Art History Trip: Florence

London F24

This trip, for MPW Art History students, really is the highlight of the year. The reasons are threefold: firstly, we are able to see what we have studied – which makes exquisite details all the more memorable; secondly, we can see at first hand just how revolutionary the Renaissance style was and, finally, we were guided around this amazing city by a man whose knowledge knows no bounds, our Head of Department, John Cameron, whom we affectionately nicknamed ‘Johnatello’!

After our flight from Gatwick to Pisa, we took the train to Florence, bound for the Hotel Perseo, right in the centre. After a long day of travelling, John, Petrouchka, Paul and Nora took us out for a meal, not without a few quizzical looks at our fondness for chocolate fondant pudding!

Our first destination was the Duomo, where we climbed the 463 steps (enough cardio for the year!) to the top of Brunelleschi's dome. We saw many beautiful things on our trip, but the engineering of the dome and the view from the top was something we will never forget. Next was the Old Sacristy, also by Brunelleschi, situated on the north side of San Lorenzo. Commissioned as a family mausoleum in 1419 by Giovanni de Medici, the design is sombre and austere, subtly conveying the wealth and status of the Medici family. The chapel encourages religious piety through its combination of antique motifs and geometric perfection. After a highly intellectual morning, we then discovered true Italian cuisine: pizza, pasta and gelato ruled supreme for the rest of the week.

We then came face-to-face with the most loved sculpture of all those we had studied in class: Nanni Di Banco’s “Four Crowned Saints” (or, as we dubbed them, “The Four Crowned Lads”), shown in the cover photo of this very magazine. We continued our day in the Medici Palace and the Palazzo Vecchio ending up at the Palazzo Pitti, where some decided to visit the renowned Boboli gardens. We were then left to our own devices to go and discover Florence, which led to most of us buying ice cream and walking romantically along the Arno, taking in the beauty of the city in preparation for the long day ahead.

Friday was the big day: a 20 km walk around Florence, moving from the Brancacci chapel, via the Bargello and the magnificent Santa Croce with its Pazzi chapel, to – finally(!) – the Uffizi itself, where we encountered Botticelli, Piero, Titian and Parmagianino.

The next morning brought another 8am start and it was time to see the most famous sculpture in the world: Michelangelo’s David. It is hard to imagine a finer depiction of the human form than this magnificently composed youth. He also served as a reminder to hit the gym after all the ice cream we had consumed! However, in a way the highlight of the trip was the visit to the convent of San Marco and its beautiful cloisters, home of two famous and contrasting Dominicans: the unassuming Fra Angelico, who painted each monk’s room with contemplative religious scenes, and the fiery fundamentalist monk, Savonarola. 

After eating lunch outside Santa Maria Novella and admiring the beauty of its façade, we discovered its interior, featuring Masaccio’s ‘Trinity’. Then a brief shopping trip offered students the opportunity to burn a hole in their pockets with what remained of their money on the last day. First was the ancient Santa Maria Novella Pharmacia, with its intriguing scents, followed by the Florentine markets, with their fine Italian leather seductively lining the streets. Then it was off to bed before our early flight home in the morning. 

Sarah Cameron, Luke Fletcher, Sophie Sheaf