Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Off the beaten path in Florence

When the crowds of tourists surrounding the Duomo, Uffizi and David get to you, spread your wings and get out to some of the lesser known, but not in any stretch, less significant sites of Florence.

There are a gazillion museums in Florence, but only a handful postdate the Renaissance. Start your circuit with the modern sculptures at Museo Marino Marini (Piazza San Pancrazio; www.museomarinomarini.it), a spacious and airy museum that features the work of only one Italian artist, known for his stylized equestrian statues. The museum is a Florentine anomaly: not only is the art from the 20th century, but there's also a good chance you'll have the whole place to yourself. Take full advantage. Open stairways, balconies and landings let you examine Marini's work from every angle.

No one packs a house like Michelangelo. To see the artist's Pietà in Rome, you could wrestle the crowd in St Peters and try to glimpse the top of Mary's head. Or you could visit the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (Piazza del Duomo, 9; www.operaduomo.firenze.it; 6 euros) and walk right up to the Pietà that Michelangelo carved just before his death. He never finished it (the woman on the left was completed by another artist). The museum, oddly empty and under the shadow of the duomo, also houses Donatello's masterpiece, Mary Magdalene, and the original baptistry door panels by Ghiberti.

The Museo de San Marco (Piazza San Marco) makes a compelling case for living as a monk. It's a former Dominican convent from the 15th century and, today, the stone hallways are as quiet as, well, a monastery. Inside, you can see the frescoes of ”The Last Judgment” and “The Annunciation” by Fra Angelico, but the highlights are the rooms — each with a small window and a fresco painting by him from the 1400s. The frescoes depict biblical scenes meant to encourage religious contemplation by the monk who lived in the cell.

You can't go far in Florence before you bump into something from Ferdinand I de'Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany from 1587 to 1609. In this case, it's the Museo dell'Opifico delle Pietre Dure (Via degli Alfani, 78), a humble gallery of stone mosaics and inlays. In the 1500s, the museum was a workshop that Ferdinand I set up to teach craftsmen the art of stonework. And the results are impressive: mosaics of precious and semiprecious materials like lapis, mother of pearl, slate, jade and seashells and so detailed you'll swear you're looking at a photograph.

The Piazza della Santissima Annunziata is Florence's prettiest square. On one side is the Spedale degli Innocenti (Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, 12), a 1419 beauty by the Renaissance architect and whiz kid Filippo Brunelleschi, which combines huge archways, Corinthian columns and geometric grace. A bronze statue of Ferdinand I by Giambologna is in the square's center. It depicts Ferdinand on a horse forever staring at the second floor of Palazzo Budini Gattai (www.budinigattai.com) — the former bedroom, locals will tell you, of his true love.

After a half-century of neglect, the 10-acre Villa Bardini Gardens (Via de Bardi 1r; bardinipeyron.it) reopened in 2005, and well-heeled Florentines now stroll its terraced flower and vegetable gardens. The sweeping hilltop views offer spectacular views of the Duomo, Santa Croce and Fiesole. If there’s time to linger, pop into the Roberto Capucci Museum in the 17th-century Villa Bardini, which recently opened as the impressive fashion archive of the Roman designer (Villa Bardini, 2, Costa San Giorgio; www.fondazionerobertocapucci.com).

In a town of blockbuster art shows, seek out smaller gems. Among the unsung works is Benozzo Gozzoli’s “Procession of the Magi,” which was recently restored to its Technicolor glory at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi (Via Camillo Cavour, 1; www.palazzo-medici.it;). Commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici in 1459, the fresco turned the chapel into a vision of paradise, with cheetahs and birds, as imagined by the newly emerging merchant class. Book ahead — the intimate space is open only to small groups.

Taking a page from Paris  (www.paris.fr/parisplages) and Berlin, an urban beach has washed up on the Arno River by San Niccolò, a wide swath of sand studded with beach umbrellas, deck chairs and bikini-clad Florentines. Unlike the beaches in those other cities, however, the sand here is a natural phenomenon, an ideal spot for a sun-drenched espresso while watching the city’s younger set take their city back.

Contributions by DANIELLE PERGAMENT and ONDINE COHANE the NewYork Times

1 comment:

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