Firenze: Un Vero Piacere!

London F50

Each year the History of Art A2 students make a trip to Florence to study sculpture, painting and architecture in situ. This year, for the first time, we were joined by a small group of English literature students, and their Head of Department, Richard Martin, who were looking to become more aware of Florence’s literary heritage as well as enjoy the cultural delights of the city.

Consequently, it was a large group of 21 students and four staff who met at Gatwick for our long anticipated trip to a city that still holds an extraordinary fascination in this age of snapgram and instabook! It is an incredible place for students to enhance their art knowledge and language skills and never ceases to provide new and exciting things to see.

This year we had a day longer than usual but it was a still a rush to see everything that we wanted to. Unfortunately, for what seemed like the first time ever the weather was unkind to us but everyone was determined not to let this affect what is the highlight of the year for the Art history students. This is for many reasons not the least of which is that there is no substitute for seeing a work of art in situ not only in terms of understanding but also in terms of remembering it for exams!

After our flight from Gatwick to Pisa we took a minicab to Florence  bound for the Hotel Perseo, our regular destination, just by the Dome. In Florence food is at the heart of everything so after a long day of travel we took the students out to dinner at our new favourite restaurant ‘Za Za’,near Brunelleschi’s’ San Lorenzo, where many students were introduced to the delights of truffle oil on everything !

Wednesday was our first full day and an early start, in glorious sunshine, with our reservation at the Bargello at 0815 to see its wonderful collection of early renaissance sculptures such as Donatello’s David. After a second breakfast it was time to explore the Accademia and Michelangelo’s David -  always a highlight.

After lunch we continued the early renaissance sculpture theme with a visit to the Museo del Opera del Duomo with its magnificent collection of Ghiberti doors for the Baptistry as well as some truly sensational sculptures by Donatello such as his Repentant Magdalene.

Thursday saw another early start at Michelangelo’s magnificent Medici Chapel in San Lorenzo followed by Brunelleschis’s earlier Medici burial chapel, the Old Sacristy, on the opposite transept with the beautiful tomb of Piero de Medici by Verrocchio. In the space of a single church students were able to see the beginning and end of the Renaissance style and its exploration  of the antique through the Christianisation of pagan imagery.

It was still only 11 o’clock in the morning when we arrived at San Marco to explore Michelozzo’s magnificent architecture and Fra Angelico’s deeply pious and didactic frescoes that adorn each of the monk’s cells.

After eating lunch outside Santa Maria Novella from where we could admire the beauty of its façade we explored the interior with its magnificent, if over restored, Trinity by Masaccio. After a brief visit to the ancient SMN Pharmacia to stock up on presents for loved ones it was back to the hotel for a well-earned rest.

Friday was another early start and a big day exploring renaissance and mannerist paintings at the Uffizi where there were many treats in store in particular the famous Primavera and Birth of Venus by Botticelli, as well as works by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca and Filippo Lippi. A particular highlight here was Leonardo’s Annunciation which the students particularly admired although it could have been because there were plentiful seats nearby! The rest of the day was spent looking at sculptures in the Piazza della Signoria.

Saturday was our final day and after a very pleasant walk to the Brancacci Chapel we were able to  to be close up to Masaccio’s masterpiece The Tribute Money where his style and technique could be fully appreciated at close distance. The rest of the day was spent exploring Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel where again I was reminded of Lord Clark’s famous comment ‘that I do not know what civilisation is but I know when I am looking at it and I am looking at it now!’ On Sunday morning an happy but exhausted group of students arrived back in London with new memories and new friends made and hopefully a  lifelong love for this extraordinary city. Thanks again to Nora and Petrouchka for their help and company and to Richard Martin  - Un Vero Piacere!

John Cameron