There is no doubt that the most beautiful jewel of the Renaissance is the spectacular city of Florence where one can find the monuments and most important art works produced by this unexpected cultural phenomenon between the late fourteenth century and the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. We are focusing especially on the buildings and monuments located on the north bank of the Arno River as this was where the city of Florence was first established. We made our way to the church of Santa María Carmine where above one of its altars is the amazing Brancacci Chapel, regarded as the first jewel before the Classical period, since it was started in the second decade of the fourteenth century by Masaccio and Massolino and completed by Filipo Lippi and his son Filippino towards the end of the fourteenth century.
Then we visited the magnificent building of the Temple of the Holy Spirit which, like all religious buildings of that era, was built on a Romanesque structure with only its interior and its main façade having been changed by the first contributions of the Italian Gothic. From there we went up to the hill where there is the church of San Miniato al Monte, thought to be the first church built in Florence. Although its architectural value is of low quality, its significance was considerable, because it was established there as the first monastery in Florence that served as a location for supporting the men who collected taxes from the Germanic monarchs controlling Italian territory. However, the view of the city of Florence that can be captured from the outside of this church is undoubtedly the most beautiful of all the views from the seven hills surrounding this fantastic city.
We finished off the first day by going back across the Arno towards the south, with a visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella located in the historic center of Florence, which is regarded as a sacred place for burying the city’s top aristocrats. Although the building where that church is located has been partially converted into a museum, like all churches of the Middle Ages it has very limited artistic content, as the façade and interior of its geometric Romanesque structure were hardly changed by pre-gothic techniques. However, the vast majority of the tombs across the length and breadth of the floor of this church are definitely true works of art; each of the families buried there tried to give greater prominence to the family’s moral, religious and cultural character, with amazing images and symbols that can be considered virtual icons of a remarkable concept that was several centuries ahead of the reality of the time.
The next day we went to the famous Bargello Museum which is a beautiful and authentic Italian Gothic edifice built in 1255 as the city jail. In the mid-nineteenth century it was converted into the main repository of the artworks of the most important Renaissance sculptors such as Donatello, Luca de la Robbia, Michelangelo and Benvenuto Cellini. It was amazing to be able to see within a few square meters of the small museum the famous Perseus by Cellini, Michelangelo’s Tondo Pitti, the bronze bust of Cosimo I by Cellini, and then in the Hall of Donatello the two statues of David in bronze and marble.
Also fantastic is the collection of items made of bronze, ivory, wax, enamel and various materials that belonged to the Medici family and the numerous pieces of Egyptian, Libyan, Persian and Etruscan jewellery, and jewellery from the oldest ethnic groups that have existed in the history of humankind. But the most wonderful thing about this amazing and most legitimately Italian gothic building - not found in any other area of the city - has been the great talent of its administrators who have selected certain works that are most representative of the great masters of Renaissance sculpture, solving the problem of moving on different floor levels with great precision and care.
Addendum: The intention behind this brief summary of the first part of my visit to Florence is to arouse the interest of current and new generations in the incredible discoveries made by Italian masters of the Renaissance that now seem like the most obvious things in the world since the invention of photography, film, television and now virtual images.
As I am from a slightly older generation than baby boomers, I cannot understand how in a holy city like Florence the most beautiful spaces, such as the Piazza Santa Croce, are being destroyed in order to present spectacles of sound, light and shadow in a place where the most intrinsic art is on the way to extinction.