Sunday 26th July What a privilege to wake up in Florence and be very quickly surrounded by the some of the central icons of European Renaissance culture. Our hotel is just two blocks from the peaceful convent of San Marco which is where we began today. The convent, eventually taken over by Dominicans, became the home of the Black Friars amongst whom was numbered Girolama Savaronola, a reformer who transformed the lives of many in Florence and indeed the life of Florence itself until his opponents seized their opportunity and had him arrested and burnt at the stake, like so many reformers in Western Europe.
The Convent also is the final resting place of Giovanni Pico della Mirand0la, the creative and thoughtful Renaissance linguist, writer, theologian and thinker who so deeply influenced John Colet, Erasmus and Thomas More. We sat and prayed in the early morning quiet of the Convent church which had a beautiful pipe organ being quietly played. Very few people were present and those who were became very quiet and respectul. Angelico’s painting of “the Three Marys at the Cross” is a thoughtful aid to reflection The whole Convent is a place of reflection. The wonderful library has many ancient codici and illuminated manuscripts beautifully displayed and the rooms of the monks are all open to view on the second floor. Each simple room has a window and a wonderful Gospel fresco by Fra Angelico. The light was difficult and the photos won’t work very well but again there was a spirit of peace about the place. Some of the cells including Cosimo Medici’s had two rooms so there was obviously a pecking order.
Fra Angelico’s frescoes and amazing paintings are on display throughout the convent and they include “the musical angels” which surround the “Madonna della Stella painting. They are too small to photograph but each angel plays a different instrument. Angelico’s faith shines through his paintings. Like Giotto his work is characterised by simplicity and feeling and the New Testament characters come to meet you as you study them. The convent also has a simple labyrinth reflection garden which invites prayer and thought.
This place would have been enough for one day but we moved on down the Via Cavour which eventually turns into the Via Martell so without expecting it one looks left and is confronted by the shining green and marble height and bulk of Brunelleschi’s amazing Duomo. In the past we have approached this extraordinary cathedral from the Piazza della Signoria with all the amazing statuary and the iconic Palazzo Vecchio so one is “warmed up” to greatness. But to come across the Cathedral sharply as “the next building in the street” literally takes your breath away.
We entered the throng of downtown Florence shopping which was less chaotic and more ordered than Rome and not quite as hot; Ann enjoyed some retail therapy and Richard also replaced the belt he bought in the market in Florence in 1998 and is still wearing. We continued on across the Ponte Vecchio through the milling crowd of photographers, had a simple lunch and launched ourselves almost unwillingly on the ponderous looking might of the Pitti Palace which contains seven museums and the Boboli Gardens. Today we simply “did” the Palatine (late Renaissance and C17-C18th galleries and the royal apartments which were originally Medici appartments, stolen by Napoleon and finally returned to the Lorraine Hapsburg rulers for their final make over (although Napoleon’s bathroom has been retained!) Again we were simply overwhelmed (and exhausted!) by the number of amazingly decorated rooms in which the many hundreds of paintings are displayed including a special display of the work of the Florentine artist Carlo Dolci.
Inevitably we were drawn to the iconic work of Raphael, but a vast collection of Renaissance and succeeding painters was represented…Rubens, Tiziano, Velasquez, Corregio, Tintoretto, Van Dyke and many other wonderful paintings by artists we were not very well acquainted with. The furnishings of the Royal apartments including amazingly huge vases and extraordinarily ornate Baroque tables and chairs and bedroom arrangements are spectacular. We saw the stretch of the immaculately manicured Boboli gardens through the windows and hope to come back and enjoy them before we leave.
On the way home we were up-sold two of the largest ice-creams you could ever imagine which cost a small fortune and which I think have put us off gelato for the rest of our lives. That was not a good decision!