Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Palazzo Strozzi in Florence

I am not a big fan of large, overcrowded museums. They draw tourists who are trying to check off the “important sites,” and who stand in front of the major pieces of art, taking pictures that will come out worse than the post cards available in the store. This is especially true since I live in New York City, and have The Met, MOMA and the Whitney at my beck and call. When I travel, I am much more likely to look for smaller exhibits. I mean, I have been to Florence three times, and I have yet to visit the Uffizi or the Academia. Yet I have seen amazing art on these trips, and this one was no exception.

In order to fulfill my passion for walking old cities and visiting smaller museums I usually try to stay as close to the center of the city I visit as I can afford. On this trip to Florence The Amazing Ms. D and I chose the Hotel Olimpia, which is on the Piazza della Repubblica. The Olimpia is a nice 3.5-star hotel that occupies the top two floors of a building built in 1800. The beds are comfortable, the ceilings are tall and the staff is extremely friendly. It is not the fanciest place to stay, but at a rate of around $100/night in a great location, this was a good choice.

Palazzo Strozzi by saját tulajdonú képeslap [Public domain] via wikicommons

Palazzo Strozzi by Sailko [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]
Staying in the center of town makes it easy to walk around and discover wonderful exhibits. One that I found was at the Palazzo Strozzi. The Palazzo Strozzi was built at the end of the 15th century by the Strozzi family, rivals to the Medicis. It is a large, freestanding, stone structure with an open ground floor that includes an open space at its center. Today, the building is home to the Institute of Humanist Studies, and the Fondazzione Palazzo Strozzi, which organizes exhibitions of art works.

Portrait of Verrocchio by Nicolas de Larmessin [Public domain] via wikicommons
My visit to the Palazzo Strozzi was to see an exhibit celebrating the life and work of Andrea del Verrocchio. Verrocchio was a painter, sculptor and goldsmith during the 15th century in Florence. He may have apprenticed under Donatello and/or under Fra Filippo Lippi. He ran a workshop in Florence where Leonardo da Vinci and Pietro Perugino were among his students. While his work has not been well known, his influence has lasted for centuries.
Woman with Flowers by Verrocchio

David Triumphant by Verrocchio

David Triumphant with sketches by da Vinci

Madonna and Child by Verrocchio

The exhibit was an excellent collection of works by Verrocchio and his contemporaries and students. It began with some of his sculptures, including one of David, along with a drawing of that statue by da Vinci. This joining together of works was done throughout the exhibit. There was a cornucopia of Madonna and Childs, along with angels and saints galore. It was an excellent exploration of one artist and his legacy.

Madonna and Child with Two Angels by Botticelli

Winged Boy with Dolphin by Verrocchio

Saint Bernadino Restores the sight of a Blindman by Pietro Perugino

Staying near the Piazza della Repubblica also put us only three blocks from the Auditorium of Santo Stefano al Ponte. Sitting just a block from the Ponte Vecchio, this decommissioned 12th century church is now a concert and exhibition space. We saw “Van Gogh & I Maldetti” (Van Gogh and the Damned). This was a multi media show high-lighting the works of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani, and Chaim Soutine. Their works were set to classical music and projected onto the walls, ceiling and floor of the building. This immersive show makes one feel as thought they were inside the paintings. In fact, there is also a VR experience that literally takes you on a tour through Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Modigliani’s Workshop. Van Gogh & I Maldetti is similar to several shows that are being staged in cities around Europe. Last year I attended a different show while in Berlin. This is a great experience and I highly recommend seeing one of these exhibits if you have the opportunity.


When you are thinking about traveling, look beyond the large museums, and seek out the smaller galleries. They have great shows of works that aren’t often seen.

Getting There:
Palazzo Strozzi – Piazza Strozzi 50123 Firenze. Tickets for the Verrocchio Exhibit are €13/10.
Auditorium of Santo Stefano di Ponte - Piazza Santo Stefano 1, 50122, Florence, Italy. Admission varies depending on the event.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Florence is a city best seen by walking

Ponte Vecchio from Piazzele Michelangelo

As I started to write this piece, I was enjoying my last day in Florence. I might seem counter-intuitive to write my first piece in this series on the last day, but it was at the end of my trip that the themes of my Italy writings came together. I had been in Italy for almost two weeks, and this was my sixth day in Florence. I started my tips there, and I returned to Florence to end it. Now, some of you might ask “Why Florence?” If so, you have probably never been there.
The Arno at night
To me, Florence sits at the heart of Italy. It sat along major trade routes between the north and the south of the country, and its role as the banking center during the renaissance has made it a center of trade and culture for over 500 years. As I walked around the “Centro Storico” that history was all around.

The streets are narrow and winding, with sidewalks that can barely fit one person, let alone two. The buildings come right to the edge, with courtyards inside. I walked along, looking in the store windows, amazed at styles that definitely are not sold in NYC. Even the big names sell clothes and shoes that I have never seen at home. While the streets are narrow, they never feel dark. I am not sure if that is because of the lighter colors used in building materials, or if it is the fact that they are mostly under five stories tall. It could be that the curving streets allow light in as they change directions. Streets open into small plazas every couple of blocks. Not the large major plazas that attract huge crowds, but small places that give a walker the chance to rest, catch one’s breath, and take in some sun.

The Duomo looms large

A wall of sandles near Piazza San Lorenzo

Delivery bicycle

Botega di Chianti near the Arno

Keep walking and you will get to one of the large piazzas in the old city. There are five major piazzas, each with its own feel. Starting at the east, Piazza Santa Croce, in front of the Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze. In addition to being one of the most beautifully decorated churches, it is the final resting place of many of Italy’s most famous artists and philosophers. Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli are just three of the famous people that you can visit there.

Basilica di Santa Croce

Walk about 800 m west and you get to Piazza della Signoria. This plaza is in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall. Built at the turn of the 14th century, this palace was created to reflect the importance of the city. Today, the pallazo houses a museum, and the piazza is the easiest place to see a version of Michelangelo’s David, along with the Neptune Fountain, designed by Baccio Bandinelli and sculpted by Bartolomeo Ammaannati. There is also the Logia dei Lanzi, which is home to over a dozen renaissance statues. The Piazza della Signoria is one of the largest tourist draws in Florence, and the crowds can be overbearing, you might want to get there early in the morning, before things get crazy.

Neptune's Fountain


A small part of the crows photographing David

Perseus with Madusa's Head

A short walk (500 m) north of Piazza della Signoria is the Piazza del Duomo, home to two of Florence’s iconic structures. The Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistry of St. John) and the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower) or Duomo. The baptistry was built around 1100 ACE and is best know for its carved doors and mosaic ceiling. The Duomo was begun in 1296, and finished in 1436 when Fillipo Brunelleschi’s amazing dome was completed. The piazza is where you will find a beautiful campanile designed by Giotto. As with the Piazza della Signoria, Piazza del Duomo draws huge crowds.

The Batistry and the Duomo

Gioto's Campanile

Duomo at night

The Duomo from Piazzele Michelangelo

A short 200m south of the Batistero is the Piazza della Repubblica. This public square is an early example of urban renewal. The area was originally home to Roman Forum, and then to the old market and Jewish Ghetto. In the late 1800’s a plan was developed to demolish the old buildings in this area, and a new square was created, along with the buildings that line its edges. Most noticeable are the porticos and triumphant arch along the western edge of the piazza.

Carousel ticket booth

Picci Family Carousel

Finally, there is the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, which is a 550 m walk west from Piazza della Republica. This is another beautiful space, in front of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Novella, a beautiful church and convent. There is plenty of seating in the recently redone piazza, and crowds are not as intense here as in some of the other squares.
Catedrale di Santa Maria Novella

Of course, no walk through Florence would be complete without a trip across the Ponte Vecchio. The old bridge across the Arno is home to several dozen jewelry stores, selling high end gold and silver pieces.

Ponte Vecchio

Looking down the Arno

Ponte Vecchio from Piazele Michelangelo
Ponte Vecchio at night

One of the shops on Ponte Vecchio

These piazzas may be the “main attractions,” but really Florence is a great place to wander. Just turning down random streets and alleys, can bring you some fascinating finds. There is Dante’s house and church, or a workshop for restoration of statuary. Or you might just find a quiet café to sit in and enjoy an espresso or cappuccino (which they now serve all day). I strongly urge you to make time in your schedule to just walk the city. 
Restoration workshop

Street artist

Copy of David at Piazzele Michelangelo