Early morning on Sunday 9th March our bus left for Florence and after only a couple of hours we were already analysing the frescoes of Perra della Francesca in the medieval city centres of Pienza and Arrezzo. The Florence trip was to allow students to place the studied material in its context so the days were filled with discussions of the art, history and politics of Florence that we had encountered in lectures and seminars.
On arrival in Florence we saw a beautiful but busy city full of tourists. This was not the Florence that we had studied. That Florence was hidden somewhere and the week enabled us gradually to reconstruct the Renaissance city in our minds, and to comprehend its historical and aesthetic influence. Monday started by climbing the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, which offered great panoramic views of the city. We then visited a number of beautiful churches, many of them designed by Brunelleschi, the early imaginative force behind Renaissance architecture. We could recognize his influence everywhere around us, with many buildings constructed according to Brunelleschi’s designs.
On Tuesday there were tours taking in the Bargello and Uffizi galleries, and to Santa Croce church, where the great works of such giants as Michelangelo, Leonardo and Botticelli were on view. The artistic achievements of the Renaissance were introduced and related to historical Florence, enabling us to relate to the aesthetic values of Florentine culture. On Wednesday excursions to Siena, Pisa and Assisi allowed us to gain a geographical perspective on Florence. The sun started to shine and as well as being intellectually interesting it was a relaxing, fun day, whether taking in the sunset at the beach near Pisa or Assisi’s amazing views over the Umbrian valley.
Thursday and Friday were the days to really feed ourselves on Renaissance Florence, with tour choices covering more political issues at Palazzo Vecchio (former residence of Niccolo Machiavelli), frescoes at the churches of Santa Maria Novella and San Lorenzo, and enjoying the more contemporary Italian pleasures of eating ice-cream at the old Palazzo, followed by a laid-back stroll through the Boboli gardens. In the evenings we could be found climbing hilltops in search of Florentine cityscapes where to savour a glass of red wine, or letting off steam in one of the easy-going jazz clubs.
The Florence programme culminated on Friday evening in encounters with Michelangelo’s Slaves and the original David. In many ways this was the grand finale of the term and the trip, as the David forced us to re-evaluate many of the issues that we had tackled in the preceding weeks. Set in the context of the unfinished Slaves, we realized well the origins of the David and were permitted to see it as the apex of the artistic process.
For a week we became absorbed by the Florentine culture, seeing Giotto’s discovery of the psyche’s visible manifestations and Brunelleschi’s mastery of complexity through geometric architecture. We saw the many aesthetic visions interwoven in the designs of the Cathedral; the frescoes that attempt to bring God nearer to us as human beings, historically branching out into those poetic expressions of Dante’s, still pervading our minds. We saw the radiating layers of movement in Leonardo’s sketches and Michelangelo’s triumphant struggle against matter. This was historical Florence in all its aesthetic excellence.
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)