed by a woman dressed in deep mourning, with black clothes all in tatters—Repentance, I think her name was. At all events, she was turning back with tears in her eyes and casting a stealthy glance, full of shame, at Truth, who was approaching.
Botticelli reproduced this quite closely, down to the donkey ears of the seated man, into which the women that flank him speak. A richly gowned Slander (or Calumny), with her hair being dressed by her attendants, is being led by her slender, robed companion. The man she is dragging, nearly nude and with his ankles crossed as if to be crucified, raises his hands in prayer. The woman behind him turns her head to regard the stately pale nude pointing to the heavens.
Without description of the setting, Botticelli has presented a throne room elaborately decorated with sculptures and reliefs of Classical heroes and battle scenes.
An apocryphal story is connected to the painting. Rudolph Altrocchi, in 1921, relates that Apelles had himself been slandered, accused by a rival of helping Theodotus of Aetolia to foster revolt in Tyre. (Altrocchi assures readers that the story cannot be true, as Apelles had been long dead before the revolt of which he is accused.) Ptolemy was on the verge of executing Apelles for the deed, so the story goes, when a friend revealed the truth and the slanderer himself was sold into slavery. Nevertheless, Apelles expressed his resentment for Ptolemy and the peril in which he found himself in his painting.
The story of Apelles' painting became popular in Renaissance Italy, and Botticelli was not the first Italian Renaissance artist to paint it. This work, completed in 1494, was the last secular painting he would produce. It may have been undertaken as a commission of the Florentian banker who oversaw the Papal Mint. It is often assumed that Botticelli had a specific slandered individual in mind, perhaps even himself, as an anonymous person had accused him of sodomy.
*Flowers and Insects* Rachel Ruysch
Signed and dated 1711. Companion piece to another still life ( Inv. 1890-1285, nott exhibited). They were both sent by Elector Johann Wilhelm to Cosimo III de' Medici, probably in 1712. At the Uffizi since 1753.
*Judith Beheading Holofernes* Artemisia Gentileschi
This painting shows the decapitation of Holofernes, a scene of horrific struggle and blood-letting.
*La Primavera* Sandro Botticelli
The painting features six female figures and two male, along with a blindfolded putto, in an orange grove. To the right of the painting, a flower-crowned female figure in a floral-patterned dress is scattering flowers, collected in the folds of her gown. Her nearest companion, a woman in diaphanous white, is being seized by a winged male from above. His cheeks are puffed, his expression intent, and his unnatural complexion separates him from the rest of the figures. The trees around him blow in the direction of his entry, as does the skirt of the woman he is seizing. The drapery of her companion blows in the other direction.
Clustered on the left, a group of three females also in diaphanous white join hands in a dance, while a red-draped youth with a sword and a helmet near them raises a wooden rod towards some wispy gray clouds. Two of the women wear prominent necklaces. The flying cherub has an arrow nocked to loose, directed towards the dancing girls. Central and somewhat isolated from the other figures stands a red-draped woman in blue. Like the flower-gatherer, she returns the viewers gaze. The trees behind her form a broken arch to draw the eye.
The pastoral scenery is elaborate. Botticelli (2002) indicates there are 500 identified plant species depicted in the painting, with about 190 different flowers. Botticelli. Primavera (1998) says that of the 190 different species of flowers depicted, at least 130 have been specifically named.
Various interpretations of the figures have been set forth, but it is generally agreed that at least at one level the painting is, as characterized by Cunningham and Reich (2009), "an elaborate mythological allegory of the burgeoning fertility of the world." Elena Capretti in Botticelli (2002) suggests that the typical interpretation is thus:
The reading of the picture is from right to left: Zephyrus, the biting wind of March, kidnaps and possesses the nymph Chloris, whom he later marries and transforms into a deity; she becomes the goddess of Spring, eternal bearer of life, and is scattering roses on the ground.
Venus presides over the garden, the Graces accompanying her (and targeted by Cupid) bearing jewels in the colors of the Medici family, while Mercury's caduceus keeps the garden safe from threatening clouds. The basic identifications of characters is widely embraced, but other names are sometimes used for the females on the right. According to Botticelli (1901), the woman in the flowered dress is Primavera (a personification of Spring) whose companion is Flora. Flowers spring from Flora's mouth at the contact with the wind god.
In addition to its overt meaning, the painting has been interpreted as an illustration of the Neoplatonic love popularized among the Medicis and their followers by Marsilio Ficino. In this interpretation, as set out in Sandro Botticelli, 1444/45-1510 (2000), the earthy carnal love represented by Zephyrus to the right is renounced by the central of the Graces, who has turned her back to the scene unconcerned by the threat represented to her by Cupid. Her focus is on Mercury, who himself gazed beyond the canvas at what Deimling asserts hung as the companion piece to Primavera: Pallas and the Centaur, in which "love oriented towards knowledge" (embodied by Pallas Athena) proves triumphant over lust (symbolized by the centaur).
The origin of the painting is somewhat unclear. It may have been created in response to a request in 1477 of Lorenzo de' Medici, or it may have been commissioned somewhat later by Lorenzo or his cousin Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici. One theory suggests Lorenzo commissioned the portrait to celebrate the birth of his nephew Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici (who would one day become Pope), but changed his mind after the assassination of Giulo's father, his brother Giuliano, having it instead completed as a wedding gift for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, who married in 1482.
The painting overall was inspired by a description the poet Ovid wrote of the arrival of Spring (Fasti, Book 5, May 2), though the specifics may have been derived from a poem by Poliziano. As Poliziano's poem, "Rusticus", was published in 1483 and the painting is generally held to have been completed around 1482, some scholars have argued that the influence was reversed. Another inspiration for the painting seems to have been the Lucretius poem "De rerum natura", which includes the lines, "Spring-time and Venus come, and Venus' boy, / The winged harbinger, steps on before, / And hard on Zephyr's foot-prints Mother Flora, / Sprinkling the ways before them, filleth all / With colors and with odors excellent." It has been proposed that the model for Venus was Simonetta Vespucci, wife of Marco Vespucci and perhaps the mistress of Giuliano de' Medici, who is said to himself have been the model for Mercury.
Whatever the truth of its origin and inspiration, the painting was inventoried in the collection of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici in 1499. In 1919, it has hung in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. During the Italian campaign of World War Two, the picture was moved to Montegufoni Castle about ten miles south west of Florence to protect it from wartime bombing. It was returned to the Uffizi Gallery where it remains to the present day. In 1982, the painting was restored. The work has darkened considerably over the course of time.
*Miracles of St. Nicholas* Ambrogio Lorenzetti
Originally in the church of San proloco in Florence, the panels date from around 1330. At the Uffizi since 1919.
*Pietà* Pietro Perugino
*Portinari Altarpiece* Hugo van der Goes
The work was commissioned for the church of the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence by the Italian banker Tommaso Portinari, who lived for more than forty years in Bruges, as a representative for the Medici family's bank. Portinari himself is depicted on the left panel with his two sons Antonio and Pigello; his wife Maria di Francesco Baroncelli is shown on the right panel with their daughter Margarita. All, except Pigello, are accompanied by their patron saints: Saint Thomas (with the spear), Saint Anthony (with the bell), Mary Magdalen (with the pot of ointment) and Saint Margaret (with the book and the dragon).
On the central panel, three shepherds fall on their knees before the child Jesus. Van der Goes painted these rustic characters very realistically. Kneeling angels surround the Virgin and the Child, which is not in a crib, but lies directly on the ground, surrounded by an aureole of golden rays. This unusual representation of the adoration of Jesus is probably based on one of the visions of Saint Bridget of Sweden.
In the background, van der Goes painted scenes related to the main subject: on the left panel, Joseph fleeing to Egypt with his pregnant wife; on the central panel (to the right), the shepherds visited by the angel; on the right panel, the Three Magi on the road to Bethlehem.
The lovely still life in the foreground, with the two vases of flowers and the sheaf of wheat (which recalls Bethlehem, "the house of bread"), probably alludes to the Eucharist and the Passion. The wheat refers to the Last Supper, where Christ broke the bread. The orange lilies symbolize the Passion and the white irises purity, while the purple irises and the columbine stalks represent the seven sorrows of the Virgin. Thus, this scene of the birth of Jesus prefigures the Salvation by his death.
When the work arrived in Florence in 1483, it was deeply admired by the Italian artists who saw it, many of whom sought to emulate it. A good example is the Adoration of the Shepherds (1485) which Domenico Ghirlandaio painted in the Sassetti Chapel in the church of Santa Trinita in Florence. However, the naturalistic depiction of the shepherds is already present in Andrea Mantegna's Adoration of the Shepherds (Metropolitan Museum, New York), which dates from around 1450.
*Portraits of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza* Fra Angelico
Painted around 1435, it was mentioned by Vasari in his description of Sant'Egidio. At the Uffizi since 1948.
*Rucellai Madonna* Duccio da Buoninsegna
Painted in 1285 for the Compagnia dei Laudesi of Santa Maria Novella.
*Self Portrait* Angelica Kauffmann
*Sorcery of the Allegory of Hercules* Dosso Dossi
*St. Augustine in the Cell* Sandro Botticelli
This work was probably executed for an Augustinian hermit of Santo Spirito, as shown by the fact the saint wears both episcopal and hermit garments. As many of Botticelli's late works, it is inspired by the religious predication of Savonarola.
*The Annunciation* Lonardo da Vinci
The angel holds a Madonna lily, a symbol of Mary's virginity and of the city of Florence. It is supposed that Leonardo originally copied the wings from those of a bird in flight, but they have since been lengthened by a later artist
When the Annunciation came to the Uffizi in 1867, from the Olivetan monastery of San Bartolomeo, near Florence, it was ascribed to Domenico Ghirlandaio, who was, like Leonardo, an apprentice in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio. In 1869, Karl Eduard von Liphart, the central figure of the German expatriate art colony in Florence, recognized it as a youthful work by Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, one of the first attributions of a surviving work to the youthful Leonardo. Since then a preparatory drawing for the angel's sleeve has been recognized and attributed to Leonardo.
Verrocchio used lead-based paint and heavy brush strokes. He left a note for Leonardo to finish the background and the angel. Leonardo used light brush strokes and no lead. When the Annunciation was x-rayed, Verrocchio's work was evident while Leonardo's angel was invisible.
The marble table, in front of the Virgin, probably quotes the tomb of Piero and Giovanni de' Medici in the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence, which Verrocchio had sculpted during this same period. Some immature hesitancies are usually noted, especially the Virgin's ambiguous spatial relation to the desk and the marble on which it rests.
*The Annunciation with Two Saints* Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi
Signed and dated 1333, the painting originally hung on the altar of Sant'Ansano in Siena Cathedral. It was transferred to the Uffizi in 1799 by Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo.
*The Battle of San Romano* Paolo Uccello
A set of three paintings by the Florentine painter Paolo Uccello depicting events that took place at the battle of San Romano between Florentine and Sienese forces in 1432. They are significant as revealing the development of linear perspective in early Italian Renaissance painting, and are unusual as a major secular commission. The paintings are in egg tempera on wooden panels, each over 3 metres long. According to the National Gallery, the panels were commissioned by a member of the Bartolini Salimbeni family in Florence sometime between 1435 and 1460. The paintings were much admired in the 15th century; Lorenzo de' Medici so coveted them that he purchased one and had the remaining two forcibly removed to the Palazzo Medici. They are now divided between three collections, the National Gallery, London, the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
The three paintings (from left to right) are:
* Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano (probably about 1438-1440), egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar, 182 × 320 cm, National Gallery, London.
* Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino unseats Bernardino della Ciarda at the Battle of San Romano (dating uncertain, about 1435 to 1455), tempera on wood, 182 × 320 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
* The Counterattack of Michelotto da Cotignola at the Battle of San Romano (about 1455), wood panel, 182 × 317 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris
The Uffizi panel was probably designed to be the central painting of the triptych and is the only one signed by the artist. The sequence most widely agreed among art historians is: London, Uffizi, Louvre, although others have been proposed. They may represent different times of day: dawn (London), mid-day (Uffizi) and dusk (Paris) - the battle lasted eight hours.
In the London painting, Niccolò da Tolentino, with his large gold and red patterned hat, is seen leading the Florentine cavalry. He had a reputation for recklessness, and doesn't even wear a helmet, though he sent two messengers (the departure of the two messengers, depicted centre, top) to tell his allied army of Attendolo to hurry to his aid as he is facing a superior force. In the foreground, broken lances and a dead soldier are carefully aligned, so as to create an impression of perspective. The three paintings were designed to be hung high on three different walls of a room, and the perspective designed with that height in mind, which accounts for many apparent anomalies in the perspective when seen in photos or at normal gallery height.
Many areas of the paintings were covered with gold and silver leaf. While the gold leaf, such as that found on the decorations of the bridles, has remained bright, the silver leaf, found particularly on the armour of the soldiers, has oxidized to a dull grey or black. The original impression of the burnished silver would have been dazzling. All of the paintings, especially that in the Louvre, have suffered from time and early restoration, and many areas have lost their modelling.
*The Death of Adonis* Sebastiano Luciani called Sebastiano del Piombo
From the estate of Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici (1675); at the Uffizi since 1798.
*The Drowsy One*
*The Head of Medusa* Flemish Artist of the 16th Century
*Venus of Urbino* Titian
It depicts a nude young woman, identified with the goddess Venus, reclining on a couch or bed in the sumptuous surroundings of a Renaissance palace. It hangs in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. The figure's pose is based on Giorgione's Sleeping Venus (c. 1510), which Titian completed. In this depiction, Titian has domesticated Venus by moving her to an indoor setting, engaging her with the viewer, and making her sensuality explicit. Devoid as it is of any classical or allegorical trappings -Venus displays none of the attributes of the goddess she is supposed to represent- the painting is unapologetically erotic.
The frankness of Venus's expression is often noted; she stares straight at the viewer, unconcerned with her nudity. In her right hand she holds a posy of roses whilst her left covers her groin, provocatively placed in the centre of the composition. In the near background is a dog, often a symbol of either fidelity or sexual profligacy; that the animal is asleep hints that the woman portrayed is unfaithful.
The painting was commissioned by Guidobaldo II della Rovere, the Duke of Urbino, possibly to celebrate his 1534 marriage. It would originally have decorated a cassone, a chest traditionally given in Italy as a wedding present. The maids in the background are shown rummaging through a similar chest, apparently in search of Venus's clothes. Curiously, given its overtly erotic content, the painting was intended as an instructive "model" for Giulia Varano, the Duke's extremely young bride. The argument for the painting's didacticism was made by the late art historian Rona Goffen in 1997's “Sex, Space, and Social History in Titian’s Venus of Urbino". Titian contrasts the straight lines of the architecture with the curves of the female form, and the screen behind Venus bisects the painting, a large-scale division that is mitigated by unifying elements such as the use of colour and the floral patterns of the couch, cassoni, and background tapestries.
In his 1880 travelogue A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain called the Venus of Urbino "the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses". He proposed that "it was painted for a bagnio, and it was probably refused because it was a trifle too strong", adding humorously that "in truth, it is a trifle too strong for any place but a public art gallery".
Venus of Urbino inspired Édouard Manet's 1863 Olympia in which the figure of Venus is replaced with the model Victorine Meurent, who is often incorrectly identified as a prostitute.
*Venus with a Satyr and Cupids* Annibale Carracci
Architect: Giorgio Vasari
Materials: Stone, stucco
Address: Via Caprarie, 1 40124 Bologna, Italy (map)
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Being the preeminent culinary center of a food-conscious country is an imposing position that Bologna la Grassa (Bologna the Fat One) has shouldered proudly and insouciantly for centuries. Most trips to this handsome medieval city are devoted to the pursuit of gastronomic pleasures. Head straight for the Quadrilatero. The well-known food district lies within a medieval labyrinth whose narrow streets and portico-ed arcades of family-run shops make up the city's oldest and best-preserved quarter. Bologna is the birthplace of mortadella sausage (the distant and infinitely more tasty granddaddy of American bologna), meat-stuffed tortellini pasta, and the exquisitely chunky ragu alla bolognese. The popular preoccupation with eating is happily played out amid some of Italy's most historically important architecture. The hungry and the plain curious will be in paradise in Tamburini, Italy's most lavish food emporium, and amazing display of artistically packaged and prepared foods, pastas, meats, and salads. A visit here is more about cultural enhancement that shopping, but no one with a sense of sight or smell or taste leaves the store empty-handed. The recent addition of a self-service bistro-like corner is a godsend.
When: most food stores closed Thursday afternoon and Sunday
For sheer size and shock value, few buildings surpass Milan's Duomo, It is the wold's largest Gothic cathedral (the only larger cathedral in any style is St. Peter's in Rome), begun in 1386 under the Viscontis and not completed until 100 years ago. Its 135 marble spires and 2,245 marble statues could keep you busy looking at it for days, though well-heeled Milanese women, Zenga-suited gents, and too-cool teens pass through the spacious piazza without giving this mad wedding-cake confection so much as a fare-thee-well. An elevator to the roof offers the chance to stroll amid the fanciful forest of white marble pinnacles (which take on a rose tinge if the light is right) and to study the flying buttresses up close. There are stuffing views over Italy's most frenetic city, while a glimpse of the Swiss Alps 50 miles away can be had when the notorious Milanese fog and pollution aren't obliterating the view. The interior is spartan and almost always virtually empty despite the potential seating for 40,000--whom were they expecting? Shelley swore this was the best place anywhere to read Dante as it remains naturally cool even during the hottest of afternoons. True, if you can ignore the gruesome statue of St. Bartolomeo who, flayed alive, is depicted holding his own skin.
Address: Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie
Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie
Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie
Milan, Italy (map)
One of Leonardo's most powerful works
Where else can you tell a taxicab driver the name of a painting as your destination, and expect to get there? Every self-respecting Milanese, cabbie or not, knows the location of Leonardo da Vinci's "Il Cenacolo" ("The Last Supper"), one of the world's most famous images, tucked away in the Gothic church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The entire country closely followed the painstaking twenty-year restoration that was completed in 1999. On a wall in what once was the refectory of the church's adjacent convent, Leonardo created this powerful 28-foot mural. Capturing the emotion-packed moment of Judas's betrayal of Jesus, it began to deteriorate almost immediately following its completion in 1495. Its recent restoration was as controversial as that of the Sistine Chapel, with some historians claiming that precious little has survived the original painting or coloring, having been re- (and mis-) interpreted a little too zealously over time by countless restorers (there have been seven restorations since 1726); others herald it as a milestone of patience and craftsmanship. There is no dismissing that it is one of Leonardo's finest works, one whose every brushstroke revealed the "intentions of the soul." He searched for years among the city's criminals for Judas's face; the result, art historian Giorgio Vasari declared, was "the very embodiment of treachery and inhumanity."
Address: Via Filodrammatici 2
Piazza alla Scala
Milan, Italy (map)
The world's favorite opera house
It is December 7, opening night at La Scala, and all of Milan is here, dressed to the nines: a well-heeled, passionate, and impossible-to-please audience as theatrical as the opera onstage. After 1,000 days of intensive and painstaking renovation, the world's most famous opera house reopened in 2004 to the astonishment and heartfelt approval of many, the uncontested star at its own reopening night. designed by Giuseppe Piermarini and originally opened in 1778, the highlights of La Scala's $78 million renovation are the outstanding acoustics (already considered some of the finest anywhere) and the drastic recreation of the backstage area, now a showcase of twenty-first-century technology. This gilt-and-velvet jewel box has hosted the best of the opera world from its earliest days. Verdi's "Otello" and "Falstaff" premiered here, as well as Puccini's "Turnadot" and Bellini's "Norma." Maria Callas sang here more than anywhere else. Included in the toe-to-toe renovation, the intimate Museo alla Scala, a must-see for opera lovers, has reopened in its original location (entrance is on Large Ghiringhelli) and has weathered the recent departure of the world renowned musical director Ricardo Muti.
When: Opera season runs from Dec 7 through July; ballet and concerts other months.
Address: Milan, Italy (map)
Cutting-edge shopping and a restaurant extraordinaire
A must-see for shopaholics, the incomparable Via Montenapoleone and its offshoots are at the heart of the single most fashionable retail acre in the world. Shopping this exclusive "golden triangle" of showcase-studded streets is heaven for those with deep pockets and purgatory for those reduced to window-shopping. The city's tireless preoccupation with fashion, interior design, architecture, and food is showcased in this chic neighborhood--from the sleek boutiques of the high priests and priestesses of la moda italiana to landmark 19th-century tearooms and gourmet food stores. Window displays are either over-the-top extravagant or Zen-like in their simplicity, ditto the stores' interiors--everything is up to the nanosecond in this city that sets the trends and blazes the trail.
Whether you're laden down with designer-labeled acquisitions or just plain exhausted by the day's visual overkill, the only place to park your bags is at Milan's Four Seasons Hotel, a quiet oasis at the very hub of Montenapoleone's shopping strip. The order of nuns that established this former convent in 1450 did not take leave until late 18th century. The cloistered villa as been transformed into a top-class 21st-century hotel--a unique space both calming and luxurious. This means fragments of exposed frescoes, ancient columns, and vaulted ceilings, but also exquisite guest rooms with spacious marbled baths and heated floors, acclaimed restaurants, and the casually elegant lobby (the convent's former chapel) that attracts local Milanesi and hotel guests alike--both a mirror of the city and a haven from it.
Top off a stylish day with dinner at the delightful Aimo e Nadia, located in a nondescript corner of the city. The well-known husband-and-wine owners have been together since their childhood in a village near Tuscany's Lucca, and today they share the cooking and tending of the garden that provides the kitchen's wonderfully fresh and savory ingredients. Much of the daily-changing menu hints of their Tuscan roots, but to dine here is to experience Italian cuisine at its purest and dishes that keep the house full of loyal patrons.
Address: Monterosso, Italy (map)
A coastline hike with inspiring seascapes
Collectively known as the Five Lands, hidden in tiny coves along the craggy southern stretch of the Ligurian Riviera, the Cinqueterre were once virtually unknown to outsiders. Only recently connected by boat to the rest of Italy and each other, these five villages offer a glimpse of an elusive, pristine Mediterranean--Italy as it must have been a century or more ago. This is one of the country's most dramatic coastal settings, with cliffs so harsh and unyielding, that for centuries these fishing hamlets were linked to each other only by boat or a network of mule paths strung along the cliffs. These ancient sentieri are now paved for the most part, and considered one of the more gorgeously scenic and not-too-difficult hikes in Europe. A heavenly plate of pasta with pesto sauce is the payoff at the end of the day, followed by a cold bottle of the local white dessert wine called sciacchetre. With poetic names such as the Via dell'Amore, these panoramic footpaths pass through an overgrown, fragrant mantle of macchia, the Mediterranean's slowly disappearing ecosystem, together with agaves, prickly pears, palms, olives, and everywhere the daringly carved stepped vineyards that produce wine renowned at he least since the 14th century, when it was praised by Boccaccio. Monterosso is the first, the northernmost town, with a handful of hotels and the only village with what might be called a stretch of waterfront, and thus a natural base. They say you can reach the fifth village, Riomaggiore, by foot in five or six hours--but what's the rush?