The Magnificent Art Museums of Florence
Posted: Apr 13, 2017
Florence is high on the list of any Renaissance-loving history and travel buff. The city’s beautiful gardens, churches and squares, not to mention the food and the shopping, make it worth a visit on these merits alone, but where Florence really shines is in its rich history.
The city was one of the cultural centres of the Renaissance. Notable Florentines have included (but are far from limited to) Niccolo Machiavelli, Raphael, Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Lisa del Giocondo (immortalised in the Mona Lisa), Donatello, Amerigo Vespucci and, of course, Leonardo da Vinci.
This meeting of minds and resultant outflux of iconic artistry means that Florence is often known as "the birthplace of the Renaissance", and to this day the city remains a global art capital. What better way to soak up the history of such a magnificent place than with a Florence walking tour, taking you through some of the city’s most impressive museums?
Galleria degli Uffizi
When you think "Italian masters", you’re likely thinking of the sort of thing you’ll find in the Galleria degli Uffizi. The Uffizi is one of the most highly regarded museums there is, with its stellar reputation underpinned by a collection including works by such names as da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli and Michelangelo. Most of the collection once belonged to the famous and powerful Medici family, which ruled Florence for much of the city’s history, and the Uffizi’s collection is just one part of the Medicis’ legacy. You’ll surely see other marks the Medici made upon the city on any Florence walking tour.
The Accademia is a similarly famous museum, containing a number of world-famous works of Italian art. Particularly of note is Michelangelo’s David, possibly the single most well-known sculpture in history.
Should your Florence walking tour take you through this rare collection, you’ll also be lucky enough to see examples of Stradivari masterwork instruments as well as original Cristoforis (Cristofori is credited with having invented the piano). These pieces form part of the most recent section of the Galleria dell’Accademia, known as the Museum of Musical Instruments.
Another part of the Medicis’ legacy, this magnificent palace once housed the ruling family. To this day it remains the biggest and grandest palace in Florence, although it was initially built by Pitti (one of the Medicis’ competitors) as show of one-upmanship to the Medici family.
Most Florence walking tours will focus on the Royal Apartments and the Palatine Gallery. The Royal Apartments housed those who once lived here, while the Palatine Gallery showcases the powerful families’ collections of art. Whereas most museums are curated according to shared themes, or a kind of chronological narrative, the art here is presented exactly as it was in the grand dukes’ day, making for a fantastically eclectic visual feast.
There’s plenty more to see in the Palazzo Pitti, though: for a break from the Renaissance, check out the palace’s well-appointed modern art gallery. You’ll also find two museums dedicated to silver and porcelain pieces respectively, and those with an appreciation for finely made clothes would do well to visit the costume gallery.
The Bargello Museum is another must-see. Filled with stunning sculpture, the Bargello holds the same place in sculpture-lovers’ hearts as the Uffizi holds in the hearts of painting enthusiasts.
Home to Donatello’s bronze and marble statues of David as well as his marble Saint George, the Bargello also boasts a room specifically to house its Michelangelo collection. It is here you’ll find Portrait of Brutus, Bacchus and Tondo Pitti, all fine examples of the master’s work.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
Aficionados of sacred art should look for the Opera Duomo on any Florence walking tour itinerary. Especially recommended is the courtyard, decorated with the panels of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise and a magnificent silver-fronted altar. At odds with the splendour of some of the treasures here is Donatello’s famously gaunt Penitent Magdalene, executed in wood.
The Opera Duomo is also said to house St. John’s finger, making it a popular destination for many Christians. Whether for the art or for its religious significance, be sure not to miss this stunning collection.
Whether you’re a scholar of the Renaissance or just a lover of art and architecture, these are all must-see museums. Next time you’re considering a trip to Italy, you’ll find a Florence walking tour to be the perfect way to enjoy what this city has to offer.
Rose Magers is an Australian-born Italophile and the founder of ArtViva. With an international reputation for excellence and creativity, ArtViva are at the forefront of escorted day tours in Italy. Rose has indulged her own passion for history and the arts by designing an innovative range of exceptional small group day tours and experiences, whether a Florence walking tour, an unforgettable Tuscan cookery class, or an afternoon grape stomping.
Writer and Online Marketing Manager in London.