Tuesday 27 July
This morning we woke to a perfect Summer day, not to hot just fresh and perfect..our last full day in Florence.
After brekky we set our sites on the Bargello, Florence’s National Museum of Applied Arts and Sculpture. Built as the Palazzo of the City Official in the late C15th the building later became a prison for 300 years before being returned to its true status on the Piazza della Signora in the C19th.
Some of the world’s most amazing sculptures are here including Michelangelo’s Bacchus and Madonna and Child with young John the Baptist, David – Apollo and a bust of Brutus. Among many major works by Cellini the Museum includes Narcissus, Ganymede,Danae and her Son Perseus, and the base of the real Perseus. The actual huge bronze of Perseus holding the head of the Hydra he had cut off takes pride of place on a copy of the base in the Piazza Signora. Reading Cellini’s biography on the plane on the way to Europe it seems that Perseus occupied Celini’s mind for just about all of the last nine years of his life. Perhaps the star of this collection is the fine Mannerist bronze of Mercury by Giambologna.
On the second floor are many examples of Donatello’s sculptural genius including his rather effete or even androgynous bronze David, and a second marble David. Here also is Donatello’s original St George, the one on the exterior of the Orsanmichele Church being a copy The third floor was closed but we still had plenty of choice with rooms full of maiolica, small bronzes and mediaeval artworks.
After lunch we tracked out to the massive Santa Croce church which contains the tombs of Michelangelo (by Vasari), Galileo, Machiavelli and Bruni along with a giant memorial to Da Vinci and of course many hundreds of tombs of lesser known Italians. Once again the size and scope of this vast edifice defies iPhone photography. The Renaissance Church has a Neo-Gothic facade and campanile both of which were added in the mid C19th, resulting in a very complex architectural structure with a great many chapels, cloisters and a colonnaded verandah by Brunelleschi. The very high Gothic Sanctuary is completely covered in frescoes as are nearly all the other chapels. The Capella Bardi next to the Sanctuary has frescoes by Giotto , somewhat damaged but an excellent fresco of friends comforting the dying St Francis.
The “Chapter House” alongside the church which was severely flooded in 1966 now again holds the significant crucifix by Cimabue which has been restored but still shows signs of damage. It is probably the first painting of the crucifixion which shows the “human” Christ as opposed to the regal glory of Byzantine representations of Christ.
Standing alongside this vast church is Brunelleschi’s domed chapel (the Capella de’ Pazzi) with “perfect” classical proportions, and simple decoration of glazed roundels of the apostles by C15th sculptor Robbia. This was a chapel of significant peace and reflection.
Beneath the church is a basement area which includes an excellent historical survey of the 1966 flood and the restoration work which followed. The five meter deep flood was in fact the fifth and not the deepest flood of the Fiume River since the C14tth. The church is one of the lowest-lying areas of Florence. The vast crypt area of the Church now contains an elegant modern worship centre with modern furniture. This area appears to be the “worshipping heart” of the church.
Finally further halls attached to the Church contain additional frescoes including an impressive fresco of the Last Supper by Taddeo (14th) still in an excellent state of preservation.
There appears to be no end to the artistic treasures of Florence..even walking to the above we came across the Dante study centre office which is now housed in a disused convent but the first two rooms of offices you come to are alive with Renaissance scriptural frescoes. Scratch a wall in Florence and you will find a fresco!