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An Art Lover's Guide to Florence

By Judith Testa

Publication Year: 2012

No city but Florence contains such an intense concentration of art produced in such a short span of time. The sheer number and proximity of works of painting, sculpture, and architecture in Florence can be so overwhelming that Florentine hospitals treat hundreds of visitors each year for symptoms brought on by trying to see them all, an illness famously identified with the French author Stendhal.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-viii

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pp. 3-8

On a visit to Florence some years ago, I spotted a man carrying with him a list of the most important works of art to be found in the city. At the top was his title: “MASTERPIECES CHECKLIST.” When I asked him how he used this compilation, he explained that he was locating the works on his list, glancing at them, making a check mark next to their names, and then moving on. ...

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1. Historical Background

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pp. 9-28

The background against which the achievements of the Italian Renaissance in general, and the Florentine Renaissance in particular, took place is neither simple nor terribly attractive. We confront an endless series of broken treaties and treacheries, savage pillaging and pointless battles that settled nothing, murders, massacres, assassinations, ...

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2. The Cathedral of Florence: The Cupolone and the Condottieri

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pp. 29-48

The story of the construction of Florence cathedral and its cupolone, or big dome, is an epic drama as well as one of the most important chapters in the history of Western architecture. At every stage the project bristles with overweening human ambitions, bitter personal conflicts, and seemingly insoluble engineering problems accompanied by life-threatening working conditions; ...

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3. The Cathedral Baptistery

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pp. 49-69

No building in Florence is older or more revered than the cathedral baptistery. Florentines of the Renaissance, intent on glorifying their city’s past and perhaps further persuaded by the eighteen massive classical columns that help support the interior, insisted the baptistery was an ancient Roman building later taken over for Christian use. ...

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4. The Brancacci Chapel in S. Maria del Carmine: Where Renaissance Painting Was Born

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pp. 70-80

The shabby exterior of the monastic church of S. Maria del Carmine looks so unpromising that visitors might be tempted to walk right past it. But if they do, they’ll miss one of the city’s greatest treasures: the spot where Renaissance painting was born. ...

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5. The Piazza della Signoria: Power Politics and Sexual Politics in the City Center

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pp. 81-95

For centuries, the Piazza della Signoria was the political heart of Florence. Dominated by the impressive early fourteenth-century Palazzo Vecchio, the city hall, also called Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of the communal government, this great open square also served as the site of public ceremonies ...

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6. Orsanmichele: A Multipurpose Architectural Masterpiece

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pp. 96-111

Nowhere in Florence do city politics and religious fervor intertwine as closely as in the multipurpose building known as Orsanmichele. Part shrine, part grain storehouse, and part showplace for the wealth and political power of the city’s guilds, it covers a square block. ...

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7. The Ospedale degli Innocenti: Europe’s First Foundling Hospital

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pp. 112-118

No problem of the Renaissance era moves the heart more than the abandonment of newborn children. Innocent, helpless, forsaken, and most often female, left by the roadside, in a ditch, or on a doorstep, the prey of animals and ill-intentioned individuals eager to sell them to brothels, their plight inspired a desire to see these gettatelli (little throwaways) cared for properly. ...

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8. The Monastery of San Marco: Piety and Politics in a Cloistered World

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pp. 119-128

Few places in Florence seem more distant from the concerns, pressures, and values of the secular world than the Dominican monastery of San Marco. Although its exterior is undistinguished and it faces a busy piazza that swarms with cars, buses, pedestrians, and students from the nearby art academy on bicycles, ...

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9. The Medici Palace and Its Chapel

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pp. 129-139

In the Florence of the 1400s, a palazzo was much more than a place to live. Building a large, impressive family home was one way in which prominent families could both improve the appearance of their cities and put their personal stamp on those cities. The Medici were the first to do this, but numerous other families followed their example, ...

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10. A Man, a Plan, a Palazzo: Giovanni Rucellai and His Family Palace

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pp. 140-146

There’s something familiar about Giovanni Rucellai—a solid citizen and successful businessman devoted to his family, active in his church, generous to charities, but also interested in letting the world know about his success by means of his splendid residence. ...

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11. The Sassetti Chapel in S. Trinita: Politics, Religion, and Personal Reputation

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pp. 147-156

Walk down the center aisle of almost any Florentine church and you’ll see it flanked by a series of small side chapels that once belonged to local families wealthy enough to purchase the rights to use and decorate them. The Sassetti Chapel in the church of S. Trinita is one of the most interesting, ...

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12. The Tornabuoni Chapel in S. Maria Novella

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pp. 157-166

When three wealthy and prominent fifteenth-century Florentine families vie for the privilege of becoming the patrons of a prestigious chapel, the intrigues can become complicated. Pity the poor Dominican friars at the church of S. Maria Novella, who had to contend with the Ricci, Sassetti, and Tornabuoni families, ...

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13. The Museo degli Uffizi: The Building and Some Highlights of the Collection

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pp. 167-222

Aside from its status as a museum, one of the oldest and most renowned in Europe, the Uffizi is also among the architectural masterworks of Renaissance Florence. The name Uffizi comes from the Italian word uffici, which means “offices” and refers to the building’s original purpose. ...

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14. The Museo Nazionale del Bargello

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pp. 223-234

Many museums find a home in places that once served other purposes. The Louvre and the Hermitage are former royal residences, and the Uffizi once held the administrative offices of the Florentine ducal government. But the building that houses the Bargello has a more sinister history. ...

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15. Il Gigante: Michelangelo’s David

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pp. 235-242

It’s among the most famous statues in the world, so easily recognizable that advertisers use images of it to sell everything from cigarettes to soap, from motorcycles to men’s cologne. At the moment of its unveiling some five hundred years ago it created a sensation, and every year people still flock to Florence to stand looking up at it in awe. ...

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16. Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel: The Tragedy of Time in a Time of Tragedy

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pp. 243-254

When Pope Leo X Medici and his cousin Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici hired Michelangelo to design a funerary chapel for members of their family, they were thinking more of a monument to the family’s endangered dynastic ambitions than a place of worship. What the artist delivered was neither. ...

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pp. 255-256

The firm establishment of the ducal regime in Florence under Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici brought the city a stability and continuity in government that it had lacked, historically, but it also sounded the death knell for Florence as the capital city of the Italian Renaissance. ...

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pp. 257-258

Research can be a solitary activity, but it’s one made easier and more enjoyable by the help of colleagues and the encouragement of friends. My first debt of gratitude is to the staffs of the libraries that provided access to so many of the books and articles I consulted: Founders Library at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 259-269

E-ISBN-13: 9781609090630
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875806808

Page Count: 306
Illustrations: 35
Publication Year: 2012