Interested in Renaissance art history? Florence is the center of Renaissance art, and there is no shortage of museums or cathedrals in this city. Grab your walking shoes and an espresso, and get ready to explore!
I remember sitting in my first ever art history course that focused on Florence Renaissance Art at my home university in a hot, stuffy classroom, looking at endless slides of images that all looked the same, memorizing names that all sounded the same, and taking down notes just to keep myself awake.
However, the more Italian and Renaissance art history courses I took, the more interested I became in the subject. Now, I’m in the city of Florence, the center of Renaissance art. One of the best things about studying abroad in Italy for a graphic design & art history student is that almost every week, we visit one of the many cathedrals or museums in Florence, enhancing our studies of Florence Renaissance art. So far, three of my favorite visits include the Church of Santa Maria Novella, The Opera del Duomo Museum, and of course, the Uffizi Gallery, where I had the opportunity to see a plethora of famous art in Florence.
1. Church of Santa Maria Novella
Every time me and my friends walk to and from the train station, we pass this massive building, and every time I wondered what it was. We finally got to go for an afternoon during my Chemistry and the Visual Arts class to enhance our knowledge of Florence Renaissance art. We made our way around the church, with the professor giving us brief explanations of the different painting or sculpting techniques used in each piece.
Two of the most important pieces we saw here that I distinctly remember learning about in classes are: The Trinity by Masaccio and The Crucifix by Giotto.
This painting, The Trinity by Masaccio, is from 1424-1425, and is very significant for Florence art history because it was the first piece that demonstrated mastery of perspective. Interestingly, the whole church was painted over by Giorgio Vasari when he was ordered by Cosimo de’Medici to do so in the 16th century. This painting was only covered by another giant painting, and it was actually uncovered in 1860 when other improvements were being made.
Giotto’s crucifix is hanging in the middle of the church. It was meant to be hanging with open space all around it, to remind viewers of the crucifixion of Christ on the cross. This piece is from 1288-1289, which was early in Giotto’s career. The details of Christ’s hair, blood, and tapestry are especially impressive, making it an important piece in many art history courses.
We made our way to the front of the church towards the end, which was the most impressive part in my opinion. My favorite part of churches are the stained glass windows, and this church was not lacking in big, beautiful, colorful windows. At the front of the church, there were multiple areas dedicated to different, wealthy, high-priority families during Renaissance Florence who paid for them back in the day. Here, there were floor-to-ceiling paintings of different biblical and everyday scenes, with light flowing in from the colorful windows. The detail that each scene had was most impressive to me.
There was even a courtyard, with more frescos lining all of the walls, as you walked along the building.
2. The Opera del Duomo Museum
This past week, my art history class took a trip to The Opera del Duomo Museum. It was a little door next to a cafe, across from the massive structure that is The Duomo, the centerpiece of Renaissance art in the city of Florence. I didn’t even know this museum existed, but once we walked through the little door, I was in awe. The space is massive and perfectly lit to illuminate all of the works.
This museum was founded in 1891 to conserve the works of art that have been removed from the Duomo and the Baptistery.
Some of the highlights I saw here include Michelangelo’s Pieta, which was from around 1550 and which used to stand in the Duomo. It is believed that he meant for it to be used in his own tomb.
Sala delle Cantorie was another important part we saw. These were two lofts that were once in the Duomo that people would sit in during mass. One was by Luca Della Robbia, and the other by Donatello.
If you keep walking to the top, you even get an incredible view of the Duomo, in the heart of the city of Florence.
3. The Uffizi Gallery
There is no better feeling than recognizing works of art you learned about in art history courses when getting the opportunity to see them in person. Anyone with even the smallest bit of knowledge about art history would (hopefully) recognize some of the most famous works of Florence art found here from Botticelli such as Primavera or The Birth of Venus.
Or maybe Venus of Urbino by Titian?
Medusa by Caravaggio?
How about Laocoön and his Sons by Baccio Bandinelli?
Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisa Gentileschi?
These are only some of the famous pieces I was able to see because this gallery is GIANT. Like, spend 6 hours here and probably still not see everything GIANT. It holds some of the most significant pieces of Florence Renaissance art ever, and is the best place to see famous art in the city of Florence. I left feeling humbled and very lucky to have had the opportunity to see these works of art in person, especially after learning about them in a classroom setting.
For some more information about the famous and magnificent Uffizi Gallery, check out this article dedicated to this massive museum:
Check out this map of the city of Florence to see the location of the many famous churches, museums, and galleries in the magnificent city of Florence.