03. Early Europe & Colonial Americas, 04. Later Europe & Americas, Art & Humanities, Europe, Italy, Travel

AP Art History Hunting in Florence, Italy

AP Art History Hunting in Florence, Italy

Like Rome, Florence is another city dripping in art history – the city itself is like an outdoor museum! Many of the art in Florence (in articles in my links) are outside the 250 but still incredibly important and famous (like Michelangelo’s David). Happy hunting!

Travel Tip: Many of the best Renaissance art is in the Uffizi Galleries. I highly recommend buying the Firenze Card to skip the line and get free entrance and Florence’s best sites.

Content Area #3: Early Europe and Colonial Americas

#67. Pazzi Chapel

The Pazzi Chapel is located in the cloister to the side of the church of Santa Croce. Although the piece from the 250 is just the Pazzi Chapel, you have GOT to visit the whole church of Santa Croce! It is considered one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture, completed by the master Filippo Brunelleschi, and the burial site of Galileo Galilei. The chapel follows the more reductive and geometric formula of Renaissance architecture (a great contrast to the business of gothic cathedrals). The plan of the chapel is a rectangular topped by a rounded dome; this harkens back to the Pantheon in Rome (also in the 250). The walls are white plaster with rich blue glazed terracotta tondos done by Lucca della Robbia.

  • Location: Basilica di Santa Croce, Piazza Santa Croce 16
  • Cost: 8
  • Opening Times: Monday – Saturday 9:30am – 5:30 pm; Sunday & religious holidays 12:30am – 5:45 pm
Read more: The Churches of Florence

*Note: this place is a working Catholic church so visit times may be altered due to liturgical celebrations. Taking photos during mass may be forbidden, but if it’s not, it’s kind of rude. Go grab a coffee, walk around, and come back in 40 minutes.

#69. David (Donatello)

This unassuming, smaller than life-sized male nude bronze doesn’t look like much, but it is monumental for art history. Donatello’s David is the first male nude since antiquity. It was commissioned by Cosimo de’Medici for his palace in the heart of Florence (know know as the Medici-Ricardi Palace & totally worth a visit for the Magi Chapel). David from the Old Testament book of Samuel was a long-standing symbol for Florence. The Florentine republic saw herself as the underdog (David) next to the other powerful monarchies and the Papal States (Goliath). The Medici, as essentially de facto rules of Florence, were using art to convey their allegiance to the people of Florence. Although the sculpture was made for a private home, the palace was anything but simply domestic. Donatello’s bronze David stood high upon an elevated base and visible when the main entry to the palace was open to visitors.

  • Location: Bargello National Museum, Via del Proconsolo 4
  • Cost: 12
  • Opening Times: March 19-July 31 daily 8:45am-5pm & Tuesday 10:00am-6:00pm
Read more: The Davids of Florence from a “Dummy”

#70. Palazzo Rucellai

Palazzo Rucellai is the secular counterpart to the Pazzi Chapel. It exemplifies the geometric regularity of the Renaissance. Like most Renaissance pieces, Palazzo Rucellai draws inspiration from Ancient Rome, this time the three stories are reminiscent of the Colosseum in Rome (also part of the 250). Palazzo Rucellai is representative of urban architecture. Florence at the time was a republic in which wealthy families had to balance showing off their wealth (in the interior) with republican austerity on the exterior. The structure of Palazzo Rucellali emphasized strength without being fortress-like, like the urban “castles” of wealthy families during the Middle Ages (San Gimignano is probably the best example of this). On the lower level (not visible in the photo above) are benches for visitors to the palace and they still provide a great seat today.

  • Location: 3 Via del Purgatorio
  • Cost: FREE
  • Opening Times: always “open”

*Note: the AP Art History image is just of the exterior so no need to go inside, because I can’t find any information about visiting inside anyways.

#71. Madonna and Child with Two Angels

The Virgin Mary appears front and center, gazing at the infant Jesus with two mischievous-looking angels on either side. Rather than the aloof and two-dimensional figure found in medieval and early Renaissance paintings, Mary here looks more like a loving (yet still too perfect) mother. So much so in fact that her halo is faintly visible above her elaborate contemporary hairstyle. She sits in front of a window looking out onto a countryside scene.

#72. Birth of Venus

The image now known as the “birth” of Venus is not her birth at all, but the goddess of love and beauty arriving on the island of Cyprus. Depending on the legend, she was born of the foam created from the castration of the Titan Uranus. She is being blown ashore by personifications of the winds upon a giant seashell. Her post is known as as Venus pudica (“modest Venus”), shyly covering her genitalia. This type of image harkens back to ancient Greek sculpture of nude goddesses. It is believed this piece, along with Primavera, was made for a Medici wedding.

#78. Entombment of Christ

Santa Felicita is on the Oltrarno (across the Arno river), so a bit outside the main “historic center” but such a worthwhile visit. It’s super easy to pop into this little-visited church on your way to the Palazzo Pitti. The chapel in which this painting is housed is (at least was when I visited) closed via a gate and you have to pay to turn on a light. The light is super harsh and makes it hard to enjoy. The crowded scene Pontormo has painted of Christ being carried off the cross (not actually being entombed yet) is full of emotional figures top to bottom. In order to make the piece “work” Pontorno has place the figures on a very steep hill so that it can fill the vertical composition. The colors are almost pastel and don’t really match the somber scene depicted here. This piece is a clear departure from the logical format of the Renaissance. It is a Mannerist piece, which is a style that ushers in the much more dramatic Baroque.

Full disclosure: I hate this piece and it is even more overwhelming and garish in person.

  • Location: Capponi Chapel, Church of Santa Felicita, Piazza Santa Felicita 3
  • Cost: FREE (but to turn on the light to see the artwork you have to pay + I like to give a donation in any church I go into)
  • Opening Times: Monday – Saturday 9:30am – 12:30pm & 3:30pm – 5:30am

*Note: this place is a working Catholic church so visit times may be altered due to liturgical celebrations. Taking photos during mass may be forbidden, but if it’s not, it’s kind of rude. Go grab a coffee, walk around, and come back in 40 minutes.

Read more: Fun in Florence

#96. Fruit and Insects

Rachel Ruysch was a Dutch painting who focused on still-lifes of flowers. Her father was an anatomist and botanist, which illuminates her access to, and specialization, in vegetal subjects in her art. This painting is not a specifically floral still-life but has deep symbolism: eggs = new life; lizard eating an insect = death; corn = food from the Americas; grapes & wheat = the Eucharist. Still-lifes in general are often also associated with memento mori (Latin for “a reminder of death”). Although the fruit here is frozen in time, we know the fruit will rot and the life cycle (eggs to death) will continue after the paint dries. Ruysch lived into her 80s and created about a hundred paintings during her long career.

  • Location: Rembrandt Room, Uffizi Gallery (cannot find this on the Uffizi website, but a bunch of others sources says it’s there)
  • Cost: 20€ (part of the Firenze Card)
  • Opening Times: Tuesday-Sunday 8:15am – 6:30pm
Read more: Falling in Love with Still-life Painting

#80. Venus of Urbino

What seems like a simple seductive image is so much more. I am not going to do into all the content here but briefly, this is a renaissance interpretation of the “Venus pudica” (just like the Birth of Venus). This piece is from the artist Titian, Venetian artist, the Venetian Renaissance has some distinct qualities that separate it from Tuscan art, most notably the use of deeper and richer colors. This artwork, which may come to a surprise, is about marriage and fidelity – there is deep symbolism to this piece (yes, even the puppy). This piece is such a great example of women being objects on display versus agents of their own destinies.

Read more: Florence: The city of rebirth, art, & the Medici

Content Area #4: Later Europe and Americas

#105. Self-Portrait (Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun)

In Florence, Vigée Le Brun admired the famous collection of artists’ self-portraits in the Corridoio Vasariano at the Uffizi. Asked to add her own image, she later wrote: “I painted myself with a palette in hand, in front of a canvas on which I am drawing the queen in white chalk.” Both her subject and her elegant black silk gown were intended to evoke the power and prestige of her position as a painter to the king of France. The scarlet sash adds a bold touch.

*Note: The Vasari Corridor was closed in 2016 for renovations & will open in 2022.


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