This is my guide to Florence (with some added suggestions about eating and touring in







[click on the name of the city to go directly to that section in this guide]).  I have just updated it after our May 2013 trip to Florence and Venice.  (It was originally written after our visit in April 1997, and it has additions and emendations as the result of our trips in April 1999, May 2003, and September 2006.  It also includes schedules of hours {indicated within this sort of wavy brackets}, which, at least for Florence, were current as of the beginning of June 2013, but which change with some frequency—so, while a useful starting point, they are worth checking at the time of any visit.)




The guide is focused on the places and people who led up to and then began the Renaissance in Florence; and, in particular, the three men who worked in Florence together at the beginning of the quattrocento (“[one thousand] four hundred,” the Italian way of referring to the 15th century) and created the architecture, painting, and sculpture of the period:  Brunelleschi, Masaccio, and Donatello (respectively).  These three men were friends (and, at least, Donatello and Brunelleschi were close friends), were well-acquainted with each other’s work, and, probably together at times, traveled to Rome to study the art of classical antiquity.  It provides a tour that is roughly chronological, and, of course, can and should be rearranged to suit where you are staying, the amount of time you have, the weather, your own preferences, and the whims of your actual visit.  Things in bold type represent those extremely special places and objects that are ones I myself would visit multiple times on any trip to Firenze.  Things in [square brackets] are places and activities I am not particularly interested in, and would readily omit unless I had unlimited time—or interests different from the ones I actually have.  Items underlined and in blue are links to places that have web sites of their own (and can be clicked on to get there, if you are looking at this guide online). The “*XX*” symbol indicates an unpleasant level of tourist concentration.  On this subject, there are a few museums and sites in Florence that present difficulties in terms of long lines to get in (most particularly the Uffizi Galleries), and I recommend you consider purchasing either a FirenzeCard or a membership in the Association Amici degli Uffizi as a solution to this problem.  (Since this is primarily an issue at the Uffizi, I present a discussion of the problem and the options in the section about the Uffizi toward the end of the Florence part of this guide.)  I suggest you use as basic guidebooks for general information, maps, other sites, etc., R. Wurman’s ACCESS:  Florence and Venice and ACCESS:  Rome (Harper Perennial), which are by far the best and most accurate (particularly artistically).  I have drawn art historically on several scholarly works (at times, too heavily drawn on them, were this intended as in any way a scholarly work):  H.W. Janson, The Sculpture of Donatello (Princeton Univ., Princeton, NJ: 1963); Bates Lowry, Renaissance Architecture (Braziller, New York: 1965); Peter Murray, The Architecture of the Italian Renaissance (Batesford, London: 1963); and, Charles Seymour, Jr., Sculpture in Italy: 1400-1500 (Penguin, New York: 1966); and, on the guidebooks just cited.  Have you the time, I recommend them all to you.


Santa Maria Novella One enters through through the garden at the right of the façade of the church (the FirenzeCard entrance is around at the back [railway station] side of the church) {Monday - Thursday 0900-1730, Friday 1100-1730, Saturday 0900-1700, Sunday 1300-1700; Chiostro di Santa Maria Novella (Green cloisters): Monday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 1000-1600}- A Dominican church (therefore very large, to meet preaching needs), begun in 1246


 (the façade is the 1470 work of Alberti). 


File:Santa Maria Novella.jpg


This is the first Italian Gothic church of Florence, and actually the first fully developed example of this style anywhere.


The Italian Gothic style has certain connections to the northern Gothic of  France (which physically entered Italy as early as 1135 in the form of the Abbey of Chiaravalle, near Milan):  the grandeur and huge scale, the mystical and otherworldly quality of the space, the vaulted masonry ceilings, and the pointed arches and groin vaults, themselves, are all typically Gothic.  There are numerous distinctive differences, however:  there is always more structural presence in the walls of the Italian Gothic (whereas the French opened the walls and filled them with stained glass); the supports are more massive (compared to the tall, slender columns of the French Gothic); there was no use of flying buttresses (which are necessary to thin down the support members and open the walls in northern Gothic)—these spiky external forms would have offended the Florentines; while there is great height, there is not the emphasis on the verticality of the French Gothic—a strong horizontal feel is evident in both the proportions and architectural detail (showing the clear influence of the horizontality of the Italian Romanesque  [q.v., below in discussions of Il Battistero and of San Miniato al Monte]–as well its use of decorative patterning in colored marble); the bays are invariably deeper in proportion to their length (usually square) than in northern Gothic, where they are invariably quite shallow; and, in general, there is a greater relation to the equilibrium of classical antiquity than one finds in the soaring feeling of French Gothic.


Interior:  Italian Gothic - a great, formative example of this style: check out the feel of the space.  Also note the use of dark gray stone (pietra serena) against white plaster walls—very Florentine.


Holy Trinity: 1425 (this is way out of chronological sequence here:  this is one of the pivotal works of the Italian Renaissance, although it is in a church that was the first fully-developed Italian Gothic building.)  It is a fresco of the Holy Trinity (God the Father enclosing Jesus on the cross, with the Holy Ghost as a necklace-line bird between their heads) by Masaccio, on left side of nave, in the middle. Note the classical architectural space he created for the scene (so markedly different from the space of the church it is in) and the general classicism of the references, the accurate use of linear perspective, the statuesque and sculptural nature of the human forms, the emotion.  A work of major importance, here.


[Crucifix: Supposedly by Giotto; in the La Sagrestia, off the left transept.]


[Cappella Filippo Strozzi:  some frescoes by Filippino Lippi (who is good, but not nearly as good as his father, Filippo Lippi—you have to look carefully at some of these names!), at right front of the church.]


Chiostro Verde (“Green Cloister”):  { Monday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 1000-1600}  One now enters through the church itself, through the garden at the right of the façade of the church  (the FirenzeCard entrance is around at the back [railway station] side of the church).  This relatively undistinguished cloister contains a fabulous cycle of frescoes by Uccello—but, unfortunately, as of this visit, these marvelous frescoes are off somewhere being restored, and therefore are not available for viewing.  Many of the frescoes were in poor condition; but the magnificent “Flood” fresco had been largely intact and gave some sense of the genius of the artist.  (I’m interested if any of my readers know of any other work anywhere nearly this old that powerfully and realistically contains a direct representation of weather, as this works so successfully does.)  I sincerely hope that the restoration does justice to these wonderful paintings.


Il Duomo - Santa Maria del Fiore - begun in 1294 (much of the design was done by Arnolfo di Cambio), this cathedral is the heart of the city.  (The photograph below is one I took from the top of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio.)





Exterior:  late (19th Century), but still an example of the Florentine love for pattern and, in particular, for the patterned use of different colored marble—although this example is pretty gaudy.


[Porta della Mirandola, sculptural entry on N exterior wall: a very interesting project containing works by all sorts of people, including Donatello, but confusing without a plan]


Interior:  Another example of Italian Gothic style–again, get the feel of it:  it helps to then understand what is going on in the changes that occur with Brunelleschi.  Worth noting:  on entrance wall—3 stained glass windows by Ghiberti, and a big clock, the hands of which move backwards.  (Access to the central space of the Duomo, always interfered with by the volume of tourists, it now further restricted by barriers which restrict access—and intensify the crowding.)


Dome by Brunelleschi -1420-36 [One can climb up into the structure of the dome, which ought to be interesting and provide spectacular views of the city, but I never have done it. *XX*]  Beautiful proportions, although more Gothic in design than he would have done had he not been constrained by the pre-existing structure and underlying shape; and an engineering marvel.  The problem was that the Florentines had constructed a cathedral so big (this has directly to do with penis size and competition with the surrounding penises of Sienna and Pisa, in particular) that they couldn’t figure out how to build a dome over the 140 ft opening they had created 180 ft off the ground.  A dome is essentially an arch in three dimensions (the construction of which is easier for us two-dimensional thinkers to envision), and one builds one by first placing a horizontal beam across the spring points of the arch and then building a frame in the shape of the arch to support the stones until the keystone (the somewhat triangularly-shaped center stone at the top) is put in place—at which point the whole thing is self-supporting, and the framework can be removed.  Since there were not many 140 ft trees in Italy, this presented a problem.  Brunelleschi finally came up with the solution (inventing, along the way, machinery, construction techniques, and materials to make it possible—examples of which can be seen in the wonderful Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo [ q.v., below], across the street behind the apse of the cathedral):  he designed a dome that consisted of pointed sections, supported by 8 vertical ribs (visible on the exterior).  The structure of the sections between the ribs was designed so as to be as light as possible:  a lattice of minor ribs and open spaces, contained between the two walls of the double shell Brunelleschi constructed.  The final solution to the unsupported construction problem was to build the dome in horizontal units, each roughly circular and self-supporting on top of the level which had just been finished below it.


Il Campanile (“The Bell Tower” - begun 1334) Called “Giotto’s” because he was in charge of the construction for a period—but only because he was Florence’s most famous artist.  As a painter, he actually contributed little to the plan or building.


Exterior:  much better example of Italian Gothic—still pretty over the top, but much more beautiful.  Note where the statuary is placed, high up on the façade; but don’t waste time looking too carefully, as they are only copies.  (All of these very important works are actually in the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo, q.v., below.)  [You can climb up inside for the view, but I never have.  *XX*]



Il Battistero (“The Baptistery” - 5th century, although the Florentines of the Renaissance mistakenly thought it was a building from classical antiquity)


Exterior:  good example of Italian Romanesque (only better one in Florence is San Miniato al Monte, q.v., below): more horizontal and squat, with the exterior shaped by the form of the interior space [not unlike the Romanesque in northern Europe], but with a characteristic, Florentine, patterned use of colored marble—done in a lovely, far less gaudy way, however.


Bronze doors:  (It is not clear that any of the three sets of doors are in fact real;  I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer to this question.  The east doors, Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise,” most certainly are only copies; the real ones are in the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo [q.v., below].  As for the rest, there is no other place to see the real ones, even if these are only copies; so it’s worth a look here.)


[-South doors:  By Andrea Pisano, done in 1330.  Basically International Gothic in style, but with some marked influence of Giotto.  Upper 20 panels are of the life of John the Baptist; the lower 8 representing the virtues.]


-North doors: (also the entrance to Il Battistero *XX*)  Done between 1403 -24, these represent the project Ghiberti won the right to do in the competition of 1401 (his entry in the competition—better than any he did for the actual doors—is in Il Bargello (q.v., below), along with that of the runner up, Brunelleschi.)  The upper 20 panels depict New Testament scenes; the lower 8 the 4 Evangelists and 4 doctors of the Church.  (For stylistic comments, see remarks about his competition panel in Il Bargello.)


[-East doors: copies of Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise,” 1424-52.  Copies of the 10 gilded bronze panels representing Old Testament scenes. *XX*]


Interior: *XX* usually not worth the crowds; but, if they are not too bad, there is the tomb of Anti-Pope John XXIII (Cardinal Baldassare Coscia), done as a collaboration between Donatello and Michelozzo; and the Romanesque decoration of the walls (especially the simplified animal figures and geometric designs on the colonnade level) are lovely.


Piazza della Signoria - a place you need to stroll through a couple of times, despite the crowds of tourists to be found here.


Loggia dei Lanzi - 14th century Gothic loggia full of basically bad sculpture.




[-Ignore in front of the Palazzo Vecchio the copies of Michelangelo’s David (the real one is in the Academia) and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes (the real one being upstairs in the Palazzo Vecchio; and I am mortified that in the original edition of this guide I had suggested that it might suffice to look at this terribly inferior copy).]


Palazzo Vecchio (“Old Palace”) {0900-2400, Thursdays 0900-1400} - done in 1298 by Arnolfo di Cambio (you’ll notice this guy gets around:  he was the most important architect of the Italian Gothic in Florence).




The Palazzo Vecchio once housed the government; Cosimo di Medici lived there for a while in the 16th century, before his wife talked him into moving to the Palazzo Pitti.  Take a good look at it and take a quick walk around inside on the ground floor, which is interesting Gothic architecture—often full of beautiful flowers.  Upstairs in the museum (which requires an admission fee), you can stroll through the rooms of the Palazzo and take in the interesting decoration of the rooms (although it is not worth focusing on any particular part of it except the map room [near the exit on the third floor], which is extremely interesting.  Just outside the entrance to the map room is what makes it really worthwhile going into the museum level—Donatello’s marvelous bronze statue of Judith and Holofernes, ca. 1456-60, a great, totally free-standing work, which combines multiple views into a plastic unity.




The two figures are twisted and intertwined, and yet the action is curiously restrained, given what is actually taking place, heightening the sense of dramatic tension within the figures.  The pose—Judith with her left leg over Holofernes’ right shoulder, stepping on his right hand, and her right leg between the legs of the seated Holofernes, placing his torso between her legs (cf. with the pose of Donatello’s bronze David in the Bargello [below])—captures the sexual aspect that is one side of the story; while her upraised sword and her wrenching his head back and sideways to expose his neck to the impending blow captures the rest.  We spent over an hour just looking at this one masterpiece from many different angles and distances—and we did on many subsequent visits, as well.  If you feel up to a very long climb, you can walk up to the top of the tower and be rewarded with totally magnificent views of the city and surrounding hills The view below is in the direction of the Bargello, the building in the center of the foreground).




Loggia del Ospedale degli Innocenti  (“Loggia of the Foundling Hospital”—out of chronological sequence here:  it should follow Santa Croce, but since your visit there will also expose you to one of Brunelleschi’s important, developed, later works [the Pazzi Chapel], it’s important to see this first) —it was a 1419 design by Brunelleschi, completed 1424.  (It is the outside loggia that is important; the rest of the building was done by Brunelleschi’s students.)


This single example marks the true beginning of Renaissance architecture. (q.v., Bates Lowry, Renaissance Architecture.)  It all begins here!  Brunelleschi has gone back to classical forms—rounded arches with a horizontal element above them, Corinthian capitals, pilasters, and, behind, a vault that is formed by a series of small domes (carried on the columns of the loggia and on corbels on the surface of the hospital wall, creating square bays that are not cross-vaulted as they would have been in a Gothic design, but purely classical shapes) —that had not been utilized since antiquity.


He has integrated these classical elements with elements of the Italian Romanesque (e.g., using dosserets over the capitals) and some of its feel (e.g., the horizontal emphasis). It should be remembered, however, that Brunelleschi—like other Florentines—believed these Romanesque elements were examples of classical antiquity.)  But he comes up with a sense of lightness, rhythm, and rational “grasp-ability” that was new and different from anything before it.  No distracting ornamentation, no mystifying and humbling sense of inhuman scale—but rather an understandable, mathematically proportioned space that feels immediately comprehensible by the viewer.  Grand only in its simplicity.  One can detect the influence of this design in the work of Masaccio and Donatello—as early as in Masaccio’s Holy Trinity and the niche Donatello and Michelozzo designed for Or San Michele, both done in the mid-20’s.


Santa Croce {0930-1700, Sunday & holidays 1300-1700} (there is now an admission fee charged to enter the church, but it includes entry into the museum and Pazzi Chapel [q.v., below]; buy tickets around the left outside wall of the church)  Santa Croce is another major example of the Italian Gothic by Arnolfo di Cambio, begun in 1294.  This is a Franciscan church (absolute poverty as a principle—remember?), which was built in competition with the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella, and therefore is extremely large and grand (penis size as a principle—even more compelling!) This church is very much on the tourist itinerary (*XX*), but they come mostly to see who is buried here, and usually leave the good stuff quite free for your enjoyment!


Exterior:  Like so many, actually 19th century.




Interior:  Again, a very Italian Gothic feel; but note the open timber ceiling (rather than having the weight of masonry vaulting, this form is much lighter, permitting lighter support columns that lend an airier feel), and the different proportion between the nave and the aisle bays (bays are longer and shallower, giving a little less typical Italian feel—but still unmistakably Italian).

Going down the right aisle [quickly get by Michelangelo’s tomb *XX*] and arrive at–


Annunciation by Donatello:  Toward the apse end, on the right wall of the aisle of the nave is Donatello’s amazing Annunciation, done in gilded pietra serena (that gray stone mentioned above), ca. 1428-33.  Check out the marvelous composition:  the balance of the angles and forms, the movement from the angel to Mary—and yet the emptiness of the tension-filled space in-between them, and the reaction of her body—startled and starting to move away, but drawn back by the angel’s gaze (note the visual connection between their eyes and faces), the emphasis on the dramatic moment.


Look at her face—one of the few really beautiful female representations in the art of this period; and look at her emotions. 




And do not ignore the compositional suggestion of the force of the angel’s “message” to Mary—the intense triangular area of radiation from his center outward towards her.  The mutedly implied sexuality is picked up in the placement of her hands and the folds of her drapery.  The sexuality—implied, denied, and sometimes rather blatantly expressed—of this pointedly “non-sexual” moment, is a very curious element in all Annunciation scenes [cf. the extremely un-sexual, but incredibly beautiful version by Fra Angelica in San Marco).  Remember, this is the moment that the Virgin is being “told” by the angel that she is pregnant with Jesus; but is actually the moment of her immaculately being impregnated by the Holy Spirit.  Sexual or non-sexual? You decide.


[Cappella Castellani:  In right (west) side of the right transept; frescoes by Agnolo Gaddi and his pupils depicting the lives of the Saints.]


Cappella Baroncelli:  At the end of the right transept; frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi (Agnolo’s father, and Giotto’s pupil) of the life of the virgin.  The father’s work is much better than the son’s.


Cappella Bardi and Cappella Peruzzi:  These two chapels are immediately to the right of the altar.


The Cappella Bardi, the closer to the altar, contains frescoes by Giotto of The Life of St. Francis; and the one farther from the altar, the Cappella Peruzzi, contains The Life of Saint John the Evangelist—the best of Giotto’s work in Florence, although they were badly damaged at one point, and their restoration was not altogether well-done.  (The only better Giotto frescoes—and they are much better—are in the Cappella Scrovegni in Padova.)  Although clearly a medieval painter, Giotto represents a major move forward towards the Renaissance; and, while not actually a part of the Renaissance, his work has elements and implications that formed the major influence in the tradition of Florentine painting that led eventually to Masaccio.  Figures begin to have much more material existence and corporeal presence in the painting of Giotto.  He employed contour line, modeling, and shading to create a sculptural presence in his figures.  His people have far more personality than those of any prior medieval artist, or any subsequent one for almost 100 years.  He also demonstrates a masterful grasp of composition:  the arrangements of the elements to each other (and to the plane of the fresco wall) is carefully integrated into the overall design.  Each grouping within each fresco has its own compositional integrity, and together they form a powerful and expressive rhythmic whole.  While apparently in better condition, the frescoes in the Cappella Bardi (e.g., The Stigmatization of St. Francis below)


are actually far inferior to those of the Cappella Peruzzi—I suspect due to poor restoration work on those in the former.  In my opinion, the best of these frescoes is The Apotheosis of St. John the Evangelist (the lower panel on the right wall of the Cappella Peruzzi, the chapel on the right).


The action is framed and balanced by the two groups of figures, one on either side of the main action, and each contained within its own architectural space.  In contrast to this grounded and static base, the center of the space opens to allow the movement of Saint John ascending heavenward—rising through the opening architecture toward the angel coming forward to receive him from above.  Note the personalities in the faces, the sculptural feel of the drapery, and the beautiful use of color.  The detail below of


 St. John from St. John on Patmos is a quite wonderful.  These two works, alone, merit spending significant time standing and absorbing, as do some of the lesser works of these two chapels.


Crucifix by Donatello: In the left transept.  Ca. 1412, and thought to have been done as part of a friendly competition with Brunelleschi.  Wonderful, but difficult to see well.


Cappella Pazzi and Museo dell’ Opera di Santa Croce:  (these are now entered through the right side of the nave in the church itself, without any separate admission fee)




Crucifix by Cimabue:  Although tragically damaged in the flood of 1966 (the image below shows on the right a pre-1966 photograph; the image on the left is in its current state), this magnificent painting by Giotto’s predecessor (and probable teacher) is quite moving.  Cimabue has far more Byzantine influences in his style (this Byzantine influence is characteristic of the Sienese tradition of painting, by the way) than Giotto ever was affected by, but his painterly quality and interest in the human form was extremely important in Giotto’s development.


St. Louis of Toulouse by Donatello:  (this statue—without its niche—is currently at the Palazzo Strozzi in the Springtime of the Renaissance exhibition.)  Niche and statue were done for the Parte Guelfa to be placed on Or San Michele.


Donatello did them between 1422-1425; and Brunelleschi’s influence seems evident in the classicism of the elements of the niche (cf. the very Gothic niche Ghiberti made at the same time for Or San Michele).  Statue itself is done in fire-gilt bronze, which, because of its size, required that it be constructed out of several separate plates, assembled on a framework of metal bars—a totally novel approach.  Note the extraordinary drapery of the clothing, hinting at the structure of the body underneath, and the personality expressed in the face.


This figure is radically different from most of Donatello’s other works:  it is calm and contemplative, with an almost mystical air.  But this presentation fits the character of the subject:  St. Louis was a contemplative, holy man who renounced his kingdom to become a friar.


Last Supper by Taddeo Gaddi:  Wonderful fresco at far end of the room.


Pazzi Chapel by Brunelleschi:  This marvelous little building was planned in the mid 1430’s by Brunelleschi (and thus is out of chronological sequence here.  If possible, it is far preferable to see the Sagrestia Vecchia at San Lorenzo before seeing this later work—but, hey, you’re there now. ).  It is a more complicated and elaborate version of his plan in the earlier Sagrestia Vecchia (q.v., below), which consisted of a main square area covered by a hemispheric dome, with a small choir with a similar square shape covered by a dome.


Taking the radius of the dome over the central square here to be one unit, “r,” the sides of the central square are 2r in length.  On the wall opposite the entrance, there is an opening for the scarsella (the altar), which is a square 1r on each side, and covered by a dome, the diameter of which is r.  On either side of


the central square Brunelleschi added small ‘transepts’ which extend the width of the interior space ½r on either side of the central main square under the dome–effectively resulting in lateral areas equal to the opening of the scarsella (1r) on either side of the scarsella, and  creating a total width of 3r.  In elevation, the chapel is divided into two zones of equal height (2r each): the lower consisting of the flat side walls up to the top of the main entablature; the upper half being sub-divided by a smaller entablature into two equal zones of 1r each—the upper of these being the hemispheric dome, and the lower containing in the four corners pendentives, spherical triangles which transform the square into a circle to accommodate the circumference of the dome.  The square scarsella space is balanced by a square entry vestibule outside the doorway, which is extended on the exterior by 1r square areas on each side—creating an overall width that is 3r (three of these units), and covered by a very classical, heavy barrel vault with a central, defining dome shape over the entry vestibule.


The thing that struck me on our most recent visit was that there is a tension in the rhythm of Brunelleschi’s building between twos and threes (and between threes and fours).  Using the same unit “r” from the previous analysis, one could conceive of the building having a central area (or, for those who can handle all three dimensions, one could think of this in terms of volumes) 2r deep and 3r wide (this relationship being obscured by the way the floor is patterned—the three transverse units are there, although the outer ones are obscured by being subdivided in half, and the longitudinal ones are totally obscured by the centering of a 1r square under the dome, which results in two ½r rectangles on either end of that central square); and the longitudinal dimension increase to 3r if one includes the depth of the scarsella—creating an implied square, 3r on a side.  There is also a 3r square if we envision the 1r x 3r area of the portico as part of the floor area—but that leads to a 4r x 3r total implied floor area if we then include the scarsella.


What results is a space that exists in a mathematical relationship to its constituent parts.  This form results in an almost musically harmonious feeling:  one is within a spatial harmony, with various overtones.  The rhythms and harmonies are emphasized—and, perhaps, over-emphasized—by the pilasters and trim on the walls and the patterns on the floors–which are created by and therefore echo the underlying mathematical relationships.


This is a space that the human mind can grasp and be at peace with.  It is stately and grand, but in a quiet, stable, and tranquil way.  Spend some time just sitting in this space to get the feel of it.  It’ll do you good!  But the amount of decorative detail results in its being not nearly as calming or successful as the less adorned, subtler space of  the Sagrestia Vecchia of San Lorenzo; and the decorative patterning also serves to amplify the problems of the design.  (If you are interested in the problems of his design, look at the corners:  he still hasn’t figured out how to deal with the converging pilasters in a satisfactory mathematical way.  [He doesn’t figure this out until Santo Spirito.] Also notice that there are some minor discrepancies in the actual mathematical integrity of the horizontal plan of the width of the chapel: he was forced to compromise the exactness of some of these mathematical relationships in order to preserve the continuity in the appearance of the decorative trim [essentially he had to extend the vertical dimension to allow for the full width of the pilasters on either side of the choir and the archivolt they support]—which, as Nancy pointed out, was a good artistic decision.)  The exterior, which was completed later by Brunelleschi’s students, is less completely effective; but his basic plan is still in evidence and wonderful.



Special Note:  Anytime you are in the area of Santa Croce, don’t miss the  opportunity to stop in at Vivoli (via Isola delle Stinche 7r, between via Burella and via  della Vigna Vecchia) to have the best gelato in Florence!  (NB:  You pay first, then pick out the flavors you want.)


Il Bargello: (“The Captain of Justice”) {open 0815-1650; Closed: 2nd & 4th Sundays and 1st, 3rd, and 5th Monday of every month}   This trecento palace was the first town hall, and the site of numerous public hangings.  It also contains some of the world’s greatest sculpture.  Take in the look and feel of the main courtyard.


Ground Floor:  Some lovely Michelangelo works:  Brutus, Bacchus, the Pitti Tondo (i.e., round medallion), and a David (that isn’t so good); [also, lots of Giambologna, if you are so inclined (actually, the Hermes is quite wonderful); and Cellini, if you must.]


First Floor: (go up outside staircase from central courtyard, if it’s open [otherwise, use the stairs inside, across the courtyard]; and take in architecture at the top of stairs.  Then turn to your right to enter Sala di Donatello.)  On your way out of the Sala di Donatello, it is well worth looking at the bronze birds by Giambologna in the open balcony—they are truly wonderful in a humorous, almost modern way, that always puts me in mind of Picasso’s ceramic birds, and especially his owls.  [There are some other interesting things on this floor and the one above, but nothing important.]


Competition Panels:  (On the back wall, to the right of S. Giorgio; but currently these panels are at the Palazzo Strozzi in the Springtime of the Renaissance exhibition.)  These are Ghiberti’s winning submission and Brunelleschi’s runner-up entry in the 1401 competition held to award the commission for the north doors of the Baptistery.  (There were many other entries, all lost to posterity.)  The general form of the panels, and of the ones eventually on the doors, is a Gothic motif—a quatrefoil; the theme was The Sacrifice of Isaac.  The two finalist works are both incredible, although Ghiberti’s is more the ultimate culmination of what has been while Brunelleschi’s is a somewhat rougher hint of what is to come.  Spend some time taking in the two of them.


Ghiberti:  The winner, and deservedly so.  This panel works better:  it is beautiful and powerful and has a more polished style.  His composition uses the Gothic form of the quatrefoil to maximum advantage.  There is more depth to the space he creates.  The strongly modeled figures twist gracefully in a in rhythmic overlay that represents the ultimate refinement of an International Gothic feeling.  The angel sweeps forward out of the pictorial depth.  The mood is actually gentle, given the subject matter:  it represents a pause in the action, reflected in the balance of the composition.


Ghiberti, Sacrifice of Isaac, Competition Panel


Brunelleschi:  Also magnificent, if not nearly as elegant.  A shallower, more rigid composition, with the figures and landscape elements more sharply separated—in a way that lends an almost abstract quality to the space.  Note the focus on the intensity of the human emotion (e.g., the expression of horror on Abraham’s face as he moves into the action, and the fear in Isaac’s face) and on the crucial moment of the action:  the powerful thrust of Abraham’s arm as he forces Isaac’s head back to expose his neck; the knife poised at the moment of being thrust into Isaac’s throat; the force of the angel coming in from the left, his outstretched arm countering the thrust of the knife.  The tension of the drama is caught at its highest point.  The conception of human life with which this relief is imbued has far more to do with what is to come in the Renaissance—and with the work of Donatello, in particular.


Brunelleschi, Sacrifice of Isaac, Competition Panel




Marble David:  (1408-9) Perhaps his first major work.  The idea of presenting David as the youthful victor over Goliath may have originated here with Donatello.  This is a work poised between the International Gothic and the Renaissance:  its style is quite linked to the works of Ghiberti, and yet there are, particularly in the face, hints of individuality, humanity, and classical beauty.  Also, more effeminate than one would have imagined David as being (note the similarity to the face of the Virgin in the Annunciation in Santa Croce).


St. George Tabernacle:  (1415-17)  Done for the Armorers’ Guild for Or San Michele.


Niche:  The depth of the architectural setting for San Giorgio was restricted because the site it was designed for had a staircase in the wall behind which didn’t allow for the same depth as the normal niches.  Donatello has used this situation to marked advantage here, however:  he allows the shallowness of the space to project the figure out into the space of the real world.  (It has been suggested that the statue originally held a sword in its right hand, which would have even more dramatically projected the figure out into the space in front of the niche.)  This figure dynamically emerges out into the world in a way no other statue on Or San Michele even approaches.


San Giorgio:  Strikingly posed with his weight unevenly distributed towards his left foot while his body turns toward the right, the statue conveys the sense of fear, doubt, and inward struggle for decision to take action.  And inward struggle, decision, and interior crisis are what Donatello is most wonderfully about.  (My undergraduate dissertation was about Donatello as a creator of art imbued with a tragic sense of life—which, I believe, is all about such inner struggle and taking action in a world in which rationality can be sought, but in which not everything succumbs to the desire for rationality.)  This young warrior-saint is heroic, yet not without anxiety; his complex human emotion is clearly evident in the dramatic moment of inner tension captured by Donatello.  San Giorgio sees the task before him and is summoning up his courage to confront it—but he is in no way certain that he will prevail.  The only certainty is that he will undertake the task.  Below I offer two images of this fabulous sculpture, one from the left and the other form the right, because on our most recent visit Nancy advanced the theory that in the former there is a bit more resolve in his countenance, whereas in the latter there is more doubt (and youthfulness); in any event, the effect is to convey the combination.


Large Photo


The Relief Sculpture:  (Currently this relief is at the Palazzo Strozzi in the Springtime of the Renaissance exhibition; the relief under the statue here is currently a plaster copy.) Don’t overlook the incredible marble schiacciato (“flattened-out”) relief under the statue itself:  it is the representation of St. George slaying the dragon. Here is a different dramatic moment, at the height of the action.


Note the incredible space and depth Donatello has created in this very shallow, schiacciato relief (this panel is the first real example of this form which was to become an important Florentine style):  both through the use of linear perspective in the building on the right (it is worth noting that this example of linear perspective predates its appearance in any painting—let alone any other sculpture—by a minimum of five or six years!) and through the use of chiaroscuro (light and shade) and atmosphere (check out the wonderful trees in the background between St. George and the maiden).


Notice the horse, and especially how well he is able to sculpt its head using virtually no actual depth at all on the relief plane.  This schiacciato technique respects the integrity of the surface of the relief in a way that creates a tension between actual surface and pictorial depth that becomes increasingly important in Donatello’s later reliefs.  Even the dragon’s cave is wonderful.


A new speculation:  On our 2003 visit to S. Giorgio, a radical possibility occurred to us.  We were discussing the way Donatello has used this sculpture actively to move out into the space in front of the niche and to control and shape it.  Having been introduced to the Japanese architectural idea of the “stolen garden,” the way an architectural construction can actually make use of the pre-existing buildings and other features around it (a great example of this in Western architecture is the way Mies van der Rohe captured the surrounding space in his Federal Center complex in Chicago—something which had been pointed out to us by Alex Garvin, who was accompanying us on this visit to Italy), I raised the question whether it was perhaps possible that Donatello had done something similar here.  We all agreed that he certainly was commanding the space of the street—particularly with the powerful and riveting gaze of S. Giorgio outward, obviously in the direction of the dragon.  We then went off to look at the copy of the statue and its niche, in place on the exterior wall of Orsanmichele.  Believe or not, at the exact point (both in terms of angle and focal length) of S. Giorgio’s gaze, there is round-arched doorway, articulated in rough-hewn stone, in a quattrocento house at via Orsanmichele, 6!!  Could it be that Donatello was actually using the architectural elements of the street as an implicit part of the sculpture construction he was creating?  Stand in that doorway and look S. Giorgio in the eye, and then you decide.  But if he actually was using that doorway to represent the dragon’s cave, it would be an unbelievably radical example of the “stolen garden.”


Il Marzocco:  (“The Lion of Florence” - 1418-20)  Distinguished by the way the animal visage is suffused with the expressiveness and nobility of Donatello’s human forms—this is one hell of a lion!


Bronze David:  (1430-32)  This is the first totally free-standing sculpture (intended to be viewed in the round as opposed to in a niche) and the first nude sculpture since classical antiquity!  While what is most immediately striking about this David is that he is presented as a highly erotic, extremely effeminate, beautiful young boy, note also the tremendous classicism of the form and pose.  Also, the specific proportions of the figure exactly replicate those of the norm in classical Rome.  (Donatello had just returned from a trip to Rome when he began this work.)  Don’t miss Goliath’s head, and the delicate way David’s toes intertwine in his beard and moustache.  And check out the feather from Goliath’s helmet against David’s inner thigh.  Note also the fact that David’s feet are positioned on opposite sides of Goliath’s head and helmet, resulting in the one feather from the helmet being between his legs, in just the same way Judith’s pose with Holofernes results in his torso being between her legs.


File:Florence - David by Donatello.jpg


Niccolò da Uzzano:  (ca. 1460-80) Very moving human depth in this bust.


Crucifixion:  This very late (ca. 1470-80) bronze relief was probably designed by Donatello, as it has some of his feel; but it was almost certainly executed by his students, as it just isn’t quite up to his standards in certain important ways.


San Lorenzo:  {1000-1650; Closed: 2nd & 4th Sundays and 1st, 3rd, and 5th Monday of every month} Brunelleschi did his design for this church starting about 1419, although much of the work on it did not get done until the ‘40s, and it was not completed until long after his death in 1446.


The basic type of the church is quite closely related to that of the Italian Romanesque:  the flat roof of the nave rising above the aisles, the aisle bays are topped with simple domes, the use of dosserets above the capitals.





The details, on the other hand, are elements straight out of classical antiquity:  the pilasters, the elegant columns, the capitals, the coffered ceiling.  The precise mathematical harmonies of the space are pure Brunelleschi, however:  the domed crossing of the church is a square unit that is repeated on each side to form the transept,




and repeated behind the crossing for the choir; the nave consists of four of these units, flanked by 8 square aisle bays on each side—each one half the side of the major square, and, naturally, one fourth the area.


(For those who like the problems:  the fact that the side chapels were so high off the floor meant that, in order to have the columns be the same height as the pilasters on the side walls, he had to utilize very large dosserets over the capitals to make up for the difference in elevation; he solves this problem at Santo Spirito.)  Here, once again, we are in one of the spaces he created that is both light and grand, understandable yet impressive, rhythmic yet stable; and the trim and architectural decorations all combine to enhance these effects.


Twin Bronze Pulpits by Donatello:  ca. 1460-66  (on both sides of nave at front)


South Pulpit:  (on right; at the moment this pulpit is being restored [interestingly, on site, where it normally stands in San Lorenzo, but not in public view.) This is an incredible masterpiece.  The side facing in towards the nave is a Resurrection, in which Jesus harrows Hell and then rises.  The picture of Jesus is unique in all of the art of this period:  one can see the human dimension of his struggle and suffering.


He does not rise from his time in the underworld triumphant and untouched (as in the typical iconography):  rather he is haggard, weary, and tattered from what he has endured.  Jesus drags himself out of Limbo, his face drawn and his eyes squinting from the strain.  It is a vision that is unique even for the Renaissance:  it is not a picture of the triumph of reason, or of the victory of human (or divine) striving over all obstacles; it is a picture of the most intense striving against forces that do not so easily yield to these efforts.  Again, it is a tragic view of life.




North Pulpit: (on left)  Crucifixion stories.  Note particularly the marvelous architecture spaces created in the reliefs and the way they frame, emphasize, and enhance the action.  One of the most wonderfully unusual reliefs on this pulpit, Christ Before Pilate, Donatello treats the psychology of the theme of Pilate in a totally anomalous way:  Pilate is usually represented as evil (and often portrayed as in league with the devil), and sometimes represented as a saint (as in the Ethiopian Church); but Donatello, always attuned to the nuance of moral dilemma in the human situation, treats him as an individual facing an impossible decision.




His “alternation” and indecision is represented by the extraordinarily unusual symbol of the servant who is bringing Pilate the water with which he will eventually ‘wash his hands’ of the situation:  this servant, immediately behind him, is presented as a two-faced Janus figure.




In this unprecedented iconographic departure, Donatello is clearly emphasizing the indecision and moral dilemma Pilate faced in making his judgment:  he found no evil in Jesus, yet he was unable to dispute the charges of his accusers.


Sagrestia Vecchia: {now open whenever the main church is} Brunelleschi’s Old Sacristy (entered from the left side of the transept)  If you are like us, you will want to be able to be inside this architectural masterpiece for the better part of an hour or more.  The plan was done in 1419, and the actual building was done 1421-1428, well before the rest of the church, and therefore really a building in its own right.  It is the first centrally planned building of the Renaissance—and it is a true marvel.


The main area is a square with a hemispheric dome over it.  Assigning “r” as the radius of the dome, the sides of the square are 2r in length. The one side is divided into thirds (each section therefore being 2r/3 in width), the central one being opened up to form the entrance to a small altar, which itself is then a square (2r/3 on a side) with a hemispheric dome (radius=r/3). The main space is horizontally divided into three elevations: the lowest level consists of the side walls, which rise flat up to the entablature; the middle level consists of the continuation of the side walls up to the level of the springing of the dome—the four corners of which are formed into pendentives, spherical triangles which transform the square into a circle to accommodate the circumference of the dome [It has been speculated that this particular section of Brunelleschi’s design may have been influenced by his friend, Donatello, who also did the round reliefs that decorate the four pendentives.]; the third is the hemispheric dome itself.  The dome is, of course, 1r in elevation, as is the middle level with its pendentives.  There are many claims made as to the elevation of the lowest level and its relationship to the whole—all of them erroneous! [The people at the church itself claim that the building consists of two cubes (of 2r on a side) on top of one another: the top one consisting of the upper two sections, and the bottom one consisting of a cube in its own right, therefore claiming the elevation of the lowest level to be 2r. One scholarly work by Peter Murray claims (and has a diagram to demonstrate it) that the lower two levels form a cube—with the elevation of the whole being divided into three equal heights of 1r each.] On extremely careful observation, Nancy and I are completely convinced that the height of the lowest level of the space is, in fact either 2r/3 or 3r/4 (it being impossible to estimate any more closely than that); but that it is definitely not either 1r or 2r. The pilasters which carry the entablature are modified Roman forms, much like those Brunelleschi used in the Loggia of the Foundling Hospital.  Springing from the tops of the pilasters on each of the four flat surfaces of the middle elevation are pairs of semicircular archivolts, with radii of 1r and r/3.


But what is going on in this building goes far beyond the mathematics of the underlying relationships:  just as the mathematics underlying musical composition are only implicit in the actual experience of the music when heard, it is the magnificent feel and experience of this space that matters.  The space Brunelleschi creates is truly encompassing in a way that is not at all overwhelming.  This is a space designed to be grasped by the people in it:  it is understandable, comfortable, yet inspiring.  Once again, I return to a musical metaphor:  the mathematical interrelationships are experienced as harmonious, even without one’s direct consciousness of their existence.  (In his latter version, the Pazzi Chapel, Brunelleschi’s use of ornament makes these relationships more insistently present in the experience, in a way that makes it not nearly as effective or successful as it is here.)  It is a space that has been created by man’s rationality, and it feels understandable to those in it.  Here is truly a place to spend some time in order to absorb the feel of what the Renaissance is all about


Donatello’s Pendentive Sculptures:   These scenes from the life of St. John the Evangelist (Vision on the Isle of Patmos, Raising of Drusiana, Liberation from the Cauldron of Oil, and Apotheosis) are done in painted stucco, and were probably executed in the mid-1430s.  They are great examples of Donatello’s ability to create space both architecturally and through subtle shading and painterly suggestion, and have it function in real, impressionistic, and symbolic ways.  (It is of great importance to note that Donatello very early on had mastered the principles of linear perspective, but that he often purposely violated their rules to achieve particular effects—often for thematic or dramatic reasons.)  While all four reliefs are magnificent, the Apotheosis is by far my favorite.


The strong horizontal base (which projects forward in the foreground of the space across the bottom of the relief) creates a solid grounding upon which the action occurs.  In the next level, the figures are contained within the highly symbolic architecture.  But this very containing architecture itself, through the exaggeration of perspectival effect, leans inwards to emphasize the movement of the main action, which is that of St. John moving upwards through the opening in between towards heaven.  Notice the angel emerging from around the back of the top of the building.


Other Sculpture by Donatello:  The bronze doors of the martyrs and of the apostles; the reliefs in painted stucco over the doors of Saints Stephen and Lawrence and Saints Cosmas and Damian; Four Evangelists (about which there is much question as to the artist); there is also an absolutely beautiful bust of San Lorenzo on a counter on the entry wall (despite the magnificence of this piece,  its attribution to Donatello has been severely questioned.)


Cappelle Medici: *XX* One enters through the back of San Lorenzo. [The main chapel, the Cappella Principi (or Chapel of Princes—the Medici were not modest) is a psychedelic horror of colored marble and bad taste; but one has to go through it to get to Michelangelo’s Sagrestia Nuova.]


Sagrestia Nuova:  Begun by Michelangelo in 1521 and completed by Vasari in 1555, it is architecturally restful after the Cappella Principi, but not in comparison the Sagrestia Vecchia of Brunelleschi.  Some good Michelangelo sculptures:  Dawn and Dusk (on Lorenzo’s tomb) and Night and Day (on Giuliano’s tomb, opposite).  If you check out the female anatomy, you realize the big M wasn’t terribly into the female form.  There is also a Madonna and Child by him.


Museo di San Marco:  {Monday-Friday 0815-1350; Saturday & Sunday 0815-16:50; closed 1st, 3rd, 5th Sundays of each mo., and 2nd, 4th Mondays} The (eventually Dominican) church and monastery of San Marco, built in 1299, were the home base of Fra Angelico (and Savanarola, too).  As such, it houses the best, most loving, beautiful paintings he ever did.  While Fra Angelico (cited as “Beato [Blessed] Angelico” in this museum) is not part of the same humanistic spirit that lay at the heart of the Renaissance, his paintings, particularly here in his own monastery, are so wonderful and sensitive that they bear special attention (look particularly closely at the faces: not the monumental humanity of Masaccio and Donatello, but a spiritual beauty, instead).  On the ground floor, immediately to the right as you enter is an area that houses twenty of his magnificent works.  There is also a wing that houses architectural fragments from various sites in Florence (including some of the early Jewish buildings), which is very interesting, if you have the time.  Upstairs (directly at the top of the stairs) is an incredibly beautiful Annunciation.  (It is worth thinking about the contrast between this work and the Annunciation by Donatello in Santa Croce)


Also upstairs are the monks’ cells—many with frescoes done all or in part by the master (see cells numbers 1, 3, 6, 7, and 9, using Access: Florence to guide you).


Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo: {0900-1930, Sunday 0900-1345} This may be my favorite place in Florence, and it is definitely not on the tourist itinerary, which is a great plus.  It contains all of the great sculpture that had originally been on the Duomo, Baptistery, and Campanile–much of which was done by Donatello.  It has been recently been completely renovated, most successfully.  It is now beautiful even as a modern exhibition space.

Ground Floor:


Brunelleschi Memorabilia:  Fascinating collection of things made, designed, and used by Brunelleschi in constructing the dome, including a model for the dome itself.


Sala dell’Antica Facciato del Duomo:  (Room of the Old Façade of the Duomo)  Various sculptures and architectural details from the old façade, including works by Arnolfo di Cambio (architect for the Duomo and many other Italian Gothic buildings in Florence), and


Nanni di Banco:  Marble statue of a seated St. Luke (1408-15) by this contemporary of Donatello.  He was an important reviver of ancient Roman forms, and therefore valued the effects of weight and mass in sculpture.  This work is quite wonderful–note especially the tilt of the head, the face, and the way the lowered eyes create a look that meets and holds your gaze.


Donatello:  Seated St. John the Evangelist (1408-15).  This work was clearly designed to be seen from below, in a way that the Nanni di Banco’s was not.  The placement of the niches for these works was to be slightly over the head of the observer (here they are at least placed at a relatively elevated position which, while not high enough to recreate the original effect, is much better than the low placement of Donatello’s Campanile prophets upstairs), and to see the full effect of Donatello’s composition you have to bend down, or kneel.  Looked at head on, the composition does not even make sense (the torso is too long, the drapery too complicated, and the position and expression of the face isn’t comprehensible), while viewed from below it resolves into a powerful and stable triangular composition in which the torso shortens and assumes a meaningful structure and the folds of the drapery over the knees take on shape and direction, and the head begins to show energy and nobility and the glance becomes purposeful.  It clear that Donatello’s entire composition was adjusted to the viewpoint the observer was meant to have in relation to the sculpture in situ.  (This is particularly important to note, not only because it demonstrates his elegant grasp of perspective and optical effect, but because it makes an irrefutable case for viewing his Campanile prophets from the acutely low angle they require.  Upstairs I’m going to insist you actually need at least to sit on the floor—if not actually lie down!— in order to view the works properly.)  The result is a figure whose dignity and sense of purpose is clear:  as Seymour described it, one can feel his sense of meaning as he “looks off from some imagined rocky promontory on Patmos to his visionary goal.” (p.56)


Mezzanine:  Half way up to the second floor is Michelangelo’s Pietà (ca. 1550), originally designed for his own tomb.  The story goes that Michelangelo smashed the work, which was later reassembled by a pupil, who completed the figure of Mary Magdalene.


Second Floor:


Main Room - Donatello:


IMPORTANT:  The four statues of prophets (and the Abraham and Isaac) made for the façade of the Campanile (the first five in the following list) must be viewed from sharply below in order to see them as Donatello meant them to look!  As you saw from the placement of the copies on the Campanile itself, they were positioned very high up (~10 meters), and, as discussed in describing the St. John the Evangelist (q.v., above), Donatello clearly took the angle of viewing into account in his plan of these figures.  They simply do not compose properly viewed head on.  You actually need to sit down on the floor to view them.  This is not an exaggeration—if anything, it is an understatement:  it’s probably best to lie on the floor to view them (although a bit awkward)!  (Try for yourself the comparison of looking at them head-on with viewing them from below.)  Sitting actually allows you to spend the time to take them in more fully, too.  Do not neglect to move to a position 30-40º to either side of each statue, as well as head on in order to see the full richness of what he has created.  If you have hesitation about spending that much time on the floor, do it at very least for the two most extraordinary of these work, Lo Zuccone and Il Popolano (q.v., below).  To make the point, in the section below I juxtaposed two similar photographs of Il Popolano, the one taken from below, and the other head-on—and if that doesn’t convince you to get down on the floor, nothing will!


Beardless Prophet:  (1416-18)  The earliest of the prophets.  The head is particularly interesting:  it clearly is based on classical Roman portrait types, but it also has an extraordinary level of individuality and of realism in the portrayal of age and suffering—yet not without firmness and resolve.  Donatello at this early stage in his career is beginning to explore the realism of physical and psychological experience, in a way that is to reach fruition in Lo Zuccone and Il Popolano (q.v., below). The hands are also marvelously strong—particularly the right hand, with which the prophet insistently points to the scroll containing the message he has been charged to deliver.  It has been speculated that the weaker drapery of this figure is attributable to its having been executed by Donatello’s assistant Nanni di Bartolo, known as Il Rosso.


Bearded Prophet:  (1418-20)  This figure is far more pensive than its slightly earlier companion, yet it lacks none of its power.  There is the suggestion that this prophet is someone who has faced adversity; yet the monumentality and a nobility of the form, reflected in the power of the drapery, reassures us that he has not been shaken in his resolve.  There is an unmistakable individuality and vivid personality in the face.


Abraham and Isaac (done with Il Rosso): (1421)  While the design of this piece was certainly Donatello’s, the execution was done in part by his assistant.  The complex, intertwined composition must be Donatello’s.  In this piece, the height of the dramatic moment has passed.  Unlike Brunelleschi’s competition panel of this scene, which captures the very highest point of the tension and drama, here the tension is beginning to relax:  Abraham’s right arm is starting to slacken, and the knife is slipping away from Isaac’s throat; Isaac is in a state of passive acceptance; the angel has come and gone.  Nevertheless, what remains is the close, human contact of this father and son, with nothing to mitigate the immediate implications of what Abraham had been about to do.  Abraham’s pained expression gives the impression that he is well aware of the horror of the deed he had been about to commit.


These next two, Lo Zuccone and Il Popolano, are perhaps my two favorite sculptures in the world!  Again, I remind you that they must be viewed from sharply below in order to see them as Donatello meant them to appear.


Lo Zuccone (?Jeremiah?): (1423-26)  The reason for the question marks in the title of this and the next prophet relates to the fact that there is a controversy as to which is which.  The descriptive names, Lo Zuccone (“The Pumpkin-head”) and Il Popolano (“The Man of the People”), are not in dispute, but the names of the prophets they represent are, as are the dates which apply to each.  (The Habakkuk [as referred to in the records of the time] is the later of the two works, but it is not clear to which of the actual statues this name—and therefore this dating—applies.  I have chosen to list and date them as Janson and Seymour do; but this is not conclusive.  Traditionally, the opposite view is held to be true—and that is how they are labeled in the Museo del Duomo.)  So I’ll stick to using the descriptive names for practical purposes.  Here, then, is a photo of Lo Zuccone:






Il Popolano (?Habakkuk):  (1427-35)  To make the point that these statues must be viewed from below, I have here juxtaposed two similar photographs of Il Popolano, the one on the left taken from below, and the one on the right head-on:



F-Pop-head onF-Pop


























You will note that when viewed head-on, the body of the prophet dissolves and loses its strength and three-dimensional presence; the drapery becomes shallow and loses its power; and the intensity of the left hand and the statement it makes clutching the scroll of the prophet’s message all but disappears.  Having made this point, though, I encourage you to focus only on the photograph on the left.


By your leave, I am here going to quote from my undergraduate dissertation, Donatello and the Tragic Sense of Life.  (Please pardon my 21 year-old prose, which itself is now more than four and a half decades old!):


Donatello most fully realizes the tragic potential of the prophetic theme in his last two prophets, Il Popolano and Lo Zuccone.  In these two figures Donatello embodies all the powerful human drama of tragedy.


Il Popolano is a strong-willed, determined man who faces his task with unswerving directness.  Donatello has depicted him in the very act of delivering his message:  in his left hand he clutches the scroll which contains that message.  This is not a scroll which he displays, as did the Beardless Prophet.  That earlier prophet was cast as a Roman orator, and his scroll was a formal device of rhetoric, used by him as a prop.  The scroll of Il Popolano is not something he uses visually to inspire his audience; on the contrary, it is something from which he draws his personal inspiration.  This scroll is his own little fragment:  it is a humble document, crumpled from long use.  It draws its significance not from its physical characteristics, but from the moral importance of its contents; and it becomes an important part of the statue not through optically asserting itself on the viewer’s senses, but through psychologically asserting itself on the viewer’s overall comprehension of the work.  It is important to the statue because it is so greatly important to the prophet.  The scroll symbolizes the message to which he has chosen to devote his life.  He faces his people to propound that message, holding his scroll before him almost as if for moral support.


It must be remembered that the message of the prophet was never an easy one for his audience to accept.  The Old Testament prophet had a message that was primarily moral and a role that was essentially that of social reform.  His was the difficult task of convincing his fellow men of their injustice and iniquity.  Moreover, he had to get them to change their ways.  People are never readily convinced that they should change.  Thus the work of the prophet was always met with much resistance.


Il Popolano would appear to react angrily to the resistance he meets in propounding his message.  The intense furrow of his brow, his tight frown, the tensed muscles of his face, the strained sinews which stand out on his neck—his expression reveals an angry disapproval, not only of his people’s iniquity, but also of their blindness.  He has tried to warn them, and they have not accepted his message.


Il Popolano looks angrily away from his people.  His gaze is off to the left and up—above the heads of his audience.  He averts his gaze not to ignore his people and become introspective, nor to turn to an ascetic mysticism by withdrawing from the demands of the situation, but rather to gather his energy for another volley.  He is disgusted with his people and his entire figure reflects the tension of his anger:  the muscles of his right arm are tense and strained, causing the veins to stand out sharply; his right hand is angrily pressed so hard against his thigh that it gives energy to the powerful undulations of drapery that seem to spread away from this gesture as ripples spread from a disturbance on water.




 Nevertheless, he will not abandon those who have caused this anger.  The determination in his gaze is as obvious as the anger, and in his entire figure one feels a solidity that reflects his resolve.  His strong conviction obviously will triumph over those feelings which try to shake it.  He looks away to regain his composure, but he will again return to his task.  He faces great adversity, but he will never yield to that adversity.


There is in Il Popolano a powerful realization of the tragic implications of the role of the prophet.  In it one can see what it means, in human terms, to devote one’s life to propounding a message that people do not wish to hear.  One feels with the prophet the anger and frustration of being rejected by the very people to whom he has dedicated his life.  One feels the suffering of a man who is willing to step outside the system and question accepted norms.  In the fiery spirit of  Il Popolano, Donatello seems to have recaptured something of the Old Testament, tragic concept of the prophetic life.


Il Popolano—as Lo Zuccone is a work of art that is imbued with psychological complexity, intense emotion, human nobility, and a view of the world—and of human action within it—that is radically different from everything which has gone before it.  Allow yourself to stand (or, more correctly, sit) it awe of it.


Mary Magdalene:  (1454-55)  This wooden statue once stood in Il Battistero; but, after having been terribly damaged in the flood of 1966, it was moved to the Museo del Duomo.  It has been extensively restored and painted–and finally it again looks like I originally remember it.  It is still a striking work, however:  the harshness and extreme suffering so clear in this haggard creature was a major departure for Donatello, and was said to have evoked a large degree of religious fervor in those viewing it.  It has even been suggested by Janson that it foreshadows the shift towards such fervor that ultimately culminates in the ascendancy of Savanarola, whose turning away from the rationality of the Renaissance towards older religious fundamentalism marked the later years of the quattrocento in Florence.


Cantoria:  (1433-39, over the statue of Mary Magdalene)  This was probably really an organ loft.  It is by Donatello, and it is a brilliant work, although it is not the part of his talent I am most interested in.


Main Room - Work of others:


Cantoria by Luca della Robia:  (opposite one by Donatello)  Even less interesting than Donatello’s.


Sala delle Formelle:  (“Room of the Panels”) 


Eight Panels from Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise”:  (1424-52)  All ten of the recently restored, magnificent gilt bronze reliefs Ghiberti did for the East Doors of Il Battistero are now assembled in a climate-controlled display on the first floor of the museum.


Image © Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence; Used with permission


(For over 30 years, there were four on display and the rest were “undergoing restoration”; and another four reappeared 8 years ago; now, finally, the project has been completed!)  Each panel is a square, in contrast to the Gothic quatrefoil form used for the other doors of Il Battistero. The original plan called for 28 panels, as in the two other sets of Baptistery doors, each with an Old Testament story; but Ghiberti reduced the number of panels to 10, combining multiple segments of these stories on each panel.  In the Cain and Abel relief, he combined five separate elements:  Cain at Work, Abel at Work, the First Parents at Work, Cain Killing Abel, and God Cursing Cain.  In the beautiful Adam and Eve relief, he combines what was to have been three separate reliefs:  The Creation of Adam, the Creation of Eve, and The Expulsion from Paradise.


Image © Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence; Used with permission


All ten of these reliefs are truly beautiful sculptures, although Ghiberti  never quite makes the transition into the Renaissance—and his attempt at these more Renaissance forms lacks the power and success of his earlier competition panel, done in a more Gothic style.  Ghiberti included a self-portrait among the other details in the border surrounding the reliefs:


Image © Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence; Used with permission


The room off the other side of the Main Room:  This room is full of very interesting architectural details, mostly from the façade of Il Campanile. 


Orsanmichele:  In the center of Florence, the exterior of this rather uninteresting trecento building was decorated by the various Florentine guilds with sculptures in niches.  Use Access:  Florence for your guide to the works of  Ghiberti and Nanni di Banco (to mention the good ones), but remember that Donatello’s St. George is a copy of the one in Il Bargello, and that his St. Louis of Toulouse is in the Museo di Santa Croce.  But it is worthwhile getting a feel for where these works originally were placed.  (Particularly note the issued raised about the placement of Donatello’s San Giorgio, [q.v., above] in the Bargello.)


Cappella Brancacci (Brancacci Chapel) in Santa Maria del Carmine: {Monday- Saturday 1000-1700; Sunday 1300-1700; closed Tuesday} (the entrance is through a door to the right of the façade of the church; there had been a fascistic and ridiculous system imposed on visitors, which, at least for this visit in May 2013, was no longer being enforced: you waited for ~15 minutes until you were allowed to go in through the cloister to the ticket office, where you bought your ticket and then had to wait another 15 minutes until you were allowed into the chapel, where you were allowed exactly 15 minutes to view these magnificent frescoes.  It was truly absurd, and, had it not been for the importance and beauty of the art, I’d have refuse to consider doing it.  Thankfully, this was not the case on this visit, and we were able to spend unlimited amounts of time luxuriating in the presence of these incredible frescoes.  Nevertheless, I am unhappy to report that the signage still suggested that this regime may be imposed when there is a higher volume of visitors to the Chapel.)  This chapel is in the “Oltrarno” (“other side [of the Arno]”—i.e., the ‘left bank’), in the otherwise entirely uninteresting church of Santa Maria del Carmine.


The Cappella Brancacci contains some of the greatest paintings of the Renaissance.  The fresco cycle, essentially about the Life of Saint Peter,


was begun in 1424 by Masaccio working together with Masolino.  There was an obvious collaboration on the theme and plan of the cycle—and they divided the space up so there was to be a pattern of interspersal of their individual works.  Masaccio left the project unfinished to go to Rome in 1427 or 28; and some of his frescoes were completed later by Filipino Lippi.


The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden:  The first of the great contributions of Masaccio, on the top left of the chapel as you enter.  This fresco captures the essence of the Renaissance spirit:  man, even as sinner, has unlimited dignity and stature.  There is a strength and monumental presence in the form of these figures—not to mention a classical beauty.  They, and Eve in particular, capture the full extent of pain and suffering in the human condition.


Masaccio captures emotion and dramatic intensity to an extent unparalleled by other painters of his day—but very akin to the spirit captured by Donatello.  Note also the composition:  the fiery red angel above pressuring them out of the Garden with the weight of his powerful gesture and creating the movement at the heart of the theme.  (cf., the Temptation of Adam and Eve [below] by Masolino, opposite:  a wonderful work, but with none of this humanistic emphasis.)


The Tribute Money:   (immediately to the right of the Expulsion)  Here Masaccio presents three separate moments in the story:  in the central space, the tax collector makes his request and Jesus replies with directions to St. Peter;  to the left, Peter catches the fish and takes the coins out of its mouth;  on the right, Peter hands the money over to the tax collector.  (It has been suggested that the theme was chosen and presented this way to help elicit support for the collection of a new tax in Florence at the time.)


Note carefully:  the classicism of pose and the sculptural monumentality of the figures; the individuality and emotion in the faces (look especially carefully at these [the head of Jesus in the center of this work is shown below]);


the perfect use of linear perspective in the architectural elements, combined with the painterly creation of space in the landscape in the background (cf., the similar combination in the relief panel Donatello did for the St. George now in Il Bargello); and the beauty of that landscape, itself.


The Raising of the Son of Theophilus and Enthronement of St. Peter:  (directly below the Tribute Money)  This fresco was most probably designed by Masaccio, although there are many hands involved in the execution.


In the Enthronement scene (at the right of the work), it is clearly mostly Masaccio—particularly the magnificent St. Peter (below)



and the four figures at the far right (which are actually portraits of [from left to right] Masolino, Masaccio, Alberti, and Brunelleschi, with the self-portrait of Masaccio facing out at the viewer).


Other stuff by Masaccio:   Most authorities believe The Baptism of the Neophytes (above, to the right of the window; shown below) is by Masaccio;


Similarly, the one of St. Peter Healing the Sick with his Shadow (to the left of the window, below).


Most of the rest is by Masolino, with some later work by Filipino Lippi (e.g., St. Peter in Prison—under the Expulsion, on left); all far less interesting than the astounding works of Masaccio.


Santo Spirito: {8:30-12, 4-6; closed Wed. afternoons} This church is the culmination of Brunelleschi’s development.  It was commissioned in 1434 and begun in 1436, and it therefore represents his latest and most mature style.  Also, in this church he was not encumbered by an existing building program—so he could plan it exactly as he wished it to be.  It was not completed until 1482, 36 years after his death, however, and there were many controversies that resulted in alterations to his plan:  the main ones involve the front of the church, which was supposed to have a continuation of the domed square aisle bays that he carefully continued around the entirety of the rest of the design (and, therefore, there should have been four doors on the west end of the church);  and the exterior was to have reflected on its surface the semicircular shape of the chapels, instead of being filled in flat as it is (this, more than any other detail, reveals Brunelleschi’s connection to Romanesque architecture; in this regard, notice also the strong horizontal emphasis.).  The basic plan is not unlike that of San Lorenzo, but here the mathematical harmonies are perfect and complete.


Brunelleschi has also added a rounded feel—both in the semicircular niches of the chapels (they were flat in San Lorenzo) and in the counter curves of the half-columns at the entrances to the chapels (they were flat pilasters in the earlier church).  This use of round half-columns also solved the ‘corner problem’ Brunelleschi had experienced elsewhere (where two pilasters joining in the corner had to be cut in half, diminishing the perfect feel of the proportions).  The square of the crossing is repeated in each arm of the transept, and four times down the nave.  On every outside surface of these main square units, there are two half-sized square domed bays, with semicircular niches on the outside wall.


This system follows uninterrupted around the entirety of the church—except for the entrance, where there is a half unit extension of  nave which obviously was intended in the original plan to contain the two missing chapels to complete the perfection of the design.  The proportions of the elevation have also been perfected:  the aisle bays are exactly half the height of the nave bays.  The incredible effect of the great ring of columns that extends around the entire space of the church, and the systems of bays and semicircular niches behind, can only fully be appreciated by walking around the space and stopping at many points to take it in.  (Try out all the central spots [e.g., the entrance—inside what should have been the first set of aisle bays, the crossing] as well as all the extremes [e.g., the corners of the transepts and choir, and their bays].) Notice also the Roman feeling of grandeur, not as much present in his earlier buildings.  Even the detail is perfection:  the coffered ceiling, the trim.  Soak up the feel of the place:  it is the magnificent culmination of an incredible artist’s career!


San Miniato al Monte:   This little treasure is perched on a hill with the best view of Florence that is to be had.  Save this for a beautiful day—particularly if you have a couple of hours to walk up and back (from the far side of the Ponte Grazie, take a left, then through the little Piazza Nicola Demidoff and wind around to the southeast until you find Via S. Miniato, which you take to Via d. S. S. Monte, which you follow until you come to a wide set of broad, gravel stairs off to the left.  You take these a long, beautiful way up until you reach a main road, where you take a right, until you come to the white stairs on your left (on the other side of the road), which lead up to S. Miniato.


There’s another way down (q.v., below); or you can take a cab or the number 13 bus.  The church is a great example of Italian Romanesque.  The façade, which dates from ca. 1090, is reminiscent of classical architecture (and, remember, the Florentines thought these buildings were much older than actually was the case), with rounded arches carried on columns and a triangular pediment.  The presence of these markedly classical elements is far more typical of the Italian Romanesque than of its counterparts elsewhere in Europe.  The heavy horizontality is clearly a more generically Romanesque feature.  If you have the time, walk around the church to the left, and go into the cemetery (which is a trip all its own!) to view the rear of the church and its apse:  the masses of the heavy masonry directly express the internal volumes of the spaces inside in a way that is more typical of the Romanesque throughout Europe.  The coloristic effect of the patterned marble (white from Carrara, dark green from Prato) used to emphasize the architectural members, however, is strictly Italian Romanesque.  It is ironic that Brunelleschi probably turned to the forms of the Italian Romanesque (thinking they were from Roman antiquity) in order to move away from the influence of France and northern Europe he saw in the Italian Gothic—without realizing that these northern influences were also very much a part of the Italian Romanesque. (It’s nice to hear a mass said here on Sunday.  Pick one up in progress at about noon.  The cemetery closes at 12:30 on Sundays, however, so check that out first.)


Interior:  Note the rounded arches carried on columns that separate the nave from the aisles.  These forms are reminiscent of those later used by Brunelleschi, although they are much heavier and more squat.


Clearly, he drew on this model, although he used a very different sense of proportion—and employed mathematical relationships to create spatial harmonies simply not present here.  Nevertheless, this is a beautifully compelling space.


If you have time, observe a mass being said to get the real feel of the place.  In the crypt (behind and below the altar), are some frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi.


When finished here, walk down the stairs and turn right until you come to the-


Piazzale Michelangelo:  This place has a great view (and still yet another copy of David), but is a major tourist stop! *XX*


I’d carefully (so as not to get trampled or run over by a tour bus) hurry through it.  Off to the right begins a path (not the road) that cuts back and forth through lovely gardens until you reach Porta San Niccolò, a three story medieval tower near the river.  A great walk.


Uffizi:  *XX*  {Open Tuesday to Sunday 0815–1850; Closed Monday} The collection of painting here is vast, but the tourist density can present serious problems.  My main piece of advice here—and it is a very valuable one—is to warn you that getting into the Uffizi is usually a nightmare—even if you have bought a ticket online or you are using the FirenzeCard (this pass, which provides free priority admission [one cuts some of the lines] for a 72 hour period to many of the museums and sites in Florence [including the Uffizi; click for complete list], costs €50, and, while it can be purchased online, basically needs to be picked up at some of the same designated spots where you would purchase one there [unless you have over a month for them to mail it to you]):  one still has an enormous line to wait on to get in (often in excess of 1 hour).  And without either a ticket or the FirenzeCard, just forget about the whole thing! It’s usually more than a three hour wait!  The best way to get into the Uffizi is to purchase a membership in the Association Amici degli Uffizi (it costs €60 for an adult, €100 for a family [two adults + two children under 18], and is good for 1 calendar year [Jan-Dec]; membership can be purchased online, or by mailing, faxing, or bringing in person the downloadable form; the huge advantage is that you enter through door No. 2 [where one also can buy the membership, if doing it in person], where there is no line [except a tiny section where you join near the front of the queue for security]; there is a list of other museums and sites it also gives you free admission to in Florence.)  Whether to buy a FirenzeCard or a membership in the Association Amici degli Uffizi is a complex question:  neither is a great saving in terms of money; and most museums in Florence (other than the Uffizi and Santa Croce [and the Academia, where we do not go]) do not have long lines; from our point of view, the only real issue is getting ourselves into the Uffizi.  Then there is the question of which to get, if one is going to purchase one, and here it is something of a toss-up: membership in the Association Amici degli Uffizi wins hands down for getting into the Uffizi—it is without any question worlds superior on this count [which, I guess, is why I have placed this discussion here]; but the FirenzeCard provides a way to cut the lines at Santa Croce [which, while in no way as formidable as those at the Uffizi, can be annoying long].  There are far more museums that the FirenzeCard gets you into (the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo, Santa Maria Novella, Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Strozzi, and the Cappella Brancacci being the mains ones—none of these presenting problems getting in, but the profusion of them providing some financial advantage), but it only allows one visit to each museum (whereas visits as a member of the Association Amici degli Uffizi are unlimited), and it last for only three days, while the other lasts for an entire year.  Anyway, we’ll choose to go with the membership in the Association Amici degli Uffizi; but it is something of a toss-up. This may be the most practical advice in the entire guide, however! 


As for the museum itself, I basically entrust you to Access:  Florence and your own preferences to guide you through the treasures here.  While there is a vast trove of riches at the Uffizi, most if it is in directions we do not like:  if you’re a fan of Leonardo or Botticelli, the Uffizi is a place you can spend days.  The only reason we always go to the Uffizi, however, is to see the unbelievable Battle of San Romano by Uccello in Room VII [click on the link or the image for a much higher resolution photograph].


This magnificent painting, almost abstract in its rhythmic patterning, is the best of the three versions done by Uccello—the others (click on the names of the museums for images of the version there) being in the Louvre and the National Gallery in London (which provide the major reason we visit those museums when in Paris and London!).  While we go for the Uccello, while there I suggest you also take notice of  the following:  the Cimabue and Giotto in Room II;  and the fabulous work by Durer (if you’re interested in a non-Italian suggestion) in Room XX.


Galleria dell’ Academia:  The home of the real David, copies of which are almost as numerous as tourists in Florence, along with several other works by Michelangelo.  A must for Michelangelo lovers; but, unfortunately, since Michelangelo is Florence’s best known name, also a must for every other tourist. *XX*  It is actually a toss-up, therefore, whether it is worth the line and the mob scene.  (well, not for us: we never go, as Michelangelo is too late in the Renaissance for us.)  I assume either the FirenzeCard or a membership in the Association Amici degli Uffizi would be of great help on this one, too.


[Palazzo Pitti:  If you like Titian and Raphael, you’ll love this Oltrarno museum—it has many wonderful examples of both.  (see Access: Florence for guidance.)  Since I am not particularly into them, I generally go to the Boboli Gardens, behind (entered through the Palace courtyard).  Again, I assume the FirenzeCard or a membership in the Association Amici degli Uffizi would be of great help here.]


Giardino di Boboli:  This is a low priority, but, if you have lots of time, the climb through these expansive gardens next to the Pitti Palace in the Oltrarno is very beautiful.  By far the prettiest spot is the flower garden at the very top, next to the Monkey Fountain and the Museo delle Porcellane, where there are absolutely breath taking views of the surrounding hills.  Not one of Italy’s great gardens, but some beautiful vistas.


Restaurants IN Florence


Il Cibrèo:  Splendid restaurant, the pinnacle of Tuscan ‘home style’ cooking (but don’t be fooled by that description:  it’s a sophisticated operation, and they even have a branch in Tokyo)—it’s a must!  If you take only one of my restaurant suggestions, make it this one.  Long ago we decided that we should have gone to it at least twice the prior trip, as it is so much superior to any of the other restaurants in Florence—the only other contender is Enotecca Pinchiorri (q.v., below), which is a place of an entirely different sort (more French than Italian), and, compared to that one, Cibrèo is actually a bargain, although not cheap.  This trip we ended up eating there three out of our four nights in Florence—and we were totally pleased that we chose to do so!  The unexpected treat of this visit was to discover that Ristorante Cibréo had just decided to open on Sundays!  This is a rarity in Florence, where most restaurants are closed on Sundays—and virtually all good restaurants are also closed on Mondays.  (Please do not, in an ill-advised attempt to economize, go instead to the trattoria or caffe which Cibrèo has opened around the corner.  They are not the same thing as the ristorante—in terms of the quality either of the food or of the general experience.  Go to the main restaurant!)  There is no menu, but one of the senior staff (often Christina, who has been there for all the decades we’ve been going, or Guilio, the manager, and the son of Fabio Picchi, the owner and chef) sits down with you and explains in detail your dinner options.  On the website, Signor Picchi describes there offerings in the following way:


Going along with the Chef’s fantasy, our menus basically follow the rhythm of the seasons. While apparently still, they move throughout Winter, Springtime, Summer and Fall and slightly change each month, each week, each day.

We avail ourselves of fishermen from the Tuscan sea, of farmers nearby Florence and their tender green ''radicchini'', of hundreds of other suppliers that are constantly in touch with us.

The adverse weather conditions may influence the fish menu, hot Septembers can lead to an early ripening of the green fig, warm Novembers can extend the porcini mushrooms availability.

It is since September 8th 1978 that we embrace our shepherds and their cheeses, the butchers and their meats, the pasta makers from Puglia region, Florentine olive pressers, producers of Sicilian lemons, “Clementini” tangerines growers from Calabria and truffle diggers from San Miniato and Piedmont.

The oregano provided by Francesca from Pantelleria reminds us that she is our “most ancient” supplier together with many wine producers that follow and constantly inspire us with their work.

We take good care of our pickled and under-oil products as well as of the honey from Elba island. We could never use vacuum-packed or deep-frozen foods, we reduce the use of the fridge to a minimum and we are absolutely fond of our pantry, a philosophy that enlightens our steps. We may not have mentioned everything in this few lines, not for forgetfulness but for due discretion, as we are quite jealous of our contacts, which are obviously within everybody’s reach.


At the beginning of the meal they serve a series of wonderful “antipastini” (what I now know amuses gueule are called in Italiano) to welcome you to the table:  the old standards are still there—trippa alla fiorentina, spicy tomato mousse, chicken liver crostini—along with several new ones; for i primi, there was the most intense, spicy fish soup I’ve ever tasted, there was their signature yellow bell pepper soup (unbelievable!), there was a gorgonzola soufflé with a meat sauce—there were all sorts of delights, except there never is pasta—it is just not traditional in Florence (although most restaurants there serve it); and for i secondi, there was veal in a spicy tomato sauce, ox tail stew, a fabulous whole local fish I had never heard of, a delicious roast pigeon, just to name a few; and for desert, a chocolate tart, a coffee Bavarian cream, a flourless chocolate tart—along with some other marvelous confections they brought us, “just for the hell of it.”  They have a fabulous wine list, and the entire staff is quite knowledgeable and helpful about it—although Hugo, the sommelier, is far more knowledgeable.  And they also have extraordinary bread, something not so generally available in Italy.  A jacket would be most comfortable, although not really necessary; and no tie is called for.  Reservations a must, and far in advance.  Open Tuesday-Sunday; closed in August. Moderately expensive, but not unreasonably so.  Tel. +39 (55) 234 11 00.  Via dei Macci, 118r.


Enotecca Pinchiorri:  This restaurant had been closed for renovations during our 2003 visit, but it has since re-opened.   It is a magnificent restaurant:  beautiful decor, superb food, unbelievable wine, and perfect service.  It is one of the only restaurants in Italy (and one of only a few outside of France, actually) to have two Michelin stars—and I suspect it is on its way to a third . Unfortunately, it is almost obscenely expensive; when we went in 2006, it was twice as expensive as it was nine years ago—and more than four times the cost of a lovely meal at Cibrèo.  If you do it (and can bear the sticker shock), though, do a degustazione of food and of wine!  Click here for a link to the food and wine we consumed on this (2006) visit.  The first time we were there, I had the gran menù degustazione:  dorad in balsamic vinegar, foie gras with salad, lobster in a bisque with spring vegetables, a fresh tomato and vegetable soup, an intermezzo of necce (sp?)—a chestnut and ricotta confection, medallions of veal, talleggio in mille feuille, and an apple tart.  Our wine degustazione included a delicious Rothschild white I didn’t know, an all-Sangiovese red, a terrific Bonnes Mares (although, what Bonnes Mares isn’t terrific?), and an Ornelia (a marvelous Tuscan wine).  Dress is quite formal (jackets required, tie appropriate); reservations a must. Tel. +39 (55) 242777.  Via Ghibellina, 87.


Buca Lapi:  “Buca” means “hole,” but this basement restaurant is a pleasant place for a casual meal. Great for bistecca alla fiorentina.  They do their meat cutting as well as their cooking in a kitchen that it is possible to see into from many parts of the restaurant.  Good crostini and pastas; reasonably priced Tignanello ’98 on the wine list.  Moderately priced.  Informal.  Tel. 213768.  Via del Trebbio (right next to Palazzo Antinori)


Don Chisciotte:  A bit more formal than most places in Florence, but with quite good food, a pleasing atmosphere, and a nice wine list (if you search out the bargains).  A very pleasant place to dine, but one needs to remember that it is every bit as expensive as Cibrèo, and not nearly as good.  One advantage worth mentioning: it is open Mondays, as many places are not.


Trattoria Cammillo:  Rather touristy, this place still has quite delicious food—including some very tasty pasta dishes, and quite respectable bistecca alla fiorentina—in a comfortable, very informal setting.  What makes it truly exceptional, however, is that it is open both Sundays and Mondays—which makes it virtually unique in Florence.  Borgo San Jacopo, 57R; +39-(55) 212-427. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.


Il Latini:  A fun place to eat—very informal, very inexpensive, long tables where you sit with other people, and OK food (tasty, nut nothing special—which has been there forever.  The house wine (a chianti in large bottles on each table) is drinkable.  The mixed appetizer (which includes bruschetta, crostini, prosciutto, and salami) is great; the ribollita or ravioli makes a great first course, and the bistecca alla fiorentina is reasonable here. The problem is that there are no reservations (no matter what they may tell you): the door opens at 7:30 exactly, and the mob that has formed outside simply pushes in.  Get there by 7:15 or 7:20 at the latest, and push on in with them! (The place is much bigger than it appears from the outside, by the way.) Via dei Palchetti, 6r (between v. della Vigna Nuova and v. dei Federighi)




Padova is worth a trip for two reasons: La Cappella Scrovegni, site of the best Giotto frescoes in the world (and a lot of them!); and the Donatello sculpture (our man spent 10 years in Padova, 1443-53)  in the Basilica of  S. Anthony, or Il Santo, as it is known.  It’s also a pretty interesting town, as it turns out—and the home of one of the world’s oldest universities, known as Il Bo.  One can stay very inexpensively (LIT. 217.000; and comfortably, if in a manner that is in no way charming) at the Hotel Donatello (yes, that’s right…) immediately across from Il Santo.  (Our room actually looked out on Il Santo, and Donatello’s equestrian statue, Gattamelata.)  Walking around the area of the University is fascinating (it’s about half-way between La Cappella Scrovegni and Il Santo).  Dinner at La Vecchia Enotecca (near Il Bo) was an unexpected treat:  great food, moderately priced, and a wonderful Barolo, all in a lovely setting.


La Cappella Scrovegni:  (or, Arena Chapel, as it is sometimes called) 1305-6.  Three dozen of the most beautiful, well-preserved works of Giotto. Although clearly a medieval painter, Giotto represents a major move forward towards the Renaissance; and, while not actually a part of the Renaissance, his work has elements and implications that formed the major influence in the tradition of Florentine painting that led eventually to Masaccio.  Figures begin to have much more material existence and corporeal presence in the painting of Giotto.  He employed contour line, modeling, and shading to create a sculptural presence in his figures.  His people have far more personality than those of any prior medieval artist, or any subsequent one for almost 100 years.  He also demonstrates a masterful grasp of composition:  the arrangements of the elements to each other (and to the plane of  the fresco wall) is carefully integrated into the overall design.  Each grouping within a fresco has its own compositional integrity, and together they form a powerful and expressive rhythmic whole.  In all of these frescoes, try to notice the powerful composition Giotto uses, and look closely at the marvelous faces—note the tremendous individuality and feeling, even in the animals, by the way.  Plan to spend at least a couple of hours here:  these are works that merit concentration and lingering appreciation.  I’d suggest you slowly go through the entire cycle, looking at each carefully; then go back and really study the ones you loved the first time through; and, finally, do the entire cycle one final time to see if you notice anything different.  If it’s not too crowded, sit down on the side benches in the front while looking at the lower ones in that part of the chapel (to conserve energy!).


The Story of Joachim and Anna:  The sequence of six panels begins on the top right (facing the front) of the chapel and reads from front to back:  Driving Joachim out of the Temple, Withdrawal of Joachim among the Shepherds (look at the face of the shepherd on the right—he looks almost like he was painted by Millet!), Annunciation to Anne, Sacrifice of Joachim, Dream of Joachim, Meeting of Joachim and Anne.


The Story of the Virgin: It continues on the top left with another six scenes going from back to front:  Birth of Mary, Presentation of Mary at the Temple, Consignment of the Virgin, Entreaty for the Flowering of the Virgin, Marriage of Mary and Joseph, Marriage Procession.


The Story of Jesus:  (The general pattern on each level begins on the right front and goes completely around until it concludes at the left front.  Unlike the top course of frescoes, this level begins with one panel on the front wall, however.)  The scenes, in order are: Visitation, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Presentation at the Temple, Escape into Egypt (an especially beautiful work in terms of its composition and use of landscape to reinforce it), Slaughter of the Innocents (pretty gory), Jesus among the Doctors, Baptism of Jesus (wonderful), Wedding of Cana, Raising of Lazarus, Entry into Jerusalem (the donkey steals the show), Driving the Merchants out of the Temple (note the power of Jesus’ angry gesture:  the diagonal thrust of his fist is reflected in the reaction in the merchant’s body and clothing, and it is echoed in the triply repeated downward angle of the triangular pediment form in the architecture above).


The Story of the Passion:  (The first of these panels is the last one on the middle level, on the front wall on the left side.  The sequence then continues around on the lower level, beginning at the right front.)  Treason of Judas, Last Supper (note the tenderness in Jesus and the grouping directly around him), Washing of the Feet (look at the face of the figure at the far left—Peter, I guess), Kiss of Judas (look carefully at the kiss itself, and the faces of Jesus and Judas—and those of the immediate onlookers;  note also the wonderful, almost abstract patterns created by the staffs and torches held aloft—almost a distant precursor of the Battle of San Romano by Uccello in the Uffizi), Christ before Caifa, Flagellation of Christ (notice how classically Roman Pilate looks at the far right), Ascent of Calvary (note the expression of maternal anguish in the face of Mary, at the left, and Jesus’ expression as he looks back over his shoulder towards her), Crucifixion, Mourning over the Dead Christ, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost.


The Universal Judgment:  This massive fresco that covers the rear wall of the chapel is awesome—and a lot of fun.  In it, Jesus sits, enthroned, presiding over the judgment of humanity.  Flanked by the twelve apostles, with the saints and angels in attendance, there is a division into the blessed (on the left side—and therefore to his right) and the damned (on the right).  Notice that things are much more ordered and structured in heaven above and among the righteous on the left; a swirling chaotic disorder characterizes the situation among the damned, with Satan in the center (with one of the damned in his mouth, and one in another orifice).  (The arrangement is not unrelated to that of Dante’s Inferno.)  Things are actually much more interesting over there, however:  the fantasies of the torments of Hell range from the horrifying (Nancy entertained the idea that maybe in view of what we were looking at we should be careful…maybe even go to confession!) to the wildly kinky (à la Hieronymus Bosch).




Gattamelata:  (1447-1453)  Donatello’ equestrian statue of Erasmo da Narni, a local military leader nicknamed Gattamelata, or “the Cunning Cat,” stands in the piazza in front of Il Santo.  This was the first equestrian statue of a current hero in classical dress ever done since antiquity.  It is a powerful, noble piece which certainly succeeded in its attempt to honor the man it portrays


Basilica di Sant’Antonio - Il Santo:  This 13th century church is a beautiful combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles, with a markedly Eastern flavor.  Its eight huge domes lend a marvelous and unearthly quality to the interior.


High Altar of Il Santo: (The Basilica of  Sant’ Antonio) - 1446- 50 - This is perhaps the most complex of Donatello’s projects.  It contains seven bronze statues of almost life size, four bronze reliefs, and one limestone relief.  (The origin altar itself was removed and destroyed in the 16th century.  It is a source of considerable speculation what the actual form of the altar was and what the arrangement of these sculptures on it was.  While the experts do not agree on what the original altar looked like, they are in agreement that it had little to do with the current configuration.)  Unfortunately, it is hard to get a close-up view of these works, installed as they are on the high altar itself.  This is especially true of the reliefs.  If you go when no mass is being said and there are not too many people around, you can usually persuade a guard into turning on the extra lighting and allowing you access into the altar area—which allows excellent viewing of the reliefs on the back of the altar, and reasonable viewing of the sculptures (from the sides in front; but they will not, of course, allow you to approach the front of the altar itself (which means the reliefs on the front are almost impossible to view closely).  (The comments in square brackets [] refer to the sculpture’s position on the current altar.)


Bronze Statues:


St. Francis:  [near left]  Has crucifix on his shoulder and holds a book.

St. Anthony: [near right]  Holds a book and a plant.

St. Louis of Toulouse:  [lower level, far left]

St. Prosdocimus: [lower level, far right]  Patron saint of Padova, holds a ewer.

St. Daniel:  [far right] holds a basin

St. Guistina:  [far left] holds a palm frond in her left hand.

The Virgin and Child Enthroned:  [center]


Bronze Reliefs:  These four miracles of Saint Anthony are miracles in an artistic sense, as well.  In them, Donatello uses symbolically the space he creates to emphasize and enhance the stories he is portraying and the emotions those stories embody.


The Speaking Babe: [back, right]  Note the stage-like setting he creates for the action.


The Ass of Rimini: [back, left] Note the tripartite division of the space using three classical arches,  with the central section containing the main action: the ass who genuflects at the altar, attracted to the host in the priest’s hand while ignoring the oats it is offered.


The Irascible Son: [front, left]  This is perhaps the most interesting of the reliefs.  Donatello, who, as we have seen, was a master of linear perspective, here utilizes an obviously purposeful combination of perfectly accurate and totally contrary perspectival devices to create a shockingly disjointed space.  It has been suggested (particularly by Seymour) that this was done to emphasize and reinforce the theme of the story itself:  the angry son has kicked his mother, then cut off his leg in remorse—it is reattached by the Saint.  Thus the feel of the very space created within the relief recapitulates the rending disjunction that has occurred in the story.


The Heart of the Miser: [front, right]  Once dead, his heart is nowhere to be found.  Here note the architectural depth of the space Donatello has created.


Limestone relief:  The Entombment of Christ: [back, center]  Here  Donatello has presented us with the power of the grief of those lowering Jesus into his tomb.




Aside from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum (q.v., below), there is no art in Venice that I, at least, am interested in seeing.  But it is wonderful to soak up (don’t take that too literally!) the atmosphere.  It’s like a fairy tale:  ornate, mysterious, intriguing, and romantic.  It even seems beautiful—if you don’t look too closely.  I love the feel of all that Venetian Gothic, with its extremely rich and intricate detail; but if I study any particular example, I start to decide I really think it’s ugly.  To quote Mark Twain’s description (from the citation in Access) of the Basilica of San Marco (which isn’t Venetian Gothic, but earlier, by the way), it looks like “a vast  warty bug taking a meditative walk.”  This sort of captures my point.


But soaking up the feel of the place is the thing to do in Venice, and, after Florence, it may feel like a vacation not to have any important art you need to see!  And, of course, after everywhere else in Italy, the absence of cars and motorcycles is wonderful.  Just wander around.  Get lost—this is the unavoidable, fun position one invariably ends up in Venice if one wanders about (the city maps are never nearly as complex as the system of winding alley-ways, bridges, and canals).  Get on a Vaporetto and go.  (Get a biglietto turistico for one or three days:  it’s cheap, and allows you to use the system as often as you like.  Just don’t forget to validate it in one of the machines the first time you use it; and remember to carry it with you thereafter; and remember to bring it home for Nancy, along with all other receipts, tickets, etc., from museums, and any other cool paper things—all potential collage materials are greatly appreciated!)


Some suggestions:


Take a vaporetto ride the length of the Canal Grande (Vaporetto #1 is a good choice).  Do it again another time, getting off here and there.  Walk over the three bridges that cross the Canal Grande.


Do what the Access guide notes as one of Marcella Hazan’s favorite things:  go to Ciprianni’s (there’s a free, private launch to get there [which is also fun], that leaves from Piazza S. Marco:  just use the free phone to call if the launch isn’t already there), and have a chocolate gelato in the bar next to the pool.  It’s heavenly!  Use the opportunity to look around the hotel and grounds, which are pretty spectacular.


Take a vaporetto to Murano (which is a nice place to walk around).  On the way back, get off at Fondamenta Nuove and take a walk through Il Cannaregio to Il Campo del Ghetto Nuovo—the Jewish Ghetto (read Access on this one).  (There’s a restaurant near here that is supposed to be wonderful, although we didn’t get to go:  Osteria al Bacco (Fondamenta delle Cappuccine, 3054; tel. 717493).


Walk around Il Castello, and maybe take a look at Il Arsenale. Il Castello is a lovely residential neighborhood.  Don’t miss Via Garibaldi—it’s a real neighborhood, and has a communal life apart from the normal tourist hubbub of Venice.  Also, right near the restaurant I’m going to suggest below (Al Covo), just west of Campo Bandiera e Moro, there are a lot of food stores:   our previous visit, when we stayed at the Danieli, we bought cheese and salamis in one, bread in another, wine and aqua minerale in another, and brought them back to our hotel for the least expensive dinner ever eaten at the Danieli (total cost was LIT. 19.000, which is about $11).


For a rather delicious, very inexpensive, very informal meal, go to Trattoria Alla Madonna, Calle della Madonna 594 (between Fondamenta del Vin and Ruga Vecchia San Giovanni), in San Paolo, near the Rialto Bridge.  The food is surprisingly good--and VERY cheap.  I just kept ordering things—spaghetti in black sauce [squid ink]; risotto in the same; fried fresh sardines; etc., etc.—and the seafood is fresh and wonderful.  The house wine is drinkable...and the 15 euro cabernet is actually delicious.  It’s a funky place, where you end up talking to the people sitting right next to you—and they are sitting right next to you.   It’s a bit hard to find, but, coming off the Rialto Bridge, you’ll manage if you remember the following:

1)  it is the third "street" west (to the left off the bridge) of Ruga dei  Orefici (which is the street directly off the bridge);


2) these "streets" sometimes just look like doorways from the Fondamenta (if you get to Calle Paradiso, you've gone two of them too far); and,


3) there is no sign for it, nor does the numbering seem correct; but when you get to a place on the right where there is light and a lot of life and activity you can see inside, you’ve arrived at Trattoria alla Madonna (the "street" itself seems like a dark, narrow, back alley in which you won't expect to find anything—and won’t find anything else).


Eat dinner outside on the terrace restaurant of the Hotel Gritti Palace—or at least have a Bellini on their bar terrace.  The food at the restaurant is quite good, and not all that ridiculously expensive.  And the setting is divine:  we ate looking out across the Grand Canal, with an illuminated La Salute across the Canal, and a gorgeous full moon overhead.  We stayed at the Gritti Palace on or 2006 trip (for the Architecture Biennale, q.v., my write-up) , and it is an incredible treat:  wonderful rooms, perfect service, and just generally a totally elegant experience. (It’s on Campo San Giglio, although its main entrance is by water taxi on the canal side—there is not fondamenta along the canal at that point.  The street entrance on the side is almost unmarked, which serves to effectively keep the throngs of tourists from meandering through.)  On our 2013 trip (to the Art Biennale, q.v., my write-up), we stayed at the Bauer Il Palazzo, another totally elegant place, rather similarly situated (except that the end of it facing away from the canal is the newer, far more modern Bauer L’Hotel).


Eat dinner at Al Covo, it’s wonderful!  Virtually all seafood (usually one non-seafood alternative for each course), and no menu—they serve a selection of the best things that were caught that day; and, boy, do they pick and prepare it well!  The place is owned and run by a couple:  the husband, who is Italian (naturalmente!), is the chef, and the wife runs the dining room—and she came from Texas (many years ago), so her English is great.  This is one of the few places not to try to use your Italian:  the esoteric nature of much of what they will be serving will have names you don’t even know in English, so the Italian version will be tough.  It’s not very formal, but a jacket will feel right (no tie necessary);  it’s moderate to expensive—but very reasonable for the quality; it’s closed Wednesdays; make a reservation, tel. 5223812;  Campiello della Piscaria, 3698 (in Il Castello, just west of Campo Bandiera e Moro).


Perhaps the best place in Venice to eat is Ristorante Da Fiore.  This Michelin-starred temple of Venetian cuisine is run by Maurizio and Mara Martin, the latter being the chef. San Polo 2002 +39 (041) 721308


Instead of spending a lot of money on a gondola, ride one of the traghetti (oversize gondolas, rowed by two standing gondolieri) that go back and forth across the Canal Grande at 8 spots (stations are at the end of streets named Calle del Traghetto indicated by a yellow sign with the black gondola symbol).  Instead of €80 for a 40-minute ride in a gondola (€100, after 7 PM), these traghetti cost about €.50 per person.  One pays the gondolier when boarding. (Most Venetians cross standing up, by the way.)  One interesting place to take a traghetto is the Santa Sofia crossing that connects the Ca' d'Oro and the Pescheria di Rialto fish market, opposite each other on the Grand Canal just north of the Rialto Bridge (a particularly busy spot on the Grand Canal, where the you can be impressed by the gondolieri’s skill dodging the heavy traffic on the canal). There’s also a convenient traghetto that leaves from the west end of Piazza San Marco (towards the Hotel Monaco) and goes across to La Salute.  While you may not have any pressing need to go to La Salute, it is in Il Dorsoduro, which is another very interesting place to walk around. It is also the site of—


Collezione Peggy Guggenheim:  This place is unbelievable!  It has some of the most beautiful, unusual examples of the work of many very important modern artists that you will see anywhere.  The truth is, I do not like most of the art to be found in Venice: you will know from my Florence section, my real love is the very beginning of the Renaissance, the first decades of the quattrocento (the 15th century), and most of whatr is found in Venice is considerably later than that.  Once things become mannered—or, heaven forefend, Baroque—I run screaming; so    There’s a wonderful Rothko, Sacrifice, (Watercolor, gouache, and india ink on paper, 100.2 x 65.8 cm)


from 1946, just before he started doing his characteristic thing:  you can imagine him looking at this painting and saying to himself, “I wonder what would happen if I did a whole painting based on what I’ve done in this area of this one…”  There is also a great 1968 painting from his mature style, Untitled (Red), (Acrylic on paper, mounted on canvas, 83.8 x 65.4 cm):



According to their website (and I have inserted images of some of the works the site describes),


The core mission of the museum is to present the personal collection of Peggy Guggenheim herself. The collection holds major works of Cubism, Futurism, Metaphysical painting, European abstraction, avant-garde sculpture, Surrealism, and American Abstract Expressionism, by some of the greatest artists of the 20th century. These include Picasso (The Poet, On the Beach), Braque (The Clarinet),


Duchamp (Sad Young Man on a Train),


 Léger, Brancusi (Maiastra, Bird in Space), Severini (Sea=Dancer), Picabia (Very Rare Picture on Earth), de Chirico (The Red Tower, The Nostalgia of the Poet), Mondrian (Composition No. 1 with Grey and Red 1938


and Composition with Red 1939), Kandinsky (Landscape with Red Spots, No. 2


and White Cross), Miró (Seated Woman II), Giacometti (Woman with Her Throat Cut


and Woman Walking), Klee (Magic Garden),


Ernst (The Kiss, Attirement of the Bride), Magritte (Empire of Light), Dalí (Birth of Liquid Desires), Pollock (The Moon Woman, Alchemy), Gorky (Untitled), Calder (Arc of Petals)


and Marini (Angel of the City).


There is another great more unusual painting by Braque, The Bowl of Grapes (Le Compotier de raisins), 1926 (Oil with pebbles and sand on canvas, 100 x 80.8 cm):



A terrific example of an early Jackson Pollock, The Moon Woman, 1942 (Oil on canvas, 175.2 x 109.3 cm)



and one of the earliest examples of Pollock’s “poured paintings, his 1947 Alchemy, (Oil, aluminum (and enamel?) paint, and string on canvas, 114.6 x 221.3 cm)



There are great paintings by DeKooning, including his 1958 Untitled (Oil on paper, 58.5 x 74 cm)


There are marvelous paintings by Mondrian—some very early, like Ocean 5, 1915 (Charcoal and gouache on paper [glued on homasote panel in 1941 by Mondrian], paper 87.6 x 120.3 cm; panel 90.2 x 123 x 1.3 cm)


and fully developed ones like the 1938 Composition No. 1 with Grey and Red, shown above in the section from the Peggy’s website.  The collection has great sculpture:  lots of Giacometti, including Woman Walking (Femme qui marche), 1932 (Bronze, 144.6 cm high), a very unusual and sensually beautiful torso in the garden.:



many by Henry Moore, like his Family Group, ca. 1944 (cast 1956; Bronze, 14.2 x 13.8 x 7.5 cm)


And several terrific pieces by Calder.  There are good Picassos, ones magnificent by Duchamp, and some great works by Schwitters, including his 1920 collage, Merz Drawing 75 (Merzzeichnung 75), (Paper and fabric collage, tempera, ink and graphite on paper, 14.6 x 10 cm)


and his 1930 assemblage, Maraak, Variation I (Merzbild), (Oil and assemblage of objects on board, 46 x 37 cm)



There are lots of works by Max Ernst (who was one of her husbands—apparently she also slept with a bunch of the other artists whom she didn’t bother to marry).  The Peggy has aamazing treasures!  The first time we visited, it was an incredible—and for me, unexpected—treat (although Nancy had known all along what to expect, and was the one who insisted we go in the first place!).


The Peggy no has the additional splendors of the Hannelore B.and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, which I have described in my write-up of the 2013 Venice Biennale. (One can access the descriptions and images I put online about the Schulhof Collection directly by clicking here.)


Another adventure: ake a vaporetto to Giudecca, which is another nice place to walk around.  (Right there on the Canal Grande is another supposedly great place to have a light dinner or dessert:  Harry’s Dolci [Fondamenta Sant’Eufemia, 773; tel. 5208337]; but we couldn’t get in when we had time available to go.)  Near Harry’s Dolci, which is related to Harry’s Bar, by the way, is a nice little grocery store where you can get panini made to order and eat them sitting on benches (as opposed to eating at the tables in front of the store, which costs more) looking at the Grand Canal.


A last idea:  the lobby of the Danieli is a fabulous place—especially the three story tall entrance atrium.  Go in and check it out.  They serve drinks (they serve a very nice 20 year old tawny port) and cappuccino. 




This is a brief guide to Rome for the traveler who does not like Baroque art and architecture.  Except for in this sentence, the name Bernini will not appear.  (Be forewarned:  we are the kind of tourists who happily skipped the Vatican completely. Although it meant missing some treasures in the Vatican Museum, it was simply too crowded and too Baroque.)  Rome is ever so much more than the Baroque, however: it is a vibrant, living city—but one that has millennia of history ever present in the very fabric of its existence.  I shall suggest walks that explore several areas of the city, focusing on the ancient and the Romanesque, of which Rome has an incredible wealth of marvelous examples.


[The following are some thoughts on some areas of Roma.  They have not yet been expanded to include my observations and other info; but they might prove helpful as a starting place.}


One interesting area  (1st three buildings are all across the street from one another):


Temple of Vesta, Piazza Bocca della Verità  (2nd Century BC—oldest standing marble temple in Rome) cylindrical center, surrounded by 20 Corinthian columns.  Actually misnamed: it is really dedicated to Hercules the Conqueror.


Temple of Virile Fortune, Piazza Bocca della Verità (2nd Century BC)  Pre-Imperial Roman temple, heavily influenced by Greek architecture


Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Piazza Bocca della Verità at via della Greca (6th Century Romanesque church), the trecento campanile is the highest in Rome. The trecento portico has “the most famous manhole cover in the world”:  a carved face the, mouth of which water would drain through (now displayed on left-hand wall); called “La Bocca della Verità” (“the Mouth of Truth”), the legend was that liars who put their hands into the mouth would have them bitten off (see the movie Roman Holiday).


The interior has incredibly beautiful mosaic decoration (see especially the floors) done by the Cosmati family, whose work, which was done from the trecento to the quattrocento, can be seen throughout Rome—and all of Italy, for that matter.


There's another interesting Romanesque church nearby (but certainly not essential), San Giorgio in Velabro on the via del Velabro, at via San Teodoro.  This church has a gorgeous quattrocento altar done by the Cosmati.


Remember with all the churches, many are closed from ~12:30-3:30.


There is a great place to eat lunch right in this neighborhood:  San Teodoro, on the via dei Fienili, it is lovely inside and in its outside eating area, with great food.  Moderately priced and informal, at least for lunch


A second interesting area:


Santo Stefano Rotondo (via di Sto. Stefano Rotondo), 5th Century, centrally planned church consisting of three concentric circles, separated by a double ring of granite columns.  There is a 3rd Century Roman temple to the Persian god Mithras which is currently being excavated beneath the floor of the church.  (Try to ignore the gruesome 16th C. frescoes that cover the outer walls.)


Santi Quattro Coronati (“Four Crowned Saints,” via dei S. S. Quattro, between via Sto. Stefano Rotundo and via dei Querceti) This last remaining fortified abbey in Rome consists of a 4th Century church, with a incredibly beautiful quattrocento chiostro, and a trecento oratorio di San Silvestro (off to the right as you enter the church itself; go up to the turntable in the wall where you will place a Euro in, and an unseen nun will rotate it to get the money, and then re-rotate it to give you a key to the oratory—they are taking no chances with having too much contact with the secular world!) that has frescoes of the life of Constantine



San Clemente (via di San Giovanni in Laterano, at Piazza S. Clemente)  Between the 4th and tenth centuries, three different churches were built on this site.  In the 11th C., the church was sacked, and a new church was built at the beginning of the 12th C.  The marble choir enclosure in the nave was built during the 6th C., using columns looted from the Foro Traiano.  Above the apse is a Byzantine mosaic.  But the real treat is the archeological experience of literally descending through the historical layers of the church’s history—down eventually to the Temple of Mithras, a 2nd C. shrine used by Roman followers of the Persian cult, that lies deep beneath the present structure.


A third grouping:


The Pantheon (Piazza della Rotunda), Built by Hadrian in 125 AD (and dedicated to  Marco Agrippa, the son-in-law of Augustus), this may be the most spectacular building in Rome; and it is certainly the best extant example of the splendor of ancient Rome. 


Palazzo Doria Pamphili (via del Corso, 304, between Piazza Venezia and via Lata) is VERY interesting

(although hardly 'essential')—a window into  how extremely rich Roman nobility have lived over the years.  One of that family became Pope Innocent X.  Best if you get there not long after they open at 10 AM, so as to get a ticket for a tour of the private quarters as well as the public rooms.


The only Baroque church I'd suggest (not too over the top, and actually quite beautiful) is Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, by Boromini, on Corso di Rinascemente (at via dei Straderar).  Built in 1660, it is a marvelous, centrally-planned building of pure white stone.  The only ‘color’ is the steel-gray of the floor tiles which alternate with white ones.


An outstanding taste of ancient Rome:


Foro di Traiano (Trajan’s Forum), largest and most ambitious of the Imperial For a to have been built (2nd century AD), there are now only traces remaining.


Foro Romano (The Roman Forum)—a truly extraordinary place.  Get a guide an revel in the remains of ancient Rome.  From here, explore the Il Palantino (The Palantine Hill)


Il Colosseo


Arch of Constantine


Some other areas:


Our favorite area was Trastevere, where we spent half a day simply wandering and exploring.  It is full of tiny, winding streets, lined with shop of various artisans.  We loved Santa Maria in Trastevere, and especially its wonderful mosaics.  (We also loved the cafe right next to the church, where we had some of

the best sprumante (fresh juice) I've ever tasted.)


We also took a lovely walks through the Villa Borghese, and virtually in

every direction from the Piazza del Popolo to the Spanish Steps to the

Piazza Navona il Campidoglio.



Some restaurant suggestions:


We had a delicious and fun meal at Pierluigi, Piazza dei Ricci, 144 at via Monserato (not far from the bridge, Ponte Mazzini, on the main side of the river).  Moderately priced and informal, they serve wonderful seafood, inexpensive wine, and a delicious beef stracciata.  Tel. 6861302


We had a wonderful and romantic meal at Romolo, via Porta Settemiana, 8, at the foot of via Garibaldi.  The garden is particularly beautiful, if the weather permits.  Although the food is not gourmet, it is quite enjoyable.  Tel. 5818284


We also enjoyed our espresso at Rosati, one of Rome’s grand caffes (Piazza del Popolo, 5/A)  and extraordinary gelati at Giolitti (via Uffici del Vicario, 40); and, no matter how many people know about and how touristy a thing it is to do, the tartufo at Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navona is an absolute must.


There is a small Neapolitan restaurant near S. M. della Pace, Tratoria and Pizzeria della Pace, which is very cheap and good.  (Try especially their Bufalo mozzarella and tomatoes, and their fried Neapolitan pizza.


La Cesarina.  Via Piemonte, 109  (Via Veneto)  +39 06 42013432 - 4880828  (daily) A very pleasant, informal, and quite good restaurant with terrific bollito misto.


Anacleto Bleve.  (through a virtually unmarked [except for a small brass plaque] big dark wood door) on via Teatro Valle.  This lovely, stylish wine bar is a prefect place for lunch—or dinner, if you don’t mind the fact that they only serve cold food.  Order a plate of involuti (rolled hors d’oeuvres), or perhaps a plate of salamis; but don’t fail to order their wonderful cheese plate.  Ask them to suggest a marvelous, inexpensive wine.  This small, family-run establishment it well worth a stop.


And, while on the subjects of wine bars, two that come extremely highly recommended (although not tried by us due to the fact that they are somewhat out of the way in San Lorenze) ones are Tram Tram (near the tram, naturally—Via dei Reti, 44/46)  and Uno e Bino (Via degli Equi, 58) .




Milano is mostly a modern, industrial city, and, as such, is a completely different story from all the others.  There’s no art there I am particularly interested in—if you exclude hearing great opera at La Scala; and yet, it’s an interesting place.  Here’s a walk that you can do in 2-3 hours (or much more, depending on how much time you want to spend in the stores) that provides a good taste of a major piece of what’s there:


Start at Il Duomo (take the Metro there from just about anywhere) and walk through the Piazza to the left (facing the front of the church) to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II—a wonderful, covered space with stores and cafes (the first mall?).  Continue straight, through the Galleria, diagonally across the Piazza La Scala (with the deceptive uninteresting exterior of that august place to your left) to the Via A. Manzoni, slightly off to your right.  Follow that to the Via Montenapoleone, onto which you take a right.  (NB:  all of these segments are quite short.) 


This brings you to Il Qudrilatero, formed by Via Sant’Andrea, Via della Spiga, Via Borgospesso, and the street you’re on, Via Montenapoleone—which is the area in which are found most of the world’s biggest names in clothing and accessory design who have made Milano the fashion capital of the world.  You can spend as much time here as your interest and your resistance (and/or fabulous wealth) allow.  (At none of these stores will you see a single price tag…does this suggest anything?)   For the brief version, I’d suggest continuing down Via Montenapoleone to Via Sant’Andrea, on which you go left one block to Via della Spiga, on which you go right one block to Corso Venezia.


A left on Corso Venezia takes you into Porta Venezia, and the most exclusive residential district of Milano.  Take a quick right

onto Via San Damiano, and then the next left onto Via Mozart.  Look around.  Here begins a neighborhood that is breath-takingly beautiful and wealthy (although apparently the best stuff is in enclosed courtyards within the center of many of these buildings).  Go one block on Via Mozart, past  Via Serbelloni, to the next left (I don’t know the name of this little street, but it’s only one block long) and take it until it dead ends on Via Cappuccini.  Directly ahead of you, across the street and a little to the left, is a black metal fence with a garden behind it—look in:  there are flamingos, peacocks, and other rare birds.  It’s the private garden of a private palazzo of a very wealthy industrialist and his wife (who, in their 80s, live there alone—except for throngs of servants)…and it is a trip!  Take a left on the Via Cappuccini to the Via Serbelloni; take a short right, and then right again onto Corso Venezia.  Follow this to the Civico Museo di Storia Naturale (the Natural History Museum).


Take a left at the Museum and enter the Giardini Pubblici (the first of its kind in Europe, 1783) and walk around and enjoy yourself.  Moving through it towards the northwest will lead you to the Piazza della Republica (where you can get the Metro) and continuing through it to the northwest will take you to the Principe di Savoia—which is not only the best hotel to stay at in Milano, but also has a wonderful lobby/lounge (with the most amazing colored glass ceiling) that is really worth seeing (and perhaps having a glass of port and a cigar in).


I was told the Casanova Grill (in the Palace Hotel, directly across the Piazza from Il Principe di Savoia) is the best restaurant in Milano.  It is beautiful, formal, very elegant, and we loved it.  We had (after a glass of champagne and an amuse gueule of some sort of prosciutto and herb thing):  a shared antipasto of foie gras with rose pepper corns and herbs; for i primi, spaghetti with vongole and asparagi for me, and a pasta with a sauce of tomato and crushed yellow peppers for Nancy; for i secondi, costelletto di agnello (simply prepared, but unbelievably good) for me, and a filetto di manza (fillet mignon) for Nancy; with all of the above we drank a Sassacaia ’93—which was both wonderful and relatively reasonable; then a shared course of assorted rare Piemontese cheeses (too unusual for any name recognition, but exquisite) with a glass of port; and finished off with a tiramisu and espresso and cappuccino.  Expensive, but heavenly!  Reservations necessary; tel. 29000803.


A less rarified, but quite delicious and sophisticated alternative is Da Giacomo.  The specialties here are fish and shell fish (although there are other wonderful alternatives): the linguini alla Giacomo is a veritable biology lesson in crustaceans, and incredibly delicious.  There is a very interesting and well-priced wine list. All the food was exceptional, and the dessert cart was not to be believed! Stylish dress (jacket and tie), and reservations essential.  Tel. 76023313. Via Sottocorno, 6, at via Cellini.

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