Art History Trip: Florence

London F43

The spring trip to Florence, the cradle of the renaissance, is always eagerly anticipated and this year was no exception. Once the mocks were finished we were all ready to see what we have been studying in situ. Students are always excited about it even if they are not sure how much they will be amazed by it all. It is always fantastic to see what we have studied in the classroom finally make sense within the geographic context of what is still essentially a medieval town (with added ice cream!). This year instead of flying to Pisa we flew directly to Florence which made the journey less of an expedition but did have the benefit of giving us more time in this beautiful city. After arriving at the centrally located Perseo Hotel it was straight out for a late lunch for 14 hungry students.  Once our hunger was satisfied it was time to acclimatise to the rhythms of the city and introduce the students to it. In particular the need to look up to not miss architectural delights such as the magnificent Duomo and the imposing Medici Palace. The Museo del Opera was our first stop to see some of the masterpieces of renaissance sculpture such as Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise and Michelangelo’s Florentine Pieta. Usually we go up the Dome early in the morning but this trip I decided on something different  - a walk up its 463 steps to the top during dusk. I had a hunch it might be a magical experience and it was. If there is such a thing as a perfect moment then I suspect that was it as we took in the extraordinary panorama of a medieval city lit by twinkling lights.

We woke next morning ready to explore the city in the morning light and fortunately the weather was extremely kind to us. Our first stop was another great Florentine icon – Michelangelo’s David whose sheer scale still astounds. Then it was on to the Bargello; ‘why are we visiting an old prison’ questioned one student to which the answer was soon apparent in Donatello’s two Davids as well as his St George and Verrocchio’s David as well as a few Michelangelos!

During the next three days we visited churches, museums and galleries revising all our key case studies for the A level exam such as the Brancacci Chapel, San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapel. Particular highlights this year were the Pazzi Chapel and the sprawling convent of San Marco where I was able to practice my impersonation of Kenneth Clarke in ‘Civilisation’! Of particular interest this year was the Uffizi which has undergone a very beneficial renovation. This year we had invested in radio mics, which made the experience more productive for everyone as well as making it easier to keep control of enthusiastic students and their natural desire to explore the many rooms of this extraordinary gallery.  At the Uffizi, it was particularly interesting to see The Adoration of the Magi, as it is such a lavish work whose vivid colours can only really be appreciated in person.

Of course it was not all art! Mealtimes were a chance for everyone to relax, eat delicious pasta and ice cream and for the students to get to know one another better followed by walks through the city. Everyone felt very fortunate to be there as I did to have such great assistance from Petrouchka Stafford and Nora Alihajdaraj. As we made our way to the airport even the fact that our flight was cancelled did not dampen our spirits! We had packed in a huge amount during a relatively short space of time in which we had experienced the culture of this beautiful city – I suspect they will all be back one day.

John Cameron

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